The Stewarding America project investigates the civic institutions that are critical for inspiring and modeling good citizenship. Through in-depth analyses of the government, the courts, the media, the military, corporations, unions, and the education system, the Academy is developing a better understanding of the role of these institutions in the American democratic system and considering ways to increase civic participation and public confidence in American leaders and institutions. “American Democracy & the Common Good,” the Spring 2013 issue of Dædalus, is a part of this project.
The Academy is grateful to the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for supporting this work.
Dædalus Examines “American Democracy & the Common Good”
In the face of increasing polarization and considerable stress on the American polity, this issue of Dædalus begins a much-needed public conversation about how individuals and institutions can work together to strengthen democracy and promote the common good.
“Fundamental American institutions of democracy are held in public trust. They provide a continuity of law and procedure, of practice and participation, and of knowledge and inquiry from one generation to the next,” said Academy President Leslie C. Berlowitz. “When they serve the short-term interests of particular individuals or groups, they erode public trust; they erode the faith of citizens in the very legitimacy of our constitutional democracy.”
The issue is guest edited by Academy Fellows Norman J. Ornstein (Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) and William A. Galston (Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution); the volume analyzes particular sections of our social fabric while also providing a strong overview of the entire tapestry.
“Our civic life may be fraying at the edges, the essayists suggest, but it is possible to reverse the damage and restore our sense of common purpose,” writes Ornstein in his introduction. “Indeed, it is necessary and urgent that we get to the work of doing so.”
The authors in this issue pose compelling questions for our public institutions:
- In “Reluctant Stewards: Journalism in a Democratic Society,” Michael Schudson (Columbia University) writes: “Could the media do better in serving democratic ends? A better journalism might be possible if journalists had a more sophisticated sense of what it means to serve democratic ends. It is more than providing citizens with the information they need to make sound decisions in the voting booth.”
- In “The American Corporation,” Ralph Gomory (New York University Stern School of Business) and Richard Sylla (New York University Stern School of Business) question why corporations that are focused on maximizing shareholder profit rather than a larger public good get government bailouts and the right to spend corporate funds in electoral politics: “The great American corporations today are doing well for their top managers and shareholders, but this does not mean that they are doing well for the country as a whole.”
- In “The Challenges Facing Civic Education in the 21st Century,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson (University of Pennsylvania) examines ways in which polarized politics and shifting priorities in school reform have undermined civics education across America. “Despite the fact that civic education produces an array of positive outcomes, the citizenry’s current level of civic knowledge is far from ideal, and the role of civic education in schools is far from secure,” she writes.
- In “What is the Common Good?” former congressman Mickey Edwards (Aspen Institute) addresses the struggle to agree on a single definition of the common good. “The problem is that where emotion overrules process, the sides themselves become confused, and conservatives and liberals alike sometimes champion the right of the collective to deny an individual a right to which he or she might otherwise be entitled. There is a confusing lack of consistency in determining where the common good lies.”
- Thomas E. Mann (Brookings Institution) and Norman J. Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute), in “Finding the Common Good in an Era of Dysfunctional Governance,” raise alarms about government failures and partisan rancor that are “dangerous to the fundamental legitimacy of decisions made by policy-makers.” They consider a variety of cultural and structural changes that may be required to fix the problem.
All essays in the volume are available online at https://www.amacad.org/daedalus/american-democracy-common-good. Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at: http://www.mitpress journals.org/loi/daed.
Spring 2013 Dædalus