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America and Its Critics: Virtues and Vices of the Democratic Hyperpower


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America and Its Critics: Virtues and Vices of the Democratic Hyperpower

Sergio Fabbrini

ISBN: 978-0-745-64251-2 September 2008 Polity 220 Pages

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No other country in the world evokes such contrasting sentiments as the United States of America. This is not new, but it has become particularly virulent in recent years. The reason is simple: after the end of the cold war America has remained the only super power in the world. Or rather, it has become a veritable hyper-power without apparent limits to the exercise of its power. The fate of the world lies in large part in its hands.

This book analyses the most widespread criticisms of American democracy – namely , that it is plebiscitary, devoid of voters, unduly favours the rich, and imperial. It shows that these criticisms fail to hit the mark. Yet even if its vices are fewer and different from what its critics often claim, American democracy cannot be read as an exemplary catalogue of virtues, as its apologists would have it. Resting on contradictions rather than coherence, American democracy cannot be seen as a model and even less as an ideology. Rather it should be understood as a method.

Clearing away the misunderstandings and prejudices that cloud contemporary debates about America, this book brings out with exceptional clarity the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the American democratic experience. In a century when no country can hope to escape from the influence of American power, it is vital to understand both.



1.1. Introduction.

1.2 Anti-Americanism in European Context.

1.3. America and the European Left.

1.4. America and the European Right.

1.5. America and the European Catholic Center.

1.6. Misunderstanding America.

1.7. Conclusion.


2.1. Introduction.

2.2. The Origins of Separated Government.

2.3. Congressional Government.

2.4. The Crisis of Congressional Government.

2.5. Presidential Government.

2.6. The Difficulties of Presidential Government.

2.7. Conclusion.


3.1. Introduction.

3.2. The Characteristics of the Electoral System.

3.3 The Developments of the Electoral Process.

3.4. Why Americans don’t vote: the debate.

3.5. Political Parties from Decline to Transformation?.

3.6. Conclusion.


4.1. Introduction.

4.2. The American Commercial Republic.

4.3. The Neo-conservative Revolution.

4.4. The Weakness of the Democrats: The Two Clinton Presidencies.

4.5. The Anti-politics of the Elites: Term Limits and Recall.

4.6. The Social Implications of American Liberalism.

4.7 Conclusion.


5.1. Introduction.

5.2. Foreign and Domestic Policy in America.

5.3. Hegemonic America and the Cold War.

5.4. The End of the Cold War and the First Gulf War.

5.5. The 1990s and the Schizophrenic Power.

5.6. George W. Bush’s America and the Second Gulf War.

5.7. Conclusion.


6.1 Introduction.

6.2. American Exceptionalism.

6.3 The Societal and Institutional Antinomies.

6.4. Political Change and American Antinomies.

6.5. America: a Model or a Method?.

6.6. Conclusion

"If you want to understand American politics, its origins, development, and contemporary character, this is the book to read. Fabbrini possesses a masterful command of the complexities of the American political order, yet manages to convey them clearly and memorably. Throughout this compact book, he compares and contrasts American politics with West European politics, delivering broader insight into variations among democracies, while distinguishing his own perspectives from those of both America’s harshest critics and its most ardent apologists. An enormously engaging and satisfying read."
George Breslauer, University of California, Berkeley

"This is a work of the highest intellectual level. It reflects a mastery of the fields of American politics and of West European comparative politics. The author has the distinctive ability to be a past master of both subjects while retaining a vital critical distance from each. The book is exhaustively researched and clearly presented. After reading it, no American or European will look at the American political system in quite the same way again."
Allen Lynch, University of Virginia

  • A brilliant analysis of the distinctive nature of American democracy and of the criticisms that have been leveled at it.

  • The framing of the analysis around the theme of anti-Americanism is very topical and would appeal to a potentially wider audience.

  • America and its Critics offers a distinctive interpretation of American democracy as method rather than model, and an original argument about the nature of American political exceptionalism.

  • This book won the European Amalfi Prize for the Social Sciences in 2006 - the most prestigious international prize for outstanding books in the social sciences.

  • Sergio Fabbrini knows the American political system extremely well, and teaches regularly at UC Berkeley.