Demanding Democracy

Demanding Democracy: American Radicals in Search of a New Politics

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Demanding Democracy
    Book Description:

    This is a major work of history and political theory that traces radical democratic thought in America across the twentieth century, seeking to recover ideas that could reenergize democratic activism today. The question of how citizens should behave as they struggle to create a more democratic society has haunted the United States throughout its history. Should citizens restrict themselves to patient persuasion or take to the streets and seek to impose change? Marc Stears argues that anyone who continues to wrestle with these questions could learn from the radical democratic tradition that was forged in the twentieth century by political activists, including progressives, trade unionists, civil rights campaigners, and members of the student New Left.

    These activists and their movements insisted that American campaigners for democratic change should be free to strike out in whatever ways they thought necessary, so long as their actions enhanced the political virtues of citizens and contributed to the eventual triumph of the democratic cause. Reevaluating the moral and strategic arguments, and the triumphs and excesses, of this radical democratic tradition, Stears contends that it still offers a compelling account of citizen behavior--one that is fairer, more inclusive, and more truly democratic than those advanced by political theorists today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3504-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-18)

    The United States is abuzz with talk of a new democracy. For the first time for many decades, political campaigners have captured the nation’s imagination by ardently condemning its prevailing order. They have denounced professional politicians for their hypocrisy, excessive partisanship, and cut-throat adversarialism; they have derided special interest groups for their corrupting influences; and they have demanded that citizens be provided more direct access to key decision-making processes. The same campaigners have also devised a host of new institutional arrangements to assist in this transformation. They have designed consultative committees and citizens’ juries to encourage citizen participation in policymaking;...

  5. Part One 1900–1945
    • CHAPTER ONE Making the Nation a Neighborhood
      (pp. 21-55)

      The twentieth century began in the United States, just as the twenty-first has, with demands for a new democracy. The call for democratic renewal was at the very heart of aspirations for reform during the dramatic years that stretched from the century’s opening to America’s entry into the First World War, a period that has come to be known as “the Progressive Era.” American democracy, reformers insisted at this time, had been built for a different age: both its institutions and its citizen practices suited a pre-industrial era of small-scale, face-to-face politics conducted amongst a relatively homogenous people, and where...

    • CHAPTER TWO After the Breach
      (pp. 56-84)

      Radical democratic theory in the Progressive Era offered an idiosyncratic combination of deliberative ideals and distinctly nondeliberative methods. Progressives longed for the day when the United States could conduct its politics in accordance with a spirit of nationwide solidarity: a time when a public-spirited citizenry would be actively engaged in ensuring that a powerful government machine effectively served the common good. They also believed, however, that the existing American political order posed a mighty obstacle to that goal, an obstacle that could only be removed through the exercise of exceptional leadership or through the power of radical social disruption. put...

    • CHAPTER THREE Radicalism Americanized
      (pp. 85-116)

      The intellectual impact of the assault on the Progressive vision of democratic reform in the interwar years was profound. The fact that it came at the very time when many European nations were turning their backs on democratic politics entirely made its impact greater still.¹ By the mid-1930s, many American radicals were to be found openly wondering whether democracy had a future in the United States or whether, instead, it would be replaced by a Fascist-inspired form of corporate capitalism or by a Bolshevik-inspired class revolution.² Barely a month went by from the stock market crash until the outbreak of...

  6. Part Two 1945–1972
    • CHAPTER FOUR Doubt and the American Creed
      (pp. 119-144)

      The radical democratic thought of the late Depression Era was characterized by aggression, assertiveness, and uncompromising confidence in the essential rightness of the cause. Although American radicals generally resisted the siren call of Communism and sought constantly to wrap their demands in American symbols and American values, they nonetheless defended and advocated a host of intense, disruptive, and potentially coercive political practices. Depression-Era radicals insisted that it was only through a forthright politics—a politics of strikes, sit-downs, and demonstrations—that Americans could hope to redress the injustices and exclusions faced by many citizens. In the Depression Era, a new...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Explosive Enclave
      (pp. 145-173)

      On February 1, 1960, four African American students—Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain—sat down at the lunch counter in F. W. Woolworth’s store in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, and refused to move until they were served by staff instructed to adhere to a “whites-only” policy. They were refused all afternoon. But the next day they returned, along with twenty-five others. A week later there were three hundred students participating in the protest. Within two months similar demonstrations had spread to fifty-three cities across nine states. Soon after, the “sit-in” protest was being employed in...

    • CHAPTER SIX “We Are Beginning to Move Again”
      (pp. 174-205)

      On March 6, 1970, almost exactly ten years after the Greensboro sit-in, three young political activists—Ted Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins—blew themselves up in a townhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village whilst preparing an explosive device for a terror campaign that they were about to unleash on an unexpecting United States. The three were members of the Weather Underground, a group of radicals named after a line in a song by Bob Dylan that had broken away from the largest American radical student organization of the twentieth century, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), just a few...

  7. CONCLUSION Renewing the American Radical Tradition
    (pp. 206-222)

    To be right, or conservative, “means celebrating society as it is,” C. Wright Mills once wrote, whilst to be left, or radical, “means, or ought to mean, just the opposite.”¹ This was the conviction that coursed through the veins of all the theorists and practitioners of the radical democratic tradition in the twentieth-century United States. In direct contradiction to celebratory accounts that emphasized the already-established and exceptional liberal democratic character of American political life, these radical democrats insisted that the inequalities, exclusions, injustices, and simple unfairnesses of U.S. society meant that it could not properly be described as a democratic...

    (pp. 223-242)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 243-246)