The resilience of democratic institutions in Britain, Australia and the United States under conditions of total war

Owens, J. 2012. The resilience of democratic institutions in Britain, Australia and the United States under conditions of total war. Australian Journal of International Affairs. 66 (3), pp. 330-348.

TitleThe resilience of democratic institutions in Britain, Australia and the United States under conditions of total war
AuthorsOwens, J.
Abstract

To what extent are democratic institutions resilient when nation states mobilise for war? Normative and empirical political theorists have long argued that wars strengthen the executive and threaten constitutional politics. In modern democracies, national assemblies are supposed to hold the executive to account by demanding explanations for events and policies; and by scrutinising, reviewing and, if necessary, revising legislative proposals intended to be binding on the host society or policies that have been implemented already. This article examines the extent to which the British and Australian parliaments and the United States Congress held their wartime executives to account during World War II. The research finds that under conditions approaching those of total war, these democratic institutions not only continued to exist, but also proved to be resilient in representing public concerns and holding their executives to account, however imperfectly and notwithstanding delegating huge powers. In consequence, executives—more so British and Australian ministers than President Roosevelt—were required to be placatory as institutional and political tensions within national assemblies and between assemblies and executives continued, and assemblies often asserted themselves. In short, even under the most onerous wartime conditions, democratic politics mattered and democratic institutions were resilient.

Keywordsdemocracy, institutions, resilience, war
JournalAustralian Journal of International Affairs
Journal citation66 (3), pp. 330-348
ISSN1035-7718
Year2012
PublisherRoutledge
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1080/10357718.2012.671291
Publication dates
Published2012

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