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The Triumph of Elites JACK S. BLOCKER, JR. J. Morgan Kousser. The Shaping of Southern Politics:Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. 319pp. James Edward Wright. The Politics of Populism: Dissent in Colorado. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. 314pp. The United States, so barren of original political ideas, has been prolific in the creation of political systems. Since the emergence of the Republic, the shape and size of the political universe have changed at least twice. With these changes have come shifts in campaign style, party life expectancy, party competition, and perhaps elite responsiveness. The first system, resting upon an electorate defined by property-holding, gave way in the early 19th century to a highly competitive system brought forth by universal white male suffrage and characterized by extensive participation in multi-party politics. During the middle and late 19th century, presidential elections typically mobilized three-quarters of the eligible voters; from 1824to 1892, the vote margin between the two leading presidential candidates averaged 7.25% of the total, and the vote for other presidential candidates averaged 7.74%. The third system emerged after 1896, when the political universe contracted, as did the number of significant parties, and competition declined. Bythe 1920's barely half of the eligible voters were turning out for presidential elections; during 1896-1968, the average gap between the two top candidates increased to 12.5%, while the vote for minor presidential candidates dropped to 4.38%. 1 Party competition has probably followed economic competition into the graveyard of 19th-century institutions. One analyst has plausibly argued that party collusion is now the rule, a situation made possible by widespread voter apathy. Secure in their own strongholds, Democrats and Republicans trade favours, dispense special privileges, undermine independent candidates, and generally sabotage attempts at reform. 2 Such appears to be the price Americans have paid for stability. The genesis of this third system obviously lies somewhere in the politics ofthe Populist and Progressive eras. But where? The most interesting recent studies of political behaviour in the 1890's unfortunately have not been very helpful in answering this question. Focusing upon the northeastern quarter of the United States, Paul Kleppner, Richard Jensen, and Samuel McSeveney have sought primarily to explain the rise to dominance of the Republican party. In doing so, they have emphasized the Republicans' supposed ability to moderate and contain the ethnic and cultural conflict which they believe to have been the most durable theme of late-19th-century politics. 3 These ethnoculturalists have been THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 criticized on both conceptual and methodological grounds. They have failed to specifythe nature of the alleged connection between cultural tension and political behaviour; they have used naive and simplistic models of "class'' and "party"; they have neglected the relationship between political behaviour and public policy; and Kleppner and Jensen have based their conclusions upon selected political units which they have not shown to be representative. 4 Nevertheless, the ethnoculturalists have demonstrated, for the Northeast and for at least the five years before 1893, that ethnocultural variables were often associatedwith shifts in area voting patterns. Thetwo books under review address themselves more directly to the transition fromthe 19th-century to the 20th-century political system. Both books are conceptually and methodologically more sophisticated than those of the ethnoculturalists . Both locate the source of political change in conflict between elites and massesrather than in ethnocultural divisions. And both explain the transition to the 20th-century political system by the triumph of the elites. SinceWright's and Kousser's methodological choices are different from those oftheir predecessors, some consideration of the available alternatives is necessarybefore proceeding to a discussion of their findings. We demand that every systematic study meet two criteria: (1) that it test a relevant body of theory; (2) that it employ the most appropriate methods for precise testing. Some recent political studies have met one but not both of these criteria. Sheldon Hackney's Populism to Progressivismin Alabama, for example, drew extensively upon social sciencetheory, but ran afoul of the ecological fallacy by imputing to individuals conclusions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 210-216
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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