Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Criteria for Political Apathy1

BY DAVID RIESMAN AND NATHAN GLAZER

AMONG THOUGHTFUL people today there is increasing discussion of political apathy. The discussion of apathy--and its converse, the "responsibility of the citizen"--has overflowed the boundaries of traditional political science and become the concern of the sociologist, the psychiatrist, the social psychologist, and, recently, the atomic scientists. From Gosnell's studies of nonvoting to the recent interest in the "no-opinion vote" in public opinion polls, from Middletown to recent studies of participation in voluntary associations, we have become increasingly aware that many millions of Americans remain aggressively unattached to the political events and discourse of their locality, their nation, and the world; that millions of others pay only casual attention; and that millions more only observe the game of politics as they would a horse race. Yet during recent decades politics has become increasingly important as a mode of conscious manipulation of the social environment; and complaints arise that people begin to flee from politics just when politics matters most for them.

It is not easy to separate from current complaints about political apathy those themes which represent old problems--for instance, traditional middle-class concern with lower-class indifference to politics

____________________
1
The research project on character and political apathy in America of which this previously unpublished article is one outcome has been conducted by the senior author under the auspices of the Yale University Committee on National Policy. We are very much indebted to the Committee, and to the Carnegie Corporation which financed the work, for the opportunity to pursue these inquiries. This article has been read in an earlier version by a number of friends who made many helpful suggestions. We would like to express our appreciation particularly to Professors Reuel Denney and Herman Finer of the University of Chicago, and Dr. Henry M. Paechter of New York City, for their very careful and critical readings.

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