Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Historical injustices and tensions: Still alive today

The February reading assignments for the leadership course in Humphrey’s midcareer degree program are chapters from Alexis deTocqueville’s Democracy in America along with Isabel Wilkerson’s masterful Warmth of Other Suns. Rereading de Tocqueville, I experienced anguish, appreciation, and boredom. 

The anguish was my reaction to the man’s one-dimensional view of Native American and African American society; I could only conclude that his depiction was mainly based on what he was told by Anglo Americans. Still, I appreciated his highlighting the contradictions in American democracy – particularly the gap between espoused principles of equality and freedom and political and social structures that deprived all but property-owning males of political rights. 

The boredom arose from paragraph after paragraph in which de Tocqueville attempted to explain to early 19th century French audiences the way that U.S. policy makers parceled out power in the federalist system. Nevertheless, understanding the on-going tensions in establishing democratic governance structures in a large geographic territory is important.

So I recommend reading this old assessment of the U.S. political system and its tensions, all still highly apparent as citizens engage in the vital task of assessing presidential candidates. Wilkerson’s account of the Great Migration of Southern African Americans to the North and West in the last century also is instructive for this election season.

By: Barbara Crosby, Associate Professor 
Barbara C. Crosby is associate professor at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and former academic co-director of the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. She has taught and written extensively about leadership and public policy, integrative leadership, cross-sector collaboration, women in leadership, media and public policy, and strategic planning. She is the author of Leadership for Global Citizenship (1999) and co-author with John M. Bryson of (Leadership for the Common Good: Tackling Public Problems in a Shared-Power World 2d. ed. 2005).


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