The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust

John B. Judis, Author
John B. Judis, Author Pantheon Books $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-43254-8
Paperback - 305 pages - 978-0-415-93026-0
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-72545-4
Open Ebook - 220 pages - 978-0-8041-5062-0
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Judis (William F. Buckley: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), senior editor at the New Republic, presents a familiar diagnosis of American democracy with an interesting twist. He deplores the absence of even a basic conception of the common good in contemporary pluralism. Individuals and organizations enter the political arena to empower and enrich themselves at the expense of others, and advances in information and technology serve to further entrench the influence of money. Indeed, the proliferation of think tanks and lobbying organizations has undermined popular participation in politics rather than enhancing it, says Judis, ""making politics the exclusive province of paid hacks and single-issue fanatics."" American democracy has had its ups and downs over the years, and Judis is not the first to suggest that we are currently at a low ebb. His unique contribution is the identification of a key variable in the historical cycle: he contends that elites shape the health of political activity. During periods when influential private citizens, especially business leaders, share or at least tolerate a national vision for the country, politics has been a vehicle for improving the lives of citizens, e.g., during the Progressive era and the New Deal. By contrast, he says, today business concern for the country ends at the offices of K Street lobbyists, and ""narcissism,"" ""selfish individualism"" and ""narrow moralism"" have left Americans seeking ""either wealth or moral perfection"" and politicians walking the corridors of the Capitol ""with a check... in one hand and a Bible in the other."" Judas pulls no punches in making his point that reinvigorating democracy requires a renewed assumption of public responsibility by elites. (Feb.)
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