Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Aristocrats vs. Populists

After years of seeing the book referred to, I am finally reading Democracy in America and finding it a fascinating (if challenging) read. Last night I read about Toqueville's analysis of the two strains of thought inherent in a democracy, one of which tends to increase the power of the people and the other to restrain it (Vol 1, Chapter X). The aristocratic faction tries to put boundaries on the extent to which the common people can affect government and to retain the power for elected legislators, while the populist factions tries to retain as much power for the common people as possible (as in referendums). The next thing I read was a description in The Fifties, by David Halberstam, about the division that beset the Republican Party after Roosevelt's reign as president left the Democratic Party firmly in power; the split was primarily between the aristocratic East Coast Establishment and the populist heartland. The modern Democratic party shows similar divisions, between the college-educated liberals who voted for Obama and the blue-color folks who voted for Clinton in the primaries. Toqueville's description of these trends, written over two centuries ago, still applies to American politics, and is still a useful tool in analyzing it.

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