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Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism

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ISBN-13: 978-0739186749
ISBN-10: 0739186744
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Editorial Reviews


Jeff Taylor’s book, Politics on a Human Scale, provides an essential account of the much touted but practically neglected themes of decentralization and populism in American politics. Taylor shows how the forces of centralization have consistently co-opted much of what is called conservatism and how a human scale politics is not only beneficial to human flourishing but indispensable for a free society. This book is a valuable step in fostering a better future. (Mark T. Mitchell, professor of government, Patrick Henry College)

With a vast and impressive knowledge of American political history, a skillful pen, and a generous heart, political scientist Jeff Taylor—proud son of Iowa, the Tall Corn State—explores, illuminates, and, yes, celebrates the decentralist tradition in American politics. If you want to know about our heritage of peace, agrarianism, local democracy, and the dispersion of power—that is, if you want to understand the history, personalities, and promise of the human-scale alternative to the American Empire—this is the book for you. (Bill Kauffman, author, "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette")

Madison thought the House of Representatives should have one member for every 30,000 population. Today there is one for every 720,000. By mid-century there will be one for every million. The Census Bureau predicts a billion people in America by end of the century. Professor Jeff Taylor argues that America has grown simply too large for the purposes of self government. In this comprehensive study which touches all aspects of the topic—constitutional, moral, political, and even theological—he shows how and why power should be devolved back to state and local communities. (Donald W. Livingston, emeritus professor of philosophy, Emory University)

Jeff Taylor’s Politics on a Human Scale is a comprehensive and deep ideological analysis of important changes in American political history. With numerous examples, Taylor reveals the power of elitism in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Whatever your ideological orientation, the book is an open invitation to consider the importance of a foundational American political value. It is a valuable addition to understanding American politics. (Karl Trautman, chairperson of social science department, Central Maine Community College)

The book is packed with elegantly developed historical observations and erudite observations. . . All things considered, Jeff Taylor provides the best available account of the varied ways partisan interaction and electoral competition shaped decentralism’s development and subsequent demise in America. Now that we are better positioned to comprehend how decentralism fell on hard times, and how its decline complicated the prospect for American cultural flourishing, we are empowered to make headway toward Politics on a Human Scale. (Front Porch Republic)

With Politics on a Human Scale, the Dordt College political scientist Jeff Taylor offers a well-informed, near-encyclopedic examination of when and how America's once-dominant political tradition receded. (Reason)

This book is engagingly written, and the notes and source materials would provide the raw materials for a true conservative renaissance. ... Politics on a Human Scale is both a solid history and inspiring polemic. (Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture)

Any serious study of how the American federalist system was transformed into the centralized Leviathan State that it is today should include Jeff Taylor’s book Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism. The great value of this book is the breadth and depth with which its author covers the subject matter. With the aid of over 500 bibliographical sources, Dr. Taylor recounts the story of how both major political parties ultimately came to reject their Jeffersonian elements in favor of Hamiltonian big government. . . .Rather than regurgitating the same simplistic, generalized narrative found in most American history books, Taylor’s narrative, much of which gainsays the conventional wisdom, is a meticulous rehashing of the specific beliefs, behaviors, and connections between several key political figures and the movements which they inspired. . . .Jeff Taylor provides the most comprehensive work on the history of decentralism which I have ever come across. This book is a must read for anyone who hopes to have a well-rounded understanding of how America got to this point and where things might be heading from here. There can be little doubt that Dr. Taylor’s contribution to the Jeffersonian tradition will be of great service in the fight to restore Politics on a Human Scale. (Reformed Libertarian)

This is an ambitious examination of America's traditional rejection of centralized government and its embrace of dispersed power and locally responsive politics. Taylor argues that decentralism is much more than 'states' rights'; it means 'minimalistic government at every level.' Taylor covers a wide swath of American politics as he explores both the history and implications of decentralism. He begins with agrarianism and traces his narrative through the eras of state sovereignty, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Reagan revolution, and centralization . . . [S]tudents of American politics and history will . . . appreciate the rich detail of the narrative and the presentation of an interesting and important perspective on decentralization. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, undergraduate students, research faculty, and professionals. (CHOICE)

In Politics on a Human Scale, Jeff Taylor examines political decentralization in the United States, including agrarianism, states’ rights, the abandonment of the decentralist impulse by the national leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the dissident tradition on the contemporary political scene. Covering the subject with breadth and depth—from the founding of the republic to the present—the book will be of value to those interested in political science, history, and American culture.

About the Author

Jeff Taylor is professor of political science at Dordt College and author of Where Did the Party Go? William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy. He has written articles for, and been cited by, publications ranging from The American Conservative and to Green Horizon Quarterly and The Nation.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 648 pages
  • Publisher: Lexington Books (September 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739186744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739186749
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,070,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tim Barnett on November 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
It was my good fortune to read "Politics on a Human Scale" soon after its release. While the book is challenging because of the enormous amount of information it contains, the fascinating narrative and superb writing make the reading experience pleasant. The work should prove especially valuable to educated persons seeking to understand the market for competitive policy making (decentralization) within the context of the American political party system.

As a political scientist with courses on federalism and political parties, I know of no other book that brings the two subjects together so insightfully. The closest work is David Brian Robertson's "Federalism and the Making of America" (2012). Robertson's fine text provides cases that illustrate how United States legislators on both sides of the aisle have used federalism to achieve policy aims on an incremental basis. Taylor, by contrast, provides invaluable historical details and masterful insights that show legislators and party activists selling out decentralization whenever it furthers their political ends. Read together, the two books provide a balanced understanding of how centralized policy making has replaced state autonomy with state dependency over the last 100 years. Of the two books, Taylor's is the more intriguing read.

PERSPECTIVE. If the Taylor book is to be sufficiently appreciated, it helps to step back and consider federalism's evolution and devolution. Generally, American decentralization is viewed by academics as a federalism and states' rights story, rooted in the political differences represented by the fifty-five delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Vandegriend on January 13, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My undergraduate majors (Dordt College, 1976) were in Philosophy and History and my post-grad degree a Juris Doctor (law degree, Willamette University College of Law, 1979). I've been a practicing attorney for 34 years and have been an avid reader of philosophy, history, economics and related areas all of my adult life.

Just finished this book and can't say enough good about it. It is far and away the best "political history" of the US I've ever read. Typical history books and texts cover multiple "strands" of history, e.g., political, social, economic, wars, etc. This book is not that, but rather a drilled down history of "political perspective" in the US, focusing especially on the political perspective tension between decentralism vs centralism that runs through the entirety of our nation's lifetime (what the authors short hand tags as "Jeffersonianism vs. Hamiltonianism").

Each chapter of the book is end-noted with a wealth of references, a characteristic that makes it especially useful as a college textbook (advanced history or political science curriculum), or helpful to a serious history / political science reader. It would be a fantastic textbook (or suggested extra reading material) for any college political science curriculum. My personal wish would be that every federal and state legislator would read it.

The author does not hide his own political perspective, but in an honest way that does not diminish from the book's value but rather enhances it. The author's perspective obviously results from a Christian worldview, but not the warm and fuzzy "social justice" perspective that seems to be the evangelical fad of the day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JKT TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 13, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book Jeff Taylor offers an in depth, insightful look at the history and evolution of political thought, looks beyond the rhetoric of political parties in an even-handed manner and argues for the decentralization of power as the logical and right path for America to follow in the 21st century.
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