American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony

American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony

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By (author) Samuel P. Huntington

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  • Publisher: The Belknap Press
  • Format: Paperback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 234mm x 20mm | 431g
  • Publication date: 15 August 1983
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, Mass.
  • ISBN 10: 0674030214
  • ISBN 13: 9780674030213
  • Illustrations note: 6 tables, 1 line illustration
  • Sales rank: 1,595,015

Product description

This stunningly persuasive book examines the persistent, radical gap between the promise of American ideals and the performance of American politics. Samuel P. Huntington shows how Americans, throughout their history as a nation, have been united by the democratic creed of liberty, equality, and hostility to authority. At the same time he reveals how, inevitably, these ideals have been perennially frustrated through the institutions and hierarchies required to carry on the essential functions of governing a democratic society. From this antagonism between the ideals of democracy and the realities of power have risen four great political upheavals in American history. Every third generation, Huntington argues, Americans have tried to reconstruct their institutions to make them more truly reflect deeply rooted national ideals. Moving from the clenched fists and mass demonstrations of the 1960s, to the moral outrage of the Progressive and Jacksonian Eras, back to the creative ideological fervor of the American Revolution, he incisively analyzes the dissenters' objectives. All, he pungently writes, sought to remove the fundamental disharmony between the reality of government in America and the ideals on which the American nation was founded. Huntington predicts that the tension between ideals and institutions is likely to increase in this country in the future. And he reminds us that the fate of liberty and democracy abroad is intrinsically linked to the strength of our power in world affairs. This brilliant and controversial analysis deserves to rank alongside the works of Tocqueville, Bryce, and Hofstadter and will become a classic commentary on the meaning of America.

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Author information

Samuel P. Huntington was Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University, and the author of Political Order in Changing Societies.

Review quote

This controversial book will spark considerable debate about American values, the origins and meaning of reform, and foreign policy. It will influence current discussions of the United States, and it will change the way we think about American political and social behavior.--Seymour Martin Lipset, Stanford University

Editorial reviews

Americans, to Harvard professor Huntington, are not like everyone else. Whereas citizens of other countries hassle over conflicting notions of social ends, Americans all agree about those: liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, and constitutionalism comprise the "American Creed" - to which, says Huntington, all Americans adhere. So the conflict that occurs takes place on the common turf of the creed, and usually takes the form of a critical evaluation of existing institutions based on their performance in realizing the goals of the creed. Sometimes, however, these evaluations take on an emotional cast, and become "creedal passions." Periods of creedal passion are those of intense conflict over the disjuncture between ideal and actuality. Huntington cites four such periods: the American Revolution, the Jacksonian era, the Progressive era, and the turbulence of the 1960s and '70s; and he does not look forward to a fifth. Instead, he moves toward the center, arguing that a necessary and permanent gap exists between ideal and fulfillment - "human nature:' being what it is - which must be recognized; the recourse is to reform, but not too much. Setting up a horizontal curve, Huntington lays out some positions: the traditional conservative doesn't think that equality exists but doesn't think it's such a good idea anyway, so there's no problem with our institutions; the liberal "hypocrite" prefers to believe, against the evidence, that equality has been achieved and that's good; the liberal "moralist" faces reality and sees that inequality prevails and sets out to reform institutions; and the "marxist revolutionaries" - here's the rub - adopt the same stance as the liberal reformers. Hence, the danger always exists of overly zealous liberal moralists being dragged in too deep by the Marxist revolutionaries. Huntington comes out firmly for recognizing the gap and doing as little as possible to eliminate it. On the world scene he is less cautious. The continuance of liberty in the world depends on limiting American power at home - by its nature, that is, the system has to tolerate criticism - while extending it abroad, since only the US can be a force for good where it counts. So the moralists are a danger both domestically and internationally in their criticism of existing gaps and efforts to curtail American military power. Let's be realistic, then, and do away with creedal passions. Tendentious at best. (Kirkus Reviews)

Table of contents

1. The Disharmonic Polity "Our Practice of Your Principles" The One, the Two, and the Many: Structural Paradigms of American Politics Ideals versus Institutions 2. The American Creed and National Identity Political Thought in America Sources, Scope, and Stability of the Creed Political Ideas and National Identity 3. The Gap: The American Creed versus Political Authority Consensus and Instability The Gap in Comparative Perspective 4. Coping with the Gap The American Case of Cognitive Dissonance Patterns of Response The Gap and American Political Style 5. The Politics of Creedal Passion Creedal Passion Periods in American History The Climate of Creedal Passion Creedal Conflict: The Movement and the Establishment Reform and its Limits Political Earthquakes and Realignment 6. The Sources of Creedal Passion Why Creedal Passion Periods? General Sources: Comparable Phenomena in Other Societies Specific Sources: The Timing of Creedal Passion Periods Original Sources: The Roots of It All in the English Revolution The Protestantism of American Politics 7. The S&S Years, 1960-1975 From the Fifties to the Seventies: The Changing Pattern of Response Complacency and the End(?) of Ideology Interlude of Hypocrisy, Surge of Moralism The Mobilization of Protest The Dynamics of Exposure The Legacies Reform and the IvI Gap Institutional Realignment The Misuse and Erosion of Authority Cynicism and the Restoration of Authority 8. The Viability of American Ideals and Institutions The Future of the Gap History versus Progress? America versus the World? Power and Liberty: The Myth of American Repression The Promise of Disappointment Notes Index