AMERICAN POLITICS: The Promise of Disharmony by samuel P. Huntington

AMERICAN POLITICS: The Promise of Disharmony

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Americans, to Harvard professor Huntington, are not like everyone else. Whereas citizens of other countries hassle over conflicting notions of social ends, Americans all agree about those: liberty, equality, individualism, democracy, and constitutionalism comprise the ""American Creed""--to which, says Huntington, all Americans adhere. So the conflict that occurs takes place on the common turf of the creed, and usually takes the form of a critical evaluation of existing institutions based on their performance in realizing the goals of the creed. Sometimes, however, these evaluations take on an emotional cast, and become ""creedal passions."" Periods of creedal passion are those of intense conflict over the disjuncture between ideal and actuality. Huntington cites four such periods: the American Revolution, the Jacksonian era, the Progressive era, and the turbulence of the 1960s and '70s; and he does not look forward to a fifth. Instead, he moves toward the center, arguing that a necessary and permanent gap exists between ideal and fulfillment--""human nature:' being what it is--which must be recognized; the recourse is to reform, but not too much. Setting up a horizontal curve, Huntington lays out some positions: the traditional conservative doesn't think that equality exists but doesn't think it's such a good idea anyway, so there's no problem with our institutions; the liberal ""hypocrite"" prefers to believe, against the evidence, that equality has been achieved and that's good; the liberal ""moralist"" faces reality and sees that inequality prevails and sets out to reform institutions; and the ""marxist revolutionaries""--here's the rub--adopt the same stance as the liberal reformers. Hence, the danger always exists of overly zealous liberal moralists being dragged in too deep by the Marxist revolutionaries. Huntington comes out firmly for recognizing the gap and doing as little as possible to eliminate it. On the world scene he is less cautious. The continuance of liberty in the world depends on limiting American power at home--by its nature, that is, the system has to tolerate criticism--while extending it abroad, since only the US can be a force for good where it counts. So the moralists are a danger both domestically and internationally in their criticism of existing gaps and efforts to curtail American military power. Let's be realistic, then, and do away with creedal passions. Tendentious at best.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press