Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Does This Blog Exist?

Another blog? Seriously? That’s probably a rational response upon finding another political blog. So why does this blog exist and what justifies its existence?

The inspiration for this blog is Samuel P. Huntington, former professor of government at Harvard University and, more importantly, the author of American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony. Professor Huntington explains the origins of his book in the preface. He notes that at the start of his Ph.D. oral examination, Samuel Beer asked him: “Mr. Huntington, what is the relation between political thought and political institutions?” Huntington explains that he has been grappling with the question since that oral examination in 1949. The result of that “grappling” is American Politics, which was published in 1981.

My interest in the relationship between political ideas and political institutions dates from my search for a framework for the study of Texas politics and government. What is unique about Texas politics that separates it from United States politics? What does Texas politics share with U.S. politics? How have the institutions of Texas politics been shaped by the similarities to and differences from U.S. politics? These are the questions that guided my search.

In chapter 2 of American Politics, Huntington identifies the five ideas that constitute what he terms “the American creed”—“. . . a complex and amorphous amalgam of goals and values, rather than a scheme for establishing priorities among values and for elaborating ways to realize those values.” The five ideas are liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, and the rule of law under a constitution (constitutionalism). I will discuss these ideas in more detail in a subsequent post. For now, it is more important that I describe the sources of these ideas. Huntington argues that the core ideas are established in the Declaration of Independence. There are, according to Huntington, several major elements: the medieval ideas of fundamental law, seventeenth century Protestantism, and the Lockean ideas from the Enlightenment. The enduring consensus on these five ideas, maintained since the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, forms the basis for America’s national identity. It is the common belief in these five ideas that forms the glue that holds America together as a nation.

This brief explanation of Huntington’s paradigm of American politics does not do justice to his explanation in the book; so I would highly recommend reading the first two chapters of American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, which is available on Google Books here.

So what does Huntington’s paradigm have to do with Texas politics and government? The answer is that Texas, through its history as a colony, an independent nation, and a state in the United States, has experienced the same kinds of influences on its political culture that the other states of the United States experienced, although some of those experiences were rather unique and have had a special effect on the political culture of Texas.

I welcome your comments on this post. The next post will delve into three of the five ideas— individualism, equality, and liberty—as they relate to understanding politics.


1 comment:

  1. An excellent introduction and one my future students will be reading....