A Book Review
Editor's Note: A book review by Paul Rilling, retired journalist, adjunct instructor of
political science, JSU, of The Future of American Democracy
by Glen Browder, University Press of America, 2002.
April 4, 2003 -- Most Americans take our democratic system for granted. They assume it will work well, as it has for over 200 years. They believe it is the best system in the world, one well worth fighting for.
They may be wrong. In fact, they may be part of the problem.
Former Congressman Glen Browder has written a provocative book warning us that, "American democracy no longer works the way it has in the past." He writes that, "The political machinery of American democracy is broken."
Glenn Browder knows our political and governmental system as few people do. He taught political science at Jacksonville State University for 15 years, until 1986, and is now back as Eminent Scholar in American Democracy. He represented Calhoun County in the Alabama Legislature, won statewide election as Secretary of State, and won four elections as Third District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He won every election except the last one. In 1996, he lost a Democratic primary race for U.S. senator and retired from active politics. Very few political science Ph.D.'s run for public office; very few politicians have studied our political system as a professor and scholar. Dr. Browder combines the two careers, the two perspectives.
Browder is not a defeatist or a pessimist. He is concerned about the future of American democracy. He writes that our system suffers from "political distemper," and that, "we seem to be tiring of our historic national democratic experiment."
What is wrong? We, the people, no longer participate as active citizens. We don't vote. We don't take part in civic activities. We no longer trust our government. "Anger, cynicism, extremism, and a pernicious irrelevancy are taking their toll on our national democratic experiment," Browder writes.
He cites data showing that voter turnout has been decreasing during the last half of the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty First. "Only half of the voting age population actually took part in the hotly-contested 2000 presidential election between Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush." Poll data shows, according to Browder, that 63% of the American people think that government can be trusted to do what is right only "some of the time," not "most of the time."
A major part of our problem today is the loss of our national unity, Browder writes. "America is involved in a philosophical civil war over democratic ideals, cultural values, and principals of governance." The conflict is between "Traditional America . . . which subscribes to religious convictions, community values, and relatively conservative government," and "Emerging America . . . inclined toward social diversity, moral tolerance and activist government." He says this philosophical civil war is "a political free-for-all among disparate forces challenging the status and course of American democracy."
Browder believes that we stand "at a critical juncture in American history." We have faced and overcome such critical junctures before in our history. He writes that he expects that we will overcome this one, but only if we acknowledge and face our problems, if the people and our leaders seek a national renewal of our democracy.
This book was intended primarily for the classroom. Its form may be a bit difficult for the general reader. But it will repay the effort for anybody interested in our future as a free and democratic nation.
In concluding his book, Browder writes that, "In our hands, in our hearts, in our minds, lie prosperity, and knowledge, and freedom or wretchedness, and barbarism, and servitude. The future of American democracy demands our attention."
|© Copyright 2003: Jacksonville State University||Pagemaster|