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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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