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Redeeming Democracy in America

Wilson Carey McWilliams

Edited with an introduction by Patrick J. Deneen and Susan J. McWilliams

May 2011
336 pages, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
American Political Thought
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1785-2, $34.95

book cover imageWherever we turn in America today, we see angry citizens disparaging government, distrusting each other, avoiding civic life, and professing a hatred of politics and politicians of all stripes. Is our situation hopeless? Wilson Carey McWilliams wouldn’t think so.

McWilliams, one of the preeminent political theorists of the twentieth century, was closely identified with an ambitious intellectual enterprise to reclaim and restore democracy as a source of national veneration, inspiration, and salvation. Better than most of his contemporaries, he understood and illuminated the major sources of the political malaise that afflicts our nation’s citizens. For him, the key to reinvigorating our republic depends on our ability to reclaim the “second voice” of American politics—the one that emanates from our literature, churches, families, and schools and speaks out on behalf of community and civic responsibility.

The writings gathered here cohere into McWilliams’s most mature and most developed philosophical statement—the distillation of a distinguished career of thinking about the American experiment. From insights into “The Framers and the Constitution” to reflections on “America as Technological Republic,” he shares a love for an older tradition of democracy, one based upon the active self-rule of self-governing citizens. “Protestant Prudence and Natural Rights” and “On Equality as the Moral Foundation for Community” may force readers to adjust their understandings of American politics, while “Democracy and the Citizen” and “Political Parties as Civic Associations” will resound for observers of the current political scene, regardless of party.

Carey McWilliams not only offers a prescient analysis of the current crisis in American citizenship and governance but also shows us what sources within the American tradition might exist to save us from our worst selves. His broad and iconoclastic approach to American politics should appeal to both conservatives and liberals—to anyone, in fact, who cares about the state of democracy in America.

“Dazzling. Carey McWilliams understood America—
perhaps more deeply than any public intellectual in the past quarter century. This book offers us his bravura tour through American thought, history, literature, religion, law, and culture. It sparkles with wisdom, insight, and jeremiads. Powerful. Learned. Graceful. Omnivorous. Brilliant. An altogether exhilarating read.”—James A. Morone, author of The Democratic Wish

“A wonderful book by an important thinker.”—Harvey Mansfield, author of The Spirit of Liberalism

“Brilliant and timely, this treasure trove displays McWilliams’s unsurpassed gift for penetrating America’s political soul.”—Sidney M. Milkis, author of Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy

WILSON CAREY McWILLIAMS (1933–2005) was professor of political science at Rutgers University for thirty-five years; author of the award-winning The Idea of Fraternity in America; and founding editor of the University Press of Kansas’s American Political Thought series. PATRICK J. DENEEN is associate professor of government and Markos and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies at Georgetown University. SUSAN McWILLIAMS is assistant professor of politics at Pomona College. 

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