The Claremont Institute's Ken Masugi is known to NR readers as a distinguished political philosopher. He and coauthor Brian P. Janiskee (of California State University, San Bernardino) have just released a brief but valuable textbook on the operation of one of the most important and complex governments in the world: the State of California. In Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (Rowman & Littlefield, 141 pp., $22.95), the authors contend that Californians are "Tocqueville's Americans. . .reveal[ing] an indifference to politics, a love of wealth, a craving for novelty, an unhealthy individualism, and a jealousy about their equality that can overwhelm even their regard for liberty." What kind of government does such a citizenry have? One that "increasingly becomes the instrument. . .for a politics based on the satisfaction of passions" — thus "the centralized government Tocqueville feared."
Tip O'Neill was right that all politics are local; this book shows how the great issues of self-government work out at the most prosaic of levels.Michael Potemra
November 11, 2002
Janiskee and Masugi examine the events surrounding the recall election and place those events into a Californian context, where populist politics abounds, thereby allowing readers to gain perspective into how the recall election is a product of the Progressive legacy that has guided California politics for decades. . .no text compares in its ability to place a discussion of the recall into the Progressive political context that exists in California. . .Democracy in California is a valuable work that examines the workings and peculiarities of California government that exist in 2004.Perspectives on Political Science
A Rare Textbook Find: California Politics With a Purpose, September 22, 2002
Reviewer: Richard H. Reeb Jr. from Barstow College, Barstow, California United States
For those who teach American politics and government, there are distressingly few good textbook choices available for national or state courses. A rare exception to the dismayingly dreary or tiresomely trendy tomes that abound is "Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State." Authors Brian P. Janiskee and Ken Masugi have combined the standard features (formal and informal institutions, demographics, historical vignettes, recent developments, political terminology, etc.) with a thoughtful historical and philosophical approach that places California within the broad scope of American experience and Western political thought.
As its title suggests, this distinctive text draws both high inspiration and practical wisdom specifically from Alexis de Tocqueville's classic study, "Democracy in America" (1835). But the book is more than high-minded or useful: it is dead-on timely too. Tocqueville observed America during the Age of Jackson, early in the pre-Civil War crisis (1830-60) which both preceded and shaped California government. Thus, California was founded at a time (1849-50) when, as Tocqueville knew, republican government was under severe attack from Southern slavemasters and European autocrats. To the extent that the influence of the American founding was not attenuated by these attacks, the new State of California was both representative and free. But having weathered those challenges, California (and the nation) have had to endure the various phases and consequences of the Prussian administrative state which was the questionable contribution of the Progressive movement in the decades since the State's admission to the Union by the Compromise of 1850.
California has been shaped for good or for ill by these competing forces and is necessarily presented in this work as a sort of hodge podge in which multiple offices, frequent elections and political cronyism (the Jacksonian contribution) overlap with direct democracy, anti-partyism and professional expertise (the Progressive contribution). The battle over slavery shaped the State's original identity as a free state in the midst of a bitter sectional dispute but also long tainted its politics with racism. California defied the odds against republican government but the rise of the administrative state and its seemingly boundless taxing and spending — and bureaucratic meddling — puts the future of that regime in serious question. Not everything could be included in this relatively short (160 pages) work but no salient fact is overlooked as it bears upon the future of democracy in the Golden State.
The authors are discerning students of political philsophy, best exemplified today by Harry V. Jaffa, who single-handedly rescued Abraham Lincoln and principled anti-slavery politics from the near-oblivion of the professional historians. Janiskee and Masugi in turn seek to rescue California politics (but not many of its leading politicians)from the academic dead end to which years of pseudo-scientific approaches have relegated it. "Democracy in California" makes the study of California government and politics a much more serious and rewarding enterprise than it has been for many years and will be, if this book is widely adopted, for many more. Extensive footnotes and excellent bibliography. Highest recommendation.
If you, dear reader, were wondering if there is a purposeful literary connection between the titles of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Brian P. Janiskee's and Ken Masugi's Democracy in California, you would be correct. The authors of California freely admit in the introduction that Tocqueville's classic study of the American experiment in the 19th century was used as a spiritual model for this short little textbook on politics in California. And why not? The French aristocrat's insights into what makes America tick have proven to be as insightful as ever more than 160 years after his nine month tour of our fledgling country. It serves as a fitting springboard to a study of the most populous (and populist) state in the Union, a study of how California's population affects its politics.
Not only is Democracy in California a gem of a book in outlining some of the most significant events in California's political history, it gives a teaser with copious notes on the nature of California politics and how they've been shaped by Progressivist policies. . .Furthermore, as the states' governments are largely modeled after the Federal example and borrow liberally from the Constitution, the authors are quick to point out both similarities and differences between the two. . .Finally, this book deserves notice simply because it describes the nuts and bolts of a state whose population is 13% of the United States and whose economy is the seventh largest in the world. Understanding state governments is germane to the continual debate over Federalism. And what better state to study than that which is most populous in our nation, the state which is not only increasingly Democratic and significant in national Presidential election strategy, but reformed over the years by Progressive principles to become one of the most bureaucratized governments in our country, if not the world?. . .[Democracy in California] provides a solid foundation and whets the appetite for further study, so that you, dear reader, will have a greater understanding of and interest in the crazy beast that is Democracy in California.