Professor’s Book on Challenges to Democracy Reaches Seventh Edition
American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to American Democracy (CQ Press, 2012), a political science book written by Dr. William Hudson, continues to explore the practice of and challenges to democracy in America.
Now in its seventh edition, American Democracy in Peril incorporates Hudson’s thoughts on the impact of the Obama presidency and key updates to previous edition’s chapters on the separation of powers system, the judiciary, and economic inequality.
Below, Hudson, professor of political science, who wrote the book’s first edition in 1992, shares some of his thoughts on the latest edition.
Why did you want to write this book [first edition and editions since 1992]?
The book, itself, grew out of a seminar that I taught with (professor emeritus) Bob Trudeau in the early 1980s called Challenges to Democracy. We did that for a long time, and by the late 1980s, we started thinking this could be a book. I sort of picked it up and ran with it, but my talks with Bob were critical in stimulating the ideas for the original book. Initially, the first book had seven challenges.
Basically, what I do is say “here’s something that challenges the way that America can be truly democratic and here’s why.” I take positions that are somewhat different than what students usually encounter in American government texts. In every chapter, I address the argument on the other side and argue why I think they are incorrect.
Some chapters are more provocative than others. Take the "Separation of Powers" chapter, for example. I point out how strategically positioned minorities in a particular institution can block the will of the majority. This is what is happening now with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Even though the recent election clearly repudiated their views, their control of one branch of government (partly a result of gerrymandered congressional districts – Democrats actually won a majority of congressional votes last November) allows them to block the majority preferences. This is how the system was designed, but students need to reflect on its implications for majority rule in a democracy. Does the separation of powers in fact produce rule by a minority? In the chapter, I offer the example of a parliamentary system, used in nearly all other democracies, as a better system in terms of the democratic ideal.
How has the book evolved over time?
The fundamental arguments from the first book to now have held up pretty well. The main arguments have kind of stood the test of time. That’s good for the book but bad for our democracy. Elections have changed the most. When I first wrote the book, we were in a time of weak parties. In the electorate there was a lot of ticket splitting, which has shifted. The Congress is much more divided and so is the electorate. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In the early editions, I wanted more partisanship so the voters have clearer views. Essentially, we have a Parliamentary party system without the Parliament and that’s not working.
In this edition, there is a chapter on economic inequality, which was far below the radar in the early edition. That, of course has gotten much worse. The mainstream media pays some attention to it, but not as much as they ought to. People are talking about deficit and debt, but that’s much less a problem than economic inequality.
What type of feedback have you received?
The feedback from the very beginning is that it engages students and forces them to think about American democracy that they haven’t before. That’s why the first chapter is on Separation of Powers. It’s a good beginning because right away they are encountering an issue that they haven’t heard before.
What are your hopes for the book?
The fundamental objective is for students to think more objectively about American democracy. Do we have elections that are structured in a way that allows democracy to work? Is the American value of individualism compatible with the ideals of democracy? I want students to think deeply about these questions and the feedback I get is that the book helps them do this.