Political Science Quarterly Volume 97 Number l Spring 1982
Ideals versus American Institutions
SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON
the history of the United. States a broad consensus has existed among the
American people in support of liberal, democratic, individualistic, and
egalitarian values. These political values and ideals constitute what Gunnar
Myrdal termed "the American Creed," and they have provided the core of
American national identity since the eighteenth century. Also throughout
American history, political institutions have reflected these values but
have always fallen short of realizing them in a satisfactory manner. A
gap has always existed between the ideals in which Americans believed and
the institutions that embodied their practice. This gap between ideals
and institutional practice has generated continuing disharmony between
the normative and existential dimensions of American politics. Being human,
Americans have never been able to live up to their ideals; being Americans,
they have also been unable to abandon them. They have instead existed in
a state of national cognitive dissonance, which they have attempted to
relieve through various combinations of moralism, cynicism, complacency,
and hypocrisy. The "burr under the saddle," as Robert Penn Warren called
it, and the efforts to remove that burr have been 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
SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON is Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs and director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. During 1977-1978 he served at the White House as coordinator of security planning for the National Security Council. His many books include The Soldier and the State; The Common Defense; Political Order in Changing Societies; and most recently American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, from which this article is adapted.
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continue to play the same role in American politics in the future that they have in the past? Or are there changes taking place or likely to take place in American political ideals, political institutions, and the relation between them that will make their future significantly different from their past?
Three possibilities exist. The relation between ideals and institutions, first, could continue essentially unchanged; second, it could be altered by developments within American society; or, third, it could be altered by developments 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 institutions in four ways: the content of the ideals could change; the scope of agreement on the ideals could change; the nature of American political institutions could more closely 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 these developments could take place.
HISTORY VERSUS PROGRESS?
At various periods in their history Americans have attempted to eliminate or reduce the gap between ideals and institutions by moralistic efforts to reform their institutions and practices so as to make them conform to the ideals of the American Creed. These periods include the Revolutionary years of the 1760s and 1770s, the Jacksonian surge of reforms in the 1820s and 1830s, the Progressive era from the 1890s to 1914, and the latest resurgence of moralistic reform 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 goals completely. The relative success of reform, however, has varied significantly: in particular, the goals of reform have tended to be more widely achieved in the early periods than in the later ones. In the earlier periods, the affirmation of the goals of liberty, equality, democracy, and popular sovereignty was directed at the destruction or modification of traditional political and economic institutions; in the later periods, it was directed at the elimination or modification of modern political and economic institutions that had emerged in the course of historical development. In the earlier periods, in short, history and progress (in the sense of realizing American ideals) went hand in hand; in the later periods, the achievement of American ideals involved more the restoration of the past than the realization of the future, and progress and history worked increasingly at cross purposes.
The revolutionaries of the 1770s were the first to articulate the American Creed on a national basis and were generally successful in effecting major changes in American institutions: the overthrow of British imperial power, the end of monarchy, the widespread acceptance of government based on popular consent, 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
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 3
status. In part, the articulation of their goals was conservative; the rights asserted were justified by reference to common law and the rights of Englishmen. But the formulation and public proclamation of those rights was also a revolutionary event in terms of political theory and political debate.
In the Jacksonian years, the American ideology was still new, fresh, and directed toward the elimination of the political restrictions on democracy, the broadening of popular participation in government, the abolition of status and the weakening of specialization -that is, of both ascriptive and achievement norms-in the public service, and the destruction of the Bank of the United States and other manifestations of the "money power," so as to open wide the doors of economic opportunity. "Originally a fight against political privilege, the Jacksonian movement . . . broadened into a fight against economic privilege, rallying to its support a host of 'rural capitalists and village entrepreneurs.' "1 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 by the Federalist commercial oligarchy, which deviated from liberal-democratic values. All this was progressive in the broad sense, but it too carried with it elements of conservatism. The paradox of the Jacksonians was that even as they cleared away obstacles to the development of laissez-faire capitalism, they also looked back politically to ideals of rural republican simplicity.2 Restoration, not revolution, was their message.
The institutional changes of the Jacksonian years did not, of course, bring political reality fully into accord with Jacksonian principle. Neither property nor power was equally distributed. In the major cities a small number of very wealthy people, most of whom had inherited their position, controlled large amounts of property.3 As is generally the case, however, income was much more equally distributed than wealth, and both wealth and income were far more evenly distributed in the rural areas, where 90 percent of the population lived, than in the urban areas. In addition, there were high levels of social and political equality, which never failed to impress European visitors, whether critical or sympathetic. All in all, money, status, and power were probably more equally distributed among white males in Jacksonian America than at any other
Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1951), pp. 65-66.
2. Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1957), p. 8.
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 Pessen's evidence and argument, see Whitman Ridgway, "Measuring Wealth and Power in Ante-Bellum America: A Review Essay," Historical Methods Newsletter 8 (March 1975): 74-78, and Robert E. Gallman, "Professor Pessen on the 'Egalitarian Myth,' " Social Science History 2 (Winter 1978): 194-207. For Pessen's response, see his "On a Recent Cliometric Attempt to Resurrect the Myth of Antebellum Egalitarianism," Social Science History 3 (Winter 1979): 208-27.
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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.
For these reasons, Gordon Wood argued, the Jacksonian generation "has often seemed to be the most 'American' of all generations." This "Middle Period" in American history has been appropriately labeled because
After the democratization of government and before the development of industry, the Middle Period is the time when the United States could least well be characterized as a disharmonic society. It was a period when Americans themselves believed that they had "fulfilled the main principles of liberty" and hence were exempt from "further epochal change."' All that was needed was to remain true to the achievements of the past.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 be distinctly American, this Middle Period of 1820-1860 marks the apogee in the overall trajectory of American history. Americans in that era of individualism, institutional weakness, and boundlessness experienced "freedom" as they rarely have since; power, whether expressed economically, socially, or politically, was as fragmented and diffused as at any time in our history.4
In the Middle Period, in short, American dream and American reality came close to joining hands even though they were shortly to be parted. The gap between American ideals and institutions was clearly present in Jacksonian America but, outside the South, probably less so than at any other time in American history. The inequality of social hierarchy and political aristocracy had faded; the inequality of industrial wealth and organizational hierarchy had yet to emerge. Primogeniture was gone; universal (white male) suffrage had arrived; the Standard Oil trust was still in the future.
In the Middle Period and the years following, the only major institutional legacy that was grossly contradictory to the American Creed was slavery and the heritage of slavery, the remnants of which were still being removed a hundred years after the Civil War. With respect to the role of blacks, the Creed played a continuingly progressive role, furnishing the basis for challenging the patterns of racial discrimination and segregation that ran so blatantly against the proposition that "all men are created equal." Hence, in analyzing the American dilemma in the 1930s, Gunnar Myrdal could take an essentially optimistic attitude toward its eventual resolution. He could see hope in America because his attention was focused on the one area of inequality in American life that was clearly an anachronistic holdover from the past.
More generally, the Middle Period marked a turning point in the nature of progress in America. Prior to that time, "progress" in terms of the realization of
Gordon S. Wood, History Book Club Review (June 1975): 16-17, commenting
on Rush Welter's The Mind of America: 1820~1860 (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1975).
5. Welter, The Mind of America: 1820-1860, pp. 7-10.
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 5
American ideals of liberty and equality did not conflict with "historical development" in terms of the improvement of economic well-being and security. After the Middle Period, however, progress and history began to diverge. Progress in terms of the "realization of the democratic ideal," in Herbert Croly's phrase, often ran counter to historical trends toward large-scale organization, hierarchy, specialization, and inequality in power and wealth that seemed essential to material improvement. Political progress involves a return to first principles; politically Americans move forward by looking backward, reconsecrating themselves to the ideals of the past as guidelines for the future. Historical development involves pragmatic responses to the increasing scale and complexity of society and economy, and demands increasing interaction, both cooperative and competitive, with other societies.
This distinctive character of the Middle Period and its inappropriateness as a foretaste of things to come are well reflected in the observations of the most celebrated foreign observer of the Jacksonian scene. Tocqueville was, in a sense, half right and half wrong in the two overarching empirical propositions (one static, one dynamic) that he advanced about equality in America. The most distinctive aspect of American society, he argued, is "the general equality of condition among the people." This "is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated." Second, the tendency toward equality in American and European society constitutes an "irresistible revolution"; the "gradual development of the principle of equality" is a "providential fact"; it is "lasting, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress."6 Like other European observers before and since, Tocqueville tended to confuse the values and ideals of Americans with social and political reality. His descriptive hypothesis, nonetheless, still rings true. By and large, American society of the Middle Period was characterized by a widespread equality of condition, particularly in comparison to conditions in Europe. Tocqueville's historical projection, in contrast, clearly does not hold up in terms of the distribution of wealth and only in limited respects in terms of the distribution of political power.
In attempting to sum up the diversity and yet common purpose of the Jacksonian age, Joseph L. Blau employs a striking metaphor: "As one drives out of any large city on a major highway, he is bound to see a large signpost, with arrows pointing him to many possible destinations. These arrows have but one thing in common; all alike point away from the city he has just left. Let this stand as a symbol of Jacksonians. Though they pointed to many different possible American futures, all alike pointed away from an America of privilege and monopoly."7 The Jacksonians were, however, more accurate in pointing to
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols., ed. Phillips
Bradley (New York: Vintage Books, 1954), 1:6-17.
7. Joseph L. Blau, ed., Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1954), pp. xxvii-xxviii.
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where America should go in terms of its democratic values and ideals than they were in pointing to the actual direction of economic and political development. Industrialization following the Civil War brought into existence new inequalities in wealth, more blatant corruptions of the political process, and new forms of "privilege and monopoly" undreamed of in the Jacksonian years. This divorce of history from progress had two consequences for the reaffirmation of American political values in the Progressive period.
First, during both the Revolutionary and Jacksonian years, the articulation of American political ideals was couched to some degree in conservative and backward-looking terms, as a reaffirmation of rights that had previously existed and as an effort to reorder political life in terms of principles whose legitimacy had been previously established. During the Progressive era, the backward looking characteristics of the ideals and vision that were invoked stood out much more sharply. As Richard Hofstadter suggested, the Founding Fathers "dreamed of and planned for a long-term future," the Middle Period generations were absorbed with the present, and the Progressives consciously and explicitly looked to the past: "Beginning with the time of [William Jennings] Bryan, the dominant American ideal has been steadily fixed on bygone institutions and conditions. In early twentieth-century progressivism this backward looking vision reached the dimension of a major paradox. Such heroes of the progressive revival as Bryan, [Robert M.] La Follette, and [Woodrow] Wilson proclaimed that they were trying to undo the mischief of the past forty years and re-create the old nation of limited and decentralized power, genuine competition, democratic opportunity, and enterprise."8 The Progressives were reaffirming the old ideals in opposition to large-scale new organizations -economic and political -which were organizing and giving shape to the twentieth century. This was most manifest in William Jennings Bryan, who was, as Croly said, basically "a Democrat of the Middle Period." Bryan, according to Walter Lippmann, "thought he was fighting the plutocracy" but in actuality "was fighting something much deeper than that; he was fighting the larger scale of human life." Bryan was thus a "genuine conservative" who stood for "the popular tradition of America," whereas his enemies were trying to destroy that tradition.9 But he was also a radical attempting to apply and to realize the ideals of the American Revolution. Bryan was, in fact, just as radical as William Lloyd Garrison, but Garrison was moving with history and Bryan against it. In a similar vein, Woodrow Wilson also reacted to the growth of large-scale economic organization with the call to "restore" American politics to their former pristine, individualistic strength and vigor. To achieve this goal Wilson was willing to employ governmental power, thereby, as Lippmann pointed out, creating the inner contradiction that was at the heart of the Progressive outlook. Among the Progressives, Theodore Roosevelt was most explicit in arguing that large-scale
Hofstadter, American Political Tradition, p. vi.
9. Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (New York: Macmillan, 1909), p. 156; and Walter Lippmann, Drift and Mastery (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1961), pp. 81-82.
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 7
economic organizations had to be accepted; nonetheless he, too, held to much of the older ideal; his argument was couched in pragmatic rather than ideological terms: "This is the age of combination, and any effort to prevent all combination will be not only useless, but in the end vicious, because of the contempt for the law which the failure to enforce law inevitably produces."10
Second, the reaffirmation of American ideals at the turn of the century could not be as effective as the Revolutionary and Jacksonian affirmations in realizing those ideals in practice. At the extreme, Bryan became the Don Quixote of American politics, battling for a vision of American society that could never be realized again. In the Revolutionary and Jacksonian periods, the institutional reforms had been substantial and effective. In the Progressive period, both economic and political reforms could, at best, be described as only partly successful. The antitrust laws and other efforts to curb the power of big business made a difference in the development of American business-as any comparison with Europe will demonstrate-but they clearly did not stop or reverse the tendencies toward combination and oligopoly. In the political sphere, the introduction of primaries did not bring an end to political machines and bossism, and, according to some, may even have strengthened them. In Congress, the attack on "Czar" Joseph Cannon established the dominance of the seniority system; paternalistic autocracy, in effect, gave way to gerontocratic oligarchy. The efforts to make government more responsible encouraged the growth of presidential power. That institutional changes were made is indisputable, but so is the fact that, by and large, they were substantially less successful than the changes of the Revolutionary and Jacksonian years in realizing the hopes and goals of their proponents.
The passion of the 1960s and 1970s was, in some respects, ideologically purer than the theories of the Progressives. Perhaps for this reason, it was also somewhat more effective in eroding political authority. Yet outside of race relations, its more specific reforms were little more successful than those of the Progressives. Economic power was assaulted but remained concentrated. Presidential authority was weakened but rebounded. The military and intelligence agencies declined in money, mat6riel, and morale in the 1970s but were reestablishing themselves on all three fronts by the early 1980s. It seemed likely that the institutional structure and the distribution of power in American society and politics in 1985 would not differ greatly from what they had been in 1960. With the important exception of race relations, the gap between ideals and institutions of the early eighties duplicated that of the early sixties.
This changing record of success from one creedal passion period to the next reflected the changing nature of reform. In the earlier periods, reform generally involved the "dismantling" of social, political, and economic institutions responsible for the ideals-versus-institutions gap. The disharmony of American politics was thought to be-and in considerable measure was-man-made. Remove the artificial restraints, and society and politics would naturally move
10. Hofstadter, American Political Tradition, p. 223.
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in the direction in which they morally should move. In later creedal passion periods, beginning with the Progressive era, this assumption of natural congruence of ideal and reality was displaced by the idea of contrived congruence. Consciously designed governmental policy and action was necessary to reduce the gap. In the post-World War 11 period, for instance, "for the first time in American history, equality became a major object of governmental policy."11 The Progressives created antitrust offices and regulatory commissions to combat monopoly power and promote competition. The reformers of the 1960s brought into existence an "imperial judiciary" in order to eliminate racial segregation and inequalities. To a much greater degree than in the earlier periods, in order to realize American values the reformers of the later periods had to create institutional mechanisms that threatened those values.
In a broader context, the actual course of institutional development is the product of the complex interaction of social, political, economic, and ideological forces. In the United States, any centralization of power produced by the expansion of governmental bureaucracy is mitigated by pluralistic forces that disperse power among bureaucratic agencies, congressional committees, and interest groups and that undermine efforts to subordinate lower-ranking executive officials to higher-ranking ones. Yet an increasingly sophisticated economy and active involvement in world affairs seem likely to create stronger needs for hierarchy, bureaucracy, centralization of power, expertise, big government specifically, and big organizations generally. In some way or another, society will respond to these needs, while still attempting to realize the values of the American Creed to which they are so contradictory. If history is against progress, for how long will progress resist history?
Acute tension between the requisites of development and the norms of ideology played a central role in the evolution of the People's Republic of China during its first quarter-century. China can avoid this conflict for as long as its leaders agree on the priority of development over revolution. In the United States, in contrast, no group of leaders can suppress by fiat the liberal values that have defined the nation's identity. The conflict between developmental need and ideological norm that characterized Mao's China in the 1960s and 1970s is likely to be duplicated in the American future unless other forces change, dilute, or eliminate the central ideals of the American Creed.
What is the probability of this happening? Do such forces exist? Several possibilities suggest themselves. First, the core values of the Creed are products of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their roots lie in the English and American revolutionary experiences, in seventeenth-century Protestant moralism and eighteenth-century liberal rationalism. The historical dynamism and appeal of these ideals could naturally begin to fade after two centuries, particularly as those ideals come to be seen as increasingly irrelevant in a complex modern economy and a threatening international environment. In addition, to
11. J. R. Pole, The Pursuit of Equality in American History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 326.
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 9
the extent that those ideals derive from Protestant sources, they must also be weakened by trends toward secularism that exist even in the United States. Each of the four creedal passion periods was preceded or accompanied by a religious "great awakening." These movements of religious reform and revival, however, have successively played less central roles in American society, that of the 1950s being very marginal in its impact compared to that of the 1740s. As religious passion weakens, how likely is the United States to sustain a firm commitment to its traditional values? Would an America without its Protestant core still be America?
Second, the social, economic, and cultural changes associated with the transition from industrial to postindustrial society could also give rise to new political values that would displace the traditional liberal values associated with bourgeois society and the rise of industrialism. In the 1960s and 1970s in both Europe and America, social scientists found evidence of the increasing prevalence of "postbourgeois" or "postmaterialist" values, particularly among younger cohorts. In a somewhat similar vein, George Lodge foresaw the displacement of Lockean, individualistic ideology in the United States by a "communitarian" ideology, resembling in many aspects the traditional Japanese collectivist approach.12
Third, as Hofstadter and others argued, the early twentieth-century immigration of Orthodox, Catholics, and Jews from central, eastern, and southern Europe introduced a different "ethic" into American cities. In the late twentieth century, the United States experienced its third major wave of postindependence immigration, composed largely of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, and others from Latin America and the Caribbean. Like their predecessors, the more recent immigrants could well introduce into American society political and social values markedly in contrast with those of Lockean liberalism. In these circumstances, the consensus on this type of liberalism could very likely be either disrupted or diluted.
Fourth, the historical function of the Creed in defining national identity could conceivably become less significant, and widespread belief in that Creed could consequently become less essential to the continued existence of the United States as a nation. Having been in existence as a functioning national society and political entity for over two-hundred years, the United States may have less need of these ideals to define its national identity in the future. History, tradition, custom, culture, and a sense of shared experience such as other major nations have developed over the centuries could also come to define American identity, and the role of abstract ideals and values might be reduced. The ideational basis of national identity would be replaced by an organic one. "American exceptionalism" would wither. The United States would cease to be
12. See Ronald Inglehart, The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles among Western Publics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), and George C. Lodge, The New American Ideology (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975).
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"a nation with the soul of a church" and would become a nation with the soul of a nation.
Some or all of these four factors could alter American political values so as to reduce the gap between these values and the reality of American institutional practice. Yet the likelihood of this occurring does not seem very high. Despite their seventeenth- and eighteenth-century origins, American values and ideals have demonstrated tremendous persistence and resiliency in the twentieth century. Defined vaguely and abstractly, these ideals have been relatively easily adapted to the needs of successive generations. The constant social change in the United States, indeed, underlies their permanence. Rising social, economic, and ethnic groups need to reinvoke and to reinvigorate those values in order to promote their own access to the rewards of American society. The shift in emphasis among values manifested by younger cohorts in the 1960s and 1970s does not necessarily mean the end of the traditional pattern. In many respects, the articulation of these values was, as it had been in the past, a protest against the perceived emergence of new centers of power. The yearning for "belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment" found to exist among the younger cohorts of the 1960s and 1970s,13 could, in fact, be interpreted as "a romantic, Luddite reaction against the bureaucratic and technological tendencies of postindustrialism." This confrontation between ideology and institutions easily fits into the well-established American pattern. Indeed, insofar as "the postindustrial society is more highly educated and more participatory than American society in the past and insofar as American political institutions will be more bureaucratic and hierarchical than before, the conflict between ideology and institutions could be more intense than it has ever been."14
Similarly, the broader and longer-term impact of the Latin immigration of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s could reinforce the central role of the American Creed both as a way of legitimizing claims to political, economic, and social equality and also as the indispensable element in defining national identity. The children and grandchildren of the European immigrants of the early twentieth century in due course became ardent adherents to traditional American middle-class values. In addition, the more culturally pluralistic the nation becomes, particularly if cultural pluralism encompasses linguistic pluralism, the more essential the political values of the Creed become in defining what it is that Americans have in common. At some point, traditional American ideals - liberty, equality, individualism, democracy -may lose their appeal and join the ideas of racial inequality, the divine right of kings, and the dictatorship of the proletariat on the ideological scrap heap of history. There is, however, little to suggest that this will be a twentieth-century happening.
If the gap between ideals and institutions remains a central feature of
Ronald Inglehart, "The Silent Revolution in Europe: Intergenerational Change
in PostIndustrial Societies," American Political Science Review
65 (December 1971): 991-1017.
14. Samuel P. Huntington, "Postindustrial Politics: How Benign Will It Be?" Comparative Politics 6 (January 1974): 188-89.
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 11
American politics, the question then becomes: What changes, if any, may occur in the traditional pattern of responses to this gap? Three broad possibilities exist. First, the previous pattern of response could continue. If the periodicity of the past prevails, a major sustained creedal passion period will occur in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century. In the interim, moralism, cynicism, complacency, and hypocrisy will all be invoked by different Americans in different ways in their efforts to live with the gap. The tensions resulting from the gap will remain and perhaps increase in intensity, but their consequences will not be significantly more serious than they have been in the past. Second, the cycle of response could stabilize to a greater degree than it has in the past. Americans could acquire a greater understanding of their case of cognitive dissonance and through this understanding come to live with their dilemma on somewhat easier terms than they have in the past, in due course evolving a more complex but also more coherent and constant response to this problem. Third, the oscillations among the responses could intensify in such a way as to threaten to destroy both ideals and institutions.
In terms of the future stability of the American political system, the first possibility may be the most likely and the second the most hopeful, but the third is clearly the most dangerous. Let us focus on the third.
Lacking any concept of the state, lacking for most of its history both the centralized authority and the bureaucratic apparatus of the European state, the American polity has historically been a weak polity. It was designed to be so, and traditional inheritance and social environment combined for years to support the framers' intentions. In the twentieth century, foreign threats and domestic economic and social needs have generated pressures to develop stronger, more authoritative decision-making and decision-implementing institutions. Yet the continued presence of deeply felt moralistic sentiments among major groups in American society could continue to ensure weak and divided government, devoid of authority and unable to deal satisfactorily with the economic, social, and foreign challenges confronting the nation. Intensification of this conflict between history and progress could give rise to increasing frustration and increasingly violent oscillations between moralism and cynicism. American moralism ensures that government will never be truly efficacious; the realities of power ensure that government will never be truly democratic.
This situation could lead to a two-phase dialectic involving intensified efforts to reform government, followed by intensified frustration when those efforts produce not progress in a liberal-democratic direction, but obstacles to meeting perceived functional needs. The weakening of government in an effort to reform it could lead eventually to strong demands for the replacement of the weakened and ineffective institutions by more authoritarian structures more effectively designed to meet historical needs. Given the perversity of reform, moralistic extremism in the pursuit of liberal democracy could generate a strong tide toward authoritarian efficiency. "The truth is that," as Plato observed, "in the constitution of society ... any excess brings about an equally violent reac-
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tion. So the only outcome of too much freedom is likely to be excessive subjection, in the state or in the individual; which means that the culmination of liberty in democracy is precisely what prepares the way for the cruelest extreme of servitude under a despot."15
American political ideals are a useful instrument not only for those who wish to improve American political institutions but also for those who wish to destroy them. Liberal reformers, because they believe in the ideals, attempt to change institutions to approximate those ideals more closely. The enemies of liberalism, because they oppose both liberal ideals and liberal institutions, attempt to use the former to undermine the latter. For them, the gap between ideals and institutions is a made-to-order opportunity. The effectiveness of liberal-democratic institutions can be discredited by highlighting their shortcomings compared to the ideals on which they are supposedly modeled. This is a common response of foreigners critical of the American polity, but this approach is not limited to liberalism's foreign enemies. The leading theorists of the American Southern Enlightenment, for instance, took great delight in describing the inequality and repression of the Northern "wage slave" system not because they believed in equality and liberty for all workers but because they wished to discredit the economy that was threatening the future of slavery in the South. "Their obvious purpose [was] to belabor the North rather than to redeem it." 16
Those who have battered liberal institutions with the stick of liberal ideals have, however, more often been on the left than on the right. There is a reason for this, which is well illustrated by the attitudes of conservatives, liberals, and revolutionaries toward political equality. Traditional conservatives oppose equality. They may perceive American political institutions as embodying more equality than they think desirable. In this case, they normally opt out of American society in favor of either internal or external emigration. Traditional conservatives may also perceive and take comfort in the realities of power and inequality that exist in the United States behind the facade and rhetoric of equality. Liberal defenders of American institutions embrace the hypocritical response: they believe that inequality does not exist and that it should not exist. Both the perceptive conservatives and the liberal hypocrites are thus, in some sense, standpatters, satisfied with the status quo, but only because they have very different perceptions of what that status quo is and very different views about whether equality is good or bad. The ability of traditional conservatives and liberal hypocrites to cooperate in defense of the status quo is hence very limited: neither will buy the others' arguments. In addition, articulate traditional conservatives have been few and far between on the American political landscape, in large part because their values are so contrary to those of the American Creed (see Table 1).
15. Plato, The Republic, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), p. 290.
16. Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955), p. 181.
AMERICAN IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 13
Political Beliefs and Political Equality
|Perception of political equality||
|Judgment on political equality||
On the other side of the political spectrum, a very different situation exists. Like hypocritical liberals, moralist liberals believe that inequality is bad. Unlike the hypocrites, however, they perceive that inequality exists in American institutions and hence vigorously devote themselves to reform in an effort to eliminate it. To their left, however, the Marxist revolutionaries have views and beliefs that, on the surface at least, coincide with those of moralistic liberals. Marxist revolutionaries hold inequality to be bad, see it as pervasive in existing institutions, and attack it and the institutions vigorously. At a deeper and more philosophical level, Marxist revolutionaries may believe in the necessity of the violent overthrow of the capitalist order, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and a disciplined Leninist party as the revolutionary vanguard. If they blatantly articulate these beliefs, they are relegated to the outermost fringes of American politics and foreswear any meaningful ideological or political influence. It is, moreover, in the best Leninist tradition to see reform as the potential catalyst of revolution.17 Consequently, major incentives exist for Marxist revolutionaries to emphasize not what divides them from the liberal consensus but what unites them with liberal reformers, that is, their perception of inequality and their belief in equality. With this common commitment to reform, liberal moralists and Marxist revolutionaries can cooperate in their attack on existing institutions, even though in the long run one group wants to make them work better and the other wants to overthrow them.
The role of Marxism in the consensus of society of America thus differs significantly from its role in the ideologically pluralistic societies of Western Europe. There the differences between liberal and Marxist goals and appeals are sharply delineated, the two philosophies are embraced by different constituencies and parties, and the conflict between them is unceasing. In the United States, the prevalence of liberalism means a consensus on the standards by which the institutions of society should be judged, and Marxism has no choice but to employ those standards in its own cause. Philosophical differences are blurred as reform liberalism and revolutionary Marxism blend into a nondescript but politically relevant radicalism that serves the immediate interests of both. This convergence, moreover, exists at the individual as well as
17. Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 362-69.
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the societal level: particular individuals bring together in their own minds elements of both liberal reformism and revolutionary Marxism. American radicals easily perceive the gap between American ideals and American institutions; they do not easily perceive the conflict between reform liberalism and revolutionary Marxism. With shared immediate goals, these two sets of philosophically distinct ideas often coexist in the same mind.
This common ground of liberal reformer and revolutionary Marxist in favor of radical change contrasts with the distance between the liberal hypocrite and the traditional conservative. The hypocrite can defend American institutions only by claiming they are something that they are not. The conservative can defend them only by articulating values that most Americans abhor. The Marxist subscribes to the liberal consensus in order to subvert liberal institutions; the conservative rejects the liberal consensus in order to defend those institutions. The combined effect of both is to strengthen the attack on the established order. For, paradoxically, the conservative who defends American institutions with conservative arguments (that they are good because they institutionalize political inequality) weakens those institutions at least as much as the radical who attacks them for the same reason. The net impact of the difficulties and divisions among the standpatters and the converging unity of the liberal and Marxist radicals is to enhance the threat to American political institutions posed by those political ideas whose continued vitality is indispensable to their survival.
Two things are thus clear. American political institutions are more open, liberal, and democratic than those of any other major society now or in the past. If Americans ever abandon or destroy these institutions, they are likely to do so in the name of their liberal-democratic ideals. Inoculated against the appeal of foreign ideas, America has only to fear its own.
AMERICA VERSUS THE WORLD?
The gap between ideals and institutions poses two significant issues with respect to the relations between the United States and the rest of the-world. First, what are the implications of the gap for American institutions and processes concerned with foreign relations and national security? To what extent should those institutions and processes conform to American liberal, individualistic, democratic values? Second, what are the implications of the gap for American policy toward other societies? To what extent should the United States attempt to make the institutions and policies of other societies conform to American values? For much of its history when it was relatively isolated from the rest of the world, as it was between 1815 and 1914, the United States did not have to grapple seriously with these problems. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the United States became deeply, complexly, and seemingly inextricably involved with the other countries of the world. That involvement brought to the fore and gave new significance and urgency to these two long-standing and
AMERICAN IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 15
The relation of its institutions and processes concerned with foreign relations to the ideals and values of its political ideology is a more serious problem for the United States than for most other societies. The differences between the United States and Western Europe in this respect are particularly marked. First, the ideological pluralism of Western European societies does not provide a single set of political principles by which to judge foreign-policy institutions and practices. Those, as well as other institutions and practices, benefit in terms of legitimacy as a result of varied strands of conservative, liberal, Christian Democratic, and Marxist political thought that have existed in Western European societies. Second, and more important, in most European societies at least an embryonic national community and, in large measure, a national state existed before the emergence of ideologies. So also did the need to conduct foreign relations and to protect the security of the national community and the state. National security bureaucracies, military forces, foreign offices, intelligence services, internal security and police systems were all in existence when ideologies emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although the ideologies undoubtedly had some implications for and posed some demands on these institutions, their proponents tended to recognize the prior claims of these institutions reflecting the needs of the national community in a world of competing national communities. European democratic regimes thus accept a security apparatus that exists, in large part, outside the normal process of democratic politics and that represents and defends the continuing interests of the community and the state irrespective of the ideologies that may from one time to another dominate its politics.
In Europe, ideology-or rather, ideologies-thus followed upon and developed within the context of an existing national community and state. In America, ideology in the form of the principles of the American Creed existed before the formation of a national community and political system. These principles defined the identity of the community when there were no institutions for dealing with the other countries of the world. It was assumed that the foreign policy institutions, like other political institutions, would reflect the basic values of the preexisting and overwhelmingly preponderant ideology. Yet precisely these institutions- foreign and intelligence services, military and police
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forces -have functional imperatives that conflict most sharply and dramatically with the liberal-democratic values of the American Creed. The essence of the Creed is opposition to power and to concentrated authority. This leads to efforts to minimize the resources of power (such as arms), to restrict the effectiveness of specialized bureaucratic hierarchies, and to limit the authority of the executive in the conduct of foreign policy. This conflict manifests itself dramatically in the perennial issue concerning the role of standing armies and professional military forces in a liberal society. For much of its history, the United States was able to avoid the full implications of this conflict because its geographic position permitted it to follow a policy of "extirpation"- that is, almost abolishing military forces and relegating those that did exist to the distant social and geographic extremities of society.18 Similarly, the United States did not seem to need and did not have an intelligence service, a professional foreign service, or a national police force.
In the twentieth century the impossibility of sustained isolation led the United States to develop all these institutions. Much more so than those in Western Europe, however, these institutions have coexisted in uneasy and fundamentally incompatible ways with the values of the prevailing ideology. This incompatibility became acute after World War 11 when the country's global role and responsibilities made it necessary for the government to develop and to maintain such institutions on a large scale and to accord them a central role in its foreign policy. During the 1950s and early 1960s Americans tended to be blissfully complacent and to ignore the broad gap between ideals and institutions that this created in the foreign-policy and defense sectors of their national life. At the same time, various theories-such as Kennan's ideal of the detached professional diplomat and Huntington's concept of "objective civilian control" -were developed to justify the insulation of these institutions from the political demands of a liberal society.19 In the end, however, the liberal imperatives could not be avoided, and the late 1960s and 1970s saw overwhelming political pressure to make foreign-policy and security institutions conform to the requirements of the liberal ideology. In a powerful outburst of creedal passion, Americans embarked on crusades against the CIA and FBI, defense spending, the use of military force abroad, the military-industrial complex, and the imperial presidency (to use Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s phrase), attempting to expose, weaken, dismantle, or abolish the institutions that protected their liberal society against foreign threats. They reacted with outraged moralistic self-criticism to their government engaging in the type of activities -deception, violence, abuse of individual rights-to protect their society that other countries accept as a matter of course.
This penchant of Americans for challenging and undermining the authority
See Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and
Politics of Civil Military Relations (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1957), esp. pp. 143-57.
19. George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 93-94; and Huntington, The Soldier and the State, pp. 80-97.
IDEALS VERSUS INSTITUTIONS 17
of their political institutions, including those concerned with the foreign relations and security of the country, produces mixed and confused reactions on the part of Europeans and other non-Americans. Their initial reaction to a Pentagon Papers case, Watergate, or investigation of the CIA is often one of surprise, amazement, bewilderment. "What are you Americans up to and why are you doing this to yourselves?" A second reaction, which often follows the first, is grudging admiration for a society that takes its principles so seriously and has such effective procedures for attempting to realize them. This is often accompanied by somewhat envious and wistful comments on the contrast between this situation and the paramountcy of state authority in their own country. Finally, a third reaction often follows, expressing deep concern about the impact that the creedal upheaval will have on the ability of the United States to conduct its foreign policy and to protect its friends and allies.
This last concern over whether its liberal values will permit the United States to maintain the material resources, governmental institutions, and political will to defend its interests in the world becomes more relevant not just as a res