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Middle American Individualism: Political Participation and Liberal Democracy

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Written by one America's most eminent sociologists, this book examines the lives and ideals of today's "middle Americans"--whom the more affluent and elite have long put down as an uncultured and unthinking mass--and finds in them the individualistic creed upon which democracy thrives. Neither narcissistic, like that of the "Me Generation" yuppie, nor materialistic, like that of the capitalist, their individualism is the simple desire for personal control over one's social and, especially, economic environment. It is an individualism based on self-reliance, much like that which Alexis de Tocqueville identified as the fundamental American trait over 150 years ago. Far from being right-wing racists, greedy materialists, or uncultured "Joe Sixpacks," Herbert J. Gans describes this diverse group of Americans as the blue, pink, white, and new-collar workers who come in all colors and live modestly in suburbs, small towns, or big city ethnic neighborhoods. Numerically and culturally they make up the majority of Americans, and it is their particular vision of the American Dream to which every presidential candidate appeals. Yet, while they have often been viewed as a mass susceptible to political manipulation, the traditional distrust middle Americans feel toward big government, big business, and other bureaucratic organizations has led them to avoid politics as much as possible. As a result American society, argues Gans, is turning into an "upscale democracy," with voting and other forms of political participation becoming increasingly the province of the rich and well-organized. Current economic and political trends toward greater centralization are enlarging the gulf between middle Americans and those institutions upon which they must depend for their well-being; in Middle American Individualism Gans shows that this growing alienation is the greatest threat to democracy today. How can America reclaim this disaffected and ever more silent majority? Rejecting the usual appeals for less political apathy and more community action, Gans advocates a series of proposals that would bring political institutions to the people rather than forcing them to seek political, economic, and social guidance within the unfamiliar and intimidating surroundings they are forced to deal with now. Calling for a new understanding between liberals and middle Americans, Gans seeks nothing less than a transformation of our present system into a truly representative democracy. Middle American Individualism is the first step in that direction. Hide synopsis

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