The Democratic Imagination in America

The Democratic Imagination in America: Conversations with Our Past

Russell L. Hanson
Copyright Date: 1985
Published by:
Pages: 492
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Democratic Imagination in America
    Book Description:

    Russell Hanson discovers in the history of democratic rhetoric in the United States a series of essential contests" over the meaning of democracy that have occurred in periods of political and socio-economic change.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5785-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-21)

    This is a history of the origin and development of democratic ideologies in the United States. It tells the story of democracy in America from the Founding period until the Great Society and a little beyond. Like all stories, this one is told from a particular point of view, one that I would like to make explicit from the outset, since it is in the way I tell this story that any claim to originality lies.

    In the first place, I reject what might be called objectivist accounts of the history of democracy in America. Such treatments either explicitly or...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Rhetoric of Democracy
    (pp. 22-53)

    In order to determine whether or not liberal democracy is still a viable tradition in the United States, we need to know what the appropriate vital signs are, and where to look for them. Both needs may be satisfied if we construe liberal democracy as a rhetorical tradition, the progress or decline of which is reflected in political arguments about the meaning of liberal democracy.¹ This will allow us to gain some perspective on the current crisis of democracy, which is but the most recent expression of this tradition, and on the likely outcome of this crisis.

    To speak of...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Republican Rhetoric in the Founding Period
    (pp. 54-91)

    In this chapter I examine the influence of republican ideology on the politics and rhetoric of the Founding period. It is my contention that republicanism provided an ideological framework common to nearly all of the various factions of this period, and that the successive clashes between these factions occurred within the context of a shared commitment to republican principles. Initially, this consensus was founded on a traditional interpretation of republicanism, which held that a virtuous citizenry was necessary to republican survival. However, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of sustaining virtue in an extended republic gave rise to an alternative interpretation...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Democratic Republicanism in the United States
    (pp. 92-120)

    While the founding of a polity is a significant event, its preservation is no less important, particularly where republican polities are concerned. That is because republicans understand their history in cyclical terms. Precisely because the corruption of virtue is an ever-present danger that threatens the life of all republics, the best that can be expected is that the onset of decay might be postponed, perhaps indefinitely, by a vigilant citizenry capable of remembering its virtuous beginning and continuously reenacting it (Shumer 1979).¹

    For republicans, time erodes; it does not fulfill (Hoye 1984). Hence, the principal political theme of republican philosophy...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Jacksonian Democracy
    (pp. 121-154)

    “To balance a large state or society,” wrote Hamilton, recalling the widsom of Hume, “is a work of so great difficulty that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many unite in the work; experience must guide their labor; time must bring it to perfection; and feeling of inconvenience must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into in their first trials and experiments” (Rossiter 1961, 526–527).

    Balancing a large society is even more difficult when it is undergoing a continual process of change. As...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War
    (pp. 155-182)

    Calhoun’s suggestions for reconstituting the American republic did not appear until midcentury, although his involvement in the nullification controversy clearly presaged these later arguments. Until then, however, a tenuous balance of interests was made possible by the institutionalization of a party system. To be sure, the exact location of the balance point, and even the very meaning of “balance,” shifted as the electoral fortunes of the major parties changed. Nevertheless, it is possible to understand the Age of Jackson in terms of competing interpretations of the American commonwealth and its historical possibilities. Indeed, the partisan debate over how best to...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Triumph of Conservatism
    (pp. 183-222)

    With the conclusion of the Civil War, the nation set about the arduous task of Reconstruction, a project which, as Foner (1980) reminds us, applied to northern as well as southern society.¹ Both underwent a “reconstruction” of the relations between capital and labor, the South at the hands of a northern Congress, and the North as a result of advancing industrialization. In that respect, Reconstruction and the Gilded Age were but two aspects of the more general process by which the capitalist mode of production was reproduced in America on an extended scale.²

    Significant discourses on the proper organization of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Direct Democracy and the Illusion of Fulfillment
    (pp. 223-256)

    The excesses of corporate capitalism did not disappear with the demise of the Populists. Indeed, they became so widespread and egregious that “muckrakers” soon found ample grist for their mill as they helped inaugurate that incredible period in American history known as the Progressive Era. During this time many of the Populists’ specific proposals for augmenting popular control over parties and elected representatives were enthusiastically endorsed by the Progressives, who combined them with their own ideas about good government in a reform package that still governs many states and municipalities today.¹

    This rationalization of politics was part of a larger...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Democratic Consumerism
    (pp. 257-292)

    The relationship between capitalism and democracy is an uneasy one. When times are good, economically speaking, the tension between the two is relaxed, but with the onset of “hard times” the confrontation between “the democracy” and “the plutocracy” can become quite intense, and may even usher in a fundamental alteration of the basic relationship between the two.

    The confrontation of the late nineteenth century produced such a change, though not until the twentieth century had dawned and the restless spirit of progressivism made its presence felt. The Progressives eschewed the old policy of laissez-faire in favor of a modest policy...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Eclipse of Liberal Democracy
    (pp. 293-328)

    In this chapter we shall continue to trace the eclipse of moral discourse on democracy that began during the New Deal. As we have seen the New Deal decisively altered the organization of American political discourse by silencing partisan interpretations of democracy. With the emergence of an ostensibly common interest in continuousconsumption, conflict between classes (defined in terms of their relation to the means ofproduction) was rhetorically transcended. Since all Americans were consumers, they formed a universal “class,” and the image of America as a class-divided society began to dissipate.

    This had a curious effect on conceptions of...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Functionaliżation of Discourse
    (pp. 329-361)

    The comparative ease with which countercultural objections were absorbed into American political discourse is evident in the ephemeral life of “the Movement.”¹ The virtual disappearance of hippies, yippies, Redstockings, Black Panthers, and so on—in short, of “radical” groups—is remarkable and seems to confirm the truth of Marcuse’s observation that as critical interpretations “become part and parcel of the established culture…. they seem to lose their edge and to merge with the old and familiar. This familiarity with the truth illuminates the extent to which society has become indifferent and insusceptible to the impact of critical thought” (Shapiro 1972,...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Crisis of Liberal Democracy
    (pp. 362-401)

    The reemergence of scarcity as a political issue clearly revealed the extent to which the legitimacy of liberal democratic regimes was related to their economic performance. In the words of Oakeshott, “Governments have become inclined to commend themselves to their subjects merely in terms of their power and incidental achievements, and their subjects have become inclined to look only for this recommendation” when evaluating them (1975, 192). Economic growth was one of the most salient of these “incidental achievements” of liberal democratic regimes (or any regime, for that matter). Ironically, this was especially true in affluent societies, where economic growth...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE History and Liberation
    (pp. 402-432)

    We have now returned to the question with which we began in Chapter One: Is the liberal democratic tradition any longer viable? Habermas claims it is not and urges us to seek a new kind of discourse based on a rational ethics of communication. Bell and Macpherson, on the other hand, hope that our tradition may yet be extended into the future, but even these partisans of liberal democracy are concerned about the prospects of reviving the ethical dimension of liberal democracy in an age that prides itself on putting an end to ideology.

    This suggests that we must concern...

    (pp. 433-460)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 461-478)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 479-479)