Any middle-aged member of the political science guild in a retrospective mood might ponder a question: “What ever happened to direct democracy?” In our halcyon student days the textbooks discussed the direct democracy trinity—initiative, referendum, and recall—described their mechanics and variations, explained their origin in the Progressive Era, told us that the United States, Australia, and Switzerland were leading practitioners of direct democracy, cited a few eccentric referenda, gave the standard pro and con arguments, and essayed some judgments of the relative merits of direct and representative democracy. Latter day collegians may pass through the portals innocent of the existence of the institutions of direct government. Half of the American government texts never mention the subject; the others allocate a paragraph or a page for a casual mention or a barebones explanation of the mechanics.
A similar trend has occurred in the literature. Before 1921, every volume of this Review had items on the referendum, five in one volume. Subsequently there have been only seven articles, all but two prior to World War II. “The Initiative and Referendum in Graustark” has ceased to be a fashionable dissertation topic, only four in the last thirty years. All but two of the published monographs antedate World War II.