While writing and thinking about the democratic legitimacy of the Referendum, I discovered the work of Juan J Linz. This article initially hosted my thoughts on Linz’s views on the US Presidential system and its clones. I returned to it in the Autumn of 2021 when questions of why the founding fathers did it this way.

On, my article, Dictatorship and plebiscites I had been pointed at “Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe” a review by Fukiyama of Linz & Stepan’s revised work on Autocracy, which was also referenced by Qvortrup, Here is a mirror, on this site. The Fukiyama piece is very short and more of a plug than a review. I found the Linz paper, and link below, also here are further notes on Presidentialism and Parliaments.

I also found a reference to Mainwaring & Shugart’s “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy, A Critical Appraisal 1997, and again here’s a mirror. Linz’s original 1985 article is here, or https://is.gd/BicfCX and here’s my mirror, Linz Presidentialism 1985., I also made a new version with Calibri font. It seems that Juan Linz also wrote a prequel to this paper called “The Perils of Presidentialism”.

Mainwaring and Schubert summarise Linz’s position as follows, although I think the words are mine,

  1. In Presidential Systems, the President and the Assembly have competing mandates, with usually no, or incredibly inflexible means of resolving this; parliaments are designed to obviate that! If only by having a general election.
  2. Fixed terms Presidencies are a barrier to a change in the popular will of the masses, this is a feature of the nature of coalitions required to win, and the rules of succession which rarely consult the electorate. Parliaments can recall a Premier.
  3. Presidencies are a winner takes all system, on often a very narrow mandate; most Parliaments represent the coalitions & dichotomies of interest in society in a better way. Except in the UK where FPTP stops this happening.
  4. The power of the Presidents office often does not reflect the strength or more importantly the weakness of the mandate and may be, and often is an on-ramp to authoritarianism
  5. It’s more open to outsiders and thus militates against parties which themselves are critical to civic democracy.

Mainwaring and Shugart also produce a number of tables illustrating their critiques of Linz, including one which attempts to correlate poverty with democratic stability. It also would be interesting to see the failures of these classes of rule, India vs (say) Argentina, or more recently Turkey.

I wrote, “Democracies don’t have Executive Presidencies“., which looks at the top 20 democracies from the Economist Democracy Index., and “but Democracy” where I look at the lack of controls in the UK constitution to stop the development of a “Strongman” regime. A look at my thinking, wouldn’t be complete without, the following, in which I review the Economist’s index against the UK and find it wanting.

How democratic is the UK?

So why did the US founding father’s go for this model

  1. Hamilton and Federalist No. 70, he argues, that unity in the executive branch is a main ingredient for both energy and safety. Energy arises from the proceedings of a single person, characterized by, “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch,” while safety arises from the unitary executive’s unconcealed accountability to the people …..
  2. Others argue that it was based on a misunderstanding of the UK constitution and a misplaced admiration together with a failure to understand its direction of travel
  3. Failure to understand Napoleon and Cromwell (& King George III)
  4. Underestimated the development of parties & the impact of FPTP on party construction

I found this, by Prof William P Marshall, who shows how the US Presidency has accumulated power, often through crisis, such as the Civil War, the Great Depression and post 9/11. He’s also good on more mundane causes. One of the themes he articulates is the inability of the AG, appointed by the President, to act as both an advisor and a check; I have argued in many cases that this is a fundamental weakness of legal departments, which is on reason why so many special counsel have been appointed. The power of Party is also antithetical to an independent AG. (I note that in the States, they have a separate mandate.)

The President leads a federal bureaucracy that, among other powers, sets pollution standards for private industry, regulates labor relations,  creates food and product safety standards, manages the nation’s lands and natural resources, enforces the federal criminal law, oversees the banking industry, and governs a host of other activities too numerous to mention.

Marshall finishes his paper examining the development of Parties and the uber polarisation leading to Congress supporting their party against the constitution, as shown by McConnel’s manipulation of the Supreme Court hearings, and Republican’s resisting the prosecution of Trump for financial corruption and sedition.

He concludes,

The result of all this, I would suggest, is that the system of checks and balances that the Framers envisioned now lacks effective checks and is no longer in balance.

I add, provoked by The Evolution of the Presidency at ushistory.org, It i.e. the POTUS was founded as subordinate to Congress, it remained so until the 1930s, and FDR and the new deal; this article argues that the crises leading to a stronger presidency were overseen by Andrew Jackson, who invented party cronyism, Abraham Lincoln who developed executive privilege. Theodore Roosevelt & Woodrow Wilson developed the practice of presidential legislative programs and FDR took the Federal Govt into economic management . All of which ignores the early and later rows over debt, money and currency.


These arguments also apply to Britain’s Executive Mayors.

I explore the development of British Presidentialism in

A short history of the British constitution

which links to Impunity and Contempt in Government!

We could also remember, Andrea Ledsom’s quote, the EU has five Presidents and most people can name none of them; perhaps it’s a better way of doing things and several of them are misnamed in my opinion. Often the word Chairman would once have been used, but President is gender neutral and the President of the Council has a role similar to Chief Secretary.

The featured image is a picture of a UN meeting on Climate Change taken from their news site.

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