POLI 102G The Polarization of American Politics
11 January 2007
- Political Polarization can be:
- Political Party Polarization
- Elite Polarization
- Mass Polarization
- Any Combination of 1, 2, 3 (although (3) without (2) seems implausible!)
- Polarization, by definition, is a dynamic process
- Elite Led
- Mass Led
- There is always some level of divisiveness in the political system. The
Parties Stand For Something! Throughout American history:
- One Party has favored the interests of business and the advance of a capitalist economy whereas the
other Party has ben more critical of this advance.
- One Party has been more concerned with preserving social order and liberty, the other Party
has emphasized equality.
- One Party has trumpeted the glories of the nation, the other Party has been more circumspect.
- The Fundamental Consensus: the worth and legitimacy of the Free-Enterprise system and Representative Democracy
[Louis Hartz (The Liberal Tradition in America, 1955) and Richard Hofstadter
(The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made it, 1948)]. Neither has been seriously
challenged in American history.
- Hofstadter (1948/1973, p. xxx) states it this way: “The sanctity of private
property, the right of the individual to dispose of and invest it, the value of opportunity, and
the natural evolution of self-interest and self-assertion, within broad legal limits, into a beneficent
social order have been staple tenets of the central faith in American political ideologies…”
- The North American British colonies inherited a system of private property rights not only in land
but in physical possessions and ideas that meant that creative inventors and entrepreneurs could engage
in socially desirable activities and reap personal rewards for doing so.
- Nothing Succeeds Like Success -- the system works: “Economic Growth … requires both political order and a range of positive incentives for
productive and entrepreneurial activity.” The
political order was provided by the shared English belief in representative democracy and the
common law and the positive incentives by private property rights and (again) the common law.
- Hence, conflict over economic issues has usually been contained – especially after the 1800
election established the precedent of an “out” party replacing an “in” party.
- Where is the dividing line between “natural” divisiveness and polarization?