Reaganism and the Death of Representative Democracy

Walter Williams

"Williams has sketched the broad outlines of our political condition and done America a service by trying to wake us up to the destructive dynamics of our polarized partisan politics today."
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This is a reasoned but passionate look at how Reaganism—the political philosophy of Ronald Reagan—has severely damaged representative democracy as created by the nation's founders. According to Williams, Reagan and his foremost disciple George W. Bush have created a plutocracy where the United States is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people but is ruled by the wealthiest individuals and corporate America. Refreshingly unafraid to point out that Reaganism's anti-government fundamentalism stands on feet of clay, Walter Williams asks that Americans move from their political apathy to pay attention to the politicians and the corporations lurking behind the power curtain to see the dangers they represent to the true essential of the American way of life.

Williams' most important contribution is his extended analysis of the central role the key institutions—the presidency, Congress, the federal agencies—must play for the U.S. government to be capable in both sustaining representative democracy and protecting the safety and economic security of the American people. A clear result of the weakened institutions has been the grossly inadequate homeland security effort following September 11, and the massive corporate fraud revealed by Enron and other large firms that robbed the nation of hundreds of billions of dollars in stock values and depleted the pension savings of millions of people. The initial destructive blow that damaged the institutions of governance can be traced to Ronald Reagan and his simplistic antigovernment philosophy that fostered rapacious business practices and personal greed. The book also takes the media to task, criticizing the dismal record of failing to investigate the political and corporate chicanery that has brought us to this pass.

Keenly argued and scrupulously documented, Walter Williams has written a stinging wake-up call to the dangers of the demise of representative democracy and the rise of plutocracy that American citizens can ignore only at their peril.

Table of Contents


1. Analyzing Federal Governance

2. Reagan and Reaganism

3. Governing in the American Republic

4. The Presidency and Congress in Decline

5. Why Federal Agency Management Matters

6. The Media: Linking the Politicians and the People

7. The Will of the People

8. The Costs of Federal Government Inefficiency

9. American Democracy Today


"A serious and thoughtful critique of the state of democratic governance in the United States. Whatever one's position, Williams's Reaganism and the Death of Representative Democracy is an exceptional starting point for dialogue regarding the relative health of American democracy and what might be done to reinvigorate it."—Political Science Quarterly

"Williams has sketched the broad outlines of our political condition and done America a service by trying to wake us up to the destructive dynamics of our polarized partisan politics today."—The News & Observer

"In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan initiated a policy of diminishing the power of the federal government. He encouraged individuals to propel economic growth and domestic stability, cut taxes, deregulated businesses and, in many other arenas, shifted power to the states. Williams, a professor emeritus of public affairs at the University of Washington and a fierce opponent of Reaganism, argues that, instead of furthering growth, this political doctrine transformed the Founding Fathers' ideal of a representative democracy into a government of the wealthy, for the wealthy. It left, he says, America vulnerable to decline at numerous levels. To effectively counter what he views as the greatest transformation in political philosophy since FDR, the author claims that the two earthquakes of September 11 and the Enron scandals exposed the structural weaknesses of the post-Reagan government policies and their movement toward plutocracy. Readers who fear, like Williams, that George W. Bush is continuing Reagan's trend will find much useful analysis here."—Publishers Weekly

"Williams says, correctly, that Reaganism's antigovermentalism and market fundamentalism contributed mightily to the decline in support for the public sphere. Whether, as Williams claims, a better informed public can lead us toward a better day is arguable. But it's an argument that needs to take place as we strive to revitalize representative democracy. This thought-provoking book is a must read for anyone who cares about the condition of American democracy."—Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press, Harvard University

"Williams has produced a 'big picture' book lamenting the decline of American democracy. Reaganism and the Death of Representative Democracy is an articulate critique of a number of trends affecting the capability and competence of American government and the manipulation of publics by the media and politicians. This book will stir passions and arguments and, ironically therefore, contribute to the health of American democracy."—Bert A. Rockman, director, School of Public Policy and Management, The Ohio State University

"Walt Williams' Reaganism and the Death of Representative Democracy is a sweeping study of the corrosive role of right-wing ideology on the capacity of the American nation to govern itself. Williams offers persuasive evidence that the right-wing onslaught has undermined both the capacity of citizens to hold government accountable and the ability of government agencies to carry out public programs. It should be read by political leaders, policy professionals, and citizens wanting relief from the steady drumbeat of propaganda from the think-tank right."—Bryan D. Jones, Donald R. Matthews Distinguished Professor of American Politics, University of Washington


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Walter Williams is professor emeritus at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington and a frequent contributor to the editorial pages of newspapers across the country. His most recent books are Mismanaging America and Honest Numbers and Democracy.

312 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-147-5
Aug 2003

312 pp., 6 x 9

Aug 2003

312 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-403-9
Aug 2003

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