An intelligent, thorough synthesis of how the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship have evolved from colonial...


THE GOOD CITIZEN: A History of American Civic Life

An intelligent, thorough synthesis of how the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship have evolved from colonial times to the present. Schudson (Sociology/Univ.. Of Calif., San Diego) sets out first to disabuse the reader of any notions that Americans have always been expected to be informed about politics or even to care. In the 18th century, only a few propertied white males (""freeholders"") could even vote, and elections were more of a social carnival than a political arena. By the Jacksonian era, however, the ""common person"" had begun to assert the privileges that we have come to regard as rights. Education was more widely available, the explosion of the print media made information available to the newly literate public, and ordinary folks began enacting social change through reform associations. By the late 19th century, machine politics, though corrupt, had created the most personalized electoral system America has ever known. Voter turnout was at its highest in these years, as people eagerly debated issues and saw their friends appointed to government posts. The interwar era saw a disillusionment with democratic citizenship, but the postwar baby boomers ""widened the web of citizenship"" by again agitating for rights, especially for people who had been previously excluded from the political process. Schudson says that this ""rights-regarding"" model of citizenship is still the paradigm for contemporary political life. Overall, this is a well-written, general political history, peppered with some fresh sociological insights and useful demographics. But for a book that purports to be about the ordinary person, the research is a bit impersonal: although this is not a direct history of the media in the ways his previous books were (Discovering the News, 1978; Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion, 1984), Schudson overwhelmingly favors newspapers for his primary source material, eschewing more intimate records such as journals and letters. Sometimes overly ambitious, but its grand scale also makes Schudson's work a valuable introductory text in American politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 1998

ISBN: 1451631626

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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