by A. London Fell. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2008. 408pp. Hardback. $160.00/£90.00.. ISBN: 9780275939779.

Reviewed by Mark Welton, Department of Law, United States Military Academy. Email: Mark.Welton [at] usma.edu.


This work is subtitled “Book 1: Western Hemisphere (Current News Summary) of Volume Seven: World Perspectives and Emergent Systems for the New Order in the New Age.” It thus constitutes only one part of an extensive multivolume series, published over more than a decade, which seeks to describe the historical and global development of sovereignty and the state from the European Renaissance to the present. The context in which this book appears is important, for if read in isolation it provides much detail but little analysis of an important though narrow slice of this broad history.

Most of the book is devoted to the issues of law-making, governmental relations, and private quasi-legislative activity in the United States from the end of Ronald Reagan’s administration through the early years of George Bush, Jr.’s second term as president. The various chapters in this part of the book cover the US Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, US federal agencies and commissions, selected states, and some sectors of American society, such as transportation, education, crime, and health care. The concluding and much shorter chapters cover major political developments in the remainder of the Western Hemisphere during this period: Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America.

The distinctive attribute of the book is its use of contemporary headlines taken from major newspapers to depict trends in the growth of legislative sovereignty as the defining characteristic of state and government during the period covered. For each of the governmental and private institutions and sectors covered, both for the United States and the other countries and areas in the western hemisphere, numerous headlines are quoted to depict trends, developments, controversies, or issues that relate to the role of the agency, actor, or sector under review. Footnotes to the sources appear at the end of each paragraph. An extended quotation from the first chapter on the American presidency can usefully convey the flavor of the entire text:

Pursuing the Domestic Agenda with Congressional Law-Makers (Or, the “Imperial President” as “Super-Legislator”?). During this period in 2002-2004 of heightened presidential wartime powers and Congressional Republican mid-term victories, the Bush administration vigorously pursued (as “super-legislator?”) its extensive domestic legislative program with Congressional lawmakers. For 2002, the following headings, prior to the November mid-term elections, represent illustrative indicators arranged in chronological sequence: “White House is Backing Foes of Finance Bill” (“Party is Pressed to Fight While Shielding Bush”); “Bush’s Plan on Welfare Law Increases Work Requirement” [*572] (“Bipartisan support is seen for revisions of a landmark 1996 law”); “Bush Offers New Drug Plan Similar to One Court Barred”; “Bush Renews Push to Partly Privatize Social Security”; “Bush Promotes His Education Agenda and a Senate Candidate”; (“Adding talk of Afghanistan to that of domestic goals”); “Bush Seeking New Rules to Help Investors . . .”; “He Picks His Fights Carefully” (“Bush lets legislators do their thing, but some GOP critics say that can be dangerous”); “Bush Plan to Avert Work Injuries Seeks Voluntary Steps by Industry” (“A promise of federal enforcement against industries with high accident rates”); “Bush Makes Fervent Bid to Get Senate to Ban Cloning Research”; “White House Proposes New View of Education Law to Encourage Single-Sex Schools”: “White House and Senate in Trade Accord” (“Broader Power for Bush; Help for Displaced American Workers”); “Senate Approves Bill Giving Wider Trade Authority to Bush”; “Bush to Seek Unlikely Allies In Bid to Alter Clean Air Act” (“An effort to include blacks, labor, and environmentalists”) (p. 48)

The paragraph continues with twelve more headlines.

This format, consisting of a brief section or paragraph introduction followed by many newspaper headlines, is maintained throughout the book. Essentially the headlines, taken from twenty print and television news sources, especially the NEW YORK TIMES, are left to speak for themselves. The author, A. London Fell, occasionally indicates that a particular set of events reveals a substantial increase in law-making activity by the particular legislative, judicial, executive, administrative, or other body or actor, but that is the extent of the analysis. The reader apparently is eventually meant to perceive these as indicators that, taken as a whole, reveal a trend towards ever-increasing legislative activity extending both within and beyond the national or subnational legislatures themselves.

It is evident that the book can be read in one of two ways. First, it can be read chapter by chapter, or even skimmed, so that overall trends identified briefly at the beginning of each section are reinforced by the subsequent headlines. This is not really a satisfactory method, as the impression gained is one of redundancy. An apt analogy might be made to a prosecutor who makes a single assertion in her opening statement in court, and then seeks to question thirty witnesses who provide consistent testimony to back up that assertion. A judge, like the reader here, would quickly lose patience with such an approach. The reader would properly assume that supporting evidence provided by the plethora of news headlines might be better placed as endnotes, allowing the text with its main points to be read with much less effort.

The problem with this approach is exacerbated by the broad range of the topics. For example, the coverage of President Clinton’s two terms includes, among many other issues, health care, military exclusion of gays and lesbians, education initiatives, the impeachment proceedings, general relations with Congress, abortion, school prayer, Cuban refugees, environmental protection, and trade policy – in short, virtually the administration’s entire legislative and policy agenda, as well as responses to foreign policy and domestic crises during this period. The effort to be [*573] complete can blur the focus of the selected material.

On the other hand, the book can be read in discrete sections, using the headlines along with their noted sources at the end of the book (there is no index) to engage in deeper historical investigation of the specific events mentioned. This could merit the attention of scholars who are interested in researching how specific political or legislative events and issues were covered at a given time, and how they relate to concurrent or related other events. In short, if approached from this vantage point the book provides a detailed record of events that were deemed significant and reported at the time, within the general framework of extensive law-making activity by governments and others during this recent era. These can point the researcher to a wide range of useful subjects for study.

On rare occasion Fell refers to earlier books in this series, in particular the first two volumes, entitled CORASIUS AND THE RENAISSANCE SYSTEMATIZATION OF ROMAN LAW, and CLASSICAL, MEDIEVAL, AND RENAISSANCE FOUNDATIONS OF CORASIUS’ SYSTEMATIC METHODOLOGY, respectively. These references acknowledge discussion in those volumes of the growth of the idea of the innate power of legally-recognized entities to make laws to govern their own activities. The tentative title of the forthcoming and final volume in this series, REFLECTIONS ON SYSTEMS OLD AND NEW (with Bibliography and Index), suggests that it will provide more extensive analysis of the events and trends depicted in this and the follow-on book covering the eastern hemisphere, which will also use current new summaries as its main text. If so, and if read using the second approach noted earlier and in conjunction with the previous volumes that did not utilize the current new summary format, the student and researcher will have available a set of useful, detailed texts that can be referred to for further analysis and elaboration of the growth of law-making in modern states.

© Copyright 2008 by the author, Mark Welton.