Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public

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In Downsizing Democracy, Matthew A. Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg describe how the once powerful idea of a collective citizenry has given way to a concept of personal, autonomous democracy. Today, political change is effected through litigation, lobbying, and term limits, rather than active participation in the political process, resulting in narrow special interest groups dominating state and federal decision-making. At a time when an American's investment in the democratic process has largely been reduced to an...

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Overview

In Downsizing Democracy, Matthew A. Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg describe how the once powerful idea of a collective citizenry has given way to a concept of personal, autonomous democracy. Today, political change is effected through litigation, lobbying, and term limits, rather than active participation in the political process, resulting in narrow special interest groups dominating state and federal decision-making. At a time when an American's investment in the democratic process has largely been reduced to an annual contribution to a political party or organization, Downsizing Democracy offers a critical reassessment of American democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

This fascinating book surveys the changing relationship between the U.S. government and the populace that constitutes its whole... Highly recommended.

Political Science Quarterly

Downsizing Democracy has the marks of a book that will be remembered. It applies a master thesis to many different facets of American political life, inviting the reader to see a vast array of previously familiar material as if for the first time and as a whole. In the authors' view, we have come to the end of a centuries-long epoch during which government and political elites needed publicly engaged citizenry... The authors prosecute their thesis... with admirable insight and persuasiveness.

— Hugh Heclo

The Nation

A welcome corrective to what has been a stampede in recent years toward blaming citizens... How we act is affected by how our government treats us, the processes for influencing decision-making that are available to us and the societal structures that provide us with more or less time, resources, incentive and opportunity to venture into the public sphere... But I don't think this book lets citizens off the hook... Crenson and Ginsberg have taken an important step in identifying and describing that relationship [between formal democracy and everyday democracy], and their work calls us to pay attention to whether institutional processes today support or undermine everyday democracy.

— Palma J. Strand

Washington Post Book World

A thoughtful and useful analysis of present-day democratic decline.

— Kerry Lauerman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801871504
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 9/10/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew A. Crenson is a professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University whose books include Building the Invisible Orphanage and Neighborhood Politics. Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and director of the Center for the Study of American Government at the Johns Hopkins University. His books include Politics by Other Means and American Government: Freedom and Power.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction to the Paperback Edition
Ch. 1 From Popular to Personal Democracy 1
Ch. 2 The Rise and Fall of the Citizen 20
Ch. 3 Elections without Voters 47
Ch. 4 The Old Patronage and the New 80
Ch. 5 Disunited We Stand 106
Ch. 6 From Masses to Mailing Lists 122
Ch. 7 The Jurisprudence of Personal Democracy 152
Ch. 8 Movement without Members 182
Ch. 9 Privatizing the Public 198
Ch. 10 Does Anyone Need Citizens? 234
Notes 245
Index 285
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2003

    How Politics Became Personalized

    In the 1970s, feminists rallied to the phrase, ¿the personal is political.¿ In Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public, Johns Hopkins University political scientists Matthew A. Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg propose the reverse is now true. In an age when a president can be selected by judicial decree rather than popular consent, politics has become personalized. Government no longer operates on behalf of citizens but instead caters to individual ¿customers¿ with services geared to the needs of special interests. Voter apathy in the present is the product of the public¿s marginalization by our political leaders, Crenson and Ginsberg maintain. Quite simply, ruling elites don¿t need and don¿t want broad-based voter consensus in putting their agendas into action anymore. They now rely on lobbying and litigation instead. Negative advertising and other smear tactics of recent electoral campaigns are designed to discourage voting by members of the opposition, not rally the support of believers. In place of high citizen involvement, government operates under what Crensen and Ginsberg call ¿interest-group democracy.¿ Public interest law firms, nonprofit think tanks and other advocacy groups (funded by foundation grants, private contributions and government contracts) trade on insider information and peddle influence within the Beltway on behalf of a plethora of constituencies, which may or may not exist in the national body politic. The judiciary and executive branches of government are the primary battlegrounds of these much less public skirmishes. An area where partisan politics is still at play is in the appointment process. With more and more policy decisions being made through litigation and lobbying, being able to control judges, department heads, regulators, etc. has become all the more important. Approving nominees for these positions has broad implications on the direction of government for a public that for all intents and purposes is being left out of the loop. In the case of the Federal judicial bench, for example, this includes the power to set case law and influence legal decisions for years to come. What¿s to be done about this dysfunctional situation? Unfortunately, Crensen and Ginsberg don¿t give much cause for optimism. The withdrawal of the average citizen from politics cannot be easily reversed. ¿If citizens are to be roused from apathy to action,¿ they write in the conclusion, ¿someone in a position to arouse them must have an interest in doing so.¿ But there isn¿t really anyone in power today whose interests would be served by doing that. The best they can offer is to lift the guilt laid on by moralists that the decline of mass democracy is simply the result of the couch-potato solipsism the nation has supposedly slipped into during the age of Beavis and Butthead. Still, Downsizing Democracy is an important book. One that anyone wanting to understand the sorry state of the nation these days will want, even if all you can do is read it and weep.

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