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Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries?

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691049243
ISBN-10: 0691049246
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Editorial Reviews

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"Anyone who wants to understand the state of the art on this matter should, and I hope will, read this book. There is simply no other work like it." -- Robert A. Dahl, Yale University

"Robert Putnam and his associates have attacked head-on a question that disturbs many of us--the sense that trust long established in democratic governments seems to be eroding right at the time that the ideology of a democratic market system has swept the world. The authors make it evident that the answers aren't uniform among countries or easy. But their work also goes a long way toward putting the evidence, disturbing as it is, in broad perspective, a perspective essential for those who are working toward necessary reforms and new approaches." -- Paul A. Volcker, North American Chairman, Trilateral Commission

"Susan Pharr and Robert Putnam have done a superb job not only of tracing the decline in public confidence in government performance in the established democracies over the past quarter-century but also of exploring how this disturbing trend can be explained. This book is certain to be widely discussed by scholars and policy makers concerned with the future of democratic government." -- Marc F. Plattner, Director, International Forum for Democratic Studies

From the Back Cover


"Robert Putnam and his associates have attacked head-on a question that disturbs many of us--the sense that trust long established in democratic governments seems to be eroding right at the time that the ideology of a democratic market system has swept the world. The authors make it evident that the answers aren't uniform among countries or easy. But their work also goes a long way toward putting the evidence, disturbing as it is, in broad perspective, a perspective essential for those who are working toward necessary reforms and new approaches."--Paul A. Volcker, North American Chairman, Trilateral Commission


"Susan Pharr and Robert Putnam have done a superb job not only of tracing the decline in public confidence in government performance in the established democracies over the past quarter-century but also of exploring how this disturbing trend can be explained. This book is certain to be widely discussed by scholars and policy makers concerned with the future of democratic government."--Marc F. Plattner, Director, International Forum for Democratic Studies


"Disaffected Democracies provides a thoughtful and wise analysis of the present state of democracy in the Trilateral countries. . . . [It] will be indispensable reading, both for active politicians and others in public life, and for students of international relations and political science."--Shirley Williams, British House of Lords


"Anyone who wants to understand the state of the art on this matter should, and I hope will, read this book. There is simply no other work like it."--Robert A. Dahl, Yale University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691049246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691049243
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,105,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Thomson on November 25, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Are the trilateral democratic nations threatened by a steady disintegration of their social capital? Are individual citizens less trusting of their political institutions and even of each other? These are the central themes probed by the contributors of this collection of essays. This book represents a reassessment of an earlier study "The Crisis of Democracy" completed twenty five years ago by the Trilateral Commission. I found the central premise of the current study, though, to be highly suspect. After all, these same countries now experience vastly improved economic conditions, and perhaps more importantly---are less likely to declare war on each other. Could it be that some of the contributors fail to see the proverbial forest because the trees are in the way? It is admittedly an unhealthy state of affairs when people are hostile towards their government. Nevertheless, isn't a more pessimistic and realistic understanding of what is to be expected from the political sector to be applauded? Prudence is not cynicism. Governments are innately limited in responding to the total needs of the individual. Why be shy in conceding this fact?
Is there such a thing as too much social capital? The Japanese kamikaze pilots, regardless of how perverted it may seem to us, were splendid example of intense social bonding. Also, the trust and fellowship of ethnic Germans during that time period were at a very high level. A decreased interest in preserving social capital might indeed discourage bigotry. Might a society be overly worried about sustaining the social bonds of its dominant group? Couldn't this concern hinder the practical decisions required in the everyday business world?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many tables are presented that demonstrate that confidence in public institutions, especially in the executive and legislative branches of government, has declined in varying amounts in the trilateral countries, the US, Japan, and Europe, over the last 25 years. The conclusions seem to be that this trend is based on the public's perception that the performance of these institutions has deteriorated. But little insight is offered behind the numbers. The following are minimally addressed if at all.
In the first place, little mention is made of exactly what performance is lacking. Presumably the authors are after something greater than disaffection over episodes of scandal or corruption. There are some vague references to globalization but no evidence is presented that the public is disaffected over that matter.
Little is made of the impact of the extreme right-wing rhetoric that denounces government as an impediment to the free-market. Does that not pander to and reinforce the historical wariness that one author mentions of Americans towards government?
If government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, why does government not correspond to what is wanted by the majority? One author does raise the issue of the general competency of the citizenry to understand governmental workings and to choose a sensible course of action.
The authors do not address the massive consolidation over the last two decades of the entertainment and news media and the ramifications for a democracy. Any number of books demonstrate that delivering audience levels for advertisers supercedes wide-ranging or controversial political information. Personalities and day-by-day polling numbers are safe ways of covering politics.
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Format: Paperback
Why look back at a study done eight years ago? Because it is a pretty classic case of self-proclaimed public intellectuals from academe (in this case Robert Putnam) managing to impose strictures on their debates, and thereby hamstring their own efforts to contribute to the health of democratic discourse.

Post-World War II decolonization (especially in Vietnam) was an era of bloody injustices that fed civic outrage and political backlash, and was especially intense in Europe in 1968. In America, the same peace movements produced a counterattack (Nixonian politics) and a counterbacklash (Nixon's impeachment). That period of whipsaw politics was the backdrop for the Trilateral Commission's gloomy, hypertechnocratic Crisis of Democracy report in 1975. (In its opening paragraph, CoD put democratic citizens in the back seat: "They [trilateral governments] have brought the comforts -- and the anxieties -- of middle-class status to a growing majority of their peoples.")

In 2000, it was entirely appropriate that Pharr, Putnam, and other survey contributors to this volume would contrast their new trilateral survey with the speculative ruminations Huntington, Crozier and Watanuki in 1975's Crisis of Democracy. But in 2008, this study seems even more tepid than it already sounded on first publication.

It may in part be the subject matter: Street protests, violent or non, became passe after Nixon and Vietnam, and were rendered increasingly unremarkable by our media-glutted era. Today, they are now effectively replaced by political factionalism gone online and viral. In 2000 there was little attention directed at this in academia.
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