Democracy   /   Spring 2000   /    Articles

Democratic Authority at Century’s End

Jean Bethke Elshtain

Statue of Frederick Douglass, Rochester, NY; Wikimedia Commons.

The life of the polity was not just about life but about the good life.

THERE IS WIDESPREAD AGREEMENT that American democracy is in trouble. Social scientists offer up a mountain of data showing that we are civically depleted, politically cynical and rootless, socially mistrustful, and personally fearful. This is a strange turn of events for a country associated with can-do optimism, with a robust democratic faith—indeed, a country once quite confident about its institutions and its ability to transmit them intact over time. An anemic and faltering democratic faith—a decline of confidence in our basic institutions—threatens to render us incapable of sustaining these institutions over the long haul.

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