Monday, July 03, 2006

 

Wilentz on Democracy

I’ve started going through Sean Wilentz’ history of the United States between 1800 and 1860, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, and was struck by this paragraph in the preface:

Democracy appears when some large number of previously excluded, ordinary persons – what the eighteenth century called “the many” – secure the power not simply to select their governors but to oversee the institutions of government, as officeholders and as citizens free to assemble and criticize those in office. Democracy is never a gift bestowed by benevolent, farseeing rulers who seek to reinforce their own legitimacy. It must always be fought for, by political coalitions that cut across distinctions of wealth, power, and interest. It succeeds and survives only when it is rooted in the lives and expectations of its citizens, and continually reinvigorated in each generation. Democratic successes are never irreversible.


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