Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2011 / 18 Shevat, 5771

America's political disharmony

By George Will



http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | America is a creedal nation and the creed is, as Robert Penn Warren wrote, the "burr under the metaphysical saddle of America." It is a recurring source of national introspection, discontent, self-indictment and passionate politics. We are in the midst of a recurrence.

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.



FREE SUBSCRIPTION TO INFLUENTIAL NEWSLETTER

Every weekday NewsAndOpinion.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". HUNDREDS of columnists and cartoonists regularly appear. Sign up for the daily update. It's free. Just click here.


The American Creed's values are liberal, as that term was understood until liberalism succumbed to 20th-century statism. 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."

What made the American Revolution a novel event was that Americans did not declare independence because their religion, ethnicity, language or culture made them incompatible with the British. Rather, it was a political act based on explicit principles. 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.

America is an inherently "disharmonic society" because the ideals of its creed are always imperfectly realized and always endangered. 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.

After the Founding, there was, Huntington thought, a change in Americans' "dominant conception of human nature." The image of man as inherently sinful, dangerous and in need of control by cleverly contrived political institutions yielded to a much more benign image of man as essentially good and potentially perfectible. But, Huntington wrote, "both views were used to justify limitations on government." If men are bad, government should be weak lest men put it to bad uses. If men are well-intentioned and reasonable, strong government is not necessary to control them, so "government should be weak because men are good."

Periods of creedal passion involve returns to first principles - hence the Tea Partyers' orientation to 1773. "Americans," Huntington believed, "become polarized less over the substance of their beliefs than over how seriously to take those beliefs." 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.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

George Will's latest book is "With a Happy Eye but: America and the World, 1997-2002" to purchase a copy, click here. Comment on this column by clicking here.

Archives

© 2006 WPWG

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles