July 1, 2011


Gordon S. Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011) (From 'Chapter Six, The Making of American Democracy': "In our dealings with newly developing nations, we are apt to believe that the mere institution of the ballot in a new country will automatically create a viable democracy, and we are often confused and disillusioned when this rarely happens." "The point is that we have the relationship backward. It is not suffrage that gives life to our democracy; it is our democratic society that gives life to suffrage. American society is permeated by the belief in (and, despite extraordinary differences of income, in the reality of) equality that makes our reliance on the ballot operable. It was not the breadth of the franchise in the nineteenth century that created democratic politics. The franchise was broad enough even in colonial times. Rather, it was the egalitarian process of politics that led to the mobilization of voters and the political integration of the nation. It was the work of countless politicians recruited from all levels of society and representing many diverse interests, attempting to win elections by exhorting and pleading with their electors that in the final analysis shaped our democratic system. Any state can grant suffrage to its people overnight, but it cannot thereby guarantee to itself a democratic polity. As American history shows, such a democracy requires generations of experience with electoral politics. More important, it requires the emergence of political parties and egalitarian politicians none of whom have too much power and most of whom ought to run scared--politicians whose maneuvering for electoral advantage, whose courting of the electorate, and whose passion for victory result, in the end, in grander and more significant developments than they themselves can foresee or even imagine. Politicians are at the heart of our political system, and insofar as it is democratic, they have made it so." Id. at 189, 211-212. Food for thought.).