Full TextThe Possibilities for
Democracy in America
Jennifer L. Hochschild
February 6, 2002
Prepared for volume on The Making and Unmaking of Democracy, eds. Theodore Rabb and Ezra Suleiman (Routledge Press, 2003).
NOTE: Not quite final version.
James Madison in Federalist #10 sought a system of government to control the “impulse” of “opinion, passion, or interest” for fear that factionalism would tear apart the fragile republic of the brand new United States of America. He especially worried that “when a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government [created by the practice of democracy]… enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest, both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Madison recognized that opinions and passions could develop over everything, or nothing, but he worried most about conflict over material interests: “the most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distribution of property…. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern Legislation.”
The framers did their best to prevent any majority faction from gaining control of all of the levers of power in government. Their instruments included the large size of the territory encompassed by the United States, separation of powers, two legislative houses, an autonomous presidency, an independent system of federal courts, federalism, the Bill of Rights – all of the checks and balances and veto points one learns about in introductory courses on American government. Political analysts have generally agreed that they mostly succeeded, that these instruments have indeed prevented large factions from dominating democratic politics and have enabled many small factions to get at least some of what they sought. Political analysts have also followed Madison’s cue in focusing on interests, rather than opinions or passions, as the driving force behind the creation and interaction of political factions – what we now, in fact, call “interest groups” – and they generally agree that none intolerably dominate the others.
If we accept Ezra Suleiman’s definition of democracy, then -- “political participation, equality in voting, ‘free, fair and frequent elections,’ ‘alternative sources of information,’ control over the agenda, and ‘inclusive citizenship’” -- democracy in America is in most ways thriving. Indeed, the United States’ constitutional structure and set of political practices have generally set the standard of democratic practice for other nations for much of the past 200 years, as Madison hoped they would.
But not completely; no one can claim that the United States has demonstrated inclusive citizenship for most of its history. The United States may have been more democratic in this sense than many other nations, but that is a fairly low standard. In fact, the U.S. fully opened political participation to all adult citizens only within the past generation. The purpose of this paper is to take that criterion of inclusive citizenship very seriously, relate it to the Madisonian structure of factional politics, and see what the two concepts together reveal about the conditions for enhancing democracy even in what is arguably the most democratic nation on earth.
My entry into this issue takes us back to Madison’s assumption that factions would be based mostly on interests, and sometimes on opinions or passions. That is no longer the case, if it ever was. Recently a political stance has emerged that does not reduce to opinions, passions, or interests; it revolves instead around shared racial and ethnic identity. Caveats enter immediately: Americans have always had racial or ethnic identities that affected their political choices, especially in the realm of local government, and that even determined their ability to act in the political arena. But the claims of racial and ethnic identity on the national political regime may be expanding in ways that will not easily be accommodated in the type of democracy established by the Madisonian constitutional structure.
Much is at stake if Americans are shifting from factions based on opinions, passions, and interests to factions based on opinions, passions, interests, and identities or -- even more strongly – if Americans are shifting from having opinions, passions, interests, and identities to having particular opinions, passions, and interests because of their identities. The latter change moves us conceptually from modernism to postmodernism, from class to race, from materialism to semiotics, from a nation of “normal people” and minorities to a nation of cultural pluralism or multiple centricities. It moves political disputes politically from the effort to protect and balance individual rights to an effort to define and instantiate group rights. It moves the nation ideologically from celebrations of the United States as John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” or Abraham Lincoln’s “last, best hope of mankind” to a critique of the United States as deeply flawed, or even undemocratic and racist to the core. It disrupts, in short, Americans’ understanding of the quality of democracy in our nation.
I see three directions in which the politics of identity in America might plausibly be moving. Its elements are not rigorously exclusive or exhaustive, but they have distinctly different implications for the future of Madisonian constitutional democracy:
- Pluralism: Racial and ethnic identities are dissolving, at least around the edges, as groups come into close and complicated contact with one another or as class interests come to dominate racial passions. Groups will not dissolve into an anodyne melting pot, but individuals will have a variety of opinions, passions, and interests that are not closely associated with their identity. In this case, Suleiman’s conditions for democracy will all be more or less met without any substantial change in American constitutional design or political practices.
- Separation: Americans are moving toward mutual racial and ethnic separation, whether because groups choose to distinguish themselves from others or because they are involuntarily separated from others. The chances for changing one’s class position depend heavily on identity, and other causes for factionalism are subsumed within it. Groups may not be overtly hostile, but individuals’ political views and actions will be largely shaped by the nature of the racial or ethnic group into which they were born. In this case, Suleiman’s conditions for democracy may still be met, but American political practices and perhaps constitutional design will need to change to accommodate the presence of a few large, reasonably permanent factions.
- Black exceptionalism: Anglos, Asian Americans and Hispanics are slowly becoming a single, intermingled population that will generally not include blacks. The exclusion could be voluntary, forced onto African Americans, or the result of an interaction between exclusion and separatist preferences. The possibilities for economic mobility and the political implications of one’s class position will vary, depending on whether one is black or not. The political perspectives of African Americans will be qualitatively different from those of members of other racial or ethnic groups. In the worst case, Suleiman’s conditions for democracy will not be met, if blacks remain less able to participate meaningfully in electoral politics, influence the policy agenda, or convey information credibly to nonblacks. At least from their vantage point, Madisonian constitutionalism will have failed.
I cannot predict whether pluralistic intermingling, ethnic separation, black nationalism, or even white defensiveness will predominate over the next few decades. The structure of American racial and ethnic interactions is too complicated; the evidence is mixed or even flatly contradictory. More importantly, too many outcomes are contingent on choices not yet made and circumstances not yet faced. I will, however, offer more focused conclusions about conditions for maintaining, changing, or even creating inclusive citizenship as a crucial element of democracy in the United States.
Transformation of the American Racial and Ethnic Structure
I begin with a few necessary facts. Since 1980, the United States has absorbed over 15 million legal and 6 to 8 million undocumented immigrants. Blacks and Hispanics each make up about 12 percent of the American population, Asian-Americans comprise another 5 percent, and Native Americans 1 percent. Due to both immigration and differential birth rates, Hispanics will soon replace African Americans as the single largest non-Anglo group in the United States. By 2025 about two fifths of the residents of the United States will be Asian, black, Latino, or Indian, up from about one seventh in 1960.
Within each panethnic group lie deep differences of language, religion, history, culture, recency of immigration, education, and personal political ideology. Geography magnifies all of this diversity in ways are extremely important for the United States’ place-based electoral system. For example, counties in California’s range from a population that is two-thirds Latino (mostly Mexican) to one that is no more than 3 percent nonAnglo. Over half of the residents of New York City are immigrants or children of immigrants. In most of the largest school districts, but in few of those in smaller cities, suburbs, or rural areas, a majority of the students are African-American. By 2025, in twelve states, non-Hispanic whites will comprise fewer than 60 percent of the residents; in another twelve states, they will comprise more than 85 percent (Frey and Farley 1996: 758).
Now add economic diversity to the mix, as one must do when considering Madisonian factionalism based on interests. Over a third of African Americans can now be described as middle class, as compared with over half of European Americans. That is an astonishing--probably historically unprecedented--change from the early 1960s, when blacks enjoyed the “perverse egalitarianism” of almost uniform poverty in which even the best-off could seldom pass on their status to their children. There is now greater disparity between the top and bottom fifths of African Americans with regard to income, education, victimization by violence, job status, and participation in electoral politics, than between the top and bottom fifths of white American (Hogan and Featherman 1978: 101; Hochschild 1995). Latinos are undergoing a similar process of class dispersion, as are Asian Americans.
How will these types of diversity map onto the possible pathways of pluralism, separation, or African-American exceptionalism in the context of American democratic politics? I turn now to that question.
Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice provides the canonical prescription for pluralist interaction: “Prejudice … may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals. The effect is greatly enhanced if this contact is sanctioned by institutional supports (i.e. by law, custom, or local atmosphere), and provided it is of a sort that leads to the perception of common interests and common humanity between members of the two groups”(Allport 1981 (1954): 281).
The contact hypothesis has been tested, supported, challenged, added to, and modified hundreds of times, partly because it is deeply resonant with the democratic aspirations of the United States. It fits within a Whiggish theory of history that associates the political experiment of democracy, freedom, and progress with a new, distinctively American identity. This claim was put most famously by Hector St. John de Crévecoeur during the revolutionary era: “What, then, is the American, this new man?… He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds…. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world” (de Crévecoeur 1981 (1782): 69-70). In this view, racial hostility is an atavistic holdover from the hierarchical past that can be eliminated by free-thinking, independent, equal Americans who rely on their own direct experience and participate in their democratic political regime. Thus the contact hypothesis fits neatly into the Madisonian framework: in a large republic, people can move around freely, associate with and obtain information from a varied population of fellow citizens, develop new interests and thereby modify their opinions and even their passions, engage in politics as they see fit.
So there is a lot at stake for American democratic politics in testing the validity of the contact hypothesis. Does it work? Not well. Large national surveys show lots of insignificant correlations, implying essentially no relationship between having a black (or white) friend or neighbor and perceiving good social relations between the races (Sigelman and Welch 1993: 793; Ellison and Powers 1994). Studies of more intense, sustained, and deliberately fostered contact through school desegregation are almost as disappointing, generating mostly noise or a “mixture of disappointed expectations and renewed hope” in the words of the most extensive and recent reviewer (Forbes 1997: 55, 61). In Madisonian language, shared opinions or interests frequently do not suffice to enable American citizens to unite in a new faction because conflicting identities and their associated passions intervene to block cooler vision.
However, the contact hypothesis does not encompass all of pluralism, and other evidence would reassure Madison. Consider first the most intimate and sustained forms of connection, marriage and childbearing. While the number of marriages in the United States increased from 1960 to 1990 roughly in keeping with population growth, the number of interracial marriages increased by a magnitude of ten. The total number of marriages across races and ethnicities is still tiny, but the trend is highest for those under 40 so the trajectory is likely to continue. By 1990, for example, over half of Asian American women under age 35 were married to nonAsian men (Farley 1996: fig. 1, 3). If one adds in marriages between Hispanics and Anglos, the increase in mixed marriages over the past forty years comes close to a hundredfold (Alba and Golden 1986). In consequence, at least three million (about 8 percent of) children have parents of different races or ethnicities. Their presence is affecting everything from the topics of conferences to congressional hearings. There are passionate advocates for “interrace” – it is “not just a website, it’s a community,” inviting photos for the children’s gallery -- and for civil disobedience if the government “does not either scrap all racial classifications or establish a separate multiracial identifier.” Intimate personal contact across boundaries has always existed without derailing racial hierarchy or identity. But now high rates of intermarriage and growing multiracial identification could erode conventional lines of racial and ethnic identity and nudge Americans away from a politics of identity toward a politics of interests and opinions.
Intergroup contact in the arena with the least intimacy, the economy, is also growing. The CEO of DuPont Corporation, for example, has discovered that “diversity in our company is itself a business imperative vital to our ongoing renewal and our competitiveness into the 21st century” (Hart 1997: 5). After all, firms make more sales if they have managers and a sales force representative of disparate languages and cultures; “our clients, our shareholders are demanding more and more that our employees look like them,” according to the first vice president of Merrill Lynch, Inc. (Truell 1998). It will be long, if ever, before corporate leadership resembles the American racial, ethnic, or gender structures. Nevertheless, businesses increasingly seek to draw in people from disparate racial and ethnic backgrounds for precisely Madisonian reasons: it becomes good business as nonAnglo groups grow and attain some wealth. In Madison’s terms, factions based on economic interests are seeking to override factions based on identities.
Conventional party politics itself shows increasing interracial contact. “ ‘If we remain a party of all white Southerners we’ll be a dead party by 2010’ says one former Republican National Committee aide” (Grann 1998: 12). The Republican Party is, correspondingly, seeking to expand its constituency. Some African Americans might accept these overtures; almost three in ten describe themselves as politically conservative, and another third are “moderate.” The African American middle class is growing, and middle-class blacks are more conservative about social and economic issues than are poorer African Americans (Gregory 1992; Tate 1993: 41- 45)). Blacks are more culturally conservative than whites on issues such as legalizing marijuana, prayer in the public schools, education vouchers, public recognition of homosexuality, and women’s appropriate roles (Gallup Organization 1996; Calhoun-Brown 1998; Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies various).
Republicans are even more eager, because the prospects seem greater, to attract newly-middle-class Latino voters. Most Hispanics are patriotic, committed to a traditional work ethic, and religiously and culturally conservative (de la Garza et al. 1992; Post-Modernity Project 1996; Washington Post et al. 1999). Almost a third of Americans with Mexican ancestry describe themselves as conservative and another third are moderates (Public Perspective 1998: 55-56]). George W. Bush received roughly 40 percent of the Latino vote in the 1998 Texas gubernatorial election, and 30 percent in the 2000 presidential election. His staff describes President Bush’s “ ‘fundamental message [as]: there are a core set of values that transcend ethnicity and race, and he has an ability to articulate those’ ” (Neal 1999).
This is behavior that would reassure Madison. If it continues, political mobilization into democratic politics on the basis of ethnic identity will give way to mobilization in accord with class interests, social and cultural opinions, or religious and moral passions. Madison would disapprove of modern political parties, but he would certainly see them as a lesser evil than parties organized around ethnic identity.
Consider a final form of pluralism, postmodern identity blurring. In this view, Americans never had or no longer have fixed ethnic or any other kind of identity. Instead, people move in and out of fragments of identities depending on circumstances, economic imperatives, interpretive schema, political mobilization, or perceived alternatives. After all, none of the four groups that I have identified with a single term exist; almost all are recent political constructions. And many members of a given group identify with their nationality rather than a broad ethnicity; in a 1990 survey, almost half of “Latinos” rejected any racial or ethnic identifier and virtually all of the rest accepted one only secondarily (Jones-Correa and Leal 1996: 220-222). Most generally, “individuals hopscotch among ethnic designations as they confront new…environments. There is nothing static about ethnic identity” (Fernandez-Kelly 1998:2).
Thus perhaps ethnic identification is highly contested, such that there is no reason to privilege the “ethnic pentagon.” In that view, American democracy is a matter of “cross-cutting cleavages,” mestizaje, “intersectionality,” or “multiplexity” (Hollinger (1995); Dahl 1967; Grillo 1998, ch. 10; Crenshaw 1993; Fernandez-Kelly and Schauffler 1995) and the Madisonian concern about large, fixed, contending factions is unwarranted. Madison might have liked postmodernists as little as political party bosses, but both would be a bulwark against his deepest fears.
This model is the most sanguine about the capacity of Madisonian constitutionalism to engage in inclusive citizenship and therefore real democracy. In this view, both intimate and instrumental contact across groups is increasing, or groups themselves are dissolving; in either case, fixed identities are giving way to fluid attention to economic interests and idiosyncratic connections. The pluralist prediction should not induce complacency and it need not imply political or social conservatism. But it does permit the conclusion that the democratic polity envisaged by the framers need not be swamped by demographic change or new political mobilization.
The second alternative is also best introduced with a canonical statement, in this case Horace Kallen writing on “democracy versus the melting pot” in 1915:
What is inalienable in the life of mankind is its … psycho-physical inheritance. Men may change their clothes, their politics, their wives, their religions, their philosophies, to a greater or lesser extent. They cannot change their grandfathers…. The selfhood which is inalienable in them, and for the realization of which they require ‘inalienable’ liberty is ancestrally determined, and the happiness which they pursue has its form implied in ancestral endowment.
This empirical claim implies a political prescription: “a possible great and truly democratic commonwealth... would be... a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind.” This is far from Madison’s vision of how to organize a stable democracy. Kallen rejects opinions, passions, and interests as the foundation for political association for just the reasons that Madison endorses them – they are emotionally and socially superficial. Instead, says Kallen, we should structure our nation as a “federation or commonwealth of national cultures.” [Kallen, 1998  #1536]: 108, 114-116).
Is our nation so structured? Consider first the celebration of difference: “we are told that universalism of the World War II era served to deracinate and to efface the varieties of humankind by using a too parochial construction of our common humanity…, that this universalism served to mask a cultural imperialism by which the NATO powers spread throughout the world their own peculiar standards for truth, justice, and spiritual perfection… Universalism itself is too dangerous an ideal.” Thus “our mission… is not to purge the old universalism of its corruptions but to renounce it as fatally flawed and to perfect instead the local and the particular, to live within the… unique civic, moral, and epistemic communities into which we are born, to devote ourselves to our ethnos” (Hollinger 2000: 58-59). He disagrees with this view.). More simply, “the meaning of ‘public’ should be transformed to exhibit the positivity of group differences, passion, and play “ (Young 1990: 97).
Some Americans perceive and even celebrate just such a transformation. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton testified in Congress against a multiracial identifier on the U.S. census on the grounds that “about the only thing that American racism did for us is saying ‘no, you are one or the other [that is, black OR white].’ …So I sit here as a light skin black woman and I sit here to tell you that I am black. That people who are my color in this country will always be treated as black” (Norton 1997). Her position has considerable support. Almost all whites, but only six in ten African Americans think of themselves “mainly as just an American” rather than “mainly as a member of a particular ethnic, racial, or nationality group” when they consider “social and political issues.” Only 10 percent of whites, but three times as many blacks, think it would be “better for America if different racial and ethnic groups maintain their distinct cultures” rather than “blend into the larger society” (analysis from data in General Social Survey various years).change to 1994, 1996
Some Hispanics similarly make political claims based on a distinctive history: “comparison to European immigrants… is… fallacious…. The presence of Mexicans in American society precedes immigration…. What is now the Southwest… is defined by an indelible Mexican stamp. This has allowed Mexican immigrants whether they came in 1950 or 1994 to join the heirs of Mexicans who lived in the region prior to 1848 in making what is in effect a primordial claim on the Southwest. Participating in this claim allows Mexican immigrants to develop a unique psychological relationship to American society, one which no other immigrants legitimately share” More simply, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” as the saying goes. Thus Mexicans claimed coverage under the Voting Rights Act (which Congress granted) and affirmative action, not on the grounds of poverty or immigrant status or simple discrimination, but as compensation for the fact that “rights as codified in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo… had been systematically violated.” (de la Garza 1994: 5-6, 12). In 1996, more Hispanics than either blacks or whites agreed that groups should “maintain their distinct culture” rather than “adapt and blend into the larger society.” Twice as many Latinos (and blacks) as whites disagree that “political organizations based on race or ethnicity promote separatism and make it hard for all of us to live together” (analysis of data in General Social Survey various years. Change to 1999
We know much less about the views of Asian Americans, given a paucity of national survey data. But they too have a unique history in the United States that might imply a unique political stance. In this view, the “American racial geometry” has two dimensions – superior/inferior, and similar/different. Whites have racialized Asians as superior to blacks though inferior to whites, and as unassimilable and more different from whites than are blacks (Kim 1999). We see this rejection of Asian foreignness in decades of exclusionary immigration laws, restrictions on property ownership, and controls on naturalization, not to speak of Japanese-American internment in World War II. Most Asian immigrants were made eligible for citizenship only in1952, almost a century after African Americans were recognized as citizens in the 14th Amendment. It is in light of this racial geometry that the president of the Korean Association of Southern California proclaims that “we’ll never be white people no matter how long we’ve lived here. We cannot afford to live in America scattered and isolated. Only through unity can our people protect our rights and pass on a great legacy to our children” (Han Mo Koo, 1979, quoted in Hing 1997: 229).
Madison worried most about the threat of a majority faction that “sacrifice[s] to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” That worry focuses our attention on European Americans, and on the difference between voluntary separatism and enforced separation from other Americans or the status of citizen:
Through most of U.S. history, lawmakers pervasively and unapologetically structured U.S. citizenship in terms of illiberal and undemocratic racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchies…. Rather than stressing protection of individual rights for all in liberal fashion, or participation in common civic institutions in republican fashion,… restrictions on immigration, naturalization, and equal citizenship… manifested passionate beliefs that America was by rights a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon ancestors. (Smith 1997: 1-3).
I need not rehearse here the history of white supremacy over the past few centuries; the connections among Anglo domination, racial or ethnic group separation, lack of inclusive citizenship, and distortions in democratic practice are clear and have been thoroughly canvassed. I will only underline two points of particular relevance here.
First, whites alone have the option of moving easily out of affiliations based on racial identity and into affiliations based on interests, opinions, or passions. That was not always the case; through the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, European Americans were identified as belonging to the “race” of Italians, Irish, or Poles. But by mid-century, ethnically-identified whites became merely white (Jacobson 1998; Gerstle 1993). Ethnicity is now largely symbolic for European Americans, and “white ethnics have a lot… [of] choice and room for maneuver” (Waters 1990:157-58; Alba 1990). Anglos can be full Madisonians if they wish; blacks, Hispanics, and Asians cannot without great effort.
Second, whites see this consequence of racial and ethnic separation much less than do nonwhites. In dozens of survey questions, Anglos are more likely to express racial or ethnic stereotypes but perceive much less discrimination than do African Americans; Hispanics and Asians typically fall somewhere in between, but closer to blacks in their perceptions. (Hochschild 1995: ch. 3; Bobo and Kluegel 1991; Washington Post et al. 1995; National Conference for Community and Justice 2000). They are typically much more likely to believe that a color-blind politics is desirable, and can be willed into being if only everyone endorsed the goal. If nonwhite groups are not free to enter factions based only on their opinions, passions, or interests, and if whites do not even perceive this limitation, then the majority faction is operating in a different political realm than the several minority factions. That is not fully inclusive citizenship, and it implies that even the U.S. is not yet fully democratic.
In sum, Madisonian constitutionalism is threatened by deep factionalism among large, mutually hostile racial or ethnic groups. Many of America’s most difficult political battles, from the Civil War to internment to debates over affirmative action, have resulted from the breakdown of interactions among small, fluid, interest-based factions and the growth of large, passionate, identity-based factions. If identity politics is in fact gaining adherents, some aspects of American constitutionalism and political practice will have to change in order for the nation to become truly democratic. Legislative dynamics will change because advocacy groups will not compromise in the same way or to the same degree as interest groups. Litigation over group rights will jostle or even replace litigation over individual rights. Mechanisms within the political parties and media for setting the political agenda or conveying information to voters will need to be much more attentive to demographic characteristics, language, and underlying cultural assumptions. Candidates for political office will have to become more descriptively representative. Suleiman’s list of criteria for a democratic polity will remain just as valid, but if inclusive citizenship is structured around groups rather than around individuals, most of the other components will need to be rethought. That is not necessarily a bad thing, even though it is not very Madisonian.
A canonical claim also captures the third possible direction for American identity politics: “beyond the ebb and flow of racial progress lies the still viable and widely accepted (though seldom expressed) belief that America is a white country and blacks, particularly blacks as a group, are not entitled to the concern, resources, or even empathy that would be extended to similarly situated whites” (Bell 1992: 6-7). This “homeostatic… principle of… racial domination” (Patterson 1989: 484-5) has three elements. First, “barriers are lowered in one era only to reveal a new set of often more sophisticated but no less effective policies that maintain blacks in a subordinate status.” When slavery was abolished, debt peonage followed, to be succeeded by Jim Crow laws. Second, “significant progress for blacks is achieved when the goals of blacks coincide with the perceived needs of whites…[but] these gains seldom survive the crisis that created them.” Blacks’ job opportunities improve when the nation is at war and needs labor power, but are cut back when peace comes. Third, “serious differences between whites are often resolved through compromises that sacrifice the rights of blacks.” After the indeterminate election of 1876, northern whites got the president they wanted in exchange for withdrawing federal troops and ending Reconstruction in the south (Bell 1992).
In this view, the problem is not merely that whites have always been and continue to be racist, and that racism against blacks is deeper and has gone on longer than racism against Asians or Hispanics. What matters most for democratic politics is that the American polity is predicated upon white racial domination, would not have come into existence without it, and will not continue in its present form without it (Morgan 1975; Mills 1997; Hochschild 1984). The United States is not moving toward group separation, whether chosen or imposed; it is not moving toward successful interracial contact or the blurring of group boundaries; and it does not gratify Madison’s hope of a republic whose political strife is balanced among many small fluid factions with varying opinions, passions, and interests. Instead, the real divide lies between blacks and all other Americans, of whatever hue or background.
This framework is the most despairing about American democracy. Consider once again Suleiman’s list of criteria for democracy. If black exceptionalism obtains, then few issues unite the preferences of blacks with those of other groups; African Americans can form only temporary coalitions with other factions; agendas for political action differ, as does what counts as trustworthy and important information. African Americans will never attain enough power to ensure that their interests are satisfied and their dignity and standing assured. In short, citizenship is not inclusive in any meaningful way, so most of the other criteria for full democracy cannot be met.
This argument is plausible. Political campaigns are sometimes organized around whites’ desire to retain racial domination, as campaign slogans suggest:
- George Wallace: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever;”
- 1973, Atlanta: “Atlanta Is Too Young to Die” (the white candidate was facing the first serious black mayoral candidate, who won); thus,
- 1979, Birmingham: “Don’t Let Birmingham Become Another Atlanta;”
- 1982, Mississippi, 2nd congressional district: “Elect Webb Franklin to Congress. He’s One of Us;” and
- 1983, Chicago: “Epton. Before It’s Too Late” (another white facing the first serious black mayoral candidate, who won).
Most campaigns are now more subtle, substituting visual cues for verbal statements, but they are arguably no less racially inflected (Mendelberg 2001). Perhaps it is even the case that all of political contestation is organized along racial cleavages in the United States, so that the major political parties are structured around the issue of appropriate governmental response to racial inequality. If this is the case, race shapes the process through which the electorate decides what issues are important and largely determines who will vote and which party voters will support (Carmines and Stimson 1989; Lieberman 1998).
Even the values of political liberalism itself, normally and appropriately thought to reinforce democratic governance, reinforce racial hierarchy. Conceiving of rights as the property of individuals rather than of groups, legislating in accord with principles of symmetry and moral reciprocity, celebrating tolerance for all viewpoints, asserting the overriding value of colorblind individualism – all permit, perhaps encourage, a structure of racial domination to continue once it is in place.
No one disputes that such a structure used to obtain in the United States; the question is whether it continues. Economic evidence suggests that the answer is yes. Even controlling for the factors that influence whether a person is likely to be employed, blacks in the labor force are twice as likely to be jobless as similar Anglos, and are less likely to have jobs than Hispanics and Asians. Earnings show the same pattern of considerable, and even growing, racial and ethnic inequality. One can tell the same story with regard to disparities in bank loans for homes, differential treatment by real estate agents, residential segregation, inconsistencies in medical treatment, and a dozen other practices. Blacks have drastically lower wealth holdings than whites with similar incomes, and there is little evidence that this critical disparity is lessening (Hochschild 1995: 41; Gittleman and Wolff 2000).
Other Americans may not intend to discriminate against African Americans, but they do hold perceptions that make discrimination easy to foster and hard to see. Anglo respondents on national surveys rank fellow whites higher than blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans on six character or behavioral traits. They rank blacks lowest on three and tied for lowest (with Hispanics) on two more (Bobo and Kluegel 1991: 14 (PUBLISHED??)). Hispanics were even more inclined to rank blacks at the lowest end of the scales (analyses of General Social Survey various years change to 1999). Other evidence ranging from psychological experiments to ethnographies of corporations to patterns of residential segregation or ethnic intermarriage show consistently worse or different treatment of blacks by nonblacks.
African Americans respond to their unrelenting exclusion by turning inwards in a way that would worry Madison. “African-American political behavior remains powerfully influenced by African Americans’ perceptions of group interests. What is perceived as good for the group still plays a dominant role in shaping African-American partisanship, political choice, and public opinion. Perceptions of group interests are not associated with economic status” (Dawson 1994: 204-205). In Madisonian language, most blacks are not permitting interests, passions (about issues other than race), or opinions to supercede identity as the grounds for joining factions; they seek instead to maintain a durable faction based on racial identity in order to offset the majority faction of nonblacks intent on racial domination.
Increasing class differentiation among blacks may be generating just the opposite trajectory from that normally found in identity-based groups. In the typical story of assimilation, some members of an immigrant ethnic group or their children become economically better off than when they came to the United States, and they move away (physically, emotionally, and politically) from identity-based politics (Dahl 1961; Pinderhughes 1987). But as an increasing proportion of African Americans have joined the middle class over the past few decades, they have become increasingly disaffected with American society and discouraged about the prospects for racial integration and equality. By the 1980s, well-off blacks had become less likely to believe that the American dream is or can be a valid description than were poor blacks (Hochschild 1995). That unique phenomenon will deeply challenge American democratic politics if it persists.
Near the end of his life, Kenneth Clark offered a sad commentary on his history as a civil rights hero: “I am forced to face the likely possibility that the United States will never rid itself of racism and reach true integration. I look back and I shudder at how naive we all were in our belief in the steady progress racial minorities would make through programs of litigation and education, and while I very much hope for the emergence of a revived civil rights movement..., I am forced to recognize that my life has, in fact, been a series of glorious defeats” (Clark 1993: 18).
If Clark is correct, Madison failed in his goal of preventing the coalescence of a majority faction “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” That sounds like a reasonably accurate description of white racial domination in the past, and possibly of nonblack racial domination in the future.
Can Madison’s Constitutional Democracy Be Realized?
Whether Madison’s version of constitutional democracy can be fully realized in the United States depends on which of the three models – pluralism, group separation, or black exceptionalism – dominates during the current and coming demographic transformation. I cannot make a clear prediction, but we can venture some reasonable possibilities.
The central point is that the regime of American constitutionalism has not, until very recently, been fully democratic. This is a harsh conclusion given the (mostly accurate) perception that the United States is the model for democratization for other nations. Nevertheless, until very recently, American politics has lacked inclusive citizenship, and therefore most of the rest of Suleiman’s criteria for democracy have been distorted. Self-interested majority factionalism was not absent from the polity created by Federalist 10; the whole constitutional structure was predicated on an unspoken assumption about the identity of political actors. They would be propertied white men.
This fact has been insufficiently recognized by most analysts of democracy in America (although it was in fact recognized, uneasily, by Alexis de Tocqueville himself). An eminent political scientist’s recent discussion of the four conditions that “have underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies” provides a simple illustration of the point. One of his four conditions was “homogeneity…. At the time democracy was being established, … [ethnic] diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English” (Wilson 2000). But the United States was not overwhelmingly English in 1789 (and among those of its inhabitants who were English, over half did not enjoy the franchise).
Over the succeeding two centuries, additional groups have fought their way into the realm of participants in democratic governance –first propertyless white men, then black men for a brief period, then white women, then Asian immigrants, and finally black men and women. For the first time in history, Americans now live in a polity in which all adult citizens can participate – thus eliminating the majority faction intrinsic to the politics in Madison’s day. The right question then becomes: is the United States moving toward the democracy that Madison established in principle but never lived in?
The question is surprisingly new; African Americans have been full members of the polity for barely a generation, about 15 percent of the time that the United States has been a constitutional republic. If full rights of participation can lead to actual full participation, in the sense that all citizens have and believe that they have equal standing and an equal chance to influence political contests, then the United States can move closer to being a full-fledged democracy by Suleiman’s criteria.
That leads us back to Madison’s vision of a republic of competing, small, fluid factions, none of which can overwhelm the others. Is pluralism, rather than group separation or black exceptionalism, a plausible direction for American politics?
Plausible, yes; certain, no. The less likely competitor is strong group separation based on sharply defined racial or ethnic identities. Americans will not give up ethnic or racial identities in favor of cognitively based opinions, religious or emotionally based passions, and economic interests. Ascriptive identity will, at a minimum, remain a basis for political factionalism; at a maximum it will help to shape opinions, passions, and interests. Nevertheless, immigrants, as they did a century ago, are learning English rapidly, becoming naturalized citizens, marrying outside of their nationality, being wooed by political parties. I see no reason to expect that pattern of Americanization to end. It may take longer in localities with a large influx of immigrants from one nationality; that was the case with the Irish in Boston and the Chinese in California a century ago, and it is the case with Mexican Americans in California and Cubans in Miami now. But the strongest advocates for group separation are relatively small groups of political activists and academic theorists; at the grass roots, immigrants are seeking – and sometimes finding – ways to become American while still being Mexican, or Vietnamese, or Russian. So, with occasional exceptions and complexities, the model of group separation will probably not shape American democratic politics in the foreseeable future.
The greater danger to a pluralist future lies in the possibility of continued black exceptionalism. If well-off African Americans continue to be increasingly disaffected from American society, if poor African Americans remain isolated in desperately poor inner cities, if Hispanics and Asian Americans discover that they can gain more from alliances with dominant Anglos than with subordinated blacks, if Anglos continue to demonstrate racial hostility and to prefer racial domination – then the worst features of the United States’ previous regime of exclusion will carry into the future even in the face of formal laws of inclusion. All of that is possible, even likely.
Nevertheless, I see two grounds for cautious optimism. The first I described above; although it took almost two centuries beyond its founding, the United States now enjoys a regime in which all citizens may engage in factional disputes, Madisonian or otherwise. Blacks can now vote, hold office, and seek to persuade others to their views; whites think (or at least say) that that is as it should be; Hispanics and Asians sometimes ally and vote with African Americans, and sometimes not – forming a crucial swing group that softens hard-edged factionalism of white versus black.
The other ground for cautious optimism lies within the black population itself. A new pattern might be emerging that will pull black politics in the direction of cross-cutting factions. Surveys in the 1990s with large samples of African Americans show that young blacks are sometimes less angry or anxious about race than are their elders. They are more likely to describe themselves as conservative, or to identify as Republicans and Independents. They hold more conservative policy positions on some issues, such as support for school vouchers. They also – surprisingly to many whites -- evince stronger cultural nationalism and racial separatism. Young African Americans may be increasingly becoming nationalist conservatives, uniting class interests in the economic arena with racial affiliations in the cultural arena. As one student put it, “I don’t see any conflict” between support for Reverend Louis Farrakhan and being a conservative Republican, because “my conservatism, my Republicanism, is for black people” (Simpson 1998: 42). If these sentiments persist, their politics will become more fluid, leading them sometimes to unite with nonblack Americans who share their views or economic standing and at other times with black Americans who share their commitment to racial identity. That dynamic will soften the sharp line between blacks and nonblacks, and could lead at least partway toward pluralism. Allport’s contact hypothesis, with its crucial phrase about “perceptions of common interests and common humanity,” might finally come into its own.
The United States has never been and will not become a colorblind nation; in that sense Madison was profoundly wrong, or rather blind to his own color and its political implications. But it is possible that for the first time in American history, politics in America will become truly inclusive, with corresponding changes in most of the other features of democratic governance. At that point, Madison’s constitutional aspiration will become a reality and we will be much closer to democracy in America.
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 My thanks for invaluable research help to Smriti Belbase, and to the Political Science Department of Loyola University-Chicago, for inviting me to deliver the Frank M. Covey Lectures in Political Analysis in 1999. This paper is based on those lectures. Thanks also to participants in seminars at Princeton University, the University of Colorado Law School, Georgetown University, Boston University, and Harvard University.
 See his “Democracy in the European Union” in this volume.
 Then-chief of police in Los Angeles, Darryl Gates, made this distinction in 1982 to explain how European Americans and African Americans respond physically to chokeholds.
 Thus raising big questions, such as: should group rights be supported even at the expense of individual rights? What rights do people inside (or outside) a group have against that group? How should the polity balance claims among competing groups? How will groups merge, dissolve, come into being in the political realm?
 This discussion assumes that ethnic and racial categories will remain fixed into the foreseeable future and that immigration laws will not be dramatically changed.
In describing race or ethnicity, I use all denotative synonyms interchangeably, ignoring their political connotations (that is, black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; Native American or Indian; Anglo or European-American; Asian instead of Asian American for linguistic simplicity).
 This advocate argues that “all who see the need to end categories altogether should ‘Check American Indian!’ That just might warp the government's precious ‘racial’ data” (www.webcom.com/~intvoice/protest.html).
 That is roughly the story for white ethnics, who were considered to be of separate races until well after World War I. By the 1950s, interethnic marriages among whites were at least as common as intraethnic marriages; causally or not, the talk of separate white races had disappeared (Alba 1990: 12-14)).
 Eric Rodriguez, of the National Council of La Raza (the largest constituency-based Hispanic organization) also testified against including a multiracial category in the U.S. Census (Rodriguez 1997).
 If we move beyond racial and ethnic groups to include religious groups within the boundaries of identity politics, we have encompassed a large share of the most intense disputes in contemporary American democratic politics.
 Controls include education, region, metropolitan residence, ability to speak English, work disabilities, marital status, and number of children (for women). These variables themselves may be affected by race, thus increasing the disparities in unemployment beyond those reported here Farley 2000.
 Another caveat: those convicted of a felony are excluded from the vote, in many states for the rest of their lives. That is becoming a surprisingly important exception to my claim in the text about “all adult citizens,” especially since a large proportion of disfranchised felons are African Americans.
 At that point, the most critical issue standing in the way of the United States becoming a full-fledged democracy would be the effect of dramatic economic inequality on political participation and policy outcomes.
 This set of African Americans may be becoming more “European.” That is, Americans have associated racial nationalism with left-wing politics at least since the days of “black power” in the 1960s. But there is no necessary association; in the rest of the world, nationalism is just as frequently associated with the political right.