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Value, politics and democracy in the United States

Graeber, David (2011) Value, politics and democracy in the United States. Current Sociology, 59 (5). pp. 186-199. ISSN 0011-3921

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0011392110391151


This article examines the role of values in the political discourse of the last decade in the US. It embarks from what many observers had described as a puzzle: the fact that significant parts of the American working class voted against their economic interests but in line with what they perceived to be their values. As a result, a president had been re-elected who cut taxes for the rich while waging an expensive war in Iraq and increasing public debt to historically unprecedented levels. It is argued that large sectors of the white American working class were disappointed with liberal politicians because they associated them with a cultural elite that occupied positions in society that allowed them to pursue careers of intrinsic value in the arts, science, or politics but which were largely closed to the working class. It is thus suggested that the ‘culture wars’ in the US are better interpreted as a struggle over access to the means to behave altruistically. The article rejects the widespread assumption that individuals are narrowly conceived economic self-interest maximizers. Rather, it suggests that human fulfilment can be related to the satisfaction derived from working for the common good.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2011 International Sociological Association
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2013 15:53
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:21

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