Book Review: The Hidden History of American Democracy

Paul Deaton is a lifelong Democrat living in Johnson County whose first political work was for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign.

Is democracy the default state of humanity? In The Hidden History of American Democracy: Rediscovering Humanity’s Ancient Way of Living, author Thom Hartmann presents the case that democracy is our default state, overcome only by the intrusion of dictators, popes, and kings using the power of great wealth, control of media, or the force of arms and technology. He explains where society has gone astray and what we can do to restore democracy.

The Hidden History of American Democracy is the ninth volume in Hartmann’s Hidden History series. Like its predecessors, it is accessible and easily readable, especially for readers immersed in the issues it covers. Hartmann creates a narrative grounded in historical documents, yet the interpretation seems fresh and modern.

The first two parts of the book dispel myths about democracy and the meaning of our constitution. The rest of the book frames the modern war on democracy and regulated capitalism; outlines a 21st century democracy agenda; and presents a call to action.

The United States is not a Christian nation. Although Christianity was introduced in North America by European settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and has experienced periodic revivals, it did not appear to take. The founders did not envision the newly formed country as Christian. They took precautions to avoid affiliation of the government with religion. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, studied the Bible yet was decidedly not Christian. In fact, the Constitution never explicitly mentions God or the divine.

In this book, Hartmann creates a narrative about the founding using Jefferson’s own experiences with the Cherokee and other indigenous people, depicting American democracy’s indigenous and broadly based intellectual roots.

While the US Constitution isn’t strictly based on the Iroquois Confederacy, it does have some elements in common with it. The greater impact of Native Americans, however, was in helping to shape the thinking of Enlightenment thinkers from Spinoza to Locke to Montesquieu to Jefferson.

Thom Hartmann, The Hidden History of American Democracy

Here in Iowa, people refer to the U.S. Constitution as if they read it. What they say and appear to believe about it doesn’t match the text. Not only do many citizens believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation, they superimpose misguided characteristics on the Constitution regarding gun ownership, the U.S. Supreme Court, the electoral college, the branches of government and more. In part two of the book, Hartmann takes apart these cultural myths in an effort to return us to a basic democratic outlook.

The high water mark for post World War II democracy may well have been the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Some 60 percent of middle class Americans lived “the American Dream” in 1980, according to Hartmann. So-called Reaganomics, or the rise of neoliberalism, brought de-regulation of capitalism, “which measurably set back the working and middle classes while also weakening our democracy,” Hartmann said. Both Republicans and Democrats espoused principles of neoliberalism, ending in an all-out war on democracy and regulated capitalism. It is hard to find fault with Hartmann’s analysis of those historical trends.

The rest of the book outlines a 21st century democracy agenda. It includes action steps such as making voting a right instead of a privilege, changing the relationship with the U.S. Supreme Court so there is a form of oversight or “regulation,” expanding the U.S. Senate by adding two new states (Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico), providing health care for all, and more.

You may think your voice is but a faint whisper in the wilderness, but there are ways you can amplify it at no cost other than a bit of effort. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Become active on social media. Volunteer with the dozens of great good-government groups and organizations devoted to saving our environment, our democracy, and our world.

Thom Hartmann, The Hidden History of American Democracy

As we enter the 2024 election cycle, many of us are seeking things we can do to make a difference. A good way to start is to read The Hidden History of American Democracy: Rediscovering Humanity’s Ancient Way of Living and share it with your friends.

The author interviewed Thom Hartmann about the book on July 10, 2023. Readers can hear the 31:25-minute interview by clicking here.

Thom Hartmann is a four-time winner of the Project Censored Award, a New York Times bestselling author, and America’s number one progressive talk show host. His show is syndicated on local for-profit and nonprofit stations and broadcasts nationwide and worldwide. It is also simulcast on television in nearly 60 million U.S. and Canadian homes.

To buy a copy of The Hidden History of American Democracy: Rediscovering Humanity’s Ancient Way of Living, click here. The book will be available starting on July 18, 2023.

About the Author(s)

Paul Deaton