If politics is the art of the possible, then compromise is the artistry of democracy. When they do not, the result is political paralysis--dramatically demonstrated by the gridlock in Congress in recent years. Unless one partisan ideology holds sway over all branches of government, compromise is necessary to govern for the benefit of all citizens. A rejection of compromise biases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. Why then is compromise so difficult in American politics today?
In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson connect the rejection of compromise to the domination of campaigning over governing--the permanent campaign---in American democracy today. They show why compromise is so important, what stands in the way of achieving it, and how citizens can make defensible compromises more likely. They urge politicians to focus less on campaigning and more on governing because campaigning for political office calls for a mindset that blocks compromise--standing tenaciously on principle to mobilize voters and mistrusting opponents in order to defeat them. Good government calls for an opposite cluster of attitudes and arguments--the compromising mindset--that inclines politicians to adjust their principles and to respect their opponents. It is a mindset that helps politicians appreciate and take advantage of opportunities for desirable compromise.
Gutmann and Thompson explore the dynamics of these mindsets by comparing the historic compromises on tax reform under President Reagan in 1986 and health care reform under President Obama in 2010. Both compromises were difficult to deliver but only tax reform was bipartisan. Drawing lessons from these and other important compromises--and failures to compromise--in American politics, Gutmann and Thompson propose changes in our political institutions, processes, and mindsets that would encourage a better balance between campaigning and governing.
Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest all who care about whether their government leaders can work together.
In a new preface, the authors reflect on the state of compromise in Congress since the book's initial publication. Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest everyone who cares about making government work better for the good of all.
Amy Gutmann is president of the University of Pennsylvania, where she is also the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of communication in the Annenberg School of Communication. Dennis Thompson is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University. Gutmann and Thompson are coauthors of Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton) and Democracy and Disagreement.
"Provide[s] grist for thinking through the difficulties of compromise in [domestic policy], from tragic choices at desperate moments of history to the routine nastiness in American public life today. . . . Until recently, who would have thought it necessary to offer Americans advice in the ways of compromise? We used to enjoy a reputation for being a practical-minded people, our politicians being regarded as an all-too-flexible species. But something has changed, and according to Gutmann and Thompson, the change has to do with the relation of campaigning and governing. . . . Gutmann and Thompson end their book with recommendations to strengthen the spirit and practice of compromise."--Paul Starr, The New Republic
"'Compromise is difficult, but governing a democracy without compromise is impossible.' So begins this excellent, much needed corrective to the contemporary political scene, which eschews compromise in politics in favor of war analogies. . . . This excellent book should be required reading for every member of Congress, and deserves a wide readership among the voting public."--Choice
"For [the] lawmakers, and for the voters who claim to value compromise, reading this book would be a good start."--Ruth Marcus, Washington Post
"Scholars will appreciate the authors' lucid analysis of the dynamics of political compromise."--Library Journal
"Gutmann and Thompson articulately identify the conundrum that has made compromise unlikely, if not impossible, in Washington."--Alexander Heffner, Philadelphia Inquirer
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Amy Gutmann: