America's Three Regimes: A New Political History

America's Three Regimes: A New Political History

America's Three Regimes: A New Political History

America's Three Regimes: A New Political History


When historians take the long view, they look at "ages" or "eras" (the Age of Jackson, the Progressive Era). But these time spans last no longer than a decade or so. In this groundbreaking new book, Morton Keller divides our nation's history into three regimes, each of which lasts many, many decades, allowing us to appreciate, as never before, the slow steady evolution of American public life.
Americans like to think of our society as eternally young and effervescent. But the reality is very different. A proper history of America must be as much about continuity, persistence, and evolution as about transformation and revolution. To provide this proper history, Keller groups America's past into three long regimes--Deferential and Republican, from the colonial period to the 1820s; Party and Democratic, from the 1830s to the 1930s; and Populist and Bureaucratic, from the 1930s to the present.
This approach yields many new insights. We discover, for instance, that the history of colonial America, the Revolution, and the Early Republic is a more unified story than usually assumed. The Civil War, industrialization, and the Progressive era did relatively little to alter the character of the democratic-party regime that lasted from the 1830s to the 1930s. And the populist-bureaucratic regime in which we live today has seen changes in politics, government, and law as profound as those that occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
As Keller underscores the sheer staying power of America's public institutions, he sheds light on current concerns as well: in particular, will the current political polarization continue or will more moderate forces prevail.
Here then is a major contribution to United States history--an entirely new way to look at our past, our present, and our future--packed with provocative and original observations about American public life.


Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When
change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for
possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among
savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it

—George Santayana

I see gr-reat changes takin’ place ivry day, but no change at all ivry fifty years.

—Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne)

THIS BOOK BEGAN as, and remains, an attempt to take a fresh look at the history of America’s public life—politics, government, and law—from its colonial beginnings to the tumultuous present. But as the writing of the book progressed, the issues and atmospherics of the current public scene turned out to be an ever more intrusive presence. It is widely assumed that ours is a special time in American history: of a uniquely bitter politics and disillusioned electorate; an exceptionally dysfunctional president, Congress, and bureaucracy; a highly polarized Supreme Court. Titles of recent books on public affairs make the point: Dark Ages America, Politics Lost, American Theocracy, The Twilight of Democracy, Protofascism in America, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. Is this sense of special malaise accurate?

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