This stunningly persuasive book examines the persistent, radical gap between the promise of American ideals and the performance of American politics. Samuel P. Huntington shows how Americans, throughout their history as a nation, have been united by the democratic creed of liberty, equality, and hostility to authority. At the same time he reveals how, inevitably, these ideals have been perennially frustrated through the institutions and hierarchies required to carry on the essential functions of governing a democratic society.
From this antagonism between the ideals of democracy and the realities of power have risen four great political upheavals in American history. Every third generation, Huntington argues, Americans have tried to reconstruct their institutions to make them more truly reflect deeply rooted national ideals. Moving from the clenched fists and mass demonstrations of the 1960s, to the moral outrage of the Progressive and Jacksonian Eras, back to the creative ideological fervor of the American Revolution, he incisively analyzes the dissenters’ objectives. All, he pungently writes, sought to remove the fundamental disharmony between the reality of government in America and the ideals on which the American nation was founded.
Huntington predicts that the tension between ideals and institutions is likely to increase in this country in the future. And he reminds us that the fate of liberty and democracy abroad is intrinsically linked to the strength of our power in world affairs. This brilliant and controversial analysis deserves to rank alongside the works of Tocqueville, Bryce, and Hofstadter and will become a classic commentary on the meaning of America.
Huntington’s underappreciated 1981 masterpiece…Describes an ineradicable tension between America’s ideals and the actual practice of our politics…Offers insights about our own moment.
More than his famous ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis of the 1990s, it is this lesser-known 1981 work that most clearly speaks to our time. Huntington points to the gap between the values of the American creed (liberty, equality, individualism, constitutionalism) and the government’s efforts to live up to those values as the central tension of national life.
[A] brilliant book… [Huntington addresses] contemporary concerns with a masterly command of theory and history which will ensure his book an enduring place as a work of scholarship.
An illuminating book, ambitious in range and ingenious in analysis… Filled with imaginative insights.
An exceptional book, combining political theory with American history and contemporary policy analysis in a fashion that will challenge and inform any reader interested in the American experience.
[Huntington] squarely confronts the problem of legitimating American power at home and abroad and argues persuasively…for his exceptionalist political vision. Few have the courage—fewer the talent—to pose and systematically answer the critical questions that Huntington raises.
Professor Huntington has brilliantly set forth the persisting conflict between American ideals and American institutions which can energize our society or paralyze it, depending on whether it is understood for what it is. A liberating insight; a brilliant book.
This controversial book will spark considerable debate about American values, the origins and meaning of reform, and foreign policy. It will influence current discussions of the United States, and it will change the way we think about American political and social behavior.
Samuel Huntington is not only a preeminent scholar of modern governing institutions and their underlying ideas, democratic and otherwise; he has also often served as adviser to policymakers in several nations, including our own. His book should be read by everyone who is concerned with the capacity of our institutions to meet the fearful challenges they now face.
- 320 pages
- Belknap Press
From this author
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