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Insurgent Democracy

The Nonpartisan League in North American Politics

Michael J. Lansing

Insurgent Democracy

Michael J. Lansing

392 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226434773 Published November 2016
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226283500 Published November 2015
E-book $10.00 to $27.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226283647 Published November 2015
In 1915, western farmers mounted one of the most significant challenges to party politics America has seen: the Nonpartisan League, which sought to empower citizens and restrain corporate influence. Before its collapse in the 1920s, the League counted over 250,000 paying members, spread to thirteen states and two Canadian provinces, controlled North Dakota’s state government, and birthed new farmer-labor alliances. Yet today it is all but forgotten, neglected even by scholars.

Michael J. Lansing aims to change that. Insurgent Democracy offers a new look at the Nonpartisan League and a new way to understand its rise and fall in the United States and Canada. Lansing argues that, rather than a spasm of populist rage that inevitably burned itself out, the story of the League is in fact an instructive example of how popular movements can create lasting change. Depicting the League as a transnational response to economic inequity, Lansing not only resurrects its story of citizen activism, but also allows us to see its potential to inform contemporary movements.

1 Birth
2 Expansion
3 Opposition
4 Power
5 Reverses
6 Legacies


Review Quotes
Robert D. Johnston, author of The Radical Middle Class
Insurgent Democracy is beautifully written, deeply researched, and compellingly argued. Lansing’s graceful prose and flowing narrative will capture the attention and imagination of a wide variety of readers, including historians, political scientists, and activists. This book will be one of the most important rural, western, and American political histories to emerge for some time.  At the same time, the book helps to redeem—in a proud but not uncritical manner—our nation’s rich legacy of agrarian radicalism.”
Charles Postel, author of The Populist Vision
“The farmers of the Nonpartisan League unleashed an anti-corporate insurgency about which most of us know too little. Yet, their democratic experiments and their pursuit of alternative economic models offer invaluable insights. Lansing tells their remarkable story with the care and passion that it deserves.”
Catherine McNicol Stock, author of Rural Radicals: Righteous Indignation in the American Grain
“Lansing takes us back to a time when ordinary people fought to participate fully in democratic institutions and believed adamantly in a marketplace that would serve all people. They were engaged, imaginative, and courageous. Lansing also reminds us that it is not too late to demand the same.”
“The history of agricultural radicalism in the US (or even the political history of farmers, for that matter) usually ends with the demise of the Populists in the 1890s. Lansing, however, provides a much-needed corrective in this book charting the history of the eponymous North Dakota-born farmers’ organization, formed in 1915, that spread across agricultural states from Wisconsin to Washington, and even into Canada. . . . This book should be in every academic library collection. Highly recommended.”
North Dakota History
“The book is an excellent opportunity to take a new look at the impact of the Nonpartisan League not only in North Dakota, but nationally and in Canada. Lansing’s account of the League’s success and failure is also a study of the difficult but not impossible path of citizen action that can transform the political process, even from within the system.”
Western Historical Quarterly
“Written at a time when populisms of the right have decimated that liberalism, Lansing’s story invites fresh conversations about the current state of American politics.”
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