Beyond the War Metaphor: The Work of Democracy



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Harry Boyte is a public intellectual, organizer, and theorist of the public work framework of civic engagement. He founded Public Achievement, cofounded the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and is codirector of the Institute for Public Life and Work.
In this study for the Kettering Foundation, Boyte begins with a discussion of With the People by David Mathews, highlighting that report’s call for “a shift in relationship between government and citizens from regulation and service delivery to collaboration in the work of democracy.” Boyte agrees that this work of democracy “needs a We, the People alternative and a view of government that supports it.” But the framing by politicians and the media of every crisis or political disagreement as war “targets enemies and shuts down deliberation in which publics weigh trade-offs. It marginalizes vulnerable communities and disenfranchises the people at large.”
This study describes the metaphor of war, the way it has spread across society, and how it in- fuses conventional politics of left and right. And it offers stories of democracy based on deliberative public work, work by the people, work for public purposes, and work in public, visible and valued. Many show the ties between the Black freedom struggle and democracy’s advance. They illustrate government with the people.

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