The Public Interest

The democratic distemper

Samuel P. Huntington

Fall 1975

THE 1960s witnessed a dramatic upsurge of democratic fervor in America. The predominant trends of that decade involved challenges to the authority of established political, social, and economic institutions, increased popular participation in and control over those institutions, a reaction against the concentration of power in the executive branch of the federal government and in favor of the reassertion of the power of Congress and of state and local government, renewed commitment to the idea of equality on the part of intellectuals and other elites, the emergence of “public interest” lobbying groups, increased concern for the rights of (and provision of opportunities for) minorities and women, and a pervasive criticism of those who possessed or were even thought to possess excessive power or wealth. The spirit of protest, the spirit of equality, and the impulse to expose and correct inequities were abroad in the land. The themes of the 1960”s were those of Jacksonian Democracy and the muckraking Progressives; they embodied ideas and beliefs which were deep in the American tradition but which did not usually command the passionate intensity of commitment that they did in the 1960’s.

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