Building a Democratic Political Order: Reshaping American Liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s

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The Democratic political order in the United States defined the main themes, policies, and organized forms of national politics from the 1930s through the 1960s. David Plotke explores the dramatic changes in American politics that occurred during the 1930s and 1940s. In these decades an expanded federal government and a new labor movement emerged as Republican power waned. World War II and the Cold War reshaped the Democratic order without ending it. And national political debate about civil rights was opened. The central dynamic of this era was the creation and maintenance of a distinctive new political order, built by progressive liberals in alliance with mass movements, notably labor. At its core was a powerful triangle formed by a national state, a leading party, and major interest groups and movements. Democratic and modernizing themes fused together in a progressive liberalism that advocated government action to achieve economic stability, protect social security, and expand political representation. In building the Democratic order the expansion of the national state played a crucial role - and the eventual decline of Democratic power was due in large part to its reliance on that state. Far from being nonideological, the Democratic order defined itself in sharp conflicts with forces on its right and left. Democratic progressive liberalism recast American political institutions and discourses in ways that went well beyond what was foreseen in the early 1930s, and in forms strong enough to endure long after Roosevelt's death.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Building a Democratic Political Order sparkles with ideas and insights....This is indeed an unusually rich and rewarding book...clearly written and cogently argued...a major interpretation of modern American liberalism. Bold in conception, rigorous in argument, and thoughtful in exposition, it offers a persuasive recasting of the familiar story of the New Deal era and its aftermath." Reviews in American History

"Plotke's treatment of this crucial period in American politics is impressive....his well documented and thoughtful work has placed in the shade those who claim that the New Deal was fashioned mainly by economic elites or social protest....Building a Democratic Political Order is essential reading for serious students of American politics." Edwin Amenta, Political Science Quarterly

"Building a Democratic Political Order stands as an impressive achievement..." Andrew J. Polsky, Polity

"Plotke's treatment of this crucial period in American poltics is impressive, Building a Democratic Political Order breaks great conceptual ground, and anyone working in this area in the future will have to confront his interpretation of New Deal politics. His argumentation is always, Plotke is never polemical, as the New Deal has been the site of some ugly academic conflicts. All the same, his well documented and thoughtful work has placed in the shade those who claim that the New Deal was fashioned mainly by economic elites or social protest." Edwin Amenta, Political Science Quarterly

"Plotke has deepened our understanding of the multifaceted elements of the 'Democratic state' that had emerged by 1936. The work's great strength lies in its effective, careful application of differeing theoretical approaches as they apply to regime establishment and maintenance. It is a work of insight and integrative power in a field increasingly characterized by compartmentalized approaches and interpretations." Clyde P. Weed, American Political Science Review

"Based on considerable archival research as well as on an impressive command of the relevant secondary literature, Building a Democratic Political Order is a major effort to reconceptualize American political history and to explain the information and character of the Democratic order forged in the 1930's....Reader's will be rewarded by its many strengths. Political historians must read Plotke's book; others will find it valuable." John W. Jeffries, The Journal of American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521034593
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Democratic order as a political project 1
1 When does politics change? 11
2 Creating political orders: the logic of the Democratic experience 47
3 Democratic opportunities in the crises of the 1930s 77
4 Passing the Wagner Act and building a new Democratic state 92
5 Party and movements in the Democratic upsurge, 1935-7 128
6 Progressive liberalism as pragmatic common sense 162
7 Surprising years: electing Truman and sustaining the Democratic order, 1947-9 190
8 Passing Taft-Hartley: what the losers won (and what the winners lost) 226
9 New political fronts? growth and civil rights in the 1940s 262
10 Democratic anti-Communism and the Cold War 298
11 From Truman to Kennedy: the reach and limits of Democratic power 336
12 Was the Democratic order democratic? 359
Index 381
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