MAINPOINTS AND CONCEPTS
IN GLEN BROWDER’S UNCONVENTIONAL ANALYSIS
OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY:
Browder’s Thesis of American Democracy (summary):
“America is changing in ways that are important and unsettling for the future of
American democracy. We are undergoing a democratic metamorphosis that, for
better or worse, is transforming our nation and the world; therefore, we owe it to
coming generations to deal constructively with these challenges.”
Central Questions for 21st Century America:
(1) “Can our nation—a people of growing cultural diversity with increasingly
divergent ideals, values and governance principles, in a constrained systemic
environment—continue to sustain our collective pursuit of freedom, equality, and
justice through the traditional framework of limited, representative government?”
(2) “How far can America pursue the Great Experiment without succumbing to the
inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?”
(3) “Is America dying?”
California is an unsettling vision of America’s uncertain democratic destiny:
While California is not perfectly analogous to broader America, its trending size,
diversity, politics, and governance are worth noting as we assess similarly
developing pressures on our national democratic experiment. Apparently the
Golden State is going through inevitable systemic challenges slightly ahead of
the rest of us; and Californians seem to be struggling—pretty distemperately—in
that process. The analogous dynamics of the contemporary California political
system raise particularly tricky questions and provide some useful points of caution
about important developments—the delicate, difficult, dangerous interplay among
diversity, divergence, dissentience, and democracy—in future America.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“America”: A national experiment in democratic ideals.
“American Democracy”: The mix of people, politics, and government whereby
we have pursued democratic ideals through limited, representative government,
fairly progressively and effectively, for the past two centuries.
“Democratic Ideals”: A dynamic, evolving array of noble principles and practices that
comport with the general ideas of freedom, equality, and justice. These ideals are
somewhat fuzzy, sometimes inconsistent, and often unrealistic; but they fit
comfortably within the American democratic experience and mindset.
“The Great Experiment”: American democracy as called and described by Alexis de
Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1831).
“Conventional Democratic Orthodoxy”: An almost religious belief in the indomitable,
permanent, progressive destiny of American democracy; this orthodoxy (built on
the notion that the cure for America’s ills is always more democracy) severely
limits our capacity for critically examining the Great Experiment.
“National Democratic Distemper”: A fundamentally deranged and disorderly
deterioration of our national experiment in democratic ideals.
“Dying”: The rhetorical proposition that our Great Experiment may be experiencing a
process of terminal degeneration, partly through systemic change and partly
through the inherently destructive tendencies of democracy itself.
“Systemic Model of Transforming America”: A conceptual framework for assessing,
theoretically and graphically, important and unsettling propositions about
changing American democracy.
Proposition #1 (“Systemic Environment”): America’s favorable systemic environment
(an originally open, natural frontier and the subsequent popular expansion of
national public authority) has disappeared.
Proposition #2 (“Philosophical Civil War”): We have entrapped American democracy
within a divisive struggle over democratic ideals, cultural values, and principles of
governance, i.e., over “what America ought to mean” and “how America ought to
Proposition #3 (“No Longer Works”): American democracy no longer works the way it
has in the past. The American people are losing their civic virtue; the political
machinery of American democracy is broken; and American government is
functioning in unacceptable manner.
Proposition #4 (“Tiring”): America seems to be tiring of its historic Great Experiment.
The American people evidence mixed commitment to their national democratic
endeavor; and the American polity increasingly inclines toward alternative ideas
“Centrifugal Democracy”: After two centuries of popular national centralization,
contemporary power and energy, and activity are devolving, spinning out and away
from traditional elites, institutions, and governance to other elements of the federal
system, most importantly, to “the people” wherever and however they choose to
live their lives.
“Subculturalism”: Trending patterns of social diversity, societal divergence, and political
dissentience that strain the capacities of the historical Great Experiment.
“Neopopulism”: Growing tendency toward direct democracy initiatives, newly
empowered through the technological revolution.
“Electronic Democracy”: The increasing use of technological progress to alter
dramatically traditional relationships between the people and their government;
advancing techno-politics promises full, participatory, direct democracy (but it also
threatens both the substantive and representative nature of American democracy).
“Traditional America-versus-Emerging America”: America is bifurcating into two
distinct cultural societies and political personalities—evenly balanced and each
with legitimate but starkly different and demanding visions of our national destiny.
On one hand is “Traditional America”—an historically-dominant white society,
rooted in rural, small town, middle regions, which subscribes to religious
convictions, community values, and conservative government. On the other hand
is “Emerging America”—a growing, eclectic society of relatively progressive,
minority, and historically-disadvantaged citizens in urban and coastal areas who
are inclined toward social diversity, moral tolerance, and liberal government.
“Alternative Scenarios for American Democracy”: Disintegration (“Death of America”),
Deformation (“Amerika” or “USSA”), Transition (“The American Federation”),
and Transformation (“Trans-America”).
“The American Federation”: Browder projects that, if we mindlessly proceed on our
current course, then America by 2050 will be a shifting feudalism of federal
democratic disorder instead of national democratic ideals.
“Trans-America”: Browder recommends that we engage in pro-active transformation
that accommodates fundamental change in the American system, including real
public dialogue (through structured forums) about the future of American
democracy and more popular, deliberative, direct participation (initiatives,
referenda, etc.) in our national democratic experiment.
POSSIBLE QUESTIONS FOR CSUDH FORUM:
What is America?
What is an American; and are we a nation?
How has America changed fundamentally—positively and negatively—over the course of its history?
After two centuries of zigzagging but progressive democratization, is contemporary America a more constrained democratic system (in terms of restricted opportunity and our mixed attitudes toward expansive national government) than has been the case in the past?
Is American democracy trapped in a Philosophical Civil War over “what America ought to mean” and “how America ought to work”?
Does American democracy still work?
Does anybody care? Or are we tiring of the “Great Experiment” of American democracy?
Is the current argument over community-versus-diversity a legitimate concern for the “Great Experiment” or simple two-way racism; is the argument over historic republicanism-versus-direct democracy a legitimate democratic debate or simply crass politics?
Is it possible, in a future America of ever-increasing cultural diversity, for “Traditional America” and “Emerging America” to extend the “Great Experiment” without substantively corrupting our national experiment in democratic ideals, without succumbing to the inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?
Is it possible, in a future America of ever-increasing direct-democracy initiatives, for us to extend the “Great Experiment” without procedurally corrupting our historic representational system, without succumbing to the inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?
What will America look like—if we continue our current course—in 2050?
Is America dying?
Is California an apt analogy for America?
How does California reflect the fundamental challenges to our nation (systemic constraints, philosophical struggles, social diversity, societal divergence, political dissentience, centrifugal democracy, etc.) as identified in this discussion about American democracy.
How do these challenges play out in contemporary California politics (“Traditional California” versus “Emerging California”, immigration/taxation/lifestyle issues, direct democracy, the recent recall effort, and upcoming initiatives/referenda)?
Is there anything that California can do to deal, successfully, with its challenges?
What might California/California democracy look like in 2050?
What does California say—positively and negatively—to America?
Is California the fate of American democracy?
What about CSUDH—is CSUDH an analogy for the future of California and America?
What special challenges (both opportunities and responsibilities) confront CSUDH regarding the fate of California and American democracy?
What message does this school have for the fate of democracy in our state and nation?
Is CSUDH the future of California and American democracy?
In summary, a two-part question:
What can we–the entire group of us in this forum—agree on and disagree on about America, California, CSUDH, and the fate of American democracy?
And what should CSUDH, California, and America do to enhance the future of our Great Experiment?