"Self-Rule" is a cultural history of democracy in the land of its origin. It is not a history of ideas on the one side or a detailed history of political behavior on the other. Rather, Wiebe examines the webbing of values and relations that gave democracy its meaning. American democracy arrived abruptly in the 19th century; it changed just as dramatically early in the 20th. Hence, "Self-Rule" divides the history of American democracy into two halves: a 19th century half covering the 1820s to the present and a 20th century half, with a major transition from the 1890s to the 1920s between them.
orthwestern University historian Wiebe asks: What is democracy? How did it arise in the U.S., and what is its future here? "Self-Rule" addresses these issues two ways: by tracing "the webbing of values and relations that enable a society to function" from 1820 to the present, and, in the book's introduction and conclusion, by judging against this history assessments of the state of democracy in the U.S. issued over the past quarter-century by 60-plus "publicists," philosophers, and social scientists. For Wiebe, the vital element of "all" democracy is popular self-government; individual self-determination is the defining "secondary" characteristic of U.S. democracy. Collective and individual self-determination generally reinforced each other in a nineteenth-century democracy limited to white men, but since the 1920s, they have increasingly worked at cross-purposes. This change, "new relations between work and authority," and the "tension between the inherently radical nature of democracy" and efforts to use democratic institutions to override equal participation are Wiebe's central themes. The key obstacles to a revival of popular democracy in the U.S., he argues, are centralization and hierarchy, which began to dominate American life in the transitional 18901920 period, not individualism or group identities, which have historically coexisted with and even strengthened popular self-government in the U.S. Includes rich bibliographic essays.
Introduction Part One: The American Exception 1820s-1890s
2. The Barbarians
3. The People
4. In or Out Part Two: Metamorphosis 1890s-1920s
5. Sinking the Lower Class
6. Raising Hierarchies
7. Dissolving the People Part Three: Modern Democracy 1920s-1990s
8. The Individual
9. The State
10. Internal Wars
Special Debts and Further Readings