Democracies often operate in contradictions, according to Prof. David Alexander Bateman, government: the first waves of democratization in modern states coincide with the disenfranchisement of a significant chunk of the population.
One example is how proponents of democratization removed property and taxpaying requirements for voting in the U.S., but also systematically worked to disenfranchise African American men, according to Bateman’s new book.
It is this close — and yet seemingly contradictory — relationship between democratization and disenfranchisement that Bateman explores in his most recent book, Disenfranchising Democracy, released on Sept. 30.
Bateman began research for the 300-plus page book as a graduate student, while he was writing his dissertation on “patterns of racial exclusivity in American history and democratization.” While researching for his dissertation, he started seeing a pattern in other Western democracies as well — an observation that later prompted him to write this book.
Though Bateman was not able to speak with a lot of people during his research — “most of the people are dead” — he read secondary and primary accounts such as debates and state legislations. He emphasized that, though he did not get to speak with anyone, he “really got to know them” through the primary accounts.
One part of the research that really surprised Bateman was the amount of opposition to taking away voting rights from African Americans during the Civil War. He stated that “there were more positive aspects to the story than I expected” at that time.
The book’s writing process was protracted — it “took too long,” Bateman joked in his interview with The Sun. He started the dissertation in 2010 and submitted it in 2013, and after a few years off, finally published the book in 2018.
Bateman encouraged students to pick up the book for different reasons. For Americans, he thinks it will give them a look at similar patterns in other countries outside America. And as a broader theme, he would like for students to understand “what type of image of people is going to be represented in the public policies of the state.”
Bateman wants people to have “a better sense of what democracy has rested on and what it takes to democratize.” He emphasized that democratizing needs to have a purpose, and it is especially important in today’s climate as de-democratizing movements emerge.
Bateman also encouraged students to vote, saying that voting is “one of the most powerful ways to allocating power and influence in society today” and that “a lot of people died” to secure this right.