This Post Monkey Cage piece claiming Americans get more involved in politics than others includes this:
As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. … Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”That makes it sound as if our associations come from the grassroots while in Europe they come from the top. I think that exaggerates a bit. I've looked at some of the early associations promoting agriculture in the U.S. The pattern seems to be we had our "rainmakers" back then. "Rainmaker" here meaning an illustrious personage, in these cases often a veteran of the Revolution and/or Founding Father, whose prestige attracts other members.