The Two Faces of Political Apathy

The Two Faces of Political Apathy

The Two Faces of Political Apathy

The Two Faces of Political Apathy


This inclusive study examines the extraordinarily high rates of political nonparticipation in the United States and the political, historical, institutional, and philosophical roots of such widespread apathy. To explain why individuals become committed to political apathy as a political role, Tom DeLuca begins by defining "the two faces of political apathy. "The first, rooted in free will, properly places responsibility for nonparticipation in the political process on individuals. Political scientists and journalists, however, too often overlook a second, more insidious face of apathy-a condition created by institutional practices and social and cultural structures that limit participation and political awareness. The public blames our most disenfranchised citizens for their own disenfranchisement. Apathetic citizens blame themselves. DeLuca examines classic and representative explanations of non-participation by political analysts across a range of methodologies and schools of thought. Focusing on their views on the concepts of political power and political participation, he assesses current proposals for reform. He argues that overcoming the second face of apathy requires a strategy of "real political equality," which includes greater equality in the availability of political resources, in setting the political agenda, in clarifying political issues, and in developing a public sphere for more genuine democratic politics. Author note: Tom DeLucais Assistant Professor of Political Science at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. He has been a long-time activist on local and national issues, especially nuclear arms control, and his op-ed pieces on politics have appeared inThe New York Times,New York Newsday,The Nation, andThe Progressive.


Democracy. It is at the heart of American character, the drum major of American history. Yet, it is not discussed in any presidential election, never edges out the nightly murder report on the evening news, usually isn't part of parlor chatter, or barroom talk. It is the most important issue facing American politics today.

I write this book as a challenge, to myself, to the public, to political leaders, and to the profession of political science, to make democracy and the severe problems of nonparticipation central political issues today. That as democrats we challenge ourselves, citizens and thinkers, citizens as thinkers, to return to the root of democracy -- and the root is rule by the people -- by asking ourselves sharp questions:

What do we mean by democracy, how much are we really committed to it, what are we willing to do to bring it more fully about? Should we rule ourselves, or are we better off letting others -- business leaders, experts, TV commentators, bankers, special interests -- make the important decisions for us? As Americans, we have the freedom to ask these questions. As average Americans, we may not have the power to implement the answers we find.

I hope to make a small contribution to this discussion in three ways. First and foremost, this book is a critique of political analysis, how it has been applied to the problem of nonparticipation within democratic theory -- indeed, whether nonparticipation has been considered a serious enough problem at all. Second, it suggests alternative theoretical and political directions that reveal nonparticipation to be a severe problem and important issue, and that clarify those things we need to think through, decisions we need to make, actions we need to take, to make American democracy come alive. And so, third, it makes a friendly but firm challenge to each of us, and to all of us as a people and a nation, to consider these issues, to ask some hard questions, to decide what we really think about democracy.

Political apathy is central to this work and to this challenge, for how we understand it foreshadows our decision, stalks it from ahead. Perhaps this is too academic a book, but that's not the subject's fault. For, in part, the book . . .

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