Political Party Problems are Tainting the 'American Dream'

Luke Nathan Phillips

Frank J. DiStefano, The Next Realignment: Why America’s Parties Are Crumbling, And What Happens Next (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 2019), 469 pages, $25.99.

Some writers have discerned cycles in the rise and fall of American party systems. Others have observed patterns in American economic revolutions. Still, others have traced trends in American religious activism and its social effects. And a few have made the colonial “cultural hearths” the centerpiece of their analysis and examined their development throughout American history.

Frank J. DiStefano’s great accomplishment in The Next Realignment is synthetic—he integrates the political tendencies of American regional cultures into the cyclical patterns of “Great Awakenings,” economic revolutions, and party system realignments from the Federalist Era to the post–Cold War years; to my knowledge he is the first author who has done this explicitly. The result is a unified theory of American political history, a reasonable understanding of the relationships between our political thought, political practice, economic reality and cultural development.

The first section of the book introduces DiStefano’s theory of political realignments through a narration of American politics throughout America’s first five party systems—the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans, the Whigs and the Jacksonian Democrats, the Post–Civil War Lincoln Republicans and southern Bourbon Democrats, the progressive Republican Party of Theodore Roosevelt and the populist-progressive Democratic Party of William Jennings Bryan, and finally the New Deal Democrats and the anti-New Deal, eventually conservative, Republicans. His assessments of the contributions of Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and William F. Buckley are particularly useful illustrations of times long gone.

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