Perspectives on Politics

Review Essay

Comparative Perspectives on Inequality and the Quality of Democracy in the United States

Alfred Stepana1 and Juan J. Linza2

a1 Columbia University

a2 Yale University

The Unsustainable American State. Edited by Lawrence Jacobs and Desmond King. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 360p. $99.00 cloth, $26.95 paper.

Democratization in America: A Comparative-Historical Analysis. Edited by Desmond King, Robert C. Lieberman, Gretchen Ritter, and Laurence Whitehead. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 352p. $61.00 cloth, $26.00 paper.

“American Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality.” A Report of The American Political Science Association Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy, American Political Science Association, 2004.

When Jeffrey Isaac approached us to review some recent works in American politics from a comparative perspective, we gladly accepted the task, believing it important to help overcome what some see as the “splendid isolation” of American politics. Indeed, the invitation arrived at a propitious time because, after completing our most recent book, we critically reflected on the fact that we had unfortunately written almost nothing on the oldest, and one of the most diverse, democracies in the world, the United States. We thus agreed to contribute some thoughts on the matter, recognizing the limits of our knowledge of the entire field of American politics, but acknowledging, too, our belief that the current distancing of the study of America from the analysis of other democracies impoverishes modern political science.

(Online publication December 08 2011)

Alfred Stepan is Wallace Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University.

Juan J. Linz is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political and Social Science at Yale University.


The authors thank Thomas K. Ogorzalek and E. Grant Porter, doctoral candidates at Columbia, for very helpful empirical and conceptual contributions in shaping this piece. For their early foundational comments, the authors also thank the participants of the conference at Yale University, “Conversation Among Comparativists and Americanists about the Quality of American Democracy,” co-hosted by Ian Shapiro. Financial support was provided by Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, and by Yale's MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. The authors would like to particularly thank Mary Fainsod Katzenstein, John Stephens and Shamus Khan for written comments on an earlier version of this review essay.