Democracy has become not a form of government in which the people rule directly or indirectly, but a political program committed to egalitarian outcomes.
“Democracy,” Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed in his 1932 Commonwealth Club Address, “is a quest, a never-ending seeking for better things.” Filmmaker Michael Moore spoke more precisely in his film Capitalism: A Love Story (2009):
Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it, and replace it with something that is good for all people. And that something, is called Democracy.
These statements reveal what democracy has become for many over the past century—not a form of government in which the people rule directly or indirectly, but a political program committed to egalitarian outcomes, regardless of the form of government that produces such outcomes.
This transformed concept of democracy grounds William Novak’s New Democracy: The Creation of the Modern American State. The Charles F. and Edith J. Clyne Professor of Law at Michigan University argues that between 1866 and 1932, “the American system of governance was fundamentally transformed.” Novak finds in this period “a fundamental reworking,” a “radical, substantive, and transformative policy agenda,” and “a fundamental reconsideration of almost every basic doctrine in American law, politics, and governance.”
* * *
Contrary to historical accounts that