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A very (geographically) focused analysis of American government in action
on November 17, 2011
Dahl's Who Governs is probably no less relevant today than it was in its own time. A fairly comprehensive quantitative and qualitative study of the political nature of the City of New Haven from its founding to approximately 1959, Dahl presents a view of American "democracy" as a democracy where resources of power are unevenly distributed, and not cumulatively held by one single segment of society. Power and government are pluralistic in a uniquely American sense in his New Haven of the past, and also "democratic" in an American understanding. In this book he gives us an idea of who and what groups are involved in power and making decisions in politics, and how those individuals at the top involve the middling and lower strata of society in their elevation to power and execution thereof.
What's most interesting to me is that Dahl's conception of power under Mayor Lee in the 1950's approaches nearly a corporatist government structure based on groupings of power bases (ethnic, regional, intellectual, industry-based) and strategically selected political "representatives" of those distinct groups selected by the mayor. However, Dahl is clear to point out that although Lee ran an effective executive office that was able to effect a broad swath of policy changes, the citizens of New Haven never compromised or had compromised their "democratic creed" by the mayor's efforts.
While interesting and certainly relevant to today's socio-political issues - especially his section on the levels of integration of immigrant minority groups into the political process - certainly a broader framework of understanding needs to be considered to understand American democracy and electoral politics as a whole. As expected Dahl is quick to remind the reader that New Haven has to be considered in a broader context of the entire United States. Even so, this work contains a number of concepts and frameworks that can be applied to a holistic understanding of the ever-evolving pluralistic nature of American politics and power.