The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era by Sam Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of political science at Colgate University, is his history of US political party development, free for a limited time courtesy of the University of Chicago Press.
This is their featured Free Book of the Month for September, and is described as an intellectual and institutional history of party polarization in the post-WWII United States, exploring the deliberate trending away over the decades from bipartisanship towards increasingly polarized ideology in both the Democratic and Republican camps and the various actors and agendas behind the shifts, focusing on overlapping periods from the 1945 to 2000, with an epilogue summarizing developments through 2016.
Offered worldwide through the end of September, available directly from the university’s website.
Even in this most partisan and dysfunctional of eras, we can all agree on one thing: Washington is broken. Politicians take increasingly inflexible and extreme positions, leading to gridlock, partisan warfare, and the sense that our seats of government are nothing but cesspools of hypocrisy, childishness, and waste. The shocking reality, though, is that modern polarization was a deliberate project carried out by Democratic and Republican activists.
In The Polarizers, Sam Rosenfeld details why bipartisanship was seen as a problem in the postwar period and how polarization was then cast as the solution. Republicans and Democrats feared that they were becoming too similar, and that a mushy consensus imperiled their agendas and even American democracy itself. Thus began a deliberate move to match ideology with party label—with the toxic results we now endure. Rosenfeld reveals the specific politicians, intellectuals, and operatives who worked together to heighten partisan discord, showing that our system today is not (solely) a product of gradual structural shifts but of deliberate actions motivated by specific agendas. Rosenfeld reveals that the story of Washington’s transformation is both significantly institutional and driven by grassroots influences on both the left and the right.
The Polarizers brilliantly challenges and overturns our conventional narrative about partisanship, but perhaps most importantly, it points us toward a new consensus: if we deliberately created today’s dysfunctional environment, we can deliberately change it.