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The Colonial American Origins of Modern Democratic Thought


  • Date Published: October 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521730556

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About the Authors
  • This first examination in almost forty years of political ideas in the seventeenth-century American colonies reaches some surprising conclusions about the history of democratic theory more generally. The origins of a distinctively modern kind of thinking about democracy can be located, not in revolutionary America and France in the later eighteenth century, but in the tiny New England colonies in the middle seventeenth. The key feature of this democratic rebirth was honoring not only the principle of popular sovereignty through regular elections but also the principle of accountability through non-electoral procedures for the auditing and impeachment of elected officers. By staking its institutional identity entirely on elections, modern democratic thought has misplaced the sense of robust popular control which originally animated it.

    • Original interpretation of colonial American history and Protestant foundations of democratic thought
    • Recommends new institutions of democratic accountability in constitutions, such as local audits and impeachments of representatives
    • Critique of 'deliberative democracy' movement in political theory
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Jason Maloy's book is a superb exercise in historical retrieval. But his book should be interest far more than specialists in early American political thought; his book offers excitingly different ways of looking at the general issues of political representation and elections that are worth thinking about in the 21st century.' Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution

    'J. S. Maloy's remarkable new book locates an alternative strand of democratic thought in early colonial America. Maloy shows how neglected figures such as John Bargraves, John Robinson, Thomas Hooker, and Israel Stoughton promoted popular control of, rather than mere consent to, public officials, and advocated institutions of popular scrutiny and sanction of magistrates in addition to general elections. Maloy decisively refutes dominant scholarly narratives asserting that 17th and 18th century republicans uniformly preferred strict electoral models of representation and explicitly disavowed more extensive accountability practices associated with ancient and medieval popular governments. Not only does Maloy shift the original, modern democratic moment back from the English, American and French Revolutions to early colonial Virginia, Bermuda, and Rhode Island, he also invaluably helps us to reconceptualize the place of accountability in democratic theory and practice today. In sum, [The] Colonial [American] Origins of Modern Democratic Thought is a strikingly original contribution to historical and programmatic political theory.' John P. McCormick, University of Chicago

    'Maloy achieves two remarkable feats in this book: he reintroduces us to the under-appreciated political theory of colonial America, and he expands the range of institutional alternatives we should consider in addressing the problem of holding our representatives accountable. Maloy demonstrates that whereas anti-democratic forces in the colonial era argued that elections were a sufficient means of ensuring accountability, committed democrats advocated supplementing elections with other mechanisms. This is a fascinating and provocative work, and is of critical importance for scholars of the history and theory of democratic institutions.' Melissa Schwartzberg, Columbia University

    '… Maloy makes a compelling case for the historical and intellectual importance of earlier fights over the form of popular rule. … Maloy lays the groundwork for a rich developmental account of the principle of democratic accountability …' The Review of Politics

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521730556
    • length: 226 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 152 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.34kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: accountability and democratic theory
    2. Radical trust and accountability in the seventeenth century
    3. Fidelity and accountability in Virginia and Bermuda
    4. Politics and ecclesiastics in Plymouth and Massachusetts
    5. Constitutional conflict and political argument at Boston
    6. Democratic constitutionalism in Connecticut and Rhode Island
    7. Conclusion: anglophone radicalism and popular control.

  • Author

    J. S. Maloy, Oklahoma State University
    J. S. Maloy is Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University, where he teaches courses in political theory and American constitutional law and writes on a wide range of topics in the history of political thought. He was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and educated at Brown University, the University of Cambridge and Harvard University.

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