Democracy in Urban America

Democracy in Urban America

Democracy in Urban America

Democracy in Urban America

Excerpt

This readings book is designed to ask both old and relatively new questions about democracy in urban America. The old ones pertain to the values of local self-government which have long been a part of our national political catechism; the new ones to the condition of local democracy as it exists in the cities of America today. By raising both at the same time, it may be that new answers to some of the old questions may emerge.

One of the old questions concerns the necessity for local selfgovernment in a democratic society. The traditional answer has been that local self-government is the foundation of our democratic system. It is still a popular answer, and it may well be a good one, but too often it is a glib response based on limited reflection or observation.

The idealization of strong local self-government began with the very inception of our national system. Jefferson is usually considered the theoretician who first exalted the idea of republics in miniature. But, given his stress on agrarian democracy, his remarks are, in most respects, inappropriate for the experience of our subsequent national life. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing after the new democracy bad been in operation only two generations, supplied us with the clearest statement of what may be considered the classic view of local democracy in America. De Tocqueville was not blind to the shortcomings of local selfgovernment, but he saw in it a major source of strength for American democracy Here democratic men were truly equal, where neighbors could sit down with neighbors, and through negotiation, common sense, and a feeling for the needs of the common community could work out the policies for building roads, schools, gathering taxes, and providing essential services. It was here that the sense of membership in a democratic society was instilled in all citizens, and membership in this primary group served as a protective buffer for the citizen in resisting advances of a centralized bureaucracy. Local governments were, therefore, the "democratic building blocks" created through face-to-face relations. Thus they furnished the foundation for representative democracy at the national level.

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