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American Democracy in Peril

American Democracy in Peril
Eight Challenges to America's Future

Eighth Edition

February 2016 | 424 pages | CQ Press
American Democracy in Peril is an accessible yet challenging text for students. It’s a textbook that doesn’t feel like a textbook and seriously engages issues and some important texts in political science.”

—Kellan Anfinson, Johns Hopkins University

In this Eighth Edition of American Democracy in Peril, author William E. Hudson provides a perceptive analysis of the challenges our democracy faces in the current era: economic crisis, partisan gridlock, rising economic inequality, and continued military conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. By introducing the history of democratic theory in terms of four “models” of democracy, he provides readers with a set of criteria against which to evaluate the challenges discussed later. This provocative book offers a structured yet critical examination of the American political system, designed to stimulate students to consider how the facts they learn about American politics relate to democratic ideals. 

Introduction: Models of Democracy
Precursors to Modern Democratic Theory  
Protective Democracy  
Developmental Democracy  
Pluralist Democracy  
Participatory Democracy  
The Models Compared  
Chapter 1: The First Challenge: Separation of Powers
The Founders’ Work  
The Jeffersonian Model  
The Separation of Powers and Democratic Values  
The Parliamentary Alternative  
Meeting the Challenge: Bridging the Separation of Powers  
Chapter 2: The Second Challenge: The Imperial Judiciary
The Least Democratic Branch  
A Brief History of Judicial Review  
Two Cases of Judicial Usurpation  
Can Judicial Review Be Made Consistent With Democracy?  
The Judicialization of American Politics as a Challenge to Democracy  
Meeting the Challenge: Revitalize American Democracy  
Chapter 3: The Third Challenge: Radical Individualism
Individualism in the American Tradition  
American “Habits of the Heart”  
The Flaws of Libertarianism  
Our Pathological Politics of Rights and Interests  
The Failed Opportunity to Build Community After 9/11  
Meeting the Challenge: Balancing Rights With Responsibilities  
Chapter 4: The Fourth Challenge: Citizen Participation
Citizen Participation and Democratic Theory  
Citizen Political Participation  
Signs of Civic Disengagement  
The New Citizen Activism  
Participation as a Challenge to Democracy  
Meeting the Challenge: More Participation, Not Less  
Chapter 5: The Fifth Challenge: Elections Without the People’s Voice
Equal Representation  
Meeting the Challenge: Reforming Electoral Institutions, Promoting Democratic Deliberation  
Chapter 6: The Sixth Challenge: The “Privileged Position” of Business
American Politics as Pluralist Heaven  
Business: The Privileged Group  
Why Business Privilege Is a Threat to Democracy  
Objections to the Privileged-Position-of-Business Thesis  
Meeting the Challenge: Taking Democratic Action to Reduce Business Privilege  
Chapter 7: The Seventh Challenge: Economic Inequality
Equality and Democratic Theory  
The End of the American Dream?  
Economic Inequality’s Challenge to Democracy  
Meeting the Challenge: Enacting Policies to Promote Equality  
Chapter 8: The Eighth Challenge: The National Security State
The Burgeoning of the National Security State  
Meeting the Challenge: Reform to Achieve True Security  

“Most students have very little conception of what democracy really means. In American Democracy in Peril, Hudson does a great job of explaining what democracy is, how it’s supposed to work, and how it actually works. The book’s strengths lie in the questions it raises related to democracy and in the examples given to support its arguments.”

Manuel Avalos
University of Southern Maine

American Democracy in Peril is an accessible yet challenging text for students. It’s a textbook that doesn’t feel like a textbook and seriously engages issues and some important texts in political science.”

Kellan Anfinson
Johns Hopkins University

“I am continually impressed by Hudson’s mastery of the scholarship in all of the areas he writes about. The main strength of American Democracy in Peril is its ability to encourage students to think more critically about the quality of democracy in the United States. Hudson goes beyond the boundaries of government institutions to show how important aspects of our economic system pose serious challenges to our democratic principles and processes.”

Douglas Amy
Mount Holyoke College

Clear and accessible discussion of significant issues with engaging examples and useful class discussion questions.

Dr Karen Woolley Moore
Politics Government Dept, Pacific University
November 2, 2016
Key features


  • Updated coverage of gridlock between the Obama administration and the Republican controlled Congress.
  • New analysis of the Supreme Court's Shelby County v. Holder decision that repealed the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act and opened the way for new efforts at voter suppression in the South.
  • A fresh updated analysis of campaign finance regulation in the post-Citizens' United era demonstrates the effective collapse of post-Watergate efforts to limit the role of money in elections.
  • New data and analysis of growing economic inequality and its impact on our politics includes a sharpened discussion of the causes of growing inequality with emphasis on its origins in public policy choices.
  • The updated Judiciary chapter documents the increasing significance of the Court as an arbiter of progressive policy change in its Affordable Care Act decisions.
  • New discussion of NSA spying on Americans in light of Edward Snowden's revelations, new information on CIA torture and the cover up revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and expanded discussion of Obama's use of drone strikes and secret special forces operations to combat terrorism.


  • Introduces the history of democratic theory in terms of four “models” of democracy, giving students a set of criteria against which to evaluate the challenges discussed later.
  • Throughout the book, the author argues his own point of view regarding each challenge to stimulate and engage the reader in thinking critically about these challenges.
  • Chapter-ending Meeting the Challenge sections help open a positive discussion of what policies or reforms may be needed to address the challenge described in the chapter.
  • Open-ended thought questions at the end of each chapter encourage debate about key arguments and further promote critical thinking. 

Sample Materials & Chapters


Chapter 1

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