The Arc of the Democratic Wish

Morone’s The Democratic Wish presented a sophisticated but rather pessimistic view of American government.  Basically Morone says that American politics is a never-ending cycle of four steps: a stalemate of liberalism, a popular response provoked by the people, new political institutions being created to accommodate the popular response, and a reassertion of the political stalemate.  He argues that this cycle is driven by a combination of dread of government and yearning for political action which creates continually larger and less efficient governments, and that this cycle doesn’t look as if it will be stopped; at the end of his book he calls for Americans to break free from this cycle.

I find Morone’s description of American politics to be pretty accurate.  As he says, “once the reforms are in place, the image of a united republican volk evaporates into the reality of classes and interests scrapping for partisan advantage” (Morone 12).  However, he also goes on to say that “the institutions designed (and won) in the name of the people remain.  Like all political organizations they have biases; they alter the old political alignments and break the stalemate imposed by the dread of government” (Morone 12).  This is how political change occurs in the United States  It is not perfect and it usually doesn’t achieve the intended results.  But it happens.  Some problems are solved and lead to new problems cropping up.  That’s the eternal cycle of American politics and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Progress may often take far longer than we desire, but it usually happens in the end; for example, it took a hundred years to make the leap from abolition of slavery to comprehensive civil rights reform.  It is shameful that it took so long, but slow progress was being made the whole time.  It reminds me of Martin Luther King’s quote: “The arc of morality is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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2 Responses to The Arc of the Democratic Wish

  1. jlpach says:

    To start, I do agree that Morone’s suggestion of the democratic cycle is an accurate description of our current government and that large government does result in inefficiency. Morone seems to have a pessimistic view on how the large government functions; however, I do not believe that this democratic cycle should be viewed pessimistically in its entirety. In one of the discussion sections, I talked with a few classmates about how to combine Morone’s democratic cycle theories with civic republican and classic liberal ideologies. Although it might be obvious which stage of the cycle has more of a civic republican tendency and which has a classic liberal tendency, we concluded that the stages are rather ambiguous and cannot be straightforwardly paired with political ideologies. We determined that characteristics of both ideologies are apparent in each stage. For example, in the fourth stage of the cycle, having a large government is a classic liberal characteristic; yet, having a large government result from the dread of government intrusiveness is very civic republican because the growth of more institutions means increased representation not just for the individual but mainly for the community. I feel that the combination of ideologies and the ambiguity of their characteristics in each stage of the cycle prove their influences on the structure of the government and its cycles of democracy, which leads me to conclude that the compromise between the ideologies allows for the best possible democratic system of government. Although Morone’s “democratic wish,” being a participatory democracy, may never be possible, it is essentially the people themselves influencing the course of the government in its progress to democracy in choosing to increase the number of institutions as a result of the dread of government corruption. It is an ironic situation, yet it brings about a sort of success in the creation of a democratic government.

  2. parisaalaie says:

    I found your blog entry very interesting. You definitely take an optimistic view on the cycle described by Morone. I understand your point that eventually all of the change brought about in the system will lead to a final product that is acceptable by the citizens and that will eventually lead to progress. But what about the role of this process in hindering positive change? This is one of the reasons why Morone was so angry with the American political system; he believed that as soon as a beneficial piece of legislation was introduced the system would move on to the next stage and therefore prevent it from being put into affect. You gave a great example of the Civil Rights reform and you stated that although it took a long time, “but slow progress was being made the whole time.” Was there truly progress being made the entire time? There have been many moments in our government where proposed legislation are ignored and this results in us taking a step back as a society. And although similar legislation may be proposed and passed many years afterwards, I don’t think that that would necessarily mean that we were slowly progressing throughout those many years and now finally reached our destination.

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