"What are the characteristics and practices that mark a good citizen in the United States?" asks author Michael Schudson, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. He's not entirely sure--this is not a book of ready conclusions--but he performs a helpful service in describing the evolution of voting as both an idea and practice in American history. During the colonial period, for example, white male property owners (nobody else had the vote) casually reaffirmed a strict social hierarchy. In the 19th century, political parties dominated public life and energized local communities. In the 20th century, the Progressive Era notion of "informed voters" took root and essentially privatized citizenship. Schudson generally likes the way in which American citizenship has evolved, especially toward more openness, but he's decidedly ambivalent about where it might be headed--a regime of rights and entitlements in which the personal is inevitably political. --John J. Miller
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From Publishers Weekly
The conventional wisdom that American civic health is in dangerous decline is the target of Shudson's sweeping history of American political life from colonial times to the present. The author, professor of sociology at the UC-San Diego and author of Discovering the News, argues that the current concentration on individual rights is not destroying the fabric of community values, and he explodes many myths that are part of the nostalgia for simpler times. An expert on the media, he also provides a cogent analysis of the role of the press in American politics; e.g., he contends that TV's sound bites taken from political speeches allow more time for the reporter to explain what is really going on. In the same spirit of reexamination, he recounts how the much-touted New England town meeting often suffered from low turnout. He reminds us that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in secret session; that the Lincoln-Douglas debates were largely rewritten for publication; and that the moment of highest voter turnout at the turn of the century was also a time of widespread political corruption, including money for votes. Having given the back of his hand to the popular conception of a country once ruled by a well-informed citizenry, the author argues that personal involvement in the myriad opportunities for local individual contributions?whether monitoring the environment or standing up against discrimination?are perhaps the best way to participate in civic life. We are not out of the woods, the author reminds us, but the future of the country is not as bleak as some would argue. (Sept.) FYI: This Martin Kessler book was supervised after Kessler's death by Bruce Nichols.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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