The Paradox of Power in America
This introduction frames the challenges ambition poses for democratic politics in the United States. People ambitious for public power in democracies will concentrate in a ruling class, but this does not automatically generate a system for deciding between those who want to rule and those who are content to follow. Because citizens in modern democracies must choose some of their number to rule, they need to recognize that not all citizens share an equal ambition to share in self-government. Democratic citizens struggle to rule themselves according to principles of equality and popular sovereignty, yet they depend on an oligarchy of ambitious office seekers to govern. Americans often mistrust those who seek public power at threats to public liberty and welfare. Despite this mistrust democracies must choose leaders from pools of ambitious people, while trying to prevent those same ambitious people from exploiting public power. This chapter argues that political practices need to accommodate ambitious people yet also sustain the norms of democratic equality by filtering out those people who are too ambitious or people whose ambition is at cross purposes with democratic norms.
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