The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform

By John Samples | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Political Culture

Many critics of American politics who have been informed by the Progressive vision bemoan the low expectations we have of citizens. Americans do not appear sufficiently concerned about politics. Fewer of them turn out to vote than their European counterparts. Those who do vote or otherwise participate in politics are expected, some might say encouraged, to pursue their own interests instead of their ideal of the public good. In contrast, these critics say, republican political theorists argued that self-government demanded much of its citizens. They had to actively participate in the life of the polity and pursue the common good, the condition for private happiness. Self-government thus required individuals to practice civic virtues and a political culture—habits, practices, and ideas—that were conducive to citizenship and the common good. Leading Progressives such as John Dewey worried that Americans would become too concerned about private matters and too little devoted to “fundamental general concerns.”1

Some contemporary critics say that private money in politics reduces public confidence in government and drives Americans away from participating. If trustful, participating citizens are ideal, they conclude, money is corrupting American political culture. These critics are partly correct. Americans do distrust government more now than they did in the 1960s, and they often turn out to vote in relatively smaller numbers. But the Progressive critics assume that the changes are wholly pathological and the result of a largely private system of campaign finance. Both assumptions are wrong.

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