Huntington Ideals

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<ul><li><p>American Ideals versus American Institutions STORSamuel P. Huntington</p><p>Political Science Quarterly, Volume 97, Issue 1 (Spring, 1982), 1-37.</p><p>Stable URL:</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTORs Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless youhave obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, andyou may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.</p><p>Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen orprinted page of such transmission.</p><p>Political Science Quarterly is published by The Academy of Political Science. Please contact the publisher forfurther permissions regarding the use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at</p><p>Political Science Quarterly1982 The Academy of Political Science</p><p>JSTOR and the JSTOR logo are trademarks of JSTOR, and are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.For more information on JSTOR</p><p>2003 JSTOR</p><p> Jan 5 13:51:57 2003</p></li><li><p>American IdealsversusAmerican Institutions</p><p>SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON</p><p>Throughout the history of the United States a broad consensushas existed among the American people in support of liberal, democratic, individualistic, and egalitarian values. These political values and ideals constitutewhat Gunnar Myrdal termed the American Creed, and they have provided thecore of American national identity since the eighteenth century. Alsothroughout American history, political institutions have reflected these valuesbut have always fallen short of realizing them in a satisfactory manner. A gaphas always existed between the ideals in which Americans believed and the institutions that embodied their practice. This gap between ideals and institutionalpractice has generated continuing disharmony between the normative and existential dimensions of American politics. Being human, Americans have neverbeen able to live up to their ideals; being Americans, they have also been unableto abandon them. They have instead existed in a state of national cognitivedissonance, which they have attempted to relieve through various combinationsof moralism, cynicism, complacency, and hypocrisy. The burr under the saddle, as Robert Penn Warren called it, and the efforts to remove that burr havebeen central features of American politics, defining its dynamics and shape,since at least the eighteenth century and perhaps before. The question now is:Will the gap between ideals and institutional practices and the responses to it</p><p>SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON is Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs and director ofthe Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. During 1977-1978 he served at theWhite House as coordinator of security planning for the National Security Council. His many booksinclude The Soldier and theState; The Common Defense; Political Order in Changing Societies; andmost recently American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, from which this article is adapted.</p><p>Political ScienceQuarterly Volume 97 Number 1 Spring 1982</p></li><li><p>2 | POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY</p><p>continue to play the same role in American politics in the future that they havein the past? Or are there changes taking place or likely to take place in Americanpolitical ideals, political institutions, and the relation between them that willmake their future significantly different from their past?</p><p>Three possibilities exist. The relation between ideals and institutions, first,could continue essentially unchanged; second, it could be altered bydevelopments within American society; or, third, it could be altered bydevelopments outside American society and by American involvements abroad.Developments within American society or changes in the international environment could alter the relation between American political ideals and institutionsin four ways: the content of the ideals could change; the scope of agreement onthe ideals could change; the nature of American political institutions could moreclosely approximate American ideals, thereby reducing the gap between them;or American political institutions could be significantly altered in an illiberal,undemocratic, anti-individualistic direction; or some combination of thesedevelopments could take place.</p><p>HISTORY VERSUS PROGRESS?</p><p>At various periods in their history Americans have attempted to eliminate orreduce the gap between ideals and institutions by moralistic efforts to reformtheir institutions and practices so as to make them conform to the ideals of theAmerican Creed. These periods include the Revolutionary years of the 1760sand 1770s, the Jacksonian surge of reforms in the 1820s and 1830s, the Progressive era from the 1890s to 1914, and the latest resurgence of moralisticreform in the 1960s and early 1970s. These four periods have much in common,and almost always the proponents of reform have failed to realize their goalscompletely. The relative success of reform, however, has varied significantly: inparticular, the goals of reform have tended to be more widely achieved in theearly periods than in the later ones. In the earlier periods, the affirmation of thegoals of liberty, equality, democracy, and popular sovereignty was directed atthe destruction or modification of traditional political and economic institutions; in the later periods, it was directed at the elimination or modification ofmodern political and economic institutions that had emerged in the course ofhistorical development. In the earlier periods, in short, history and progress (inthe sense of realizing American ideals) went hand in hand; in the later periods,the achievement of American ideals involved more the restoration of the pastthan the realization of the future, and progress and history worked increasinglyat cross purposes.</p><p>The revolutionaries of the 1770s were the first to articulate the AmericanCreed on a national basis and were generally successful in effecting majorchanges in American institutions: the overthrow of British imperial power, theend of monarchy, the widespread acceptance of government based on popularconsent, the extension of the suffrage, an end to what remained of feudal practices and privileges, and the substitution of a politics of opinion for a politics of</p></li><li><p>AMERICAN IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS | 3</p><p>status. In part, the articulation of their goals was conservative; the rightsasserted were justified by reference to common law and the rights ofEnglishmen. But the formulation and public proclamation of those rights wasalso a revolutionary event in terms of political theory and political debate.</p><p>In the Jacksonian years, the American ideology was still new, fresh, anddirected toward the elimination of the political restrictions on democracy, thebroadening of popular participation in government, the abolition of status andthe weakening of specialization that is, of both ascriptive and achievementnorms in the public service, and the destruction of the Bank of the UnitedStates and other manifestations of the money power, so as to open wide thedoors of economic opportunity. Originally a fight against political privilege,the Jacksonian movement . . . broadened into a fight against economicprivilege, rallying to its support a host of rural capitalists and village entrepreneurs. Except for the role of blacks and women in American society,the Jacksonian reforms did complete the virtual elimination of traditional institutions and practices, either inherited from a colonial past or concocted bythe Federalist commercial oligarchy, which deviated from liberal-democraticvalues. All this was progressive in the broad sense, but it too carried with itelements of conservatism. The paradox of the Jacksonians was that even as theycleared away obstacles to the development of laissez-faire capitalism, they alsolooked back politically to ideals of rural republican simplicity.2 Restoration, notrevolution, was their message.</p><p>The institutional changes of the Jacksonian years did not, of course, bringpolitical reality fully into accord with Jacksonian principle. Neither propertynor power was equally distributed. In the major cities a small number of verywealthy people, most of whom had inherited their position, controlled largeamounts of property.3 As is generally the case, however, income was muchmore equally distributed than wealth, and both wealth and income were farmore evenly distributed in the rural areas, where 90 percent of the populationlived, than in the urban areas. In addition, there were high levels of social andpolitical equality, which never failed to impress European visitors, whethercritical or sympathetic. All in all, money, status, and power were probably moreequally distributed among white males in Jacksonian America than at any other</p><p>Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951), pp.65-66.</p><p>2 Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief (Stanford, Calif.: StanfordUniversity Press, 1957), p. 8.</p><p>3 See Edward Pessen, The Egalitarian Myth and the American Social Reality: Wealth, Mobility,and Equality in the Era of the Common Man, American Historical Review 76 (October 1971):989-1034, and idem, Riches, Class, and Power before the Civil War (Lexington, Mass.: D.C.Heath, 1973). For critical discussions of Pessens evidence and argument, see Whitman Ridgway,Measuring Wealth and Power in Ante-Bellum America: A Review Essay, Historical MethodsNewsletter 8 (March 1975): 74-78, and Robert E. Gallman, Professor Pessen on the EgalitarianMyth, Social Science History 2 (Winter 1978): 194-207. For Pessens response, see his On a Recent Cliometric Attempt to Resurrect the Myth of Antebellum Egalitarianism, Social ScienceHistory 3 (Winter 1979): 208-27.</p></li><li><p>4 | POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY</p><p>time before or since. The other central values of the American Creed liberty,individualism, democracy were in many respects even more markedly embodied in American institutions at that time.</p><p>For these reasons, Gordon Wood argued, the Jacksonian generation hasoften seemed to be the most American of all generations. This MiddlePeriod in American history has been appropriately labeled because</p><p>many of the developments of the first two centuries of our history seem to be anticipations of this period, while many of the subsequent developments taking us to the present seem to be recessions from it. In the traditional sense of what it has meant to bedistinctly American, this Middle Period of 1820-1860 marks the apogee in the overalltrajectory of American history. Americans in that era of individualism, institutionalweakness, and boundlessness experienced freedom as they rarely have since; power,whether expressed economically, socially, or politically, was as fragmented and diffusedas at any time in our history.4</p><p>After the democratization of government and before the development of industry, the Middle Period is the time when the United States could least well becharacterized as a disharmonic society. It was a period when Americansthemselves believed that they had fulfilled the main principles of liberty andhence were exempt from further epochal change.5 All that was needed was toremain true to the achievements of the past.</p><p>In the Middle Period, in short, American dream and American reality cameclose to joining hands even though they were shortly to be parted. The gap between American ideals and institutions was clearly present in JacksonianAmerica but, outside the South, probably less so than at any other time inAmerican history. The inequality of social hierarchy and political aristocracyhad faded; the inequality of industrial wealth and organizational hierarchy hadyet to emerge. Primogeniture was gone; universal (white male) suffrage had arrived; the Standard Oil trust was still in the future.</p><p>In the Middle Period and the years following, the only major institutionallegacy that was grossly contradictory to the American Creed was slavery and theheritage of slavery, the remnants of which were still being removed a hundredyears after the Civil War. With respect to the role of blacks, the Creed played acontinuingly progressive role, furnishing the basis for challenging the patternsof racial discrimination and segregation that ran so blatantly against the proposition that all men are created equal. Hence, in analyzing the Americandilemma in the 1930s, Gunnar Myrdal could take an essentially optimistic attitude toward its eventual resolution. He could see hope in America because hisattention was focused on the one area of inequality in American life that wasclearly an anachronistic holdover from the past.</p><p>More generally, the Middle Period marked a turning point in the nature ofprogress in America. Prior to that time, progress in terms of the realization of</p><p>4 Gordon S. Wood, History Book Club Review (June 1975): 16-17, commenting on RushWelters The Mind of America: 1820-1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975).</p><p>5 Welter, The Mind of America: 1820-1860, pp. 7-10.</p></li><li><p>AMERICAN IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS | 5</p><p>American ideals of liberty and equality did not conflict with historical development in terms of the improvement of economic well-being and security. Afterthe Middle Period, however, progress and history began to diverge. Progress interms of the realization of the democratic ideal, in Herbert Crolys phrase,often ran counter to historical trends toward large-scale organization, hierarchy, specialization, and inequality in power and wealth that seemed essential tomaterial improvement. Political progress involves a return to first principles;politically Americans move forward by looking backward, reconsecratingthemselves to the ideals of the past as guidelines for the future. Historicaldevelopment involves pragmatic responses to the increasing scale and complexity of society and economy, and demands increasing interaction, bothcooperative and competitive, with other societies.</p><p>This distinctive character of the Middle Period and its inappropriateness as aforetaste of things to come are well reflected in the observations of the mostcelebrated foreign observer of the Jacksonian scene. Tocqueville was, in a sense,half right and half wrong in the two overarching empirical propositions (onestatic, one dynamic) that he advanced about equality in America. The mostdistinctive aspect of American society, he argued, is the general equality ofcondition among the people. This is the fundamental fact from which allothers seem to be derived and the central point at which all my observationsconstantly terminated. Second, the tendency toward equality in American andEuropean society constitutes an irresistible revolution; the gradual deve...</p></li></ul>