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The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of the Public Trust Paperback – March 21, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0415930260 ISBN-10: 041593026X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (March 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041593026X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415930260
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #725,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As the United States faces what many see as another lackluster election in November 2000, John B. Judis's The Paradox of American Democracy addresses the decline of public participation in national politics over the course of the 20th century. He persuasively attributes the blame to the deteriorated relationship between unions and grassroots activists and the elite policy foundations that often championed their causes, a relationship eroded by self-interested businessmen and populist demagoguery. American political life, Judis writes, was never strictly a contest between popular and wealthy special-interest groups. Public policy organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Brookings Institution, for example, have pushed for, or refereed, legislation for social, economic, and political reform that benefited labor, civil rights, and environmental activists. Since the 1970s, though, think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute have pursued their own economic interests by forging links with reactionary populist groups like the Moral Majority, silencing progressive voices less able to present their interests amidst the onslaught of corporate propaganda. Public policy, Judis feels, is now formed primarily by lobbyists rather than those concerned about the broader public welfare.

Paradox presents a detailed portrait of how organized political blocs, independent public policy foundations, and the federal government have interacted over the last 100 years, and how the relationship has been eroded by corporate priorities. While his facts are correct, Judis's fondness for the hegemonic social order of FDR's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society might raise objections from sympathetic readers who feel that vital leftist energy was co-opted by post-Fordism, not enabled by it. The link between activists' declining access to power and the dwindling electoral turnout could also be made more explicit. Judis nevertheless provides a brisk and informative history of the structure of American civic life. --John M. Anderson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Judis (William F. Buckley: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), senior editor at the New Republic, presents a familiar diagnosis of American democracy with an interesting twist. He deplores the absence of even a basic conception of the common good in contemporary pluralism. Individuals and organizations enter the political arena to empower and enrich themselves at the expense of others, and advances in information and technology serve to further entrench the influence of money. Indeed, the proliferation of think tanks and lobbying organizations has undermined popular participation in politics rather than enhancing it, says Judis, "making politics the exclusive province of paid hacks and single-issue fanatics." American democracy has had its ups and downs over the years, and Judis is not the first to suggest that we are currently at a low ebb. His unique contribution is the identification of a key variable in the historical cycle: he contends that elites shape the health of political activity. During periods when influential private citizens, especially business leaders, share or at least tolerate a national vision for the country, politics has been a vehicle for improving the lives of citizens, e.g., during the Progressive era and the New Deal. By contrast, he says, today business concern for the country ends at the offices of K Street lobbyists, and "narcissism," "selfish individualism" and "narrow moralism" have left Americans seeking "either wealth or moral perfection" and politicians walking the corridors of the Capitol "with a check... in one hand and a Bible in the other." Judas pulls no punches in making his point that reinvigorating democracy requires a renewed assumption of public responsibility by elites. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By GainTen@aol.com on May 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anybody interested in American history and politics. John B. Judis gives a historic account of how our democracy has been damaged by big money and irresponsible elites, focusing from the progressieve era to today. The book is an easy read, and Judis makes his points well understood. He analyzes how different elites and special interest groups have functioned in America.
The chapters "Business and the Rise of K Street," and "Triumph of Conservatives," were very interesting and thought provoking. Judis gives a closer and infromative look at how political action committees and conservative groups have contributed huge amounts of money to politicians, and how they recently dramatically increased their influence in governments decisions.
The last two chapters are also good in explaining how changes in big business influenceing government even more in the 70's and 80's is hard to shake when dealing with a reform agenda. It is chalk full of statistics that are astounding, and are attributed to respectable sources: PAC's gave 72% of their money to Republicans during the last six weeks of teh 1978 elections.
A problem with this book though is that it blames the Republicans too much when talking about the lack of public participation in politics. I guess that was expected though considering that Mr. Judis is a senior editor of "The New Republic" (a liberal magazine), although he does not seem to be a fan of Clinton. All together this book is very informative and holds your interest. Along with recommending this book, I will recommend reading Jim Hightower's "If the Gods had meant us to vote they would have given us Candidates.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Anne Mosnier Kennedy on July 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The most compelling theme of this book to me was its historical explanation of why there seems to be no informed/reasoned middle ground in politics today, which is something I find particularly mystifying and frustrating. The history and mechanics Judis describes of how disinterested elites have disappeared while letterhead advocacy groups have become rampant is very plausible, especially with the numerous detailed examples he cites.
The book might lose a little gas after the Reagan years, but I thought that was OK since Clinton+ has been dissected a million different ways and I wasn't looking for another take on that.
The book also serves as a valuable field guide to policy groups of different stripes. If you are a little fuzzy on the difference between the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institute (as I admit I was), then that's a big part of the problem Judis is describing.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
Judis is particularly smart about the 1970s, which he characterizes as a moment of conservative and corporate backlash. He suggests that if you follow the money, and the think-tanks, you can see (in part) how and why the right was able to triumph politically in a degraded public sphere once we got to the 1980s and 1990s. The name of the game for them has been propaganda--"Trust us, Mr. Working Man, welfare cheats are what ail you. That and capital gains taxes that are too high."--and they've done it well. Hell, with all the Scaife, Olin, Cato, Heritage, AEI, and CEI doublespeak and disinformation spewed out over the course of the last 3 decades, it's a wonder any of us have any sense left at all. Hopefully, with the eruption of a new corporate scandal every other day in 2002 (nearly all of which have links to the "screw-the-poor-and-the-middle-class / but-fatten-the-rich-and-the-corporations" Bush-Cheney Administration) people are finally beginning to wise up...
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By oregonstatebeavergirl21 on April 16, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very blatantly biased towards the left! His vision in this book paints unions as the good guys and corporations as evil as usual.I do not recommend this book for anyone.
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6 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
Do yourself a favor and avoid this book. Mr. Judis fails miserably to explain why political cynicism seems to be at an all-time high. A devout leftist, Judis relies upon formulaic left wing claptrap to support his thesis that high minded elitists are no longer looking out for the interest of working people, but rather their own self interest. He somehow manages to strech out liberal 'bumper sticker' philosophy for 306 pages, most of it mind numbingly innane. This book is an utter failure, particularly given that his book on WF Buckley was surprisingly neutral and honest. This is the type of drivel you would expect to see from some nutjob writing for Mother Jones, not the New Republic. What a shame.
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