Forced to Bowl Alone?

By Strand, Palma J. | The Nation, February 10, 2003 | Go to article overview

Forced to Bowl Alone?


Strand, Palma J., The Nation


Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public. By Matthew A. Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg. Johns Hopkins. 294 pp. $29.95.

Being a citizen in America today feels a bit like being the student at the bottom of the class. We are continually reminded of how we are falling down on the job. Not enough of us vote. Not enough of us go to meetings, write letters, join clubs and other organizations. Too many of us don't participate. Too many of us have forsaken the public for the private. The result of our neglect is that our social capital, our civic capacity, the sustaining fibers of our democracy, are fraying. We are letting the rest of the class, the rest of the school, down.

Stretching back to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America is an awareness of the connection between how we act in our everyday lives and America's institutions and overall character as a democratic society and culture. Tocqueville's specific observations about our national character--as joiners and belongers, for example--remain a reference point to this day. But his underlying interest was in exploring how America's democratic ethos affected a wide spectrum of American life--from religion to the arts, from war to relations between the sexes.

The current rap about our defects as citizens reaffirms the existence of a connection between what citizens do in their everyday lives and the vigor of American democracy. But now causation seems to be running in the opposite direction: The focus is less on how our democracy affects us and more on how what we do affects it.

At the most basic level, even our most prominent political institutions--up to and including the Constitution, the Congress, the Presidency and the courts--could not continue without the buy-in of "We the People." There's an Emperor's New Clothes dynamic here: Our political institutions retain their legitimacy only so long as we accord it to them.

Going a step farther, the viability of democratic institutions requires that citizens go beyond simply acknowledging the legitimacy of those institutions: It requires that they act as citizens. If citizens don't vote, if they don't learn and practice the skills of citizens, if they don't tune in and participate as members of the public, then the formalities of a democracy don't count for much. Citizens are what sustains a democracy.

Enter Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg's recent book, Downsizing Democracy. At a superficial level, its message is just one voice in the chorus: Citizens have given way to consumers; the collective American public has devolved into an aggregation of private individuals. But listen more closely, and you'll hear the authors singing a different song. Instead of pointing the finger at citizens, Downsizing Democracy makes the case for the quite different proposition that over time citizens have been demobilized, privatized and ultimately marginalized by fundamental changes in how our institutions of government operate.

Crenson and Ginsberg offer blunt criticisms of a range of actions and interactions that they view as problematic. They contend that the push for "service learning" as civic education reflects the idea that people should simply provide services themselves rather than work collectively to induce government to provide them as a public good. The authors delineate a connection between the mobilization of community service "volunteers" and the demobilization of citizens for political purposes. They lament the call for litigated justice in the form of reparations for slavery as "[disaggregating] a morally coherent demand into 20 million private claims, as though the historical crimes of a nation against a race could be redeemed by cash indemnities." They condemn privatization of public services both for diminishing accountability and for substituting profit for the public interest as the primary goal.

But Crenson and Ginsberg reject the view that these changes result from deficiencies in the populace. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Forced to Bowl Alone?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.