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American Democracy Reconsidered: Part II and Conclusions

Author(s): L. J. Sharpe
Source: British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Apr., 1973), pp. 129-167
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/193379
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B.J.Pol.S. 3, 129-167
Printed in Great Britain

American Democracy Reconsidered:

Part II and Conclusions


Whenwe studynationalvariationsin politicaltheory,we are led to semanticconsider-

ations of a delicatekind ...
Louis Hartz

The overall conclusion to be drawn from the discussion contained in Part I of this
article is that, even in respect of what are usually regardedin the literatureas being
some of its more distinctively democratic characteristics,the American system of
urban government is lacking. It may even be in these respects less democratic
than the British. Whether it is agreed that the attributes discussed in Part I are
those of a democracy or not, by its own lights American city government is
However, as we noted at the beginning, there remainother aspects of democracy
that do not appear to figure very prominently in the American democratic ethos;
nor are they adequately defined in the literature on American urban government.
They were therefore missing in the earlier list of attributes. These omitted attri-
butes are, I think, of at least equal importance to those included. So, if we are to
attempt an answer to the question posed at the beginning of the paper - is Ameri-
can city government democratic? - they must be considered as well. Since these
omissions tend to be very much less specific than the attributes so far discussed -
concepts ratherthan institutional arrangements- the directcomparativeapproach
is not pursued because it is much more difficult to find uniform indices. But the
main reason for dropping direct comparisons is that the omissions reflect, one
suspects, the suigeneris characterof American democracy. It is therefore essential
to avoid confusing the issue by making comparisons with British practice. The
assumption is that in respect of the aspects to be discussed America is probably
differentnot just from Britain but from most other comparable democracies. The
three aspects are (i) functional effectiveness, (2) public trust and (3) the public
interest. Like the attributes considered in Part I these concepts are not mutually
exclusive and are treated separately merely for the sake of clarity of exposition.
There is also some overlap with the earlier discussion but that again is
* NuffieldCollege, Oxford. Part I of this article
appearedin the last numberof the Journal.

(i) FunctionalEffectiveness
The first, arguably the most important, of the aspects that are central to the notion
of representative democracy - but one that seems to be largely ignored in the
American tradition - may be called functional effectiveness. By this is meant that
minimum concentration of power which alone makes representativegovernment
possible. Assuming that no urban community in an industrial society is entirely
static, there being always a continuous flow of new needs to be met and new cir-
cumstances to be accommodated, then representativedemocracy can have mean-
ing only if those who are chosen have the power to carry out the wishes of those
who choose them in the light of these inevitably changing circumstances.
The inevitability of change is not a necessary condition however. Even if it were
possible to conceive of a static urbanindustrialcommunity the need for functional
effectiveness would still remain since the idea of political equality which under-
pins democracy - that each man is of equal worth - must inevitably spill over into
the economic and social sphere. And, if there is any economic and social in-
equality, as there must be in a society with any specialization of function, then
government becomes a major instrumentin redressingthose inequalities precisely
because it is the one place where the disadvantaged can exercise power. As
Tocqueville put it, 'Democratic institutions call forth and flatter that passion for
equality without ever being able to give it complete satisfaction." Even if con-
siderable restraints are put on government to counteract this tendency, as they
assuredly will be, the link between democracy and social and economic equality
cannot be severed, for to be completely effective such restraints must destroy
democracy itself. This may appear to let the cat out of the bag: functional effec-
tiveness is merely a subterfugefor smuggling in a desire for greatereconomic and
social equality - a value judgement wolf dressed up in scientific sheep's clothing.
It is impossible to 'prove' the link between political and economic equality in a
democracy, and persuasive as the argument is that strong government is a collec-
tivist ruse (particularlyfor some American political scientists, as we shall see), if
there is a value judgement involved, it is made by those who deny the validity of
functional effectiveness as a fundamental prerequisite of democracy. For there
remains a further reason for claiming that functional effectiveness is essential for
democratic government. We may deny Tocqueville's dictum and we may deny
that change is endemic in urban industrial society, but there still remains the fact
that weak government excludes strong governmental action while strong govern-
ment does not necessarily exclude weak governmental action - or even inaction.
We may dine at a three star restaurant and take only soup, but if there are no
restaurants we have no choice but to eat at home.

1 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. I. Quoted by J. S. Mill in his review in

the Westminster Review for October 1835 which is reprinted in Essays on Politics and Culture,
ed. G. Himmelfarb(New York: Anchor Books, 1963), p. 199. In case it is thought that in
quoting TocquevilleI am alreadybackslidingon the moratoriumsuggestedin Part I, it must
be emphasizedthat Tocquevilleis being quoted here as a theoristof democracyand not as a
studentof Americanpolitics.
AmnericanDemocracyReconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 131

In short, the link between functional effectiveness and democracy rests on the
simple proposition that the right to choose presupposes the possibility of action
on the part of those chosen. If government cannot act because it is too weak - be-
cause it is not functionally effective - then democracy ceases to exist.
One of the implications of this presupposition is that democratic government
must have a degree of autonomy - that government is something more than the
emanation of the popular will. The disinclination of the American tradition to
accept this view is neatly epitomized in a negative sense by Eckstein, who as a
student of democratic government of some distinction could hardly be accused of
being unaware of the conditions for effective democracy but who nevertheless
seems to deny the link between government autonomy and democracy. He is in
fact talking about the British democratic tradition (which for the purposes of the
argument is a pity for the reason given above) but he does state unambiguously
the American position. 'British ideas of representative government,' he points
out, 'stress not only the derivative character of political authority (i.e. that
authority lies in popular will) but also its independentcharacter(i.e. that authority
is exercised over, or regardlessof popular will). These two ideas are, of course, in-
consistent, but the British believe in both nevertheless'.2The key phrase in the
quotation is the 'of course' in the last sentence. There is no hesitation, no
qualification: you either have authority derived directly from the popular will
which is democracy, or something else. There is only one choice for a democrat
because, as Schattschneiderhas put it, 'The hero of the system is the voter who is
commonly described as the ultimate source of all authority'.3
This view of democracyexplains a lot about the curiouslyand probablyuniquely
fragmentedcharacterof American city governmentnoted earlier.To say that it is
fragmented is perhaps not strong enough: it lacks sufficient critical mass to the
point where 'from a purelyformal standpoint one can hardly say that there is such
a thing as local government'.4And, as we have seen, where there is coherence it is
achieved by sacrificingdemocracy, either to the party boss and the machine or to
the city manager and the special district. In practice it is apparently impos-
sible to concentrate power and still avoid the twin pitfalls of boss rule and
bureaucratization. This seems to be Banfield and Wilson's conclusion in City
Politics. Having practically dismissed the reform movement as the apostles of
bureaucratizationunder the guise of scientific management for being both mis-
guided and undemocratic, they are able to offer as an alternative only the boss-
ridden party system. There is hardly a whisper throughout their study that it may
be possible to have 'clean' parties that are not run by a machine combinedwith an
effective decision-making process that is not derived from what they rightly see
as the dubious advantages of non-partisanship (with its attendant theory that
government is really just another form of private business).
H. Eckstein, 'The British Political System', in S. Beer et al., Patterns of Government (New
York: Random House, I967), p. 77.
3 E. E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1960), p. 99.
4 E. Banfield and J. Wilson, City Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963),
p. 76.

Whether Banfield and Wilson are aware that their alternativesconstitute a very
narrow view of the possibilities of local democracy is unclear, but it is clear that
they consider that the American tradition of local democracy excludes other
possibilities. Doubtless they are right, for what strikes the outside observer as
being one of the most widely held - most quintessentiallyAmerican - attitudes to
government is the belief implied in the quotation from Eckstein that all authority
stems from the people and that therefore all governmentis an object of suspicion:
a potential threat to individual liberty because it can become the instrument of
either an oppressive minority or an oppressive majority which has therefore to be
kept in the closest possible check.
We may call this view populism. To do so is to invite confusion since populism
has of course an accepted and fairly specific meaning among historians and social
scientists,5 and Dahl has convincingly demonstrated that the American system
has not a populist but a Madisonian character;indeed the system was deliberately
designed to forestall the emergence of what he calls populistic democracy.6
However, I want to stick to populism because while I accept Dahl's distinction
between Madisonian and populistic democracy, both in fact share the common
characteristic that they deny the crucial link between democracy and functional
effectiveness. That is to say, Madisonian democracy differs from populistic
democracy only in the sense that it wishes to thwart the popular will the better to
protect minorities (or the better to protect the republic from the man on a white
horse) and not because it denies the validity of the populist premise that all
authority must reside in the people. This is also true of Dahl's own definition of
democracy, polyarchy, which is, as he points out in his introduction to A Preface
to Democratic Theory, almost wholly concerned with the 'processes by which
ordinary citizens exert a relatively high degree of control over leaders'.
Although he appears to have changed his focus of interest from controlling
leaders to ensuring that they are responsive, he remains a firm populist: 'I assume
that a key characteristic of a democracy is the continuing responsiveness of the
government to the preferences of its citizens considered as equals.'7 And the no-
tion of responsivenessis seen by Dahl exclusivelyin terms of the articulation of the
people's will, so that in his list of the three conditions and the eight 'institutional
guarantees' that make a system 'completely or almost completely responsive to
all its citizens'8 - that is to say a polyarchy - there is no place whatsoever for the
capacity of government to respond.
Thus Dahl stands four-square in the American tradition: all government is a
potential threat to individual liberty so the central problem for democrats is how
to minimize that threat by ensuring the maximum obedience to the popular will.
Mrs Pateman summarizes Dahl and the other so-called 'elitist' democrats who
5 See J. B. Allcock, 'Populism: a Brief Biography', Sociology, v (1971), 371-87, for a discussion
of the use of the termamong sociologists.
6 R.
Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1956),
Chap. 2.
7 R. Dahl, Polyarchy (New Haven: Yale UniversityPress, I971), p. I.
Dahl, Polyarchy, p. 3.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 133

representthe modern manifestation of the tradition thus: 'the function of partici-

pation in the theory is solely a protective one; the protection of the individualfrom
arbitrarydecisions by elected leaders and the protection of his private interests.
It is in its achievement of this aim that the justification for the democratic method
The objection to this tradition is that it reducesdemocracysolely to the negative
relationship between elector and elected: to how the former control the latter.
How we are to control our leaders is assuredlya central problem in a democracy;
but, if it is elevated to become the only problem, it is difficult to escape the con-
clusion that the incapacity of governmentis a positive good. Yet, as we have seen,
democracy above all other systems has to be capable - has to be functionally
effective - because it alone claims to offer the people a choice. To ensure that the
choices offered are real ones, and not merely a shadow play that reduces the pre-
legislative process to a form of symbolic participation, government must at the
outset be strong.
It may be arguedthat the Americantradition itself sees the fragmentedcharacter
of American city government( and national and State governmentfor that matter)
and the status accorded to voluntary groups as providing the opportunity for a
whole range of extra-muralpolitical activities such as electioneering, running for
office and above all, of course, participatingin group politics. Far from being mere
shadow play these activities are themselves a valued 'output' of American local
governmentin two senses. The firstconcerns the whole electoral process and has to
do with the feeling of isolation from the core culture experienced by various
ethnic groups. For them policy is secondaryand the processes of politics areends in
themselves since they provide a method of asserting a sense of identity without
infringing the prevailing customs of the host community.10 The second sense
concerns group politics: the mere existence of groups provides a stabilizing ele-
ment in society and also a training ground for democracy. So far as it goes there is
little doubt that this is true. Although, as we have seen, it only touches on a frac-
tion of the population, the educative function of local representativeinstitutions
and other voluntary groups in a democracy is widely acknowledged. Moreover,
9 C. Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (London: Cambridge University Press,
I970), p. 14.
10 Lucien
Pye has described this type of extra-mural politics and its benefits thus: 'Both the
drama and the mechanism of politics can attract people, engrossed either consciously or un-
consciously, in all manner of personal concerns which cannot in any way find their solutions in
the enactment of any particular public policies. Politics can give legitimacy to feelings of
aggression and hostility, and a cloak of virtue to sordid motives. Politics can also provide the
excitement of creativity and the sense of comradeship to people who have long felt themselves
suppressed and isolated.
People who come to politics out of such motivations will not be satisfied with the realization
of any particular goals of public policy; for them the meaning of politics is to be found in the
drama of participation, in the excitement of controversy and the security of associating and
above all on the reassurance of being superior to others. For such people one alternative of
public policy can be quite as satisfying as another.' Politics, Personality and Nation Building
(New Haven: Yale University Press, I962), p. 12 quoted in E. Levine, The Irish and Irish
Politicians (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966).

the scope and the vigour of extra-mural politics in the United States is derived
from, but doubtless also sustains, those secondary associations that are interme-
diate between the individual and the central state and are said to be lacking (for
example) in France"l and which are thought to be so important for 'stable' de-
mocracy in an urban industrial society. These secondary associations, so the
theory claims, are indeed the saving grace of the mass society.12
Both these forms of extra-mural politics, so far as they go, can be something
more than mere symbolism. Also, where extra-muralpolitics are designed solely
to maintain the status quo it would be an error to dub such activity as symbolism
on the grounds that it will have no substantive outcome since that is precisely the
object of the exercise. But, as we have seen, important as participation of this kind
may be, it can only account for part of extra-muralpolitics since change is ende-
mic in industrial democracies. For participation that does seek to change the
status quo, the institution to which it is tributary- the government- must itself be
capable of acting.
It is worth noting parenthetically that participation that seeks to change the
status quo may be beneficial for democracy in addition to the two senses already
mentioned, even where government is too weak to act. There is evidence, and it
seems inherently plausible, that the act of participating in the preliminaries of
decision making - of being consulted, of being listened to - has important psycho-
logical rewards for the participant even where such participation can have no
bearing on the actual outcome. But, if the object of the exercise is to gain the par-
ticipant's support for the outcome and hopefully for the system itself, there are
two dangers. Expectations may be continuously raised that cannot be fulfilled,13
and it is difficultto see what benefitis gained by anyone over the long run. Least of
all is it possible to envisage an education-for-democracyprocess at work. Alterna-
tively, form may be mistaken for content and extra-muralpolitics in all its modes
becomes a substitute for government - becomes, in a word, participatory
To return to the main thread of the argument: participation cannot be a substi-
tute for functionally effective democratic institutions though it may complement
them. Just as the process of procreation does not end with the preliminariesof the
couch, however delightful in themselves, so democracy must imply the capacity
of government to provide services. Yet the American populist tradition not only
keeps government small but sees the smallness of governmentalways as a positive
good. Thus the State is more democratic than federal government, local govern-
ment is more democratic than State government, groups are more democratic
than local government, and individual autonomy is most democratic of all.
Democracy begins with the autonomous individual and as we move away from
him so democracy progressively degenerates.
11 See S. Hoffman, 'Paradoxes of the French Political Community' in Hoffman et al., In
Search of France (New York: Harvard University Press, 1963) and D. MacRae, Parliament,
Parties, and Society in France, I946-1958 (New York: St Martin's Press, 1967), Chap. 2.
12 W.
Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (London: Routledge, 1960).
Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 73.
American DemocracyReconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 135

The tradition also sees divided government always as a positive good as well.
Thus a federal system is more democratic than a unitary system. Divided govern-
ment is not only preferableas between horizontal levels, but also within each level;
and not only does division itself promote democracy but it also promotes compe-
tition between the divided elements of each level. This competition also safeguards
democracy by never allowing one agency to dominate, each checking and balan-
cing the other. It is designed, as Woodrow Wilson long ago explained, 'to keep
government at a sort of mechanical equipoise by means of a standing amicable
contest among its several organised parts'.14
The prolonged communitypower debate betweenthe 'elitists'and the 'pluralists'
over 'who governs?' neatly reflectsthe extent to which dispersedpower is seen as
a central distinguishing characteristicof US democracy. The underlying assump-
tion, explicitly or implicitly, of both sides of the debate was that the measureof de-
mocracy is the extent to which power is dispersed: if it is not dispersed it is elitist
and therefore not democratic; if it is dispersed it is pluralist and therefore
democratic. This is an over-simplificationadmittedly, but it is arguablethat in no
other country but the United States could such a protracted academic debate and
one of such quality have been conducted almost solely on this largely procedural
aspect of democracy. This is partly because of the sheer number and the high
quality of American political scientists and sociologists, but it is primarily be-
cause of the populist tradition which attaches so little importance to the need to
concentrate power in order to be democratic.
Even such a brilliantcritic of the community power protagonists as Bachrach,15
who bases his criticism on precisely the grounds that the debate was largely sterile
since it was almost wholly procedural,is nonetheless strongly populist in tone. He
makes a strong plea for more popular participation but is just as transfixedas the
most enthusiastic community power polemicist with the notion that dispersed
power equals democracy. This leads him to assume that more popular participa-
tion must always work in favour of the poor and oppressed. He therefore attacks
Kornhauser's The Politics of Mass Society for advocating the 'insulation' of elites
and fails to see that Kornhauser, like many of the so-called 'elitist' theoreticians,
was feeling his way (without, of course, wholly jettisoning the populist doctrine)
to a definition of democratic government that would protect the elites so that they
could in fact govern - and perhaps govern on behalf of the poor and oppressed.
This is not to deny Bachrach'scase for seriouslyconsideringthe possibilities of re-
instating popular participation as a legitimate element in the democratic process
but merely to emphasize that effective government is one way, perhaps the only
way, to redress those economic and social inequalities in industrial society that
seriously inhibit the poor from exploiting their formal political equality.16Morris
Quoted in R. Merton 'The Latent Functions of the Machine'reprintedfrom his Social
Theory and Social Structure in E. Banfield, ed., Urban Government(New York: Free Press, 1964).
15 P. Bachrach, The Theory of Democratic Elitism (Boston: Little, Brown, I967).
16 Greater social and economic
equality would not alone be sufficientand the case for
democratizingthe authoritariancharacter of non-governmentalorganizations,particularly
industry, is a persuasive one. See Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, Chap. 4.

Janowitz has put the matter succinctly: 'The issue is not the manipulation of the
citizenry by a small elite, but rather the inability of elites to create the conditions
required for making decisions.'17
It may be noted in passing that one of the reasons why functional effectiveness
is ignored by those who ought to be its fiercest defenders may well be the appal-
lingly casual way in which the word 'elite' has come to be used to mean virtually
anyone in authority. Given the scale of most democratic states and the tasks which
their governments are expected to perform, representativegovernment, and rep-
resentative government moreover that is remote from the mass of the population,
is inevitable. Little of practical value is gained by describing all those in authority
as elites unless we begin on the assumption that the exercise of authority is always
inimical to representativedemocracy. Still less is there anything to be gained by
dubbing anyone who recognizes this as a Schumpeterian elitist.18 As Parry has
noted about this branch of populism: 'At its most banal it can mean merely the
truism that in organized life fewer men issue commands than obey them. When it
refers only to the inequalities of resources which certainly exist in any society it
ceases to be an elitist doctrine since such inequalities are consistent with forms of
democracy as well as with elite structure.'19
Since the neo-Rousseauans and the community power protagonists have not
really been concerned with the 'substantive outputs' of government, it is perhaps
pointless to pursue any furthertheir failure to do so. There remain, however, many
other American political scientists who have been acutely aware of the non-
procedural, output aspects of city government and government generally. There
is a vast literature, for example, on the need to achieve a more functionally effec-
tive pattern of government in metropolitan areas.20Nor have Mr Childs, the in-
ventor of the city manager system and the doyen of the reform movement, or his
disciples been unaware of the link between structureand democracy; on the con-
trary, it was one of the main objectives of the reform movement in promoting the
city manager plan to overcome the fragmentation of city government and by
doing so to restore it to democracy.21But in the former case the main emphasis is
on tackling the boundary problem by creating an umbrella authority that recog-
nized the reality of the spread city; in the latter case, as we have seen, whatever
the intention was, coherence has indeed been achieved but at considerable cost to
17 M. Janowitz, ed., Community Political Systems (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, I96I), p. 17.
18 The neo-Rousseauans would seem to have cast Schumpeter in a more seminal role than
he deserves. As Parry implies, his notion of the inevitability of elite rule is very little different
from the later Mosca (G. Parry, Political Elites (London: Allen and Unwin, 1969), Chap. 6),
and Schumpeter's insistence that democracy implies no ideals but is merely a convenient
method of governing is a commonplace of British conservative democrats since the end of the
nineteenth century of whom see R. Bassett, The Essentials of Parliamentary Democracy (London:
Cass, I964). It is no accident that Schumpeter takes the British system as his model: J. A.
Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1943), footnote
10, p. 74.
19 Parry, Political Elites, p. 138.
20 See J. Bollens and H. Schmandt, The Metropolis (New York: Harper Row, 1965), passim.
D. Price, 'The Promotion of the City Manager Plan' in Banfield, ed., Urban Government.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 137

This does not exhaust the catalogue of those who have recognized the need to
concentrate power so as to govern effectively. There are, for example, those who
have attacked what they see as the operating doctrines of American democracy
precisely because these doctrines see government solely as an epiphenomenon of
the political process. Lowi22and McConnell23are perhaps the best known of this
group and much of what they have to say on the profound deficiencies of these
doctrines is on all fours with some of what is said here about functional
effectiveness. However, Lowi and those who share his view remain a small
minority, and do not reflect, yet at least, the majority view. Moreover, both Lowi
and McConnell are inclined to see these doctrines - what Lowi calls 'interest
group liberalism'- as a fairly recent phenomenon and not as part of a continuous
American tradition reaching back to the foundation of the Republic. It may be
that I have exaggerated the continuity of the American tradition, yet there must
remain some considerable doubt about this because interest group liberalismdoes
not seem to have taken root in other comparable democracies. If the British ex-
perience is any guide, group theory, which is the parent doctrine of interest group
liberalism, was never embraced with quite the same enthusiasm elsewhere as it
was in the United States.24It seems much more likely that group theory is an
elaboration of a central and continuing feature of American political life. As
Hartz has pointed out: 'The followers of Bentley rarely observed that their
analysis was a reflection of the relative conditions of American Liberal life, al-
though the evidence they used was almost always American, and they therefore
assumed that they were talking mainly about "politics" or, as the term now goes,
"political behaviour", rather than about America'.25
The conditions of American liberal life that group theory reflectsis the populist
doctrine of the autonomous individual. Crick has put his finger deftly on the link
between the two: 'Bentley's "groups" are no more than individuals writ large,
individuals organically associated according to their "interests", interests that
are the personality of the individuals, and thus of the groups'.26Group theory,
then, is the latest twist in the evolution of the American tradition designed to ac-
commodate the facts of modern American society. Group theory in short is
'pluralism suited to the age of organization'.27

22 T.
Lowi, The End of Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969).
23 G.
McConnell, Private Power and American Democracy (New York: Random House,
See, for example, on the British side: W. J. M. Mackenzie, 'Pressure Groups in British
Government', British Journal of Sociology, VI(i955), 133-48; J. Plamenatz, 'Interests', Political
Studies II (1954), 1-8; S. E. Finer, Anonymous Empire (London: Pall Mall, 1958); P. Self and
H. Storring, The State and the Farmer (London: Allen and Unwin, 1964); A. Birch, Represent-
ative and Responsible Government (London: Allen and Unwin, I963); J. Grove, Governmentand
Industry (London: Longmans, 1964).
25 L. Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt Brace, I955), pp. 250-I.
Lindblom also sees group theory as part of a much longer American political tradition: C. E.
Lindblom, The Intelligence of Democracy (New York: Free Press, I965), p. 15.
26 B.
Crick, The American Science of Politics (London: Routledge, 1959), p. 235.
Parry, Political Elites, p. 125.

There remains a furthergroup of political scientists who have been interestedin

the functional capacity and the scope of government and city government in
particular. We will now turn to them, for it seems reasonable to suppose that if it
can be shown that they too ignore functional effectivenessthen the claim that this is
part of the American political tradition will be very strong indeed.
James Wilson, one of the most distinguished of this group, in his plea for the
study of the policies rather than the procedures of city government, repeats the
assertion noted earlier that strong city government in the United States can be
based on only one of two alternatives: the city manager or the party boss. But, of
greaterimportance in this context, he emphasizes that strong governmentis itself a
matter of choice - a 'trade-off' - rather than the sine qua non of a democratic
system. Some like powerful government, others prefer a more responsive one. So,
'Which system we prefer clearlyhas a great deal to do with what goals we cherish;
the difficultyis that most of us want one system for certainmatters and its opposite
for others, and sadly enough we can't have it both ways'.28 Banfield adopts a
similarposition in his article contrasting British and Americanconcepts of democ-
racy noted earlier. The greater responsiveness that he perceives emerging in
British local government is likely to lead to the weakening of government.29
Agger and his colleagues, who have also recognized the central importance of
studying democratic regimes in terms of their output, concur with Wilson that the
scope of government in a democracy is merely a matter of taste. But they spell out
the either/or notion in the least ambiguous terms: 'We may picture two opposed
ideal States: one where there is no governmental functioning and one where
governmental functioning is ever present or total. In the one case private institu-
tions meet all citizens' needs; in the other a total-totalitarian-governmentis the
sole value producing, distributing and consuming institution.'30Other critics of
the purely procedural approach to democracy such as Hawley and Wirt talk in a
similarvein. There is a scope of governmentcontinuum 'leadingfrom a completely
authoritarian-elite community to one in which almost all citizens participate in
making all decision'.31
A similar view is taken in one of the earliest and rightly celebrated studies of
policy-making styles in American city government, that by Adrian and Williams.
Their conclusions, they remind us, were based on 'the literature of case studies on
community decision-making as well as the authors' research designed to conduct
a comparative survey of politics in four cities'. In these conclusions they make it
clear that strong governmentis not merely a question of choice but can be a smoke
screen, as it were, for 'programmatic political action'. They continue, 'Centrali-
zation and professionalization of the bureaucracy are attractive to those who
control and desire to exploit control to achieve specific substantive goals. Though
J. Wilson, ed., City Politics and Public Policy (New York: John Wiley, 1968), p. 13.
29 'The Management of Metropolitan Conflict', in Banfield, ed., Urban Government.
R. Agger, D. Goldrich and B. Swanson, The Rulers and the Ruled (New York: John Wiley,
1964), p. 7.
31 W. D. Hawley and F. M. Wirt, The Search for Community Power (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:

Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 297.

American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 139

it is true that the early advocates of civic reform acted in the name of economy,
most successful reforms have been followed by action programs.'32
It seems clear, then, that even those who have made the substantive outputs of
democratic government their main focus of interest are populists. For those who
adopt the scope-of-government continuum there is not even a choice between
strong or weak government - the logical conclusion is explicit: the weaker the
government the more democratic it is. As a technique for measuring styles of
policy making in a democracy the continuum is highly unsatisfactory. Although
its purpose seems to be to provide a 'value free' technique for studying different
regimes, the continuum, precisely because it equates weak government with
democracy, is itself ideologically loaded. First, it never touches on what power is
for. All government is apparently additive: infant welfare clinics and a secret
police, old peoples' housing and the expropriation of private property. All addi-
tions to government are subtractions from individual freedom and therefore
undemocratic. Second, it is deficientbecause it is one-dimensional.The concentra-
tion of power necessary to make choices real is balanced in a democracy by the
accountability of government. Herein lies the protection of individual interests.
There cannot therefore be a single dimension to measurethe scope of government
precisely because non-democracy exists at both ends of the continuum.33
32 0. Williamsand C. Adrian,Four Cities (Philadelphia:Universityof PennsylvaniaPress,
1963), p. 30.
Preciselywhere the best balanceis struckbetweenthe need to effectchangeand the con-
sequential growth of governmentthat this entails on the one hand, and the need to keep
governmentaccountable on the other, is a matter for debate. If the scope of government
continuumis employedto categorizedemocraticregimes,it mustbe combinedwith an account-
ability continuumand regimesmay then be plotted around the two axes. On the admittedly
crudetwin assumptionsthat the scope of governmenttendsto havea directpositiverelationship
with accountabilitybelow a certainlevel of governmentactivity,but becauseof the scale effect,
accountabilitydeclinesthereafterwith increasingscope of government,it is possible that the
distributionof regimes around the two continua would produce a curve similar to those

/// /
\A \ \
l/ / / \
l // \ \\ \
f / \ \

No G/
I I/ I \ \ \ \\
I/ \ \
If/ \ \
I,i/ '
i/ 1 \ \1
NoI Accntabiit
No Accountability

Even the more moderate choice offered by Wilson is unsatisfactory. What is

missing from his formulation is any explanation as to how a city government can
be responsive without having power, let alone the possibility that the more re-
sponsive a city governmentis the more power it needs. Like Dahl, Wilson sees the
responsiveness of government as being wholly divorced from the capacity of
governments actually to respond.34Wilson's central assumption seems to be the
self-contradictory one that responsiveness is synonymous with paralysis. But a
governmentmust be strong if it is to be responsive and if it is weak it cannot be any-
thing except a method for responding to those who want to do nothing by excluding
all other policy choices - and excluding them by the most effective means possible,
institutionally - by what Schattschneiderhas called rather obscurely 'the mobili-
zation of bias'.35 Schattschneider'sview is strongly supported by Barry who, in
approaching the same question in terms of the relative benefits of a system of
government that concentrates power over one which diffuses, concludes, 'The
result (intended or actual) of a power-diffusing system is to raise a series of ob-
stacles to changes in the status quo or collective expenditures, thus raising the
price (in terms of bargaining costs) of getting collective action'.36
This is not to say that the responsiveness of government to the electorate is un-
important in a democracy; obviously it is crucial. But two kinds of responsiveness
must be distinguished. The first is responsiveness to those who want government
to maintain the status quo.The second is responsivenessto those who wish govern-
ment to change the status quo. The deficiency of the American tradition is its
strong tendency to equate the responsiveness of government solely with the first
kind of responsiveness,with the result that governmentmay be incapable of being
responsive in the second sense. Yet it is the second kind of responsiveness that is
more vital to democracyfor it is preciselythe collective control of collective action
that distinguishes democracy from other forms of government. In other words
the American tradition tends to see democracy wholly in terms of the protection
of individual rights against collective action. But the protection of individual
rights against collective action, howeverhighly we may value it, is not definitionally
part of democracy.37Whenever government acts in a democracy someone will be

34See also R. Lineberryand E. Fowler, 'Reformismand Public Policy in AmericanCities',

in C. Bonjeanet al., Community Politics(New York: Free Press, 197i) for a similartendencyto
see a government'sresponsivenessas being in conflictwith its capacityto act.
35Schattschneider,SemisovereignPeople, p. 71. Obscurelybecause, whereas mobilization
of bias is an apt descriptionfor the firstsensein whichSchattschneideruses it, that is to say, the
formationof groupswho wish to resist change (p. 30), it is far less appropriatefor describing
the reificationof the groups'interestsin the institutionalarrangementsof governmentwhich is
the second sense (and the usually quoted one) in which he uses the phrase,see p. 71. See also
P. Bachrachand M. Baratz, 'Two Faces of Power', AmericanPolitical Science Review,LVII
(1962),947-52, whichfurtherdevelopsthe point thatthe institutionalarrangementsof American
city governmentmay exclude the possibility of some policy decisions being made.
36 B. Barry,Political Argument (London: Routledge,I965), p. 272. Barry'sbook is amongst
many other things a brilliantlysustained and trenchantlyargued attack on many of those
aspectsof populismdiscussedin this article.
37 I am indebtedto BrianBarryfor clarifyingmy own muddledthoughtson this point.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 141

oppressed whether it be taxpayers,burglars,equity holders, or old age pensioners.

So the question is not how we avoid oppression but who is going to be oppressed.
The tendency to see the autonomy of government and responsiveness to the
popular will in a simple competitive relationship also obscures the fact that in a
highly differentiated industrial society most of the electorate must of necessity
detach themselves from government in order to maintain their freedom of action.
For example, it is a reasonably safe guess that most electors in most democracies
favour a reduction in taxes. But governments can never respond to this un-
doubtedly popular demand to anything like the extent to which it is demanded.
It would seem that we have here a clear case on a key issue of the inevitability of
government autonomy and the unfeasibility of populism as an operating concept
for modern government. Not at all, replies the populist, if the people are made
aware of the consequences of tax cuts - fewer new schools, defective national
defences, an inferior police force - their desire for lower taxes would evaporate.
The populist doctrine is therefore not infringed despite appearances to the
contrary. But it does not follow that the desire by individual voters for a cut in
taxes will be changed by pointing out to him the consequences. Budgets after all
are not fixed either in scope or composition. Voter A who favours a tax cut merely
wants Voter B to pay more income tax, or more to be put on purchasetax, or a cut
to be made in defence expenditure.He has no desire or capacity to be drawninto a
discussion of the disincentive effect of raising voter B's taxes, the regressiveness
of purchase taxes or the military threat posed by the Eastern Bloc. The individual
reservesthe right to be 'irresponsible'and to leave such problems to governments
since that is what they are elected for. There is a distinction, in other words, that
must be drawn between agent and principal. Neither Voter A nor Voter B can
master all the knowledge necessary to provide all the things that he wants. He
therefore has to strike some sort of bargain: to put his trust in an expert to act on
his behalf while he reservesthe right to make the main decision as to who is to act
for him and to judge the results of such action. Governmentis only one such agent,
albeit a very important one.38Schattschneiderhas perhaps stated this relationship

Peopleareable to survivein the modernworldby learningto distinguishbetweenwhat

they must know and whatthey do not need to know ... We could not live in modern
societyif we did not placeconfidencedailyin a thousandwaysin pharmacists,surgeons,
pilots,bankclerks,engineers,plumbers,technicians,... We passjudgmenton the most
complexmechanismson thebasisof the resultstheyproduce... Democracyis likenearly
everythingelse we do; it is a form of collaborationof ignorantpeopleand experts.39
The assumption has been so far that functional effectivenessis crucial to democ-
racy because of the need to be able to respond to the electorate's wishes. But con-
fining the discussion of the scope of government to a simple demand and response
38 Mill was also awareof the inevitabilityof this relationshipin a representativedemocracy:
'the people ought to be mastersbut they are masterswho must employ servantsmore skilful
than themselves','Tocquevilleon Democracyin America(Vol. I)', p. 195.
39Schattschneider,Semisovereign People,p. 137.

mechanism, causes the deficiencies of the American democratic tradition, in so far

as it denies the autonomy of government, to be understated; for the authority of
government in a democracy can never be solely an emanation of the popular will -
whatever view is taken about the necessity for governmentto have only a minimum
functional capacity.
This is, of course, because the notion of the popular will is in reality a false one.
In the first place the public may be ill-informed; moreover it may not speak with
one, or even a majority of voices, and the likelihood of many voices will be that
much greater the more differentiated the society. Even when there exists a dis-
cernible majority opinion this can only be expressed, outside elections for the
government itself, in terms of a particularissue. Yet the individual elector is sel-
dom a consistent, or rational 'will', but a bundle of'wills'. He is both motorist and
pedestrian; occasional lawbreakerand devotee of probity and public order; above
all, he is a sorrowfultaxpayerand an insatiable consumerof public services. Which
'will' he reveals to his government will depend on the issue placed before him.40
The fundamental role of government however, is that of co-ordination:41 it has
somehow to reconcile the conflicting wills of groups, of individuals and the con-
flicting wills within individuals, and assemble some sort of policy. Hence the
inevitable disorder and chaos of all democratic government.
Dahl has argued that majority opinions on particular issues, even when they
are apparent, may be an unhelpful guide in any case because there are different
intensities of 'will'.42Governmentsthereforehave to weigh majority and minority
'wills' and not merelycount heads. That is to say, they have to weigh, in the extreme
case, the intensity of a minority that is only just a minority against a largely
apathetic majority that is only just a majority. But there are two objections to
Dahl's formulation. In the first place, the problem of intensity is essentially a
management problem for government, it does not raise any problems for de-
mocracy as such. All dogs bark but only the aggressive ones bite, and no govern-
ment wants to be bitten more than it can help. Therefore, weighing intensity
against sharedness is prudent but it is not definitionally part of democracy. Here
again we see the reluctanceof the American tradition to face the full consequences
of the democraticprocess, and Dahl's intensity problem is merely another attempt
to equate minority with majority interests.
Second, to argue as Dahl does that, because a government can never know for
itself the reality of intensity, it must therefore make do with overt behaviour is
correct in the sense that intensity is impossible to gauge, but incorrect in the sense
that this implies that governmentscan just leave it at that. For such an assumption
40 These
are, of course,the principalargumentsagainstthe use of referendato decidespecific
policyissuesandit is of some interestthat,with the possibleexceptionof Switzerland,the United
Statesis alone among industrialdemocraciesin the extent to which it employsthe referendum.
See F. Smallwood, 'Game Politics versus Feedback Politics' in E. Morland, ed., Capital,
Courthouseand City Hall (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, I966) for a discussionof this problem
in relationto metropolitangovernmentreorganization.
41 M. Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers (London: Oxford University
Press, I967), Chap. 12.
Preface to Democratic Theory, p. 3 1.
AmericanDemocracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 143

implies an equality of ability and opportunity for all electors to pursue their
interests. Clearly such equality does not exist in an industrial society, so govern-
ment is not concerned with gauging the intensity of desire so much as the nature of
the interest being pursued.
This is one of the great dilemmas facing all governments; but, because it is
rooted in the premise of human equality, democratic government cannot burke
the problem for it cannot be conducted in a moral vacuum. Precisely because de-
mocracy is rooted in the premise that each man as a man is of equal worth, there
are intensities of need to be taken into account. Thus, the desire, say, of the
majority to cut taxes has to be weighed against the need to ensure that every child
has adequate nourishment, medical care and schooling, or that the country is
adequately defended. Precisely what constitutes 'adequate' in both cases will vary
with prevailing standards in the society in question. Needs in this sense are not
basic minima that hold good irrespectiveof time and place.43We cannot therefore
offer any precise definition, nor is there much to be gained by distinguishing ob-
jective from subjective needs. It may be possible to define objectively the condi-
tions of society, how we wish governmentto respond to these conditions, however,
will always be a 'value' question. But this does not mean that because it is impos-
sible to define objective needs no needs that are not overtly claimed ever exist.44
The final objection to the populist view is derived from the fact that democratic
governments, like all governments, may have to act occasionally in contradiction
to or, more likely, in the absence of any discerniblemajority 'will' because it per-
ceives the issue as being central to the survival of the state as a democracy; for on
such issues it is the supremepolitical agent in the state or community and is there-
fore alone responsible and answerable. These are undeniably dangerous waters,
but there are situations when, as Mackenzie has pointed out, 'absolute purity of
democratic logic is impossible because it would destroy democracy'.45
To sum up so far, it is fairly clear that some autonomy for governmentis essen-
tial in a democracy and, all things considered, the case for denying that democracy
is solely the emanation of the popular will is a formidable one. Yet it also seems
clear that this link between functional effectivenessand democracy is only weakly
recognizedin the Americantradition. This leads us to the next aspect of democracy
43 As, for example, Banfield seems to argue in The Unheavenly City (Boston: Little, Brown,
1970), p. 117.
44 Polsby, for example, in his spirited defence of the American democratic tradition does seem
to argue this, see Community Power and Political Theory (New Haven: Yale University Press,
I963), p. 23.
45 W. J. M. Mackenzie, Free Elections (London: Allen and Unwin, 1958), p.
95. Mackenzie is
making the case for rigging the electoral system so as to diminish the electoral strength of
Fascists and Communists where they are likely to become a majority. Even this relatively
straightforward case has its problems and in general it would be a bold or reckless man who
would have no misgivings about citing a concrete illustration of such a situation. But something
like it seems to exist at the present time in Northern Ireland where the government is pursuing a
policy of limited amelioration of the social and political conditions of the Catholic minority.
This is probably the best long term policy if Northern Ireland is to avoid a blood bath, yet it
does not find anything like majority support apparently from either Protestants or Catholics.
See R. Rose, Governing Without Consensus (London: Faber, 1971), pp. 369-71.

that does not appear to be accorded its proper place in the American political
tradition, namely, the concept of the public interest.

(2) The Public Interest

The claim that there is no such thing as the public interest, distinguishable from
other sectional interests within the state, has some support in the literature of
American political science,46and we have already noted that group theory from
which this assertion is derived seems itself to be derivedfrom the American politi-
cal tradition. But this view of the public interest is the view probably only of the
extreme wing of the group theory school, what Schubert revealingly calls the
'realist' school;47 it is by no means a majority view. The majority view48is much
less precise, in general there is a certain ambivalence, which some have called
cynicism.49As a concept the public interest has the distinction of age but in the
hag-ridden days of the cold war it seemed to have a strong whiff of a priorism
about it. The tendency has been therefore not to deny that the public interest
exists so much as to dress it up in pluralist clothing. Suitably disguised as the re-
sultant of group 'interaction', it can be admitted to the democratic pantheon. Or,
alternatively, it is just another theory - a matter of taste like strong or weak
government. And, as in the case of strong government and for the same reasons,
there tends to be an implicit recommendation against because it is difficult to
reconcile it with populism.
In the field of city government this ambivalence is exemplifiedin Meyerson and
Banfield's study of Chicago. That there is such a thing as the public interest, in the
sense that a policy 'may be said to be in the public interestif it servesthe ends of the
whole public rather than those of some sections of the public',50is not denied.
But, they argue, it has no particularconnection with democratic government, and
indeed some conceptions of the public interest imply no government at all! Where
government is implied, in connection with what Meyerson and Banfield call the
'unitary' conception of the public interest, such a government does not act be-
cause it has majority support - the collective control of collective action - but
because the unitary concept 'implies control by decision-makerswho are specially
qualified to know the ends of the body politic or the common ends'.51 In other
words, the public interest is implicitly an autocratic concept.
Perhaps the best example to examine of the genre in this context is Banfield and
Wilson's book City Politics, for it is not only an influential full-dress appraisal of
See, for example, A. Bentley, The Process of Government (Bloomington: University of
Indiana Press, 1949); C. Hagan, 'The Group in Political Science' in L. Young, ed., Approaches
to the Study of Politics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, I958); D. Truman, The
Governmental Process (New York: Knopf, 1951); and G. Schubert, The Public Interest: A
Critique of a Concept (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1961).
Schubert, The Public Interest, Chap. 4.
48 Cf. C. J. Friedrich, ed., Nomus V: The Public Interest (New York: Atherton, I966).
49 McConnell, Private Power and American Democracy, p. 353.

50 M. Meyerson and E. Banfield, Politics, Planning and the Public Interest (Glencoe, Ill.: Free
Press, I955), P. 322.
51 Meyerson and Banfield, Politics, Planning and the Public Interest, p. 327.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 145

American city politics, but the role of the public interest in determiningdifferent
conceptions of local government is one of its central themes. American city
politics, Banfield and Wilson argue (following Hofstadter) embraces one of two
ethoses which are distinguished by opposed conceptions of the public interest.The
first stems historically from the New England Yankee tradition and is a predomi-
nantly upper middle class, White Anglo-Saxon, Protestant (WASP) view of
politics. It 'favours what the municipal reform movement has always defined as
"good government" - namely, efficiency, impartiality, honesty, planning, strong
executives, no favoritism, model legal codes and strict enforcement of laws
against gambling and vice'.52 The second ethos is predominantly immigrant,
working class, Southern European and Catholic: 'This is the conception of those
people who identify with the ward or neighbourhood rather than the city "as a
whole", who look to politics for "help" and "favours",who regardgambling and
vice, at worst, as necessary evils, and who are far less interested in the efficiency,
impartiality and honesty of local government than in its readiness to confer
benefits of one sort or another upon them'.53In short, according to Banfield and
Wilson, the first ethos recognizes the existence of the public interest while the
second does not. But, and this is the vital point, Banfield and Wilson claim that
both have a legitimate place in American city government.
There must in fact remain some doubt as to whether either ethos recognizes the
concept of the public interest, since the authors are unaccountably innocent of the
thought that the upper middle class claim to recognize the public interest may be
nothing more than the ploy common to all 'haves' in the saddle that opposition
to their own interests represents an unwonted divisiveness in what should be a
unity. The 'one nation' ideologists of the British Conservative Party are a case in
point. The authors' innocence on this question persists despite their awareness
that where the WASP ethos has prevailed it has made opposition difficult by in-
stituting non-partisan and 'at large' electoral systems and the city manager. In
other words, where it has prevailed, it has tended not to pursue the public interest
but to reify its own interests in the institutions of government. That the WASP
ethos may not be nearlyso public-regardingas Banfieldand Wilson suggest is sup-
ported by Wolfinger and Field who point out that the Yankee tradition, from
which it is said to spring directly, was never renowned for its sense of the public
interest: 'Is a strong executive', they ask, 'part of the old American political ideal ?
Are these "public-regarding"old settlers the same people who are usually con-
sidered devotees of Adam Smith's very private-regardingdoctrine that the indivi-
dual should pursue his own interests and that the public good would be achieved
from the sum of individual interests!'54
If it is accepted that supporting and promoting non-partisan elections and the
city manager does not necessarily reflect a public regardingattitude, then a main
prop of Banfield and Wilson's case collapses and we are left with two different
kinds of evidence in support of the two ethos theory. The non-WASP ethos is
52 Banfield and 53Banfield and Wilson, City Politics, p. 46.
Wilson, City Politics, p. 46.
54 R. E. Wolfingerand J. 0. Field, 'PoliticalEthos and the Structureof City Government',
in J. S. Goodman, ed., Perspectives on Urban Politics (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, I968).

illustrated by what its adherents say they believe and by their actual political be-
haviour, whereas the WASP predilection for the public interest turns merely on
what the upper middle class say they believe in. In defining the WASP ethos as
public regarding, Banfield and Wilson may be merely saying that the college edu-
cated WASPs are more aware than the non-WASPs of what they ought to
believe.55 Agger and his colleagues throw an interesting sidelight on the upper
middle class weakness for interpreting, however improbably, their own actions in
public interest terms. In describing the adherents of one of the types of regime
they detected in their study they note: 'Since they believe in rule by the industria-
lists and financiers they view this rule as necessarily operating in the interest of
the collectivity. This political leadership must be benevolent; the attitude of
"What's good for the X Corporation is good for the community" indicates an
innate complement of self interest and the common good'.56
Another reason why doubts must be raised about the public-regardingnessof
the WASP ethos is that it never quite seems to match reality. Throughout their
book, Banfield and Wilson appear to have a particular vision of the Protestant
upper middle class. We are presented with a picture of a naive, moralizing figure:
essentially liberal, yes, but also hypocritical and sometimes too altruistic for his
own or anyone else's good.57 Now this may indeed be an accurate portrayal of
some of the species, but what is so conspicuously absent from the Banfield-Wilson
portrayal is the hard-headed upper middle class businessman who may not be
quite so angst-riddenabout his obligations to his fellow-citizens, and whom every-
one else seems to have detected playing a prominent part in the government of,
if not all of the very largest Northern cities, then in most of the rest.58
It seems doubtful, then, whether the WASP ethos does recognize the public
interest quite so unambiguously as Banfield and Wilson suggest. Whether it does
or not, however, need not be pursued further since it is sufficientfor our purposes
to show that a major study of American city politics claims that one of the two
prevalent concepts informing city government has as its main defining charac-
teristic the denial of the public interest. If Banfield and Wilson are right, it is clear
that there exists a direct link between practice and theory and we can talk with
some confidence about a national political tradition, for the non-WASP ethos
squares with the tendency (noted earlier) for American political science to deny
that the public interest exists or that it is crucial for democracy.
55The additional evidence in support of the two ethos theory that Banfield and Wilson
furnish in their article 'Public Regardingnessas a Value Premise in Voting Behaviour' (in
Goodman, ed., Perspectivesin UrbanPolitics)does not materiallyalterthis conclusion.
Agger et al., The Rulers and the Ruled, p. 21.
57 See Banfield's UnheavenlyCity for a furtherelaboration of this portrait of the WASP,
especiallyChaps. 8 and I I. It is of some interestthat in an earlierstudy with Meyersonan im-
portantqualificationis made to the laterassertionthat all the uppersocial class are community
regardingand such attitudes are reservedin the earlier study for 'at least the professional-
intellectual groups among them', Politics, Planning and the Public Interest, p. 302.
58 D. Miller, for
example, sees the preponderanceof businessmenas being one of the dis-
tinguishingcharacteristicsof Americancity councils. See his 'Industryand CommunityPower
Structure', American Sociological Review, xxIII (1958), 9-15.
American Democracy Reconsidered: Part II and Conclusions I47

Can the public interest be defined and, if it can be, what is its relationship with
democracy ? That it can be defined has been convincingly demonstrated by Barry.
The grounds advanced by the extreme group theorists for denying the existence
of the public interest are that, since any proposal that becomes practical politics
is opposed by some group or other, there cannot therefore be a single public
interest. Every interest will be against somebody else's interest. But, argues Barry,
This is superficialbecauseit ignoresthe guestion:Why are some logicallypossiblepro-
posals neveradvocatedby anyoneat all? Why, for example,is nobody in the USA in
favour of having the StrategicAir Commandtake off and drop all its bombs on the
USA? Obviouslybecausenobody at all believesthat this would be in his interest.To
pointout, as if it werea greatdiscovery,thatall proposalswhichareactuallyputforward
meetoppositionis as naiveas expressingsurpriseat the fact that in all caseswhichreach
the SupremeCourtthereis somethingto be said on each side.59
As Barry goes on to argue, individuals do not always pursue their own in-
terests, not even, pace Buchanan and Tullock, rational egoists. They balance out
the advantages of pursuing their own interests against the possible disadvantages
to themselves of other people's also pursuing their own interests. In this way it is
possible to speak of net interests common to all members of society, a form of col-
lective self-interest.60But, even if there were no net interests common to all mem-
bers of society, it would still be possible to talk of a public interest in relation to
those activities that cannot be provided by individuals or groups acting alone.
Such functions, argues Barry, exist in the negative sense of protecting third-party
interests, and in a positive sense in relation to providing services such as parks,
roads or sewers where it is difficult if not impossible to charge according to use.
The public interest also exists, above all, in the negative and positive sense in rela-
tion to the public's interests as consumers - not merely in the sense that there are
some consumers who are not also producers and who therefore tend to be
unorganized, but also because we are all consumers and as such have intereststhat
may be just as strong as our interests as producers but which cannot be promoted
except by government.
This all adds up to a fairly formidable case for the validity of the public interest
as an essential democratic concept and it is closely linked with the notion of func-
tional effectiveness for both imply some autonomy of government from the
popular will if only because the public cannot do and does not want to know
everything. We may call this the agent or trustee role and it is derived from the
fact that the government 'cannot consult the will of the people and is practically
forced back on to the conception of itself as trustee subjectto a blanket retrospec-
tive endorsement or rejection at periodic elections'.61
This does not of course mean that the public interest can always be objectively
defined in the sense that in every given situation there is a calculable course of
59 Barry, Political Argument, pp. 194-5.
60 See also B. Barry, 'The Use and Abuse of "The Public Interest"', in Friedrich, The Public
Barry, Political Argument, p. 227. For a similar argument see A. Downes, 'The Public
Interest: Its Meaning in a Democracy', Social Research, xxix (I962), 1-36.

action for a government that will bring greaterbenefit to the polity as a whole than
any alternative policy; amongst other things, we cannot predict the future. In the
day-to-day activities of government the public interest will mostly be nothing
more than what the government says it is. But to deny because of this that it
exists at all, or to claim that it is merely an ideological ruse, is fatally to weaken
the one major definingcharacteristicof democracy, namely, that it is the collective
control of collective action. It is from this characteristic that government in a
democracy derives its legitimacy and confers on its decisions a status higher than
than of any other entity within the polity.
There remains one furtherreason why the concept of the public interest is essen-
tial in democratic government. The very notion of a permanent geographically
defined polity such as the state or a city with an elected representativebody having
the right to raise revenue for collective purposes implies a unity. In this sense a
common interest exists whether or not there are net interests, common needs
to be undertaken collectively, or common interests that will be unmet unless
government acts: the notion of a common interest is implicit in the permanence
of the territorial entity. If there were no common interests, the boundary would
cease to have any purpose since there would be no basis on which the demar-
cated polity could be distinguished in political terms from its contiguous
neighbours. Central to the notion of a fixed territorial boundary for the polity is
the notion of a community of interest.
All in all, the public interest emerges as an important, not to say vital, element
in the democratic process. Its relative weakness or absence in the American politi-
cal tradition can only be counted in democratic terms as a weakness. Whateverthe
deficiencies of the reform movement, and many of Banfield and Wilson's stric-
tures seem well merited, the movement's stated belief in the public interest as
being essential to local democracy was a correct one.

(3) Public Trust

I now turn to the last basic feature of local democracy that seems to be misunder-
stood or given a low priority in the American democratic tradition. This is the
notion of public trust: that is to say, a general willingness on the part of the
majority to accept that, however deeply they may disagree with particularpolicies
pursued by the government, it will carry them out with probity and impartiality.
The tendency of the American tradition to identify trust of the bureaucracywith
deference has alreadybeen touched on in Part I and this seems to be part of a much
wider attitude of suspicion of government in general and of the full-time profes-
sional in particular.This attitude is obviously very closely linked to the unwilling-
ness of the populist theory of democracy to accept the notion of government as
agent or trustee and has retardedthe emergence of a full-blown careercivil service
at the federal level. At the local level it has usually meant that the bureaucrat
could be accepted only provided he was suitably disguised as 'scientific manage-
ment' or 'business government'. The notion that it is possible for the career
official to adopt a role of impartiality and subordination to the elected leadership
without infringing his professional integrity seems to be almost as firmly rejected
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 149

as the notion that the holders of local elected or appointed judicial offices can
adopt a judicial role whatever their private politics. Yet, given the scope and com-
plexity of city government,the professional expertis vital. Short of our dismantling
the vast range of public services that we have come to expect in urban life, no
modern city nor any national government can possibly function without him and,
since he must always stand at least two removes from the electorate, effective
government must be seriously inhibited if a relationship of trust is not developed
between him and the ordinary citizen.
It must therefore be asked why this notion of trust seems not to have developed
in the United States. The answer seems to lie yet again in that fundamentally
American tenet of democracy, that all authority must emanate from the people.
This is the conclusion of Almond and Verba,62who found substantial differences
in public attitudes to administrativecompetence (by which they mean trust of full-
time officials) between politically aware ('high political competence') respondents
in the United States and those in Britain and Germany. There was much more
trust in the bureaucracyin the latter two countries because, 'The notion of the in-
dependent authority of government under law has continued to exist side by side
with the notion of the political power of the people'63 whereas in the United
States 'the revolutionary experience led to the view that there was no office that
did not derive from the citizenry, hence no limit to the exercise of citizen
In another section of their book Almond and Verba make the very relevant
point that social trust (by which they seem to mean sense of community interest)
is a vital condition of democracy.65A similar point is made by Nordlinger.66
While this tends to support the view expressed a moment ago about the link be-
tween the public interest and democracy, it is a different conception of trust to
that under discussion. Almond and Verba, however, do discuss this conception of
trust as well, but in an inimitably American way. It is, they argue, essentially a
form of deference, what they call the 'subject deferential role' and the 'passive
orientation'. The choice of adjectivesis instructive and suggests a certain unease -
a disinclination to accord this aspect full honours in the democratic pantheon.
This is underlined by their subsequent warning about the British system, 'It is
possible that deference to political elites can go too far, and that the strongly
hierarchicalpatternsin British politics - patterns that have often been criticizedas
limiting the extent of democracy in that nation - result from a balance weighted
too heavily in the direction of the subject and deferential roles.'67
Almond and Verba's unease with the notion of trust between a government and
its citizens, despite their recognition of its importance, has its parallel throughout
the literature and there does seem to be a peculiarly American inability to see
62 G. Almond and S.
Verba,The Civic Culture (Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1963),
Chap. 8.
63 Almond and
Verba, The Civic Culture, p. 222.
64 Almond and Verba,The Civic Culture, p. 224.
65 Almond and Verba, The Civic
Culture, p. 490.
66 Nordlinger, The Working Class Tories, pp. 222-3.
67 Almond and
Verba, The Civic Culture, p. 494.

public respect for government, from which trust is derived, as an essentially demo-
cratic phenomenon: respect for government, that is, precisely because it is demo-
cratic rather than as a reflection of cultural lag from an aristocratic or authori-
tarian past, or as an epiphenomenon of the alleged 'good manners' of the British
or the alleged reverence of Germans for the state bureaucracy. This sounds at
first blush rather inflated and portentous. Does the British and the German
respect for government really derive from its democratic character? All that is
meant in this context is, first, that open competition, promotion by merit and the
positive inculcation of impartial professional norms in the bureaucracyare essen-
tially egalitarian in intent and not authoritarian, aristocratic, feudal, elitist or
whatever. They were deliberately designed to combat oligarchy, to consolidate
the progressive widening of the franchise and as such were just as much a part of
the democratic revolution as the extension of the franchise itself. It is one of the
great mysteries of the American political tradition that the home of democracy
has yet to accept fully the notion of an open bureaucracy.
The second sense in which trust of government in other democracies is not the
epiphenomenon of some other, non-democratic, characteristic of their societies,
but is integrally linked to the character of democratic government itself, is the
strong possibility that respect for government will be strengthenedwhere govern-
ment is sufficiently concentrated as to be able to act. In this way public trust is
probably directly linked to functional effectiveness. Success breeds esteem and
vice versa.
Almond and Verba's unease with the notion of trust between a government and
its citizens is also reflectedin a number of other aspects of American city govern-
ment some of which have already been touched on. I will now concentrate on one
of these: the attitude towards corruption in city government. The association of
government with corruption seems to be exceptionally strong in the United States.
In summarizingpublic opinion polls concerning politics as a vocation it has been
noted that many people 'took the stand that it was "almost impossible" for a man
to go into politics without becoming dishonest. This same reason, incidentally,
was advanced by about half of the group who would not like their sons to enter
politics; public service is essentially dishonest and corrupting.'68
It would be wrong to exaggerate the extent of corruption in American city
government. The opinion just quoted was made some twenty years ago and there
seems to be general agreement that the decline of the machine since the late 1940s
has also brought with it a decline in corruption. There has, too, always been a
large body of opinion - the reform movement itself for example - that has con-
demned and fought corruption. The decline of the machine may indeed be partly
attributableto their efforts. But the impact ofprogressivism on corruptionhas been
muted because the movement, true to the populist tradition, was unwilling to face
the possibility of concentrating power elsewhere - at the State or at the Federal
level - in order to combat or bypass corruption locally. Instead it sought refuge in
H. Hyman and P. Sheatsley, 'The Current Status of American Public Opinion' in J. Payne,
ed., The Teaching of Contemporary Affairs (Menasha: George Banta, 1951), p. 22, quoted in
A. M. Rose, The Power Structure (New York: Oxford University Press, I967), p. 48I.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 151

overthrowing a conspiracy - 'the system' - by ensuring that 'better men' replace

the crooks and by returning government to the people. This approach was in
marked contrast to the democratic movements outside the US which 'viewed the
centralization of power as the pre-condition of social reform. They have sup-
ported the gathering of power into a single place - first the absolute monarch, then
the sovereign people - where it can be used to change society.'69
The Progressive movement's fear of concentrating power is the root cause of
what McConnell has called 'the pervasive and latent ambiguity of the movement.
Power as it exists was antagonistic to democracy, but how was it to be curbed
without the erection of a superior power ?'70Before exploring the peculiar place
of corruption in the American tradition, two preliminary points need to be
emphasized. First, the prevalence of corruption in American government is
probably linked to its weakness. The unwillingness to accept functional effective-
ness renders government that much more vulnerable. Perhaps this is the point
that Dahl is making in his paraphraseof Acton's famous axiom, 'Power corrupts
and the absence of power corrupts absolutely'.71Second, it must be stressed that
most of the examples to be cited may reflect a rather special approach to
corruption. They are the views of the new wave of political scientists and others in
the post-war era that began to look at city government with greater detachment,
not as something to be reformed, nor merely as a branch of public administration,
but as a political process. Prescription and legalism were to give way to realism
and neutrality. Their entrance into the field inaugurated, amongst other things,
an era when, as Wilson has put it, 'the image of the political machine and the
bosses was refurbished'.72The effect of this change in outlook inevitably distorted
our understanding of politics, sometimes to a quite ludicrous extent. As Vile has
shown, even among the more restrained adherents 'Their value-patterns and as-
pirations show through the superficialdetachment and they reveal themselves as
the children of Locke, of Montesquieu, and Madison.'73
But these qualifications do not matter since all I am seeking to demonstrate is
this. The idea that trust between the citizen and his government is not only desir-
able in a representativedemocracybut may be crucialpreciselybecause democracy
as we know it is representative and not direct, is sufficiently weakly held in the
American local government tradition that serious students of American city
politics can discuss corruption, not as an important and wholly regrettabledevia-
tion from democracy, but as a positive advantage-almost as if it is somehow
more democratic because it is more human and its results have been socially and

69 S. P. Huntington, Political Order in

Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University
Press, I968), p. 133.
70 McConnell, Private Power and American Democracy, p. 38.
71 R. Dahl, Pluralist Democracy in the United States (Chicago: Rand McNally, I967), p. 9.
This is also the view of other observers, see J. Scott, 'Corruption, Machine Politics and Political
Change', American Political Science Review, LXIII (1969), 1142-58.
72 J. Wilson, ed., City Politics and Public Policy (New York: Harvard University Press, 1968)
p. 2.
73 Vile, Constitutionalism and the
Separation of Powers, p. 315.

economically ameliorative.74This seems to be another reflection of the tendency

of the American tradition to subsume all liberal and all humane values under the
democratic rubric, almost as if democracy was largely a question of personal
The idea that corruption is warmerand more human and therefore more demo-
cratic is a strong one and has links with the American dislike of legal constraints
in government.75According to Herbert Croly (writingin 1914), because American
city government was hemmed in by legal restraints, there arose
a much more humansystemof partisangovernment,whose chief objectsoon became
the circumventionof governmentby law... The lawlessnessof the extra-officialde-
mocracywas merelythe counterpoiseof the legalismof the officialdemocracy.The
lawyerhavingbeenpermittedto subordinatedemocracyto the law, the Boss had to be
called in to extricatethe victimwhichhe did aftera fashionand for a consideration.76
If the Boss became acceptable because the lawyers had subordinateddemocracy
to law, on another view he and his machine were not merely acceptable, they
emerge together as the saviours of democracy. Here are Meyerson and Banfield
warming to the redeeming influence of the Chicago machine:
The machinesnot only give the mass of the people,withtheirlimitedinterestin politics
(what some would call their 'apathy')the kind of governmentthey seem to want - or
least object to - but they also insulatetraditionaldemocraticvalues and institutions
from the forces which unscrupulousdemagoguesusing mass communicationsmedia
canso easilyunloosein a societydeeplydividedbyethnic,economicandotherconflicts.77
This seems to be Greenstein's view when commenting on the state of American
city politics in I964. He begins by noting that the United States is unusual among
comparable democracies in the extent and the persistence of the Boss and the
party machine. This, he explains, is because there were unique pre-conditions:
'These include the tradition of freewheeling individualism and pragmatic oppor-
tunism which developed in a prosperous, sprawling new society unrestrained by
feudalism, aristocracy, monarchy, an established church and other traditional
authorities.'78In other words, if corruption was not the result of too much democ-
racy, at least some of the explanation for it is the absence of the non-democratic
forms of 'feudalism, aristocracy and monarchy'.79But it is the consequences of
74Even McConnell, who is a trenchantcritic of populism, concludes that the corruption
problemwas in the end 'somehowboring',PrivatePowerand AmericanDemocracy,p. 359.
75 See Lowi, TheEndof Liberalism,Chap. 5.
76 H. Croly,ProgressiveDemocracy(New York: Macmillan,1914), quoted in Merton 'The
LatentFunction of the Machine'.
77Meyersonand Banfield,Politics,PlanningandPublicInterest,p. 292.
78 F. Greenstein'The ChangingPattern of Urban Party Politics', in P. Coulter, ed., The
Politics of Metropolitan Areas (New York: Crowell, 1967), pp. 62-78.
79Feudalism,as an importantdistinguishingcharacteristicof Europeas comparedwith the
United States, frequentlyfeaturesin the literatureas if it were extant at least up to the turn of
the century.So often is it mentionedthat it is temptingto assumethat it has beenconfusedwith
the existenceof an aristocracyand tenantfarming.In reality,if thereis any countryother than
Italyamongthe 'westerndemocracies'wherefeudalismdid persistintothemodernera,the United
.AmcricanDemocracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 153

corruption that Greenstein holds to be most important and these were almost
wholly good, were not necessarily immoral, and we must presume were - Green-
stein is wholly silent on the matter - not inconsistent with democracy:
Whenthe rangeof consequencesof old-timepartyorganizationis seen, it becomesap-
parentwhy moraljudgmentsof 'the boss and the machine'are likelyto be inadequate.
These organizationsoften were responsiblefor inevitablecorruption,but they also -
sometimesthroughthe same activities- helpedincorporatenew groupsinto American
societyand aidedthem up the social ladder.The partiesfrequentlymismanagedurban
growthon a grandscale,but theydid manageurbangrowthat a timewhenotherinstru-
mentalitiesfor governingthe citieswereinadequate.Theypliedvoters,who mightother-
wise haveorganizedmoreaggressivelyto advancetheirinterest,withThanksgivingDay
turkeysand bucketsof coal. But by siphoningoff discontentand softeningthe law, they
probablycontributedto the generallypacifictenorof Americanpolitics.It seemsfruitless
to attemptto capturethis complexityin a single moraljudgment.One can scarcely
weighthe incorporationof immigrantgroupsagainstthe proliferationof corruptionand
strikean overallbalance.80
Greenstein clearly begs a number of questions: how did the other industrialized
countries tackle urban growth, combat inequality and maintain 'a pacific tenor'
in the politics of their cities ? They too experiencedboth the rapid growth of cities
and the concentration of the impoverished in them. But if we are to believe Bryce
and the spokesmen for the reform movement including Woodrow Wilson, they
tackled both without the machine or the Boss81 and by about the turn of the
century without much corruption either.82What cities in other comparable coun-
tries did not experience was the enormous influx of immigrants from overseas.
The absorption by the United States of the successive waves of immigrants from
the mid-nineteenth century up to 1920 is undoubtedly a remarkablephenomenon
for which a price had to be paid. In 1910 it has been estimated that one-seventh of
the population was foreign born.83But the fact that this was a praiseworthyevent
does not in itself make its by-product democracy, and anyway it may not have been
States with its plantationsystem in the Deep South, must be one of the strongestcandidates.
Even today a systemof peonagenot far removedfromfeudalismis enduredby manynegroesin
the Deep South.The emphasisgivento feudalismas a factorwhichAmericansescapedseemsto
be part of a wider tendencyto ignore the South altogetherwhen discussingthe characterof
American politics as if it were another country. Dahl, who does make a brave attempt to
accommodatethe South into his schema when summarizingthe conditions for a democracy,
ratherspoils thingsby a curate'segg manoeuvrethat allowsthe United Statesto be a democracy
with a non-democracywithin it. See his PolyarchyespeciallyChap. 6.
80 Greenstein,'The ChangingPatternof Urban PartyPolitics',pp. 69-70. See P. Madgwick,
AmericanCityPolitics(London: Routledge, I970), for anotherhighlyfavourableinterpretation
of the role of the machineby a Britishobserver.
81 See F. Rourke, 'Urbanismand AmericanDemocracy',in Coulter,ed., Politics of Metro-
politan Areas,pp. 447-8. Wilsonclaimedin 1910 that, 'Most of the badlygovernedcities of the
civilizedworld are on this side of the Atlantic, most of the well-governedon the other side'.
Quotedin J. P. East, Council-Manager Government (ChapelHill: Universityof North Carolina
Press, 1965),p. 42.
82 R. W. Wraithand L. E. Simpkins,Corruption in DevelopingCountries(London:Allenand
Unwin, I963), PartII.
83 R.
Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (New York: Vintage Books, I960), p. 177.

quite so unique as Greenstein implies. The first massive wave of immigrantsto the
United States was from Ireland after the potato famines of the 1840s, but this was
parallelled by equally substantial movements of the Irish to other countries of the
English-speaking world, notably the rest of Great Britain, Canada and Australia.
Yet the machine and the Boss have been conspicuous by their absence elsewhere,
despite the fact that it is the Irish who are said to have perfected the machine
system, if not actually to have invented it.84
It must also be asked whether the machine did performall the laudable activities
that Greenstein claims that it did. This is an impossible question to answer; but
it must be said, first, that the evidence that it did seems to be largely derived from
sympathetic biographies of the Bosses themselves,85and, second, that it may well
be that more social cohesion, social mobility and equalitywould have been achieved
had the public funds appropriatedby the machine been devoted to public services.
As Greenstone and Peterson have put it: 'The machine was willing and able to
distribute governmental resources to individuals, but the criterion of distribution
was not whether the individual was deservingor fell within the category prescribed
by the relevant law, but whether the individual contributed to the political success
of the organization.'86
But whether the machine was the benefactor that it is claimed to have been is
perhaps beside the point. What is important for our purposes is the overall tone
of Greenstein's conclusions; the process was good for the development of Ameri-
can society, therefore it must be good in all other senses. That corruption might
strike at the roots of representative democracy by undermining the essential
element of trust between the citizen and his government is not even hinted at.
There is no political problem so that those who attacked corruption were merely
making 'moral judgements'.87
This is exactly the line taken by Robert Merton in his much and always favour-
ably quoted discussion of the 'latent functions' of the machine.88It is also power-

84 Levine, The Irish and Irish Politicians, Chaps. 5 and 6.

85 At least one benefit of the machine that Greenstein lists - upward social mobility - is in
some doubt for the Irish. See Levine, TheIrishand IrishPoliticians,Chaps. 5 and 6, and 'The
Irish' in N. Glazer and D. P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge,Mass: MIT
Press, I963).
86 J. Greenstoneand P. Peterson,'Reformers,Machinesand the War on Poverty',in Wilson,
ed., City Politics and Public Policy.
87 The attitude of the political process school to corruptionis dismayinglyclose to what
Wraithand Simpkinsdescribeas the 'anthropologists"defenceof corruptionin underdeveloped
countries.Corruptpracticesare accordingto this view, 'essentialpartsof the culturepatternof
peoplewho differfrom ourselvesand the offeringof a gift in returnfor a servicehas the honour-
able sanction of custom and is part of the cement that binds society together. To condemn it
is to misunderstandthe natureof societieswe are discussing,and to abolish it would be to add
bewildermentand disruptionof communitiesundergoingan unprecedentlyrapid change from
the tribalto the global organizationof society',Wraithand Simpkins,Corruption in Developing
Countries,pp. 172-3. Viewedin this light, it is hardlysurprisingto find that a sizeableliterature
has grownup whichrecommendsthe machineto developingcountries.See Scott, 'Corruption,
MachinePolitics and PoliticalChange',p. 1144.
88 Merton, 'The LatentFunctionsof the Machine'.
AmericanDemocracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 155

fully echoed in David Riesman's IndividualismReconsidered.89Greenstein's,

Merton's and Riesman's approach have close parallels with the arguments ad-
vanced elsewhere to explain the tendency to lawlessness and to political extrem-
ism in the American tradition, where both are said to derive from the greater
egalitarianism and the absence of deference and hierarchyin American politics.90
It is perhaps not too wild an exaggeration to claim that a maxim seems to
operate in a great deal of the literature to the effect that there are no bad effects
in American politics that do not have good causes.
If anything, Merton is even more rhapsodic than Greenstein about corruption,
and he adds two more 'functional' explanations for its prevalence in American
cities: first,that American business is corrupt91and, second, that American society
has more prohibitions than other countries of widely desired activities, such as
prostitution and gambling. This generatesa powerful criminal organization which
corrupts city government in order to supply the prohibited services unmolested
by the police. How far the former explanation is true is problematic, although the
recent decision of the Internal Revenue Service to allow bribes to count as a tax-
deductible business expense provided they are not made to a government official
and 'unless the individual has been convicted of making the bribe or has entered
a plea of guilty or nolo contendere'does suggest that bribery is still fairly rampant
at least in business.92 Merton's second explanation is supported, in so far as it
associates crime with legal restraint, by the increase in crime following Prohibi-
tion and the generally accepted association of crime with drug trafficking.That
these criminal activities in turn corrupt city government is supported, for New
York at least, by Sayre and Kaufman:
Illegal gambling,organizedprostitution,and narcoticssales remainsignificantfactors
in the politicsof thecity,andorganizersof thesetradesmustbe reckonedamongthenon-
governmentalcontestantsfor the rewardsof politicalaction.
The grossbusinessof thesethree'trades'in New York City is often allegedto run to
hundredsof millionsof dollarsannually.Sincethe activitiesfromwhichtheserevenues,
whatevertheir actualmagnitude,are derivedare proscribedby law, the chief political
concernof the organizationengagedin themis to easethe stringencyof lawenforcement.
Whiletheynaturallyconducttheiroperationsclandestinely,theycannotaffordto be too
secretive,for they mightthusescapetheircustomersas well as agentsof the law. Conse-
quently,they mustinducesome appropriategovernmentofficialsand bureaucratsto be
89 D. Riesman,Individualism
Reconsidered(Glencoe,Ill.: Free Press, I954), p. I8.
90For example,S. M. Lipset, TheFirst New Nation(GardenCity, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967),
especiallyChaps. 5 and io; H. Hyman, 'England and America: Climates of Toleranceand
Intolerance'in D. Bell, ed., The RadicalRight (GardenCity, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964)and D.
Bell, TheEndof Ideology(Glencoe,Ill.: Free Press, I960), pp. I I6-17.
91Some observershave not merelypointedup the link betweencorruptionand business,but
have equatedthe two: 'the machine once managed in immigrant-chokedcities to fashion a
cacophony of concrete,parochialdemandsinto a system of rule that was at once reasonably
effectiveand legitimate... A machinemay in fact be likenedto a businessin whichall members
are stock-holdersand dividendsare paid in accordancewith what has been invested'; Scott,
'Corruption,MachinePolitics, and PoliticalChange',pp. I I43-4.
92 YourFederalIncomeTax I971 Edition(Washington:InternalRevenue Service, 197I) as
quoted in the ChicagoSun-Times,4 March 1971.

tolerantof themwhilethey are plyingtheirtradesand lenientwith themwhenthey are

Merton's explanation for the link between legal prohibition and crime is a
timely reminder that what is legal, and therefore illegal, in one country may not
be legal or illegal in another. American cities may not be so much inherently cor-
rupt as the victims of that political naivety that confuses the morality of dissenting
Protestantism with the law. This seems to be the underlyingtheme of Banfield and
Wilson's quarrel with the reform movement.94 But, just as the Boss and the
machine are not democracy, neither is corruption, whatever the explanation for
its existence. As with the other apologists for corruption and the Boss, the most
startling aspect of Merton's essay, not least because of its self-proclaimed aim to
look at corruption in functional terms, is the absence of any mention of its effects
on that trust between electorate and government, which it has been argued here,
is so essential for representativedemocracy.


In America,Tudor institutionsand popularparticipationunited in a political system

whichremainsas bafflingto understandas it is impossibleto duplicate.
The question posed at the beginning was: is American city government
democratic? The answer that emerges from the preceding discussion must be
'perhaps'. Since the United States was to some extent the progenitor of modern
local government as it exists in most democracies, it is pertinent to ask why
'perhaps' is the only possible answer. Obviously one can embroider at length on
all the possibilities that have been profferedin the literaturefor some of the more
distinctive characteristics of the American political tradition. At the risk of de-
scending into that mindless reductionism that sees politics solely as the resultant
of something else, I want instead to discuss brieflywhat seem to be four of the main
factors which are peculiar to the United States and seem to have the closest bearing
upon those aspects of the American local government tradition and arguably its
political tradition in general discussed in Part II, namely, its failure to recognize
the importance of functional effectiveness, the public interest, and public trust.
The first and most important of these factors is the revolutionary tradition from
which stems the belief that all authority should derive from the people - or what
in this paper has been called populism. As the Handlins have explained it, the
American revolutionaries came to think of authority 'not as descending down-
ward from the throne but as derived from below from the choices of the people.
The consent of the governed referred not to an abstract compact between ruler
and governed, as in the long tradition of European political theory, but to a pro-
93 W.
Sayre and H. Kaufman, GoverningNew York City (New York: Russell Sage Foundation,
1960), p. 80.
See their City Politics, but also see Wilson's essay in Wilson, ed., City Politics and Public
Policy, and Banfield's The Unheavenly City.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 157

cess by which the people delegated power to their governors.'95This apparently

unbroken tradition seems even today so pervasive that it cuts across the spectrum
of American politics to unite such unlikely bedfellows as Miss Ayn Rand and the
utopian communards of the New Left; the laissez-faire city notable with the
neighbourhood government libertarians;the small town state representativewith
upper class liberal suburbanite; and, conceivably, the 'ethnic' manual worker
with the black power protagonist. The local government manifestation of this
tradition seems to the outsider to have its roots in the 'unfetteredindividualism'96
of pre-industrialEnglish rural and small town, anti-Tory radicalism, unencum-
bered either by the statist doctrines of Bentham or the liberal collectivism of J. S.
Mill. Without putting too fine a point on it, the Jeffersonianideal of the free yeo-
man and the New England town meeting continues to be one of the primary
sources of the American local democratic tradition.97 Huntington is probably
right, then, in claiming that a combination of sixteenth century institutions and
late eighteenth century notions of popular sovereignty is the essence of the
American system and renders it unique among western and non-western system
This is not a theory of government likely to be sympathetic to the idea that
government must have some autonomy. However, it is unlikely that the populist
tradition and the institutional frameworkin which it was born could by themselves
account for the low status of governmentin American society. One possible factor
which has not perhaps been given its due weight is the sheer abundance of natural
resources which have been available in the development of the United States.99
It is one of the few countries where virtually all natural resources have been
available on a gigantic scale at relativelylittle cost. This must have had a profound
effect on the style of government as compared with other democracies where city
government, like all government, is predicated on the scarcity of most resources.
The density and articulation of government is usually seen as a function of a
society's socio-economic development and of its 'values', but it seems likely that
it is also a function of the availability and the relative cost of resources. Only a very
rich economy could have afforded the enormous costs of 'a standing amicable
contest among its several organic parts' as a permanent feature of government.
And only a rich economy could have sustained the tradition of private voluntary
group endeavour which in turn has also renderedgovernment less necessary and
therefore less important.
The relatively weak attachment to the concept of the public interest in the
United States may also be linked to the existence of an abundance economy.
95 0. and M. Handlin, The Dimensionsof Liberty(Cambridge:Harvard
1961), p. 32, quoted in Almond and Verba, The Civic Culture.
R. Wood, Suburbia(Boston: Houghton Mifflin,I959), p. I56.
97See Rourke, 'Urbanismand AmericanDemocracy'.Also A. Sayed, ThePolitical Theory
of American Local Government (New York: Random House, 1966), passim.
98 Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, Chap. 2.
99Although Potter exploresthe effect of economic abundanceon many facets of American
life and attitudes, he has little to say about its affect on the institutionalarrangementsof
Americanpolitics:D. M. Potter,Peopleof Plenty(Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress,I954).

Common interests in government will be seen as being relatively less important

where individual citizens are self-sufficient. During the formative years of the
nascent democracy the proportion of the population that were as farmers vir-
tually self-sufficientfor all public servicesexcept for roads perhaps, schooling and
police was very large indeed. It has been estimated that up to I 840 seven out of ten
workers were farmers. This is what Dahl has called the 'free farmer society','00
and it was one where very little government went a very long way.101Ethos fairly
closely matched reality then; it has ceased to long since. Yet the notion that in a
polity of equals enjoying abundant resources there is little need for a public au-
thority to cater for net interests, to ration resources, and to redress inequalities
still persists. Although he is discussing the difference between the continental
European tradition of local government - the prefectoral system - and the
American, Pizzorno has put his finger on the central weakness of the American
tradition and one that distinguishes it sharply from most other western
democracies. The European tradition, he argues,
does not considernegotiationsbetweenprivatecitizenand publicadministratorfor the
purposeof establishingreciprocalinterestsin a givenmeasure.Administrativeorderin
these countriesis an egalitarianvictoryobtainedby the centralizedauthoritiesagainst
particularismand possible privileges.This has naturallyled to the affirmationof the
conceptof thecommongood in a versionthatis, let us say,authoritarian.Directrelations
betweencitizen or group of citizensand administratoris not providedfor, becauseof
the considerationthatif a measuremorefavourableto the interestsof thatsingleprivate
citizencouldarisefromthisrelation,somethingcouldalso resultto confineotherunrep-
Ideally the American system, he continues,
presumesthat all interestsare capableof representingthemselveswith the public ad-
ministrationmoreor less in the sameway; and in any case, that the naturalfunctioning
of a civil societytendsto increasethe occasionsfor diminishingunequalrepresentation
betweeninterestedparties.On the otherhand the European-typesystemassumesthat
some interestedpartiesare betterable to representthemselvesand othersless able to.
Consequentlypublic administrationhas the job of bringingequalityto the maximum
possiblelevel whereinequalitynaturallyexists and wherethe naturalfunctioningof a
civilizedsocietydoes not increaseopportunitiesfor the emergenceof equality,but per-
haps has the oppositeeffect.'02
Before turning to the next characteristicof American society that seems to have
had a bearing on its political tradition, we must emphasize that, in suggesting
Dahl, Polyarchy, p. 53.
101At about this time Tocqueville wrote to Chabrol: 'What strikes every traveller in this
country ... is the spectacle of a society proceeding all alone without guide or support by the
single fact of the concourse of individual wills. It is useless to torment the spirit seeking for the
government; it is nowhere to be perceived, and the truth is that it does not, so to speak, exist',
quoted in M. Lerner, Tocqueville and American Civilization (New York: Harper and Row, 1966),
p. 49.
102 A.
Pizzorno, 'Amoral Familism and Historical Marginality' in M. Dogan and R. Rose,
eds., European Politics: a Reader (London: Macmillan, I971).
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 159

that there may be a link between that tradition and economic abundance, nothing
so strong as a determinant link is implied, but something more in the nature of a
conditioning factor. This is because, among other western systems, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand have also experienced a similar relative abundance
of natural resources and have had, and perhaps still have, a larger free farmer
element than does the United States, but none of them seem to display any en-
thusiasm for populism.103
The third characteristic of American society that seems to have played an im-
portant part in moulding if not determining the American political tradition,
especially in relation to inhibiting the recognition of the public interest and public
trust of government, is its ethnic diversity. The importance for successful democ-
racy of homogeneity of thought and feeling among the citizens of the polity was
of course, recognized by Rousseau and by Jefferson. But they were primarilycon-
cerned with direct democracy not a representative system. Mill, who was con-
cerned with representativedemocracy, devoted a mere nine-page chapter to it in
his Representative Government. Although he recognized that representative
democracy requires an underlying unity, it is a unity derived from a common
nationality. Mill had nothing to say about the possible relationship between de-
mocracy and minority ethnic groups which may share a common nationality yet
feel themselves to be different from the majority, except to urge that they have
everything to gain from sloughing off their sense of difference and adopting the
majority culture.104Some of Mill's successors have also been concerned with the
problem, notably Acton and Barker,105but in more recent times the importance
of homogeneity for modern representativedemocracy has received less attention
than it might. One of the notable exceptions to this generalization is Dahl.106
One reason for this reluctance to discuss the link between ethnic homogeneity
and democracy may be that it seems to be illiberal to do so - and, since there is a
strong tendency among the adherents of democracy to assume that all desirable
values are in harmony, anti-democratic as well. This is especially so in the United
States where the theory that all liberal values are in harmony is powerfully rein-
forced by the belief, noted earlier, that the conditions of American society are
themselves the conditions of successful democracy. Yet it may be that a firm ad-
herence to the notion of the public interest and a widespread feeling of public
trust of government, both of which it has been argued in this paper are integral to
democracy, are only possible where ethnic minorities are very small so that the
vast majority share an unselfconscious and automatic common bond in society.107
It is of some relevance that British democracy, which is usually regardedas one of
"03 See T. Truman, 'A Critique of Seymour M. Lipset's Article', Canadian Journal of
Political Science, IV (1971), 497-525, for a discussion of some of the differences between the
American political tradition and that of the 'White Commonwealth' countries.
104 J. S. Mill, Considerations on
Representative Government,World's Classics edition (London:
Oxford University Press, I912), Chap. I6.
See W. Connor 'Self-Determination, the New Phase', World Politics, xx (I967), 30-53.
Dahl, Polyarchy, Chap. 7.
'Americans still do not have an instinctive trust of other Americans. America is still only
self-consciously a nation': Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers, p. 335.

the most stable, now lies prostrate in Northern Ireland: that is to say, where
ethnic-cum-religious differences are at their most profound and where they are
highly concentrated geographically.
The United States is not the only Western democracy with an ethnically diverse
population. Switzerland, one of the oldest of the democracies, is in some respects
even more heterogeneous and does not have a common language. How then do we
explain the absence of the populist tradition in that country ? I cannot profess
much knowledge of Swiss democracy, but one answer might be that it is not all
that absent. The stock populist technique of regular referenda seems to be as
popular in Switzerland as in the United States; there seems to be a similar identi-
fication of democracy with federalism; and, although there appears to be nothing
like the same obsessive urge to promote the democratic cause, there seems to be
the inevitable disparitybetween promise and performance.In the Swiss case about
half the adult population - women - were disfranchiseduntil recently. But in any
case Swiss heterogeneityis distinctly differentfrom American: it is a heterogeneity
as between the constituentsub-governmentsof the federation- the cantons. Within
each canton there tends to be a high degree of homogeneity, and there is nothing
comparable to the highly concentrated ethnic diversity of American cities.108
This is hardly the place to explore the link between ethnic homogeneity and
democracy any further, but at the very least it seems highly probable that, when
an exceptionally diverse society like that of the United States conducts its city
government on precepts derived largely from one of the most homogeneous soci-
eties conceivable, the early New England township, intentions are unlikely to be
fulfilled. In other words, the link between ethnic homogeneity and democracy is
brought into the sharpestpossible focus in the United States, not only because it is
an exceptionally heterogeneous society as compared with other comparable de-
mocracies, but because the American political tradition assumes that there is al-
ready a high degree of economic equality in society (Pizzorno's point) and a high
degree of social and ethnic homogeneity as well.
The fourth and final factor that seems to bear on the characteristics of the
American tradition discussed in this paper is the absence of a social democratic
party. Whereas in all other comparable industrial democracies there exists a
social democratic party, sometimes rivalling and occasionally overshadowing the
traditional parties, nothing comparable has arisen in the United States.109The
108Wherethere is not a high degree of ethnic homogeneity,as in the Bern canton, even the
normallyplacid tenor of Swiss democracyhas been disrupted.The movementfor dividingup
the Bern canton to createa new canton for the predominantlyFrench-speakingelementof the
BerneseJurais 'moreakinto a movementfor nationalindependencethanfor a local government
reform', I. Bowen-Rees, Government by Community (London: Charles Knight, I971), p. 172.
109Thehighpointof socialiststrengthin Americancitygovernmentseemsto havebeen reached
in 1917when they achieved'an averagevote of 20 per cent in a numberof cities' (Lipset,First
New Nation,p. 295). But the socialistshad apparentlyalreadyestablishedsomethingmore than
a foothold in city politics beforethen. In 1912, the year of Debs' presidentialcandidaturewhen
he got 6 per cent of the nationalvote, they held 1,200 officesin 340 cities of which seventy-nine
were mayoralitiesin twenty-fourstates. J. Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America
I912-1925 (New York: Monthly Review Press, I967), quoted in C. Lasch, The Agony of the
AmericaniLeft (New York: Knopf, I969), p. 35.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 16I

populist ethos, the abundance economy (or its variant the open land frontier)
and ethnic diversity have all been cited at various times as reasons for the absence
of a social democratic party, so to cite it separately as a reason for the relatively
weak American attachment to the notions of functional effectiveness, the public
interest and public trust, might be seen as adding confusion rather than clarity to
the argument.But there are grounds for doubting whetherthe extraordinaryweak-
ness of the left in American politics has been satisfactorily explained.
One of the most systematic attempts to examine the factors inhibiting the de-
velopment of social democracy in the United States has been made by Lipset in
Agrarian Socialism.110This is primarily a study of the Co-operative Common-
wealth Federation, which was in power in the Canadianprovince of Saskatchewan
from I944 to I964. According to Lipset the factors that have most often been
cited are:
(a) the existence of an open land frontier,
(b) the absence of a feudal past,
(c) a high rate of social mobility,
(d) high per capita income,
(e) the establishment of democracy before the emergence of an industrial
working class, and
(f) a low level of status differentiation.
But Lipset concludes in a later reappraisal of his study of Saskatchewan that
all of these conditions except the last - the absence of what is in effect our old friend
the elite-deference syndrome - are present in Canada, yet the CCF was an unmis-
takably socialist party and under its new name, the New Democratic Party has
established itself as the third national party in Canada. He therefore examines
those characteristicsof the Canadian system that differfrom the American which,
together with the elitist hypothesis, might provide the basis for a new explanation
for the weakness of social democracy in the United States. Lipset settles for two
factors. The first is the much more exposed position of Canadian wheat farmers
who, unlike their American counterparts, sold on a world market and were there-
fore much more the victims of the sharp decline in world wheat prices during the
inter-war period. This made them more radical. The second factor is the much
smaller size of electoral areas in Canada as compared with the United States.
This made it much easier for third parties to establish a foothold.
Truman, however,11l has effectively disposed of the radicalized wheat farmer
thesis by pointing out that the CCF, and more particularly the NDP, is just as
strong in other areas of Canada, including the cities, as it is in wheat lands of
Saskatchewan. The NDP's victory in Manitoba in 1970 and in British Columbia
in 1972 reinforce Truman's point. Truman is equally convincing in questioning
some aspects of Lipset's elite-deferencethesis, and in any case it seems very doubt-
110 S. M. Lipset, Agrarian Socialism (New York: Anchor Books, 1968). This is a revised
edition of the book which appearedin I950 and the discussionof the reasonsfor the absenceof
a socialistpartyin Americaoccursin the new introductionto this edition.
111Truman,'A Critiqueof SeymourM. Lipset'sArticle'.

ful whether the thesis is any more applicable to Canada than it was found earlier
in this paper to be to Britain. This leaves the size of electoral area, which seems,
on the face of it, to be a somewhat slender thread on which to hang such a signifi-
cant characteristicof American politics. Moreover, Lipset unaccountably fails to
develop the full significance of the size-of-electoral-areafactor on the fortunes of
social democracy in the United States. For it is not merely that larger electoral
areas discriminate against third parties, but that they tend to discriminate most
effectively against certain kinds of third parties: that is to say, those that rely most
heavily on working-class support. They do so in three ways. In the first place, the
larger the constituency the better the chances of victory for the candidate who has
achieved eminence in society generally, particularly if the constituency is 'at
large' for the whole political unit. In an industrial free-enterprisesociety, this will
usually tend to favour the anti-socialist party of the statusquobecause it is precisely
that party which will attract such candidates. Second, the larger the constituency,
the greater the cost of fighting elections. This gives a clear advantage to those
parties that can attract most cash, and that again usually means the party of the
status quo. Third, practically all studies of voting behaviour in the United States
reveal a lower voting propensity among working-class electors than among
middle-class electors. It therefore follows that the larger the electoral area the
greater the chance that there will be middle-class electors within the electoral
area who, elector for elector, will always outvote the working class.12 In short,
the American electoral system which strongly favours enormous electoral areas at
national, State and local levels presents a formidable, not to say insuperable,
hurdle to an emergent socialist party.
However, size of electoral area is unlikely to be the only explanation for the
absence of a social democratic party in the United States. Perhaps the populist
tradition and ethnic diversity, neither of which are so markedlyevident in Canada
as in the United States, are equally plausible candidates. But, whether they are or
not, it seems likely that the existence of a strong social democraticparty would have
made it much more difficult for the American political tradition to have given
such a low priority to functional effectiveness,the public interest and public trust.
For this has had the effect of perpetuating styles of government - whether it is the
fragmented government of the strong mayor system, the Boss and the machine, or
the non-partisan city manager plan - which discriminate against the poor in
favour of the better off. The fragmentedmayoral system is merely the local version
of the 'standing amicable contest' doctrine found at all levels of American
government. This is what Dahl has called 'Madison's nicely contrived system of
constitutional checks', but which he has also seen as a barrierto the participation
of the 'unpropertied masses' in government policy.113The effect of the machine
and the city manager on the political fortunes of the poor had a similar effect. As
112 Surprisinglylittle of a
systematiccharacterhas been written on the link between large
electoral areas and support for anti-socialistparties. One study that has examined the link
for an English city is M. Le Lohe, Local Elections in Bradford County Borough, 1937-i967,
unpublishedPh.D. thesis,Universityof Leeds, 1972.
Dahl, Preface to Democratic Theory, p. 81.
AmlericanDemocracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 163

Greenstone and Peterson have explained: 'both the machine and the reformmove-
ment had conservative consequences. For businessmen "on the make" machine
politics provided franchises and special privileges. For their better established
successor good government seemed both efficient and morally praiseworthy. The
Machine controlledthe lower class vote, while somewhat later the reformed struc-
ture reducedit.'114
Had there been an organized social democratic party, this kind of manipulation
would have been more difficult since it is precisely the aim of social democracy to
amelioratethe economic and social conditions, through the medium of democratic
government, of those whom the American system tends to ignore.
In the first place, it seems likely that a strong social democratic party at the city
level would have strengthenedthose forces in American city government making
for greater recognition of the public interest and public trust in government.15
One of the most curious aspects of city government in the United States to an
outside observer is the association of working-class politics with the rejection of
the public interest and with corruption in government. We have scant precise
knowledge on the subject, but the implication to be drawn from the literature
comparing the United States with other Western democracies is that in the other
democracies working-class politics, or at least that part of it supporting social
democratic parties, has usually been on the side of cleaner government."16This is
because social democracy is not only a political doctrine but also an ethical creed:
'The Socialist system of values included a distinctive view of equality and liberty.
But one gets to the heart of its ethical message with the concept of fellowship.'117

114 Greenstone
and Peterson,'Reformers,Machinesand the Waron Poverty',p. 270. Levine
comes to substantiallythe same conclusionin relationto the Irish and the machine;'the Irish
insteadof using governmentto createpolicies to improvethe conditionsof life for themselves
and othersof comparablecircumstances,used theirpowerto enhancetheirpoliticalpositionby
increasingtheir fund of patronageand concentratingon winning elections', The Irishand the
Irish Politicians, p. 135.
115 One of these was, of course,the reformmovementitself. Besidesmakingcity government
'cleaner'anothermajor objectiveof the movementwas to 'improvethe position of the entire
lowerclass'(Greenstoneand Peterson,'Reformers,Machines,and the Waron Poverty',p. 270).
In at least one area - North Dakota - the socialistsand the reformmovementdid join forces
under the bannerof the Non-PartisanLeague. For a time just after the First World War the
League extended its influenceinto northern Minnesota and other neighbouringstates. (See
Lipset,AgrarianSocialism,Chap. I.) But it wouldbe wrongto exaggeratethe reformmovements
concern for social welfare; their primarymotive was to clean up city governmentand social
ameliorationwas a by-productnot an objective: 'As they scrubbedand polished their cities,
some of them did assist in improvinglocal housing and health codes': R. Wiebe, Businessmen
and Reform(Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress, 1962), p. 212, quoted in East, Councillor-
ManagerGovernment,who also points out that Childs always kept the left-wingreformersat
armslength; see his Chap. 2.
116 Truman,'A Critiqueof SeymourM. Lipset'sArticle'.
117 S. Beer, Modern British Politics (London: Faber, I965), p. 128. The vulnerabilityof

workingclass organizationsthat lack an ethicalcreedis illustratedby the fate of some American

trade unions. In 1932 it is estimatedthat two-thirdsof the Chicago trade unions were paying
tributeto Al Capone: H. Pelling, 'Labourand Politics in Chicago',PoliticalStudies,v (I957),

As an ethical creed it is instinctively hostile to corrupt practices in politics. More-

over, it is also usually hostile to one of the primary sources of corruption, namely
private business, whether this is legitimate or otherwise. In this way a social demo-
cratic party makes it much more difficultfor corruption to persist as a permanent
feature of government.118The combination of egalitarian doctrine and ethical
creed also tends to provide a powerful alternative to the inevitably strong pulls of
self-interest on the motivations of individual elected members, always the most
likely source of corrupt practices. These tendencies probably operate whether or
not social democrats are actually in a majority since the normal competitive
nature of the party system makes for mutual emulation and adaptation.
Naturally this is a two-way process and the socialists, too, have to bend to the
prevailing drift of popular opinion;119but over time the rather more systematic
and consistent stance of the social democrats graduallyprevails: not so much per-
haps over all substantivepolicy issues but, rather, on the general tenor of political
discourse and in broadening the limits of permissible policy choices so that op-
ponents are forced, whatevertheir own inclination, to compete on issues of general
Such is the tyranny of the notion of 'balance' (if not the hankering after a
'value free' political science) when discussing political parties in a professional
capacity that I am acutely aware of the embarrassment,not to mention outright
hostility, even among erstwhile social democrats, generated by any suggestion
that one party may have desirable qualities not shared by its rivals. So it would be
imprudent to exaggerate the role of social democratic parties in promoting
democracy. Obviously other forces have been at work. So far as corruption is
concerned, not least has been the long arm of central government which under a
unitary system - whether prefectoral or otherwise - is able to exercise an undi-
vided scrutiny of those areas of local government where most corrupt practices
are likely to occur. Even federal systems where the constituent state or province
operates under a parliamentarycabinet system seems better able to keep its local
government on the path of righteousness than the unitary executive system of
virtually all the American states. Nor can the impact of full time professional
118 Wraith and Simpkins (Corruption in Developing Countries, p. 80o)attach considerable
importanceto this moral aspect of the British Labour Party'sethos and its contributionin
changingBritishlocal governmentfrom a highly corruptto a relativelycorruption-freesystem.
119For a discussion of the moderating effect of exercising power on Labour Party members
in British urban authorities, see J. G. Bulpitt, PartyPolitics in EnglishLocal Government(London:
Longmans, I967) especially Chap. V. For a more detailed study of this phenomenon see M.
Goldsmith et al., Party Politics in Salford (forthcoming).
120 This can only be a supposition,but thereis some evidenceto suggestthat it may be more
than this. In a survey of resolutions submitted by local parties to the national annual conference
of both the Conservative and Labour parties in Britain, it was found that, 'In the Conservative
Party, safe seats display an average of 9'I per cent more extremist resolutions than hopeless
seats. In the Labour Party, hopeless seats adopt 9-2 per cent more extremist resolutions than
safe seats' (R. Rose, 'Political Ideas of Party Acitivists' in R. Rose, ed. Studies in British Politics
(London: Macmillan, I966)). In other words, where the local Conservative parties are less
exposed to socialism they are more likely to retain a Conservative stance, whereas the reverse
seems to be true for the local Labour parties vis advis the Conservatives.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions I65

officersat the local level be discounted as a furtherfactor in promoting the notion

of the public interest and in raising the general tone of government. Nevertheless,
it is likely that social democrats have had a similar effect of enhancing the status
of government by pushing the notion of the public interest to the fore and genera-
ting greater trust of government by promoting what Beer has called 'moral
collectivisim'.121As we saw in Part I, the existence of the Labour Party in British
urban government seems to generate much more participation in government
among the working-class than in the United States. A comparison of Norwegian
and American levels of participation tends to confirm this and concludes that the
absence of a social democratic party in the latter means 'citizens of lower status
would be under conflicting pressure and be more likely to be discouraged from
active participation in any of the political organizations open to them.'122In
short, social democracy enhances the quality of democracy tout court.
Perhaps more fundamentally, whatever the effect of social democracy on those
deficiencies of the American democratic tradition discussed in this paper, social
democratic parties unquestionably enhance the power of the politically weakest
elements in society by providing the resourcesto compete for votes that otherwise
would not be available to them. In this way reality is given to that political equality
which in theory democracy is supposed to provide. It also seems likely that social
democratic parties are more likely to enhance the position of the poor through
more vigorous welfare policies. Very little work has as yet been done to assess the
effect of social democratic parties on the 'outputs' of governments, but what has
been done does suggest that they do increase the extent of social and economic
equality. In the British context the Labour Party appears to affect positively the
provision of ameliorative social and personal services by city councils,123and at
the national level Parkin124has shown that those West European states where the
social democrats have been in power do show small but distinctive differences
from the rest of Western Europe in a number of indices of equality, including up-
ward mobility and educational opportunities for selective secondary and higher
education. This is hardly conclusive evidence of the role of social democracy, but
it is a strong pointer. Moreover, the British articles and Parkin's study cover

Beer, Modern British Politics, Chap. V.
122 S. Rokkanand A.
Campbell,'CitizenParticipationin PoliticalLife: Norwayand the US',
International Social Science Journal, xii (I960), 69-99, p. 98.
123 The relationshipbetween
partycontrol and the policy outputsof local councilsin Britain
has yet to be exploredin any great depth. But what researchthat has been done does suggest
that there may be a link between LabourParty control and a more expansionaryattitudeto
expendituregenerallyand for higher expenditureon welfareservices.See N. Boaden, Urban
Policy-making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), Chap. i; N. Boaden and R.
Alford, 'Sourcesof Diversityin EnglishLocal GovernmentDecisions', Public Administration,
XLVII(I969), 203-23; J. Alt, 'Some Social and PoliticalCorrelatesof CountyBorough Expen-
ditures', British Journal of Political Science, I (1971), 49-62; and B. Davies et al., Variations in
Servicesfor the Aged, OccasionalPapers on Social AdministrationNo. 40 (London: London
School of Economics, 1971).
124 F. Parkin, Class, Inequality and Political Order (London: MacGibbon and Kee, I971),

only the effect of social democrats where they have been in power for fairly lengthy
periods. It is clear from other evidence discussed earlier that the United States is
alone among the Western democracies in being enormously wealthy but, with
the exception of higher education, having lower than average indices of public
welfare. In general wealth and welfare tend to go together. It is also alone in not
having a social democratic party. Obviously, there may be no connection
between these three facts. All that can be said is that they give greater credence
to the suggestion made earlier that the existence of a social democratic party,
whether or not it is in power, shifts, via the competitive struggle for votes, the
spectrum of acceptable policy choices and also changes the role of government
and its articulation.125
If this is in fact the case, it is tempting to argue that social democratic parties
have come to perform a similar function in the political sphere to the trade unions
in the industrial sphere. Just as the trade unions redressthe inherent imbalance of
power between the single employee and the firm, so the social democratic party
redressesthe inevitable political imbalance between the working-class elector and
the middle-class elector by providing the former with those resources and that
collective power which he cannot provide by himself unaided. Despite the usual
assumptions in the literaturethat social democratic parties are an aberrationin the
onward march of democracy - 'a consequence of anachronistic forces within the
society' (Lipset),126or a 'transitional stage' which America has skipped (Dahl)' 27
- it may be that a social democratic party is as necessary a feature of the demo-
cratic landscape as the trade unions. Just as the United States was one of the last
of the Western democracies to give full legal recognition to trade unions, so too
and for similar reasons it may be the last to evolve a social democratic party.
The weakness of such a prediction lies of course in the fact that, whereas the
American trade union system on its present scale could be created almost over-
night by the federal government,128parties cannot be conjured up by statute.129
Moreover, the very weaknesses of the American democratic tradition, which it is
125 In his
appraisalof the impactof partypolicy in 27 of the majorcities in the world Robson
concludes:'The labour,socialistor social democraticpartiesnormallyfavoura more generous
or extensiveprovisionof socialservices,suchas publichousing,educationand medicalfacilities,
irrespectiveof the increasein local taxation which may result, whereasthe more conservative
parties tend to urge restraintunder both headings.' W. Robson and D. Regan, eds., Great
Citiesof the World(London: Allen and Unwin, I97I), Vol. I, p. 86.
126 Lipset, AgrarianSocialism,p. xvii.
127 Dahl,Pluralist intheUnitedStates,p. 438.
128 The scale of the Americantrade union movementtoday is the directresult of two Acts:

the Norris-LaGuardiaAct of 1932which restrictedthe activitiesof a hostilejudiciaryagainst

strikesand picketingand forbadethe 'yellowdog' contract,and the WagnerAct of 1935which
gave employees the right to organize and institutedcollective bargainingand machineryfor
restraininganti-unionemployers.The effect of both acts was to more than double tradeunion
membershipbetween 1933and I937 from about 3 million to 71 million.
129 Except in the sense that a rejiggingof the electoralsystem at all levels of governmentso
as to createmuch smallerelectoralareaswould, as we have seen, removea major obstacle.So
too would more strictlyenforcedlimitationson partyelection expenditureand the removalof
restrictions,wherethey exist, on thirdpartiesgettingon to the ballot.
American Democracy Reconsidered:Part II and Conclusions 167

argued social democracy would help to eliminate and which possibly render it
unique among the Western democracies, are often precisely those that seem likely
to hamper the emergence of a social democratic party.
That the American political tradition is possibly unique is one of the under-
lying themes of this paper. If this is a correct assumption, it places a fairly hefty
question mark against a lot of the literature on comparative politics. This is be-
cause, as in so much of the rest of political science, the best of it was pioneered and
is now dominated by American political scientists who inevitably derive their
frame of reference from their own experience. Such is this dominance that the
American system has become the unconscious measuring rod for everyone; the
sui generis has become the norm. Perhaps we need therefore a reassessment - a
new frame of reference- and this paper may be viewed as a preliminaryforay to
that end.