Debunking Realignment Theory

For well over half a century political scientists have promoted the idea of electoral realignments or critical elections. Popularized by the likes of V.O. Key, the idea is that every 32 or 36 years electoral currents shift radically to favor one party or the other. Roughly speaking, the critical elections have been 1800 (Jefferson and the emergence of the Jeffersonian Republican), 1828 (Jacksonian Democracy), 1860 (the Lincoln Republicans), 1896 (McKinley and the dominance of the GOP), 1932 (FDR and the New Deal), and 1968 (Nixon and the New Right). According to this theory, we are overdue for a critical election. Some assumed Barack Obama’s 2008 victory marked such a shift. John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argued back in 2002 in The Emerging Democratic Majority that demographic trends favored the Democrats, and that the party would be ascendant for the foreseeable future.

David Mayhew wrote the definitive rebuttal to the realignment school of thought. Mayhew dug deep into the electoral data and showed that political scientists had overvalued demographic trends and missed subtle clues that completely contradicted the critical election theory.

Sean Trende builds upon Mayhew and also rebuts realignment theory in The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government is Up for Grabs – and Who Will Take It. Trende looks back at electoral data dating into the 19th century and argues that those who advocate on behalf of realignment theory conveniently ignore elections that do not quite fit in with their neat picture. For example, if the 1896 election began a period of Republican dominance, what happened in the 1910s? To argue that Wilson’s election in 1912 was a fluke ignores the fact that Democrats had won control of the House in 1910, and had done quite well until World War I shifted the electorate back towards the Republicans. Trende also points out that the McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft GOP was a different beast than the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover GOP, as the party had become much more conservative.

Trende’s most startling argument – and one which the data certainly supports – is that the New Deal coalition did not flame out in the 1960s; rather, the New Deal coalition was dead as early as 1938. Southern Democrats had tolerated FDR’s early New Deal program, but his advocacy of greater government intervention pushed the southern Democrats away. Though Democrats retained nominal control of Congress for much of this period, Republicans and conservative Democrats had an effective majority.

Along these same lines, Trende postulates that if any real realignment occurred, it took place during the Eisenhower administration. The Eisenhower coalition, as he puts it, pushed the GOP to decisive victories in seven of nine presidential elections. Moreover, the solid Democratic south began shifting towards the Republican party at this point. In fact the south’s gradual shift towards the GOP had begun as early as the 1920s, but the Depression halted Republican advances here. Once the New Deal had ramped up, the Republicans again began making inroads. Republicans began being truly competitive in presidential elections during the 1950s, then started making inroads in Congressional races in the 1970s and 80s, and are finally now the dominant party on the local level.

Trende’s thesis effectively destroys the notion that Republicans only began being competitive in the south once Nixon deployed the “southern strategy” to woo racist southerners after the Civil Rights Act. As already mentioned, the GOP vote share in the south had been incrementally creeping up in the 1930s, with GOP vote shares moving out of the 15-20% range and inching up towards parity slowly and surely. In fact the GOP vote share in the south did not noticeably increase during  the 1960s, but instead crept up in the same incremental 1-2% annual range. Where Republicans really started making dents were with younger southern voters, as older southerners continued to cling to the Democratic party even though the national party’s values no longer matched their own. Considering that younger voters tended to have much more liberal racial views, the transformation of the south into a Republican stronghold has to be explained by something other than racial matters.

Even though Trende doesn’t come right out and say this, if anything the changing electoral map can just as easily be explained by the Democrats pursuing a northern strategy. As the Democrats began appealing to elite northern voters by pushing a more liberal agenda, this drove southerners and midwesterners away from the party. This trend would continue until Bill Clinton pursued a much different strategy, crafting his agenda to appeal to suburbanites and middle income whites. Clinton and the New Democrats were able to rip into Republican strongholds by advancing a more moderate platform. The end of the Cold War, as well as the rise of the Evangelical right, fractured the Eisenhower coalition, allowing the Democrats to win presidential elections.

But the Democrats do not have a stranglehold on the electorate themselves. First of all, their coalition is an uneasy one, consisting of discordant demographic groups (upper-class and working-class whites, for instance) that have potentially conflicting interests. And despite their ability to attract large chunks of the minority vote at the current moment, Trends believes that pundits are mistaken in their belief that Democrats will continue to perform at their current rate among these different groups for decades to come. For example, Latinos vote more like whites as they advance economically. Though middle class Latinos still vote more Democratic than do their white counterparts, as they assimilate they do tend to vote more Republican. It is for this reason that he dismisses arguments advanced by those who claim that exit polls actually over-represent GOP-leaning Latinos. These individuals point out that since Republicans win around 20% of the vote in precincts that are almost wholly Latino, it is inconceivable that Republicans could be claiming 35-40 percent of the Latino vote. But these communities tend to be among the poorer ones, and therefore there is nothing incongruous with wider GOP support from Latinos living in more affluent and mixed neighborhoods.

Trende also notes that the signs of the collapse of a Democratic majority were already apparent in the 2008 election. Obama’s electoral majority was actually fairly weak considering the state of the economy and widespread disapproval of George Bush. Moreover, the Democratic Congressional majority, as large as it was, was helped by Democratic over-performance in Republican-leaning districts. When Obama pursued what was largely considered to be a very liberal agenda, this pushed those Republican-leaning districts back into the GOP fold. Finally, the state of the economy at the time of the 2010 mid-terms cannot explain in full the size of the Republican victory that night, as most models based on the economy suggested a slightly more moderate Republican victory.

In general, Trende believes that prognosticators put entirely too much stock into economic performance. Though the state of the economy certainly plays a role in elections, it hardly tells the whole story. In fact most recent national elections have gone against economy-based projections. There are too many variables at play to simply base electoral projections on the unemployment rate and GDP growth.

Long story short, Trende thinks that electoral fatalism (ie. the idea that we are headed towards a period of one-party dominance) is mis-placed. Events will always transpire that will alter the electorate one way or the other. With that being said, upcoming elections are truly up for grabs.

44 Responses to Debunking Realignment Theory

  • Single party governance has never had the sustainability of a system like ours, where the left-liberal Demoncrats make radically evil changes and right-liberal Republicans insure that those evil changes are implemented slowly enough that they can’t be reversed. Demoncrats wants the frog boiled RIGHT NOW; Republicans insure that it gets boiled slowly enough for the project to succeed.

  • Right-liberal Republicans? This reminds me of a story that Lincoln used to tell. If we call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four, because calling something what it isn’t doesn’t make it so.

  • Electoral realignment I think does sometimes occur if a part falls flat on its face, or is perceived to do so, in a crisis situation. That happened to the Democrats during the years leading up to the Civil War. The Republicans encountered the same problem as a result of the New Deal. Jimmy Carter’s disaster of a Presidency paved the way for Reagan and a Republican resurgence. Bush in 2006-2008 did the same for the Democrats and Obama is acting as a mirror image of Bush 43 for the Republicans in 2010-2012. What we always must realize is that politics is ever changing, and that when pundits begin to write about Democrat or Republican dominance as far as the eye can see, that is about the time that the party slips on a massive political banana peel. I think the Republicans will do very well in November indeed, and if they do, the next day I will dust off this post that I wrote the day after the Republican victories in 2010.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/11/03/no-final-victories-no-final-defeats/

  • Yes, Republicans are right-liberals, in deed and fact the great co-dependent enablers of the modernist revolution, however they may think of themselves in the private little psychological recesses of their minds.

  • Arguments are so much more convincing Zippy if they are supported by those quaint items known as facts.

  • There have been electoral long cycles in federal politics. One party is predominant but does not have exclusive control throughout. Interstitially, there are inchoate periods (1788-1800, 1824-1834, 1854-1860) and periods of parity (1876-1896). What we can see retrospectively is that the Democratic Party’s general advantage dissipated around about 1968 and presented the country with something of a novelty: a period of parity where the campaigns for legislative and executive office have rather different valences. The period we have been living in has been the longest the country has experienced. One other curio is that elections for the federal executive have turned increasingly on small segments of the electorate while (if anything) legislative elections have grown more volatile one year to another.

    The demography obsessives might attempt to offer an explanation of why the GOP has performed so much better in legislative elections in the last eighteen years than it had previously even though the composition of the congressional Republican caucus has rendered the party less tractable to the opposition (to the consternation of Christine Todd Whitman, David Frum, &c.).

    The partisan Democrats’ discourse about the ‘southern strategy’ (and ‘dog whistles’ and ‘racial cues’) has always been patent and malicious nonsense, but there is no arguing most of them out of it.

  • Yes, Republicans are right-liberals, in deed and fact the great co-dependent enablers of the modernist revolution, however they may think of themselves in the private little psychological recesses of their minds.

    Zippy, the point of political terminology is to have designations and summaries which lubricate conversation. You are conversing with other people, not with your navel and not just with John Rao. (And I will wager most engaged Republicans understand themselves better than you understand them. A little humility isn’t going to hurt you).

  • I didn’t make an argument, I made an observation, analogous to “the sun keeps coming up every day” or “Barack Obama despises the unborn”. There is a reason why the Codependent Party nominee was once Ronald Reagan, and today is Mitt Romney. Anyone with half a modicum of objectivity and common sense can see that reason.

  • Shorter Zippy: It’s so because I say it’s so.

    It’s that precise logic backed up by sound reason that has the most briliant political mind of our age enraptured.

  • I didn’t make an argument, I made an observation, analogous to “the sun keeps coming up every day”

    Phrases like “the great co-dependent enablers of the modernist revolution” are not analogous to common-and-garden observations of the physical world. They are references to insider discourse. They do not have much ready meaning to the rest of us and would likely be contested if they were elaborated upon in ordinary language. (For starters, just what is the ‘modernist revolution’ and why should we regard it as something going on outside your head?)

  • I know, guys: he’s not a mean drunk, you just fell down the stairs.

  • We do try to communicate in English on this blog Zippy, and not every comment you make needs to contain a non-sequitur.

  • “Trende also points out that the McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft GOP was a different beast than the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover GOP, as the party had become much more conservative.”

    This analysis illustrates that in a 2 party system the parties morph in order to get votes or for circumstantial reasons. (With 3 or more parties there is an increased utility in adhering to outlier voting blocs.) So a party at one moment in time cannot be equated to the same named party at a different moment. Nor can sports teams, who may wear the same uniform from year to year but perform very differently. The modern Democrat party is almost the exact inverse of the original non Federalist party of Jefferson etc. and is now basically a Fabian socialist party. Thus it is very superficial and misleading to base analyses on such variable entities. It’s more fruitful to analyze politics on the basis of large policy divides such as the relative importance of central vs local government, isolationist vs interventionist foreign policies etc

  • Is THE Zippy back?

  • Will that realignment swing to unAmerican?

    David Harsanyi: Obama’s ideas are unAmerican.

    “If not un-American, the ideas that propel Obama’s re-election campaign are certainly unprecedented. . . . The president’s central case rests on the idea that individuals should view government as society’s moral center, the engine of prosperity and the arbiter of fairness. Traditionally speaking, that’s not a very American notion. Surely, he’s not the first president to think it, but he’s probably the first to say it — and he says it over and over again.”

    Quick, someone ask Zippy and all other saintly people that can’t bring themselves to vote for Romney and America’s preservation, whether they are asserting that that also motivates Mitt Romney and the GOP?

  • More importantly, let Zippy show his arguments about Republicans (and perhaps in line with MM and others, the American founding itself) being simply expressions of the Enlightenment.

    Perhaps we can go beyond merely philosophical arguments and actually provide historical references. It might be particularly useful to offer concrete references to the Liberalism of the Enlightenment dominating the deliberations for the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

  • “It might be particularly useful to offer concrete references to the Liberalism of the Enlightenment dominating the deliberations for the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”

    Glad you asked. Right this way, hot off the presses, 700 pages worth:

    http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-God-That-Failed-Constructing/dp/1621380068/ref=la_B008B0EGI8_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342960810&sr=1-1

    The book cites a McClarey TAC post at one point. (Then again, it’s got a blurb from John Rao, so Mr. Deco might want to spend his hard-earned elsewhere…)

  • From one of the reviews:

    “The American Revolution, far from being a “conservative” expression of the “moderate” Enlightenment, as many modern conservatives would have it, in fact represented a radical rejection of all religious influence over government, and directly inspired the even bloodier French Revolution (not to mention, in surprising ways, the Civil War). The ironic end result is an atheistic (in all but name) super-state that purports to represent the “will of the people” but which in fact recognizes no authority above its own — in stark contrast with the supposed Catholic “tyrannies” of pre-Reformation Christendom, which explicitly recognized Christian principles as limits to and guides for their authority.”

    Clearly this is not a new interpretation. It will now be helpful for discussion of the merits of this argument.

  • It has none.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Interesting comments at the link below by Tom Woods regarding Chris Ferrara, the author of the tome cited. Hmmm, when Tom Woods is calling you extreme…

    http://www.tomwoods.com/on-chris-ferrara/

    And Chris Ferrara’s view of Tom Woods:

    http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2010-0215-ferrara-ludwig_von_mises_versus_christ.htm

  • From Mr. Woods:

    “Ferrara himself, meanwhile, spent this time not preparing a layman’s guide to the old Mass, but writing a book criticizing the Catholic television network EWTN for its liberalism.”

    Now who would of thought that Mother Teresa and her nuns were a bunch of liberals.

  • Dr. Woods and Ferrara, esq. are now at odds?

    I will spend my funds elsewhere for the following reasons:

    1. Ideas have consequences, but these are not the only things that have consequences (or even the principal motors of social life).

    2. Elective and deliberative institutions exist and have existed for centuries, even among people who could not read Sallust in the original and were not influenced by those who could.

    3. My local mayor and town council still have to pass a budget, consider nuisance ordinances, supervise those who see to it that the snow is ploughed and the water system in good working order. They have these things to do even if the federalist papers is written in masonic code and Andrew Cuomo a usurper of the power of the governor entrusted to our rule by the legitimate descendent of gracious Charles II.

  • I could be wrong. I think the US Constitution makes no mention of Creation, God, or unalienable rights.

    “We the people in order to forma more perfect union . . . ”

    Here’s my opinion (Fire in the hole!).

    The Founders wanted no established, state religion, as had been de facto everywhere since the end of the Western Roman Empire: not the HRE.

    The Founders wanted no established religion because they didn’t want anyone persecuted or favored because of religion.

    That is not atheism nor is it antipathy to religion.

    Hit the deck!

    Phillip,

    I have a bridge for sale. It spans the East River to Brooklyn. If you think the post-reformation protestant regimes were less violent in suppressing non-established religions . . . Read the histories of the English persecutions of Catholics in England and Ireland. And, refer to histories of the civil wars in the German duchies.

    I misspent a year in Germany at Ramstein AB. Landstuhl and Ramstein villages are across a valley from each other. Ramstien has a big Lutheran church a a little Catholic chapel. Landstuhl vice versa. That dates to the wars and mass murders after Luther opened Hell’s gates.

  • T. Shaw,

    “I have a bridge for sale.”

    You can keep it. You are obviously ex-Air Force toto the degree you have missed my point. I have heard the “America is founded on evil Liberalism” meme from multiple sources. None of them seem to have convincing arguments other than those based on philosophical/theological axe grinding. I was hoping the illustrious Zippy or the now present cyrillist would offer some. From the link Don offers, there appears to be none. But I am willing to be corrected. In the meantime I am content with the assertion that the American founding is consistent with (if not exhaustive of) Catholic Social Teaching.

    BTW, when were you in Ramstein. I was two years in Rota and got to Ramstein and Landstuhl a couple of times on Medevacs. There was this great little restaurant in Landstuhl that served awesome homemade German noodles. I’d like to get them again sometime.

  • Phillip,

    There is a gasthaus on every corner. Landstuhl Army Hospital, big place: they had a tunnel from the bahnhof so that German civilians didn’t see how many wounded were in the hospital.

    Were you there in 1975? I DEROS’ed in January 1976. I never looked back. Yesterday, I saw a photo of two USAF personnel in uniform. It was on Facebook. Some useless moron.com sob sends me that sorta stuff. The two were in uniform getting same-sex married by some female in some kinda white uniform. I’m glad I never looked back.

    When you’re holding a hammer everything looks like a nail.

  • So, as the dust clears after the impact of one li’l ol’ Amazon link, we find that:

    - Woods and Ferrara had a falling-out, a dust-up, and a donnybrook over libertarianism, thus proving that Ferrara is a nut.

    - Mother Angelica apparently unloaded EWTN onto Mother Teresa at some point. (Can Old Mother Hubbard be far behind?)

    - Even if Ferrara’s thesis could be shown to be completely valid, it doesn’t matter, because we have to keep the trains running on time.

    Look, I’m not necessarily about to bet the farm that the functional result of Republican Party policies is to gradually make the policies of the Democratic avant-garde palatable to the populace at large, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility without at least a little modest inquiry. Nor would I dismiss the possibility that, in accepting the religious tolerance offered by Amendment Uno, the understandably battle-fatigued Catholics (and hey, Protestants!) settled for a mess of pottage and effectively handed the Hobbes-Locke groupies in Philly the new country on a platter. Because the flip side of “Let’s not fight over religion” tends to be “because we don’t think that stuff really matters.” And isn’t that where we are now?

    (…okay, I guess that wasn’t entirely unlike philosophical/theological axe-grinding. So sue me.) (Mr. McClarey, I may require your services…)

    Phillip – So, after I point you to a massive volume completely devoted to the questions you raised, you want _more_? The intro and Chapter 1 are available via the Amazon link – check those out if you haven’t already, and then feel free to blow it off by all means, if it doesn’t float your boat. (Full disclosure: I had the honor of helping to proofread the darn thing. Twice.)

    Also, imho, the Zippy who posted above doesn’t read much like the Zippy of St. Blog’s legend and song.

  • - Even if Ferrara’s thesis could be shown to be completely valid, it doesn’t matter, because we have to keep the trains running on time.

    It will not be. There is not an unlimited way to structure public institutions, no matter what sort of discourses are in circulation at particular points in time. You default to one of a set of basic patterns, with local variation. How they come to be structured is a resultant with a number of vectors behind it. The state constitutions enacted in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and the federal constitution were adaptations of existing models, which were in turn erected by people with a variety of protestant dispositions. And it is not as if republican institutions were exactly novel even in 1621.

    If you are worried about bad ideas polluting public discourse, you might concern yourself with what is choking people here and now, which is not late 18th century deism or freemasonry.

  • …the Zippy who posted above doesn’t read much like the Zippy of St. Blog’s legend and song.

    Oh, it is me alright, and whether one likes the tune or not, it’s one I’ve been singing for quite a long time. My blog archive is now at WordPress, and I’m so closely aligned with Vox Nausea that I bequeathed upon them the moniker Debate Club at Auschwitz.

    Personally I’d recommend Jim Kalb’s The Tyranny of Liberalism as a gentle introduction to why the classical liberalism very loosely favored by a minority of Republicans leads to the more modern forms, and can’t be separated from them.

    I haven’t read the Ferrara book.

  • Zippy – My bad, maybe because I haven’t heard your greatest hits for so long, hint hint. Jim Kalb left some complimentary phrases on the back of Ferrara’s book as well, so we come full circle.

    Art – Today’s bad ideas came from somewhere, and the closer to the root they get cut, the better.

  • Art – Today’s bad ideas came from somewhere, and the closer to the root they get cut, the better.

    And you all fancy you know where the root is.

    the classical liberalism very loosely favored by a minority of Republicans leads to the more modern forms, and can’t be separated from them.

    By all means, let’s end the tyranny by re-introducing the Corn Laws. We could use us some feudal dues as well.

  • “By all means, let’s end the tyranny by re-introducing the Corn Laws. We could use us some feudal dues as well.”

    Hear, hear! As of mostly Irish descent I am also in favor of a state supported Church. That little relic of History worked out so well in Ireland after the Anglicans imposed the Church of Ireland on the Emerald Isle.

  • Just don’t resurrect prohibition.

    Hoard hooch. It’ll be valuable for barter when the economy collapses. Otherwise, my advice: drink heavily.

  • Whether Kalb is right or not looks a lot like one of those pesky questions of diagnostic fact, though certainly a complex one. How one feels about other eras of history doesn’t really have any bearing on whether or not the diagnosis is true.

  • “Phillip – So, after I point you to a massive volume completely devoted to the questions you raised, you want _more_? The intro and Chapter 1 are available via the Amazon link – check those out if you haven’t already, and then feel free to blow it off by all means, if it doesn’t float your boat. (Full disclosure: I had the honor of helping to proofread the darn thing. Twice.)”

    I actually don’t ask more, I ask you to present the arguments so they can be discussed here. If you proofread the darn thing twice you should be able to. You make the claim, you present the proof. That’s what floats boats.

  • Whether Kalb is right or not looks a lot like one of those pesky questions of diagnostic fact,

    Good luck with that.

  • It is obvious that in a two-party system, each party is going to represent a broad coalition of interests, with few or none of its supporters in favour of its whole manifesto.

    The politicians themselves tend to form two groups, the friends of corruption and the sowers of sedition: those who hope to profit from existing abuses and those who hope to profit from the disaffection such abuses naturally excite.

  • It is obvious that in a two-party system, each party is going to represent a broad coalition of interests, with few or none of its supporters in favour of its whole manifesto.

    That depends on the array of interest and opinion in the territory in question. In this country, people’s positions (speaking of the attentive public) within the arguments which form on subsets of public policy tend to be more strongly correlated than is the case in (say) Israel. Unconventional arrays are composed small subsets. (And in this country, the small subsets tend to be decidedly unappealing).

    The politicians themselves tend to form two groups, the friends of corruption and the sowers of sedition: those who hope to profit from existing abuses and those who hope to profit from the disaffection such abuses naturally excite.

    Pithy but rubbish. Corruption is a given where you have discretionary power and varies in its intensity according to local history and culture. It can be much more intense in one political faction than another for long periods (in New York, the Democrats were the more corrupt organization from the immediate post-bellum period all the way down to about 1980). Thomas E. Dewey was not a ‘sower of sedition’, if the term ‘sedition’ means anything. Sowers of sedition in this country tend to be found on the bench, in law offices, or among loudmouths on picket lines.

  • A fair request, Phillip. But such a discussion on a thread devoted to, what was it? realignment theory? would probably complete its derailment, just as Michael and Art are starting to get it back on track.

    Plus, I’m not sure that any of TAC’s proprietors would be interested in starting a new thread devoted to a thesis which calls the propriety of this country’s founding into question, since acceptance of the overarching wisdom of the Founding Fathers would appear to be one of the site’s guiding principles. (No insult to TAC intended – were I the founder of a traditionalist Catholic forum, for example, I would think twice before authorizing a post extolling the overwhelming superiority of the Novus Ordo.)

    I jumped in on this thread in the first place in response to your request for historical examples, which the Ferrara book has in spades, and in spite of my proofreading prowess, I’m not sure of my ability (or the requisite time) to do it justice via encapsulation. If I had a blog (which I don’t) with regular correspondents (which I certainly don’t), I’d probably link to the book’s intro, call for discussion, and take it from there.

    Is this response completely free from any hint of copping out? Nah, probably not. :-)

  • Good post, and good to see the realignment theory getting some deserved knocks, Paul.

  • Plus, I’m not sure that any of TAC’s proprietors would be interested in starting a new thread devoted to a thesis which calls the propriety of this country’s founding into question, since acceptance of the overarching wisdom of the Founding Fathers would appear to be one of the site’s guiding principles. (No insult to TAC intended – were I the founder of a traditionalist Catholic forum, for example, I would think twice before authorizing a post extolling the overwhelming superiority of the Novus Ordo.)

    I think part of the issue is that while there is some validity to the criticisms that classical liberalism comes in for, those who double down on those criticisms have a strong tendency to miss all of the very real problems that the ancien regime alternatives had.

  • By “corruption,” I was not thinking primarily of personal corruption or bribery, but of institutional abuses, where laws, policies or expenditure confer undue gain or advantage on one group, locality or interest at the expense or to the detriment of another. One set of politicians hope to profit electorally from defending these avantages acquis, as the French call them.

  • “Plus, I’m not sure that any of TAC’s proprietors would be interested in starting a new thread devoted to a thesis which calls the propriety of this country’s founding into question, since acceptance of the overarching wisdom of the Founding Fathers would appear to be one of the site’s guiding principles.”

    But perhaps it should. Perhaps Darwin, Donald or others might make this possible. If you are right it would be a service to us. If, as Darwin intimates above, you are partly or mostly in the wrong, it would be as service to you.

    BTW, I did skim what was available on Amazon of Ferrara’s book and unfortunately did not find the evidence I was asking for. So no copping out for you. Begin to present. :)

  • By “corruption,” I was not thinking primarily of personal corruption or bribery, but of institutional abuses, where laws, policies or expenditure confer undue gain or advantage on one group, locality or interest at the expense or to the detriment of another.

    Doesn’t fix it. Patron-client politics is a given everywhere.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Darwin.

    Cyrillist: Thanks for your concerns about getting the thread back on track, though at this point we might as well say it’s a lost cause.

    Plus, I’m not sure that any of TAC’s proprietors would be interested in starting a new thread devoted to a thesis which calls the propriety of this country’s founding into question

    As a matter of fact we have had threads about the justness of the Revolutionary War, and several TAC bloggers argued that it was indeed unjust. And I’m sure we’ve had many discussions about the nature of the Enlightenment and the “liberalism” of the Founders. With regards to the book you linked to, I can’t comment without reading it, though I have several objections at the outset. First of all, it appears as though the author lumps all of the Enlightenment together without distinguishing between the Continental and British Enlightenments. Second, and related, to the extent that Enlightenment thought is diverse, the British (and I’m including the Scots in this group) were hardly hostile to religion. Third, I think that people who write on this subject overrate how much the Founders were actually influenced by other thinkers and thus disregard the uniqueness of American political thought (and I lump myself as one of the guilty in this regard).

    It’s a fascinating topic, and I do think it’s important to know where we came from, so to speak. That said, it’s definitely a long way removed from the post’s topic.

  • Paul Zimmo

    You are right that we must distinguish between the British and Continental Enlightenments. I would only note that the French and German Enlightenments were notably different from each other The French philosophes were lapsed Catholics; Kant, who dominated the German Aufklärung came out of the Lutheran Pietist tradition, with all Luther’s and Spener’s contempt for human reason.

    Of course, the French Enlightenment was influenced by the irrationalism of Rousseau. Interestingly, he was a Swiss Calvinist from Geneva.

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