Try Researching “Multiple Traditions” and, aha, umm…

**THIS IS FROM MY CONCEPTUAIZATION, MOSTLY, FROM MAY, 2013… didn’t make the cut, but essentially the same ideas.

In 1955 Louis Hartz contended all American political discourse was liberal. While a generation of scholars were strongly influenced by Hartz’s analysis, in the 1970s and 80s challenges began to appear. Several studies argued that there were in fact additional ideological structures in American political culture (Bellah 1985, Smith 1993). This debate between the “liberal society” and “multiple tradition” approach has, however, led to a stalemate since no consensus has been reached on definitions of these discourses.

Hartz said that the American liberal tradition shows two boxers, swinging wildly: one punching for greater democracy, and the other punching for more robust capitalism (1955, 89-90). This tradition associates property with personhood, and is widely cited from classic liberalism to all the variations which proliferated since Hartz’s debut of The Liberal Tradition in America. Further, liberalism requires a government whereas political structures “advance (or at least do not inhibit) individual pursuits, and how political institutions can accommodate different conceptions of individualism” (Abbott 2010, 4).

However, other scholars argue that there is empirical evidence of other discourses—America is not “a national articulation of Locke” (i.e. liberalism) (Hartz, 1955 [1991], 11).

Some scholars find that America is comprised of multiple traditions. Bellah et. al (1985) in Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life provides evidence of biblical and republican strands of political discourse in America. At about the same time of this publication, Geise (1984) explained how an individual would benefit from a republican society. Further, Rodgers Smith in Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz (1993) justifiably advanced in the abstract (549):

Analysts of American politics since Tocqueville have seen the nation as a paradigmatic “liberal democratic” society, shaped most by the comparatively free and equal conditions and the Enlightenment ideals said to have prevailed at its founding. These accounts must be severely revised to recognize the inegalitarian ideologies and institutions of ascriptive hierarchy that defined the political status of racial and ethnic minorities and women through most of U.S. history. A study of the period 1870-1920 illustrates that American political culture is better understood as the often conflictual and contradictory product of multiple political traditions, than as the expression of hegemonic liberal or democratic political traditions.

There are multiple elements of the American culture and scholars differ in their noting of salience. First, according to Wood, “by 1787, Lockean liberalism [came to] overshadow republican sentiment” (Dunn, 2004, 158). And many scholars would agree with this assessment—that liberalism was and is more powerful in America than republicanism (Ericson 1993). However, Hartz, for example, found that only liberalism was language within the American political culture—there were merely variations and manifestations of liberalism. In America, there was “the presence of the liberal idea” (1991, 20). Liberalism is based on the individual, the free-market, and private property ownership. The Lockean doctrine is liberalism (Hartz 1991, 10-11). To Hartz, “we have only had the American Way of Life, a nationalistic articulation of Locke…” (1991, 11). However, Pocock said that “Locke played no predominant role in the formation… [in the] Whig cannon” (Dunn, 2004, 162). Dunn, also, synthesized that the American founders incorporated both Locke and more republican thinkers, such as Cato (2004, 298-99). And, most scholars would agree with Dunn.

Of particular concern for researchers of “multiple traditions”; modern republicanism is still being developed. Geise (1984) makes clear, “…any form of republicanism that is going to be viable today will assume a character at odds with either republicanism’s classical or commercial modes” (23). In Geise’s article, he makes clear that republicanism is an ideology that individuals could welcome, but the degree of participation and action might only be realized if republicanism is institutionalized.

I investigate not only if republicanism is a viable ideology in America, but also how it has changed into something modern—or indeed an important element of the American culture. Really, republicanism is a type of individualism that, when aggregated, does have a “Good” global community (Geise 1984).

Researching “multiple traditions” has been difficult. I do believe that, in my five years serious research, I have overcome many obstacles. My dissertation will provide a “narrow” way forward!  🙂



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