Sometimes it feels like America is going crazy. Arbitrary and confusing public health restrictions, political polarization, lurid media, and escalating culture war create a pervasive sense of disorientation verging on madness. The riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was only the most vivid example of our collective freakout. Not just the horrified viewers on television but the participants themselves seemed unable to believe what was happening.

Several causes of this condition are contingent — not least the pandemic that put many aspects of normal life on hold. But there are deeper sources of our present freakout. In his 1981 study American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that American history is characterized by nervous breakdowns that recur approximately every 60 years. If our last bout was in the 1960s, we’re right on schedule for another outbreak.

Huntington’s theory is based on his interpretation of the American political tradition. Americans disagree on many issues, Huntington noted, but beneath the surface, most agree on our overarching values, including liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty. In Europe, there have been comprehensive alternatives like altar-and-throne conservatism, socialism, and fascism. But in the United States, certain basic values have enjoyed relatively broad consensus since the independence movement of the 1770s.

Yet theoretical consensus doesn’t make for placid politics. If the “American Creed,” as Huntington put it, answers some questions about the structure and purpose of government, it raises others. In particular, the centrality of liberal values encourages us to obsessively compare the reality of civic life to the ideals it’s supposed to embody. Huntington called this tension the Ideals vs. Institutions Gap.

There are several possible reactions to the Ideals vs. Institutions Gap. There’s complacent tolerance, which results when principles don’t seem very important and the differences between what we are and what we …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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