The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

Excerpt

In the fall of 1880 John W. Burgess and his colleagues in Columbia University founded the Academy of Political Science. Its purpose was to investigate political, economic, and social issues and to provide a link between the University and the town in working toward solutions. In this volume, the Academy offers a collection of essays in commemoration of its centennial of service to the nation.

Americans like to think of themselves as the most civilized, most prosperous, and most peace-loving people in the world. Moreover, they consider their government the most democratic and successful in existence. Chief Justice Warren Burger, however, stated in his annual address to the American Bar Association in 1981 that the United States was approaching "the status of an impotent society." He argued that the reason for this is that American society has lost the power to govern itself and to maintain the law and order necessary for civilized living. In considering this allegation one might ask: Has the government undertaken so much and become so large that it is unmanageable? Can the United States solve its multitude of domestic problems while maintaining its role as a superpower? If these questions have some validity, there can be no more important a problem facing the nation today, nor one more suitable for the Academy's attention.

The last hundred years have seen major technological developments and wide social and cultural changes in the nation. The continued movement of population to the Sun Belt has shifted the balance of political power. The increasing complexity of the economic system has led people to expect more from government. New elites have organized and pushed for changes in the political system. Reforms intended to bring the power to govern closer to the people have led to structural changes in the government. Each time a change was made in the institutions of government, such as woman suffrage and direct primaries, it was viewed as a progressive reform. Today one might well question the assumptions of the "reformers" and whether they succeeded. What were the unforeseen consequences of their efforts and to what extent did these institutional changes affect the power to govern? The purpose of this collection of essays is to assess . . .

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