Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not on a few coteries of writers.

-Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas”

Fredrich Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)


Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique or Democracy in America (vol. 1 1835 and vol. 2 1840)

Ralph Waldo Emerson,The American Scholar (1837), History in Essays: First Series (1841), Politics, and The Poet in Essays: Second Series (1844). Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thomas Carlyle, Shooting Niagara—And After? (1867)

Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas (1871)

John Dewey, Emerson: The Philosopher of Democracy (1903)

Viktor Shklovsky, Art as Technique (1913)

Claude McKay, America (1921)

Walter Lippman, The World Outside And The Pictures In Our Heads, from Public Opinion (1922)

William Carlos Williams, “The American Background: America and Alfred Stieglitz.” (1954)

Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again (1936)

1940- 70

John Dewey, Having an Experience from Art as Experience (1934)

_____. Democracy is Radical (1936)

_____. Creative Democracy (1939) originally delivered by Horace Kallen and published in John Dewey and the Promise of America (1939)

Alan Ginsberg, America (1956) Ginsberg Reading “America”

James Baldwin, The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity recorded at the Community Church, New York City. Broadcast by WBAI, 29 Nov. 1962. A transcript of the recording is available at Vox Populi

_____. The Creative Process, 
by James Baldwin from Creative America. (1962)

John F. Kennedy’s Eulogy for Robert Frost delivered at Amherst College (October 26, 1963)

Horace M. Kallen. Culture and Democracy in the United States (1970)


Adrienne Rich, Claiming an Education (1977) On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose (1979)

_____.  Blood, Bread, And Poetry: The Location of a Poet and Notes Toward a Politics of Location, from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose: 1979-1985 (1986)

Adrienne Rich, An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991 (1992)

Benjamin Barber, Serving Democracy by Serving the Arts and Humanities (1997) an essay that was written for the Creative America Report by the President’s Committee on the Art and the Humanities

Leora Zeitlin, Remembering Ed Hogan (1998)

Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy (1998)

Richard Rorty, Education as Socialization and as IndividuationPhilosophy and Social Hope (2000)

Terry Tempest Williams, The Open Space of Democracy (2003), in The Open Space of Democracy (2004) published as “Commencement

Marguerite S. Schaffer, ed. Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States (2008)

Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art (2011) and Interview with Pablo Helguera

Doris Sommer, The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2014)

Jaroslav Andel, Why Democracy Needs Arts and Culture (2015) on the World Policy Blog

Selection of commencement addresses from 1774 to the present, National Public Radio (May 2014, last updated July 2015)

Naomi Shihab Nye United (2016)

Poems and Essays on Democracy at the Poetry Foundation