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«WITHIN democratic theory a remarkable consensus is emerging around Tocqueville’s view that the virtues and viability of a democracy depend on the ...»

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These and other distinctive features of American politics suggest that associative means of collective action have been more prominent in the American case than in other developed liberal democracies. From the perspective of democracy this is not always a good thing, and I certainly do not mean to idealize the American example. As will become clear, a political system that diminishes the impact of the vote (in contrast to parliamentary systems) will tend to increase the power of those with the means to organize associations—usually those with money and education. Weak or unresponsive units of government, or those captured by associations, can fail to protect vulnerable members of society—as when they fail to enforce civil rights laws or worker safety regulations under pressure from conservative and business associations. Nonetheless, I think my analysis, with modifications, transcends the American case to encompass other developed liberal democracies.

My analysis speaks less well to countries where ethnic or religious communalism remains a dominant force—Afghanistan, Iran, some Balkan states, and many African states, for example. As will become clear in chapters 2 and 3, I am assuming an associational landscape that is pluralized in the two senses. First, the purposes of associations are segmented rather than encompassing, so that associations express discrete interests (or clusters of interests) or nonencompassing identities. When associational attachments become encompassing, no democratic process can mediate conicts. Under these circumstances, every conflict or threat cues an entire universe of meaningful social attachments, which will tend to provoke (rigidly principled) war rather than deliberation, negotiation, and bargaining. Although the most prominent examples are abroad, the United States is not exempt from this pattern of attachment. The Christian Right comes very close to exemplifying such encompassing attachment, but is held in check by the fact that it exists within a pluralized society, meaning that its members will often have interests in and allegiances to jobs, public schools, regions, hobbies, and the like that are not encompassed. Fortunately, most associations in the United States are relatively discrete in the


interests and identities they embody and express. Added together, they produce a pluralism of interests and identities that, ideally, check and balance one another in ways that make democratic responses to politics more attractive even for those involved in encompassing associations.

Second, the pluralism of discrete associations in the United States and other developed countries tends to be matched by individuals with complex identities. Most individuals inhabit a variety of roles with corresponding identities: those of parent, son or daughter, church member, employee, union member, consumer, sports fan, man or woman, lifestyle aficionado, member of a neighborhood, city, and region, parent-teacher association member, gardener, protester, Democrat, and so on. People are more likely to have some basis for understanding and empathizing with others in socieities where they inhabit crosscutting and overlapping roles.

At the very least, complex identities disincline people to fight with arms— few threats are encompassing enough to justify this form of struggle, as compared to deliberating, demonstrating, bargaining, exiting, and other strategies that are the lifeblood of democracy. In contrast, those violent struggles that have occurred periodically in the United States almost always involve cases in which associational attachments are not overlapping, but are marked by cleavage. Historically, for example, discrimination against African Americans has extended to political enfranchisement, housing and neighborhoods, social associations, employment, career mobility, union membership, schooling, and religious worship. We should not be surprised that such a history coincides with associational attachments that rarely bridge race and provide too few incentives for democratic responses to conflict. The American case provides exceptionally rich terrain for conceptualizing the democratic possibilities of association not because it is exemplary, but because it combines a rich tapestry of associative venues for collective action with more than enough cautionary tales to give pause to anyone inclined toward uncritical celebration.

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