Nelson Higher Education

Higher Education

The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics, 17th Edition

  • Louis Schubert
  • Thomas R. Dye
  • Harmon Zeigler
  • ISBN-10: 128587028X
  • ISBN-13: 9781285870281
  • 432 Pages | Paperback
  • Previous Editions: 2014, 2012, 2009
  • COPYRIGHT: 2016 Published
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About the Product

The question at the center of the seventeenth edition of THE IRONY OF DEMOCRACY is “How democratic is American society?” While most American government textbooks address politics from a pluralist perspective, this text approaches the subject using an elitist perspective, thus exposing the irony between it and democratic theory and modern pluralist theory. As a result, this text helps students understand why the U.S. government works as it does.


  • “In Brief” boxes provide students with clear and concise summaries of important arguments and theories throughout the text.

  • Chapter summaries provide “An Elitist Interpretation” that has been enhanced and emphasized to encourage reflection on and discussion of the chapter's topics.

  • “Focus” boxes in each chapter encourage students to critically approach contemporary issues in American democracy, such as “Mass Views of Elite Governance,” “Greed in the Boardroom,” and “Politainment = Politics + Entertainment.”

  • Author Louis Schubert continues to revitalize and update this classic text. Using an uncommon yet realistic approach, THE IRONY OF DEMOCRACY combines an endorsement of fundamental democratic values with an understanding of the hard realities of the working democracy.

  • Irony, often in political cartoons, is used to inspire students to address issues and topics present in the text.


“The Irony of Democracy is a good alternative introduction to American politics and government that challenges students to think critically about U.S. government and their role in it.”
— Tim Jones, Bellevue College

About the Author

Louis Schubert

Louis E. Schubert has been Professor of Political Science at City College of San Francisco since 2000. He received his B.A. from the University of Connecticut and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He regularly teaches courses on American government, ethnic politics, terrorism and counterterrorism, political theory, and American studies. He has also taught Environmental Politics and Policy, The Presidency, Interest Groups and Elite Behavior, Elections and Political Participation, Political Economy, Parties, PACs and Campaigns, and American Political Thought. He has taught at the University of Southern California, the University of California Riverside, Santa Monica College, and the University of Redlands.

Thomas R. Dye

Thomas R. Dye is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Florida State University. He received his B.S. and M.A. from Pennsylvania State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books and articles on American government and public policy. Dye has served as president of the Southern Political Science Association, president of the Policy Studies Organization, and secretary of the American Political Science Association. He is the recipient of the Harold Laswell Award for career contributions to the study of public policy and the Donald C. Stone Award for career contributions to the study of federalism. He received the Outstanding Alumni Award in 2001 from Penn State's College of Liberal Arts. Dye has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Georgia. He served as visiting scholar at Bar-Elan University, Israel, and the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

Harmon Zeigler

Harmon Zeigler taught at numerous universities, including Florida State University, Emory University, the University of Georgia, the University of Oregon, State University of New York (Stony Brook), New York University, and the University of Washington. Abroad, he taught at the University of Oslo, Sydney University, and Passau University. In addition to THE IRONY OF DEMOCRACY: AN UNCOMMON INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN POLITICS, he and Thomas R. Dye wrote AMERICAN POLITICS IN THE MEDIA AGE. His other books include INTEREST GROUPS IN AMERICAN SOCIETY; GOVERNING AMERICAN SCHOOLS (with Kent Jennings); THE QUEST FOR RESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT (with Harvey Tucker); THE POLITICAL COMMUNITY, PLURALISM, CORPORATISM AND CONFUCIANISM; and POLITICAL PARTIES IN INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACIES. He received two Fulbright awards and was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1970.

Table of Contents

1. The Irony of Democracy.
2. The Elite Consensus of the Founding Fathers: U.S. Political Principles.
3. Elites in America.
4. Masses in the United States.
5. The Media: Elite-Mass Communication.
6. Elections, Parties, and Democracy.
7. Elites and Organized Interests.
8. Congress: The Legislative Elite.
9. The Presidency.
10. Courts: Elites in Black Robes.
11. The Federal Bureaucracy.
12. Federalism: State and Community Elites.
13. Civil Rights: Diversifying the Elite.
14. The United States as Global Elite.
Epilogue: What Can Students Do?
Appendix: The Constitution of the United States of America.

New to this edition

  • Every chapter in this edition has been updated to reflect the newest examples and manifestations of the core concepts of the text.
  • Chapter 5, “The Media: Elite-Mass Communication,” includes a new section that discusses today's technology elites, presents coverage of the integration of social media into politics, and provides information on the relationship between the Obama Administration and freedom of the press.
  • A new “Focus” box in Chapter 7, “Elites and Organized Interests,” discusses billionaire activists Styer and Koch.
  • Chapter 9 on the presidency presents a new perspective on Obama's first five years in office-in both domestic and foreign policy-as well as new material on Obama and executive power.
  • The core chapters on political institutions have been updated to reflect a divided Congress, the Obama Administration, and the new Supreme Court rulings. The sections on lawmaking focus more on the “Kill Bill” reality to reflect that Congress appears to be better at preventing laws than making them. The continuing diversification of the Congress is also covered.


All supplements have been updated in coordination with the Main title.
Please see Main title page for new to this edition information.

Instructor Supplements

Web Site  (ISBN-10: 130507467X | ISBN-13: 9781305074675)

This free companion website for The Irony of Democracy accessible through allows access to chapter-specific interactive learning tools including flashcards, glossaries, and more.

Instructor's Web Site  (ISBN-10: 1305074645 | ISBN-13: 9781305074644)

This free, password-protected website for instructors features all of the free student assets plus an instructor’s manual, book-specific PowerPoint® presentations, and a test bank in Microsoft® Word®. Access your resources by logging into your account at