1. The sixties as a decade of “democratic renewal”:
“The 1960s witnessed a dramatic renewal of the democratic spirit in
America. The predominant trends of that decade involved the challenging of the
authority of established political, social, and economic institutions,
increased popular participation in and control over those institutions, a
reaction against the concentration of power in the executive branch of the
federal government and in favor of the reassertion of the power of Congress and
of state and local government, renewed commitment to the idea of equality on
the part of intellectuals and other elites, the emergence of the ‘public
interest’ lobbying groups, increased concern for the rights of and
provisions of opportunities for minorities and women to participate in the
polity and economy, and a pervasive criticism of those who possessed or were
even thought to possess excessive power or wealth. . . . It was a decade of
democratic surge and of the reassertion of democratic egalitarianism”
In addition to increased campaign activity, there was “a marked upswing
in other forms of citizen participation, in the form of marches,
demonstrations, protest movements, and ‘cause’ organizations...”
(61). There were “markedly higher levels of self-consciousness on the
part of blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and
women,” all seeking “their appropriate share of the action and of the
“Previously passive or unorganized groups in the population now embarked
on concerted efforts to establish their claims to opportunities, positions,
rewards, and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled to
Hadn’t they!? Look at the struggle of
blacks, for example--Du Bois called for full civic and political equality in
“...the sixties also saw a reassertion of the primacy of equality as a
goal in social, economic, and political life. The meaning of equality and the
means of achieving it became central subjects of debate in intellectual and
policy-oriented circles. What was widely hailed as the major philosophical
treatise of the decade (Rawls,
A Theory of Justice) defined justice
largely in terms of equality” (62).
“The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge
to existing systems of authority, public and private. . . . People no longer
felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered
superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.
Within most organizations, discipline eased and differences in status became
blurred. . . . More precisely, in American society, authority had been commonly
based on: organizational position, economic wealth, specialized expertise,
legal competence, or electoral representativeness. Authority based on
hierarchy, expertise, and wealth all, obviously, ran counter to the democratic
and egalitarian temper of the times. . .” (75).
“In the university, students who lacked expertise, came to participate in
the decision-making process on many important issues.” Governmental
organizational hierarchy weakened. “In politics generally, the authority
of wealth was challenged and successful efforts made to introduce reforms to
expose and limit its influence” (75).
Huntington notes the demand for an end to the near monopolization of political
leadership by white men in these terms: “the value of
‘categorical’ representativeness’ was elevated to challenge the
principle of electoral representativeness” (75-76).
System assimilation: Apparently, Huntington sees the capacity of
the American to respond by “assimilat[ing] those groups into the political
system” and incorporat[ing] members of those groups into the political
leadership structure” (61) as both a sign of its resilience and a problem,
since it facilitated the pressing of demands on government that led to excess
expenditures and other difficulties.
2. The danger posed by democratic renewal -- a legitimation and
governability crisis stemming from a loss of trust in government and in major
theoretical formulation -- Madisonian doctrine: “‘In framing
a government which is to be administered by men over men,’ observed James
The Federalist, no. 5 1, ‘the great difficulty lies in
this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the
next place oblige it to control itself.’ To assume that there is no
conflict between these two requirements is sheer self-delusion. To
assume that it is impossible to reach a rough balance between these two
requirements is unrealistic pessimism. The maintenance of that balance is,
indeed, what constitutional democracy is all about. . . . Views as to what
constitutes the precise desirable balance between power and liberty,
authority and democracy, government and society obviously differ” (63).
loss of trust in authority: “In a democracy, the authority of
governmental leaders and institutions presumably depends in part o the extent
to which the public has confidence and trust in those institutions and leaders.
During the 1960s that confidence and trust declined markedly in the United
States” (76). Perhaps he should read the Anti-Federalists on how to
maintain trust in government--democratic accountability, close ties of elected
officials with the represented, active citizenship, etc.
traceable to an ideologically committed, active citizenry: “The
democratic surge involved a more politically active citizenry, which developed
increased ideological consistency on public issues, and which then lost its
confidence in public institutions and leaders when governmental policies failed
to correspond to what they desired” (76). He attributes part of the rise
in ideological consistency to increased participation, and part to the nature
of the issues: social, racial, and military. “On more strictly economic
issues, on the other hand, ideology was a much less significant factor”
Furthermore, he blames loss of trust at least in part on ideological
development: “those who took more extreme positions on policy issues . . .
tended to become more distrustful of government. Polarization over issues
generated distrust about government, as those who had strong positions on
issues became dissatisfied with the ambivalent, compromising policies of
government” (78). Thus strategies of compromise backfired.
This loss of trust was reflected in opinion surveys. In the 1950s about
three-quarters of Americans believed that government was run primarily for the
benefit of the people. By 1972, only 38 percent believed this, while 53
percent thought it was “‘run by a few big interests looking out for
themselves’” (78). This loss of trust began to be recovered for
Congress, the Supreme Court, and the military by 1973, but not for the
“The leadership of the major nongovernmental institutions in society who
had enjoyed high levels of public confidence in the mid-1960 -- such as large
corporations, higher educational institutions and medicine--also suffered a
somewhat similar pattern of substantial decline and partial recovery”
(80). Only the leadership of the press and television news enjoyed more
confidence in 1973 than in 1966.
substantial decline in the sense of political efficacy: which he
relates back to loss of trust in government and the failure of its compromise
policies to meet people’s demands.
3. The political and economic consequences of the sixties:
The vitality of democracy in the United States in the 1960s produced a
substantial increase in governmental activity and a substantial decrease in
governmental authority” (64). Thus, “The vitality of democracy
in the 1960s raised questions about the governability of democracy in the
Economic problems engendered by the democratic surge: “The
expansion of governmental activity produced budgetary deficits and a major
expansion of total governmental debt from $336 billion in 1960 to $557 billion
in 1971. These deficits contributed to inflationary tendencies in the
economy. They also brought to the fore in the early 1970s the entire question
of the incidence of the tax burden and the issues of tax reform” (103).
He also blames growing public sector unionization: “Unionization produced
higher wages and more vigorous collective bargaining to secure higher
wages” (103). In the tendency of government to capitulate to unions he
sees an inflationary spiral: higher wages without higher taxes lead to larger
deficits and more inflation, which justifies calls for still higher wages.
Completely absent from this discussion is any consideration of how much the
military costs of the Vietnam War figured in this, or for that matter, the
overall costs of the Cold War military-industrial complex.
Weak foreign policy engendered by the democratic surge: Huntington
argues that political leaders, unable to win favor through their domestic
policies, look to foreign policy achievements to rebuild their popularity. But
“The dynamics of this search for foreign policy achievements by democratic
leaders lacking authority at home gives to dictatorships (whether communist
party states or oil sheikdoms), which are free from such compulsions, a major
advantage in the conduct of international relations” (105).
Encouragement of economic nationalism as an indirect result of the
democratic surge: “The expansion of expenditures and the decrease in
authority are also likely to encourage economic nationalism in democratic
societies. Each country will have an interest in minimizing the export of some
goods in order to keep prices down in its own society. At the same time, other
interests are likely to demand protection against the import of foreign goods.
. . . The resulting unilateralism could well weaken still further the alliances
among the Trilateral countries and increase their vulnerability to economic and
military pressures from the Soviet bloc” (105).
Restriction of military expenditures and action as a result of the
democratic surge: “a government which lacks authority and which is
committed to substantial domestic programs will have little ability, short of a
cataclysmic crisis, to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be
necessary to deal with foreign policy problems and defense” (105).
Overall threat to global American hegemony: “For a quarter-century
the United States was the hegemonic power in a system of world order. The
manifestations of the democratic distemper, however, have already stimulated
uncertainty among allies and could well stimulate adventurism among
4. The causes of the sixties:
Huntington argues that the
increase in political participation is not a root cause, nor are the specific
policy problems that confronted the United States during the period (107).
“The expansion of political participation was underway long before these
problems came to a head in the mid-1960s, and the beginnings of the decline in
trust and of the increase in attitude [ideological] consistency go back before
large-scale American involvement in Vietnam” (107).
Was it the baby boom?: He notes that the “generational bulge”
of youth in the 1960s brought new values to the fore, chief among them a lack
of respect for “‘established authority’” and for dominant
forms of ideological authority. There were “broader changes in their
attitudes and values with respect to sexual morality, religion as a source of
moral guidance, and traditional patriotism and allegiance ‘to my country
right or wrong’” (109).
Moreover, youth tended to reject the behavioralist view of democracy, with
only 37 percent agreeing with the opinion survey statement that “Voting is
the only way that people like me can have any say about how the government runs
Was it due to the emergence of a post-industrial society?: “Rising
levels of affluence and education lead to changes in political attitudes and
political behavior.” The “better-off, white-collar, suburban
groups” are “growing in numbers and importance relative to” the
“poorer, working-class, blue-collar groups . . .” (109). Most
importantly, “The more educated a person is, the more likely he is to
participate in politics, to have a more consistent and more ideological outlook
on political issues, and to hold more ‘enlightened’ or
‘liberal’ or ‘change oriented’ views on social, cultural,
an foreign policy issues” (110).
Unfortunately for this explanation, rates of participation “ran far
ahead” of what changes in educational composition would lead on to expect.
This was partly due to “the tremendous increase in black political
participation during these years. . . . [, which] was the product primarily not
of increased individual status but rather of increased group consciousness. . .
. A decline in the saliency of school integration, welfare programs, law
enforcement, and other issues of special concern to blacks will as some point
presumably be accompanied by a decline in their group consciousness and hence
their political participation” (110-111).
Nor can education explain increased ideological consistency, again for
empirical reasons: roughly equal increases occurred in the fifties and sixties
among those at the high and low ends of the educational attainment spectrum.
Nie and Anderson suggest that “‘The political events of the last
decade, the crisis atmosphere which has attended them, have caused citizens to
perceive politics as increasingly central to their lives.’” Thus the
explanation must lie with changing political relationships.
It was creedal passion during a period of social change: Huntington
endorses the liberal consensus view: “American society is characterized by
a broad consensus on democratic, liberal, egalitarian values. For much of the
time, the commitment to these values is neither passionate nor intense. During
periods of rapid social change, however, these democratic and egalitarian
values of the American creed are reaffirmed. The intensity of belief during
such creedal passion periods leads to the challenging of established authority
and to major efforts to change governmental structure to accord more fully with
those values” (112). He compares the sixties to the Jacksonian and
5. Huntington’s theory of political cycles (which is implicitly a
prescription for system restabilization): “There is . . . some
reason to think that there may be a cyclical process of interaction in which:
(1) Increased political participation leads to increased policy polarization
(2) Increased policy polarization leads to increasing distrust and a sense of
decreasing political efficacy among individuals;
(3) A sense of decreasing political efficacy lead to decreased political
Discouragement and apathy are, for Huntington, desirable, since they facilitate
smoother system management. Note, though, a quasi-parallel with Smith’s
“serpentine path” -- egalitarian surges followed by restoration of
ascriptive hierarchies -- except that these restorations are, for Smith,
setbacks for liberals and liberalism.
Huntington suggests one way a democratic surge might be brought to heal -- by
shifting the issue focus to economic issues (which occurred in the mid-1970s).
First, he notes that economic position taking is not as clearly related to
ideological commitments. “In addition, inflation and unemployment are
like crime: no one is in favor of them, and significant differences can only
appear if there are significantly different alternative programs for dealing
with them. Such programs, however, have been slow in materializing; hence, the
salience of economic issues may give rise to generalized feelings of lack of
confidence in the political system but not to dissatisfaction rooted in the
failure of government to follow a particular set of policies. Such generalized
alienation could, in turn, reinforce tendencies towards political passivity . .
He elsewhere makes clear that this is not an extrinsic factor. The democratic
surge produced a surge in government spending, which precipitated economic
6. The need to restore ‘balance’: Huntington, based on
the theory above, looks forward to a decline in democratic activism. “Al
Smith once remarked that ‘the only cure for the evils of democracy is more
democracy.’ Our analysis suggests that applying that cure at the present
time could well be adding fuel to the flames. Instead, some of the problems of
the governance in the United States today stem from an
democracy -- an ‘excess of democracy’ in much the same sense in
which David Donald used the term to refer to the consequences of the Jacksonian
revolution which helped to precipitate the Civil War. Needed instead is a
greater degree of moderation in democracy” (113).
This ‘moderation’ comes in two forms: reassertion of undemocratic
authority and cultivation of political apathy. “First, democracy is only
one way of constituting authority, and it is not necessarily a universally
applicable one. In many situations the claims of expertise, seniority,
experience, and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way
of constituting authority” (113). He goes on to say that democratization
in the sixties often “only frustrate[d] the purposes of those institutions
[to which it was applied]”--a “more democratic university is not
likely to be a better university” (114).
“Second, the effective operation of a democratic political system usually
requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some
individuals and groups. In the past, every democratic society has had a
marginal population, of greater or lesser size, which has not actively
participated in politics. In itself, this marginality on the part of some
groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors
which has enabled democracy to function effectively.” Now, with the
marginal groups participating more, “the danger of overloading the
political system with demands which extend its functions and undermine its
authority still remains. Less marginality on the part of some groups thus
needs to be replaced by more self-restraint on the part of all groups”
“There are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of
political democracy” (115).