Posted by: Debby Durkee | January 24, 2011

America’s political disharmony is natural.

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America’s political disharmony is natural.

George Will says that disharmony in the United States is a natural state of being. It is a time-tested renewal. The American Creed, if you will, is basically anti-government and pro freedom and individuality as opposed to top-down, state-run groupthink. That is what it means to be American. That idea defines America, and that is why there is disharmony in our political discourse. We are experiencing a period of “creedal passion” according to Samuel Huntington, that passion that will right the American ship. This is from the Washington Post.

The tone of today’s politics was anticipated and is vindicated by a book published 30 years ago. The late Samuel Huntington’s “American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony” (1981) clarifies why it is a mistake to be alarmed by today’s political excitements and extravagances, a mistake refuted by America’s past.

The “predominant characteristics” of the Revolutionary era, according to Gordon Wood, today’s preeminent historian of that period, were “fear and frenzy, the exaggerations and the enthusiasm, the general sense of social corruption and disorder.” In the 1820s, Daniel Webster said “society is full of excitement.” Of the 1830s, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The country is full of rebellion; the country is full of kings. Hands off! Let there be no control and no interference in the administration of this kingdom of me.” As the 20th century dawned, Theodore Roosevelt found a “condition of excitement and irritation in the popular mind.” In 1920, George Santayana wrote, “America is all one prairie, swept by a universal tornado.” Unusual turmoil is not so unusual that it has no pattern.

By the time Huntington’s book appeared, American had had four of what he called “periods of creedal passion” – the Revolutionary era (1770s), the Jacksonian era (the 1830s), the Progressive era (1900-20) and the 1960s. We are now in the fifth.

The values, expressing the 18th century’s preoccupation with defending liberty against government, are, Huntington said, “individualistic, democratic, egalitarian, and hence basically anti-government and anti-authority.” The various values “unite in imposing limits on power and on the institutions of government. The essence of constitutionalism is the restraint of governmental power through fundamental law.”

Will says the American Revolution was different from others in that it was a political act based on principles. Those principles are what make us Americans.

So in America more than in Europe, nationalism is, Huntington said, “intellectualized”: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Who holds them? Americans. Who are Americans? Those who hold those truths to be self-evident.

…Government is necessary but, Huntington says, “the distinctive aspect of the American Creed is its anti-government character. Opposition to power and suspicion of government as the most dangerous embodiment of power are the central themes of American political thought.”

In 20th-century Europe, the ideologies that propelled change – Marxism, fascism – were, Huntington noted, utterly unlike those that animated the 18th century. “In the United States, in contrast, the themes, slogans, and concerns of one creedal passion period strongly resemble those of another.” Ideologies minted since the Revolutionary era, such as Marxism, have had slight impacts on American politics. Although many intellectuals consider American political theory unsophisticated, it is more central to political practices than theory is in other countries.  Snip –

Today, the general conservatism of this center-right country and especially the Tea Party impulse demand renewed seriousness about the creed’s core skepticism about government. Modern liberalism’s handicap is its unhappiness with this core.

“It has been our fate as a nation,” wrote historian Richard Hofstadter, “not to have ideologies but to be one.” It is an excellent fate, even if – actually, because – the creed periodically, as now, makes America intensely disharmonic.

Our fate as a nation is to be an ideology. How beautifully put. We are Americans. We want our children to be Americans. We want our grandchildren to be Americans. We will not let this idea, this amazing gift our country gave to us and the world, go without a lot of disharmony. We are the embodiment of freedom and the fight against an overbearing government which encroaches on our ideology, our state of being – not just in the country at large, but individually within ourselves. So if things get a little testy now and then, that’s to be expected, and don’t let anyone tell you to sit down and shut up. The Tea Party is a natural reaction to an overbearing and outrageous government overreach. It’s as American as apple pie. Read it all here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/21/AR2011012104561.html

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