The Demise of American Democracy – Review Book by William Durland Reviewed by Linda Seger
Bill Durland is one of our Quaker treasures. His vast knowledge in the fields of politics, theology, economics. philosophy, and government inform his new book, The Demise of American Democracy: Explaining the Crisis and What to Do about It. The book is further enriched by Durland’s personal stories, including seminal childhood events that led to his awakening to injustices, his time in the Virginia Legislature working for social justice, and his time as a Catholic and a Quaker.
Durland looks at the reasons for the demise of American democracy, and concludes that our current decline began in the early 1980’s, during the Reagan presidency. That was a time when the federal government began to work against the carefully laid structures of Madison and Jefferson. Those structures are dependent upon a horizontal balance of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a balance among federal, state, and local governments.
Those balanced powers were threatened, along with representative government overall, by the Reagan Administration and other administrations since – by limiting voting rights, by establishing the rule of sixty Senate votes to pass legislation, by a rising disparity between rich and poor, by a decline in resources for education, by predatory banking, by self-interest, by the lack of concern for national health-care, and by new laws such as Citizens United and the Patriot Act, which threaten our rights and the pillars of democracy.
Durland gives a wake-up call to church and state, particularly on issues that threaten our planet the most, such as climate change, the overdependence on guns, and the disrespect for facts and scientific evidence. Durland says “Most Americans claim they believe, as Christians, in loving their neighbor. Here’s a chance to do it.” He ends with the statement, “Our government should be true to what it claims to be.” Durland maintains hope that the American experiment is not over.
Even so, the threats are great. It is “not only our external enemies that threaten us as much as our own acquiescence to the factions within our government and country that seem determined to eliminate many of our sacred rights and freedoms in favor of a gun-ridden, individualistic state where community well-being has no importance.” Our government still has an opportunity to pursue its policies of justice and peace, and individuals to pursue the moral values of love and mercy. Durland calls on faith communities as well as governments to coalesce around the values of democracy and love of neighbor.
This book is somewhat difficult to read, due to poor editing, which causes the presentation of ideas to be confusing at times. Even so, Durland’s ideas come through and are an important contribution to Quakers concerned with democracy and justice. We are all fortunate to have his wise reflections in this book. ~~~
Dr. Linda Seger is the author of: Jesus Rode a Donkey, Why Millions of Christians are Democrats, and Spiritual Steps on the Road to Success. She attends Colorado Springs Friends Meeting (IMYM).