Drawing the Line

Public and Private in America

In Drawing the Line, Andrew Stark takes a fresh and provocative look at how Americans debate the border between the public realm and the private. The seemingly eternal struggle to establish the proper division of societal responsibilities—to draw the line—has been joined yet again. Obama administration initiatives, particularly bank bailouts and health care reform, roil anew the debate of just what government should do for its citizens, what exactly is the public sphere, and what should be left to individual responsibility.

Are these arguments specific to isolated policy issues, or do they reveal something bigger about politics and society? The author realizes that the shorthand, “public vs. private” dichotomy is overly simplistic. Something more subtle and complex is going on, Stark reveals, and he offers a deeper, more politically helpful way to view these conflicts.

Stark interviewed hundreds of policymakers and advocates, and here he weaves those insights into his own counterintuitive view and innovative approach to explain how citizens at the grassroots level divide policy debates between public and private responsibilities—specifically on education, land use and “public space,” welfare, and health care. In doing so, Drawing the Line provides striking lessons for anyone trying to build new and effective policy coalitions on Main Street.

Praise for the book

“As our political discourse becomes more hysterical and polarized by the day, we're very fortunate to have this sober and insightful book about American ideology by Andrew Stark. He shows that there is more common ground between conservatives and liberals than either side admits. Written with grace and wit, this book actually says something new about the political debates of our time.”
—Mark Lilla, Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University

“Governance in the twenty-first century is a complex mixture of the public and private. Andrew Stark has written an extremely useful book about this new world, in which he explores the moral and ethical dilemmas that confront practitioners and scholars as they attempt to define and understand boundaries that were once clear but that are increasingly ambiguous. This is a must-read for scholars and practitioners alike.”
—Elaine C. Kamarck, Harvard Kennedy School

“A meticulous and ironic exploration of American political self-deception. Stark takes those all-important ideological captions ‘public’ and ‘private’ and capsizes them under a tsunami of mind-bending examples of people using words to mean just what they wish them to mean.”
—David Frum, American Enterprise Institute

“American politics will become less combustible when we realize that we are not divided between conservatives who prefer the private to the public and liberals who insist on the opposite. In this compelling book, Andrew Stark shows us how we can improve our political discourse.”
—Alan Wolfe, Boston College

"An illuminating account of what Americans argue about when they rely on competing conceptions of what's properly private and what's properly public in defending their policy preferences. As Andrew Stark elegantly demonstrates, these largely unexamined differences powerfully inform debates about welfare, health care, education or the use of space. Anyone interested in rethinking social policy will find this book hard to put down."
—David L. Kirp, author of The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics