Corruption in Government: A Book Review of A Republic No More By Jay Cost

By Steven Coles
Philosophy Major Alumni from La Grande, Oregon
Updated April 27, 2015
The American public can tend to forget the rich history that they come from. Often, the American public takes the past for granted, which leads to repetition of the past, for good or for bad. Jay Cost, author of the book A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, calls his readers to remember where America, and its political system, has come from.
A Republic No More is, in most senses, a history book. Cost takes the reader on a ride though American history starting with the Founding Fathers, or what he calls “The Farmers.” Cost takes the reader step by step though his interpretation on how America has been corrupted by the government throughout history. According to Cost, “Corruption can take many forms…” (1).  It is certain that definitions are important when one is trying to make a claim against something that has been happening for generations. For Cost, corruption is as follows: “[Corruption] occurs when the government does violence to the public interest or individual rights by allowing faction to dominate public policy for their own ends” (3). In other words, Cost makes clear that anything that does not take into account the interests of the public is influenced by something else or is corrupted. But, the American ideals were, according to Cost, not always corrupt. This idea of how America was before, leads Cost to adhere to the ideals of James Madison. Madison promoted the concept of Checks & Balances, a system that keeps record, and keeps accountable, the different branches of the governing authorities (e.g. Legislative, Executive, and Judicial). According to Cost, “we have forgotten that almost entirely, and we hardly give a second of critical thought to our government’s design” (17). What Cost is prescribing makes for an argument that leads the reader to wonder more about political parties, how the American government keeps itself accountable, and, most importantly, how an American’s freedom which, according to Cost, is the driving force for how the government will change. Regardless, Cost believes that Americans liberty is corrupted and is at stake unless Americans take charge of their government. That, for a reader, is the driving force behind Cost’s argument.
            Cost, however, has some basic negative tendencies that I think weaken his argument.  For example, Cost uses the terms “conservative” and “liberal” loosely. The majority of Americans and non-Americans have particular ideas about what these two words mean.  Without defining terms such as these, Cost leads the reader to ponder his or her own interpretation, which pulls away from the argument. Further, Cost also uses the term “republican” but in a way that many of his readers may not fully understand. For example, he talks about “republican philosophy” (21), but doesn’t explain the philosophy. For Cost, terms like “republican” become watered down and flat when used flippantly and detracts from his argument. It is also the case that the reader may need to hold a degree in history to fully track what Cost is saying through the majority of the book. Even though his content is researched well, it takes some time to sift through all that information. Cost has a great thesis and works to bring the reader back to that thought throughout the book, but it is overlooked by the amount of history and lack of definitions so that the original intent of the argument is lost.
In closing thoughts: I think Jay Cost has some beneficial things to say about how the American government is run. His book A Republic No More lends to a particular ideology that was held by James Madison, but with Cost’s own personal twist, gives a robust examination of American’s history. It is also the case that Madison’s thoughts matter and should affect the American government today, according to Cost. Besides the few terms and high-speed history lessons, Cost’s book illustrates the grass-roots mentality that the American public longs for in current culture. Readers will also need to be willing to look up definitions, but Cost makes his book to be a fairly easy read which makes A Republic No More a book that should influence the young historian to continue to learn more about America’s past to help change America’s future.