cover image RESTORATION OF THE REPUBLIC: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st-Century America

RESTORATION OF THE REPUBLIC: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st-Century America

Gary Hart, . . Oxford Univ., $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-19-515586-0

Arguments between right and left over individual freedom, states' rights and big government have been a staple of American politics. In this innovative reassessment of Thomas Jefferson's political theories, former senator and presidential candidate Hart attempts to secure a middle road that would promote the political participation of individual citizens while fostering a more effective federal structure. By explicating Jefferson's idea of the "elementary, or ward, republic"—essentially a town meeting model—as "the appropriate forum for direct citizen engagement in public [life]," Hart explores ways to adapt this paradigm. Urban and suburban neighborhoods could consolidate such functions as schools, police and health services; by becoming "local republics," they would "rationalize fragmented municipal governments." But while his concern with the individual's role in governance is pressing—he cites "a recent survey" showing that 68% of Americans ages 18 to 34 felt "disconnected" from government—many of his solutions are theoretical rather than immediately practical (betraying this book's origins as Hart's doctoral dissertation at Oxford)—his vision of local control of schools, for example, disregards the important role the federal government plays in funding and regulation. While this is a valiant attempt to mine the past in order to plan the future, it may strike many as existing too much in an ivory tower rather than in the vibrant "local republic" Hart so admires. (Aug.)

Forecast:Oxford is linking this book to the issue of homeland security by emphasizing Hart's recent stint as cochair of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, but some reviewers and readers may not see the connection.