The Poverty of American Politics

A Theoretical Interpretation

H. Mark Roelofs
Book Cover

PB: $36.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-606-6
Publication: Jan 92

Ebook: $36.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-0407-7
Publication: Jan 92

368 pages
6 x 9
8 figs.

This classic analysis challenges America's complacency about its political system


Maintaining that the American political system is not working well enough to inspire confidence that it can meet the challenges of our time, H. Mark Roelofs attributes that failure, not to its practitioners, but to its very design. He sees the system as split between its legitimizing self-image, social democracy, and its operational element, liberal democracy.

Based on his novel understanding of the American political system, Roelofs presents a devastating and closely reasoned critique that traces our nation's political ills to fundamental flaws in the very design of its founding principles, the character of its major institutions, and the basic pattern of its processes. Dissecting our political and societal problems, he explains the limitations and basic contributions arising from the social democratic/liberal democratic dichotomoy that result in our current political poverty.

While Roelofs's analysis remains the same as in the earlier edition, in this revised edition he has sharpened and extended the argument, expanded and updated his illustrative materials. Improved bibliographical citations and new diagrams make the book an even more useful teaching tool.


"Whoever picks up this book will find it hard to put down, difficult to forget, and impossible to take lightly."
Theodore J. Lowi, John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, Cornell University

"The basic theme concerning the perpetual clash between myth and ideology in the American polity is a brilliant approach—one that cannot help but illuminate a great deal about the pernicious and perplexing inconsistencies in American political thought and behavior."
Ted Becker, Auburn University

"Both in sorrow and in anger, Mark Roelofs dissects the 'systematic paradox' which lies at the heart of the American polity. All has never been well with us, he insists, but neither is all lost. A provocative, highly readable work."
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Centennial Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University

"At a time when we are re-evaluating the American political system at the start of the 1990s and with a new century and millennium in prospect, Mark Roelofs offers a critical interpretation that demonstrates the incompatibility between the finest American values and our antiquated constitutional machinery. He places this and related problems into such a broad social, political, religious, and ideological framework as to make this a comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of a fundamental set of problems."
James MacGregor Burns, Professor of Political Science, Williams College

"This book is one of the few serious attempts to connect theory with a study of American institutions. People can disagree with it, but they cannot ignore it."
Barbara Hinckley, Professor of Politics, New York University

Table of Contents

Preface to the First Edition
Preface to the Second Edition
A Note on the Method: The View from "Within"
Introduction: The Great Paradoxes

Part I: Fundamentals
1. Power
2. The Protestant/Bourgeois Complex
3. Ambiguous Democracy
4. Ambivalent Government

Part II: Institutions and Officers
5. The Courts and the Constitution
6. Presidential Greatness
7. Legislative Supremacy
8. Grassroots Barons
9. The Bureaucracy
A Note on Parties, Elections—and Interests

Part III: The Poverty of American Politics
10. The Bourgeois Perspective
11. The Protestant Perspective
12. The Rational-Professional Perspective

Diagrams of the Argument
Postscript of the First Edition
Postscript to the Second Edition

About the Author(s)

The late H. Mark Roelofs, Professor of Politics at New York University, is the author of several books, including The American Political System: Ideology and Myth with G. Houseman.