In our hyper polarized world, it is easy to assume that this is a natural state of being, the result of natural shifts in...

In our hyper polarized world, it is easy to assume that this is a natural state of being, the result of natural shifts in politics. In Sam Rosenfeld‘s new book, The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era (University of Chicago Press, 2018), he argues otherwise. Rosenfeld takes us back to the 1940s when another crisis of polarization dominated the headlines. Instead of too much, scholars worried about too little. No less than E. E. Schattschneider championed a debate on whether a move to more clearly identifiable parties would improve democracy through so-called “responsible parties.” Over time, informed by the ideas of political scientists, the two parties did in fact shift, taking on much clearer ideological agendas and issue positions. Unlike the 1940s, it is much clearer to voters what it means to vote for one party or the other.

Rosenfeld tracks the people—the Architects in his subtitle—who initiated changes in party rules and institutions that facilitated the development of the parties. The book is rich in historical details and meaning for our current political moment.

Rosenfeld is an assistant professor of political science at Colgate University.

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