The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It

The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It

by Amy Gutmann, Dennis Frank Thompson
     
 

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To govern in a democracy, political leaders have to compromise. When they do not, the result is political paralysis—dramatically demonstrated by the gridlock in Congress in recent years. In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson show why compromise is so important, what stands in the way of achieving it,

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Overview

To govern in a democracy, political leaders have to compromise. When they do not, the result is political paralysis—dramatically demonstrated by the gridlock in Congress in recent years. In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson show why compromise is so important, what stands in the way of achieving it, and how citizens can make defensible compromises more likely. They urge politicians to focus less on campaigning and more on governing. In a new preface, the authors reflect on the state of compromise in Congress since the book’s initial publication.

Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest everyone who cares about making government work better for the good of all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nonstop electioneering and the attitudes it fosters has given us a logjam in Washington instead of a government, argues this bland brief for a principled pragmatism. UPenn president and political scientist Gutmann and Harvard political philosopher Thompson (coauthors of Democracy and Disagreement) blame partisan gridlock on the “permanent campaign”—politicians’ need to constantly position themselves for the next election by staking out bright-line dogmas and demonizing opponents. The result is an “uncompromising mindset” of nonnegotiable tenacity, mistrust, and cynicism that’s antithetical to the “compromising mindset” of prudent give and take, mutual respect, and cooperation that good governance requires. The lucid but dry discussion mixes political theory—uncompromising standoffs, they contend, help no one’s interests and privilege the status quo over feasible improvements—with recaps of congressional dogfights, along with half-measure remedies, like making it easier to vote so that moderates will swamp zealots at the polls. Their case for the importance of compromise is impeccably high-minded and logical, but doesn’t quite register the atavistic force of intransigence, or that sabotaging government might be the goal, not the by-product, of a faction’s immovability. Gutmann and Thompson’s take on America’s intense political rancor amounts to a set of truisms—familiar and unarguable, but somehow beside the point. (May)
The New Republic
Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise.
— Paul Starr
Philadelphia Inquirer
Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington.
— Alexander Heffner
The New Republic - Paul Starr
Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Alexander Heffner
Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington.
Choice
'Compromise is difficult, but governing a democracy without compromise is impossible.' So begins this excellent, much needed corrective to the contemporary political scene, which eschews compromise in politics in favor of war analogies. . . . This excellent book should be required reading for every member of Congress, and deserves a wide readership among the voting public.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise."--Paul Starr, The New Republic

"'Compromise is difficult, but governing a democracy without compromise is impossible.' So begins this excellent, much needed corrective to the contemporary political scene, which eschews compromise in politics in favor of war analogies. . . . This excellent book should be required reading for every member of Congress, and deserves a wide readership among the voting public."--Choice

"For [the] lawmakers, and for the voters who claim to value compromise, reading this book would be a good start."--Ruth Marcus, Washington Post

"Scholars will appreciate the authors' lucid analysis of the dynamics of political compromise."--Library Journal

"Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington."--Alexander Heffner, Philadelphia Inquirer

Library Journal
Distinguished political scientists Gutmann (president & Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Univ. of Pennsylvania) and Thompson (Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy, Harvard Univ.) are past coauthors (e.g., Why Deliberative Democracy?). Their latest effort is complementary to their previous works, an assessment from a new angle of how political outcomes are reached in our democracy. This book's backdrop is one of political dysfunction such as that seen in the partisan health care legislation of 2010 and the 2011 struggle to raise the federal debt ceiling. The authors show throughout the book how the "uncompromising mindsets" of participants from both parties contributed to the difficulties of these episodes, with intrusions of the "permanent campaign" and instances of "mutual mistrust" all too evident. In contrast, they advocate the necessity and value of compromise and present past examples of how politicians such as Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch were able to combine partisan credentials with a "compromising mindset" to achieve bipartisan successes. VERDICT Scholars will appreciate the authors' lucid analysis of the dynamics of political compromise but will likely find that part of the book stronger than their suggestions for reform.—Bob Nardini, Niagara Falls, NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400851249
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
04/27/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Amy Gutmann is president of the University of Pennsylvania, where she is also the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of communication in the Annenberg School of Communication. Dennis Thompson is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University. Gutmann and Thompson are coauthors of Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton) and Democracy and Disagreement.

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