The Democratic Wish

The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government, Revised Edition

James A. Morone
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Democratic Wish
    Book Description:

    This prize-winning book reinterprets more than 200 years of American political history as the interplay between the public's dread of government power and its yearning for communal democracy. James Morone argues that Americans will never solve their collective problems as long as they instinctively fear all public power as a threat to liberty. This revised edition includes a new final chapter about contemporary populism, government bashing, and democratic wishes.

    Winner of the 1991 Gladys M. Kammerer Award

    "The Democratic Wishmerits the highest compliments one can accord a public policy book. It spotlights a problem that can no longer be evaded. And it makes you think."-Alan Tonelson,New York Times Book Review

    "Morone writes with flair and passion. The fact that he puts forth a provocative argument and provides concise histories of labor, civil rights, and health care politics makes this book especially useful for teaching American politics."-R. Shep Melnick,Journal of Interdisciplinary History

    "Morone's contribution to our understanding of state building . . . is substantial and profound."-John S. Dryzek,American Political Science Review

    "This stimulating reinterpretation of American political history will interest both scholars concerned about the past and citizens concerned about the future."-Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

    "This is a persuasive, illuminating study in American political ideas and the disappointments of reform."-Dean McSweeney,American Politics Review

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14712-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction. The Democratic Wish
    (pp. 1-30)

    At the heart of American politics lies a dread and a yearning. The dread is notorious. Americans fear public power as a threat to liberty. Their government is weak and fragmented, designed to prevent action more easily than to produce it. The yearning is an alternative faith in direct, communal democracy. Even after the loose collection of agrarian colonies had evolved into a dense industrial society, the urge remained: the people would, somehow, put aside their government and rule themselves directly.

    The story I tell is how Americans master their antistatist trepidations by pursuing their democratic wish. In the recurring...


    • 1 Representation, Revolution, and Republic
      (pp. 33-73)

      Americans broke from England expressing a democratic wish. It interpreted confusing social changes, shaped colonial grievances, mobilized the population, inspired their politics, and defined their institutions. It was what the state constitutions of the 1770s aimed for and what the one of 1789 was aimed against.

      My central theme is the communal vision of the people (or, for this period, classical republicanism) and its relationship to administrative power. This may seem an odd juxtaposition, for at the core of republicanism lay a dread of ministers. However, the tension was a dynamic one: it drove the American state builders. When imperial...

    • 2 The Resistible Rise of the Common Man: Jacksonian Democracy
      (pp. 74-96)

      On the face of it, Americans have rarely pursued their democratic wishes with the fervor they showed in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Here was the frontier, “universal” (meaning white, male) suffrage, booming political participation, and an era named after “the common man.”

      The Progressive historians found in this period another clash between “the house of Have and the House of Want.” In their view, Andrew Jackson articulated the democratic aspirations of “the plain people” and led a charge “against the privileges and perquisites of broadcloth.” Still, the conflict historians differed over who the common man was and...

    • 3 Administrative Science and the People: The Progressive Movement
      (pp. 97-128)

      When the Union army ran at Bull Run, one wag attributed the rout to a rumor of three vacancies in the New York Customs House.¹ By the end of the Civil War, inexpert citizens, rotating in and out of office had begun to turn from a symbol of popular government to a symptom of political corruption.

      The following half-century was cluttered with causes and reformers—Populists, Prohibitionists, Suffragettes, the National Short Ballot Association, the Antimonopolists, the Knights of Labor. Amid the political tumult, two successive movements attacked the spoils and struggled to reconstruct American public administration. First, in the 1870s...

    • 4 Progressive Administration without the People: The New Deal
      (pp. 129-142)

      The Great Depression briefly eclipsed the American wariness of government power. The Roosevelt administration, acting with unusual political latitude, broadly extended the administrative state.* However, the New Deal administrative inventions did not break sharply with the past. Roosevelt left behind a far greater government, but not one fundamentally different from the Progressive institutions that he found.

      While the dread of government was in abeyance, the New Dealers did not call on the people to sanction their reforms. For the most part, Roosevelt did not need the democratic wish. As a result, the frenetic state building of the mid-1950s differs from...


    • 5 The Reconstruction of Working-Class Politics
      (pp. 145-185)

      For over a century, the bias of American labor policy tilted, often violently, against working-class organization. Military force broke strikes while the legal code undermined unions. The restraints suppressed class-based movements and ultimately reshaped the patterns of representation and the political aspirations within the labor movement itself. Moreover, the union-bashing status quo was extremely hard to alter. Sympathetic state governments (inspired by the Populists) and national legislation (by the Progressives) were not enough. In this chapter, I argue that when change finally came, in the 1930s, it was negotiated by a variation of the democratic wish.

      The broad latitude afforded...

    • 6 The Reconstruction of Racial Politics
      (pp. 186-252)

      In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against racial segregation in public schools. The struggle that followed vividly illustrates the incoherence of the American regime. The state simultaneously articulated new rights and unleashed dogs on black citizens who exercised them. The Court’s decision (inBrownv.Board of Education) did not end segregation; by altering the political rules, however, it prompted a citizens’ movement which ultimately transformed American racial politics.

      The black struggle occurred in two stages. First came an effort to win basic citizenship rights in the South. Though Southern segregationists violently resisted racial change, the civil rights movement had...

    • 7 The Reconstruction of Medical Politics
      (pp. 253-321)

      The reconstruction of medical politics in the 1970s appears to share little with the political legitimation of workers in the 1930s or black Americans in the 1960s. The politics of class and race involved the most traditional of political patterns—oppressed citizens mobilized to win rights that élites were reluctant to concede. While the political task facing the Old Left (in the 1930s) and the New Left (1960s) was difficult, the egalitarian conceptions guiding their efforts were simple. In contrast, health policy involved the most prestigious and lucrative profession in America. The issue was not empowering an oppressed group but...

    • 8 Elusive Community: Democratic Wishes for the 21st Century
      (pp. 322-338)

      Where do all our democratic wishes leave us today? Familiar dynamics fill the contemporary scene. The federal government, we hear, is corrupted. That “false, insubstantial, rotten world” (as Andrew Jackson put it) should defer to the sturdy, decent, common sense of real Americans sitting around their kitchen tables (Senator Phil Gramm). But the contemporary attack on government is different from the ones we have seen. It is not balanced by visions of the people and their shared interests. It is not balanced at all. The dread of government is scorching, relentless. Celebrating a caricature of the Federalists, it enfeebles public...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 339-390)
  8. Index
    (pp. 391-402)