chapter  1
Beyond Ordinary Politics
ByCharles C. Euchner
Pages 27

In February 1990, Vaclav Havel, the president of Czechoslovakia's new democratic regime, addressed a rare joint session of the United States Congress about the recent nonviolent revolution that overthrew his country's Communist regime. Havel, a playwright and former political dissident, delivered a message with metaphysical themes unusual for debates on Capitol Hill. The impulses for extraordinary politics in the United States began long before than the current crisis of legitimacy. In fact, American history is a long drama involving the often conflicting ideals of populism and elitism. Ultimately, the recent prominence of extraordinary politics stems from the gap between the ideals of democracy and the way the political system actually functions—the system's failure to meet its ideals. Extraordinary politics represents a creative and vibrant, though inadequate, response to the limitations of formal politics. Politics requires challenge, but it also requires governmental action that is considered legitimate by the community as a whole.