Government And American Life
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 Historian Wishy (Jefferson and the American Revolutionary Ideal, not reviewed, etc.) traces the historic tension in American life between Jeffersonian ideals of minimal intrusion by the state and the reality of increasingly expansive government. Bidding farewell to the Machiavellian, religious-tinged sectarian politics of turbulent 17th-century Britain, the first English settlers sought to leave the apparatus of the European state behind in their quest for spiritual salvation and material prosperity. Nonetheless, Wishy shows that colonial Americans did not forswear the European state entirely: They thought of themselves as Englishmen and went on toasting the king and celebrating traditional British institutions even as distinctive American notions of liberty took hold. Similarly, in the post- Revolutionary era, Jeffersonian ideals of minimal government achieved currency even as the strong central government became an agency that sponsored economic growth. Wishy argues that in the late 19th century, America's rapid industrialization necessitated frequent government intervention, causing the government to grow in size and complexity. And as the 20th century progressed and the populace experienced the vicissitudes of an industrial economy, Americans began to expect the government to service a wide variety of social needs while continuing to view government with their traditional disdain and even hostility. Wishy contends that the contradictory demands of various interest groups on government have rendered it unable to address critical problems. He concludes with a short list of recommendations, which range from the pleasantly nebulous (``tell citizens their genuine alternatives about government policies'') to the dully prosaic (federal judges should be chosen from ``ever-revised ratings of candidates prepared by US Supreme Court justices, appointed groups of respected senior lawyers, and distinguished law school professors''). A long, discursive survey of American attitudes toward governance since colonial times, which, although often thoughtful and eloquently written, has no clear point.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8071-1923-7
Page count: 370pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995