Dye, Thomas R.
Politics in America
, Prentice Hall.
is that set of ideas which Americans share widely about who should govern,
for what ends, and by what means.
are shared ideas about what is good.
shared ideas about what is true. Beliefs often give a foundation for values. For instance, the
belief that God endowed humankind with rights to life, liberty, and property is a foundation for
giving these concepts the status of values in our political culture.
also exist, such
as those based on religion, race, or ethnic identity, holding different or even deviant beliefs
and values. Actual conditions (ex., slavery before the Civil War) may contradict cultural
values (ex., equality), creating pressures for political action. The existence of a shared
political culture does not prevent conflict over such pressures to reconcile conditions with
values, or one value with another.
The Liberal Tradition in America
, which asserts the dignity of the individual and their rational ability to
control their own destinies, is central to American political culture. It derives from
Enlightenment thinkers who opposed the heritage of European feudalism:
1.John Locke (natural law implies limited government, rather than absolute monarchy)
2.Jean-Jacques Rousseau (social contract, rather than divine right of kings)
3.Adam Smith (free markets under capitalism, rather than mercantilism)
Dilemmas of Equality
The cultural value of equality means that, in the abstract, Americans believe no person is
better than anyone else. This applies especially to
, where every citizen is
supposed to have equal rights before the law, such as right to a speedy trial.
trailed the development of legal equality, with constitutional amendments not guaranteeing
the vote for ex-slaves until 1868 and for women until 1920 and with the need for voting rights
acts even in modern times.
Equality of opportunity
is a widely-shared value which means Americans do not begrudge
income inequalities arising from differences in education, effort, risk-taking, investment,
talent, or event luck, like winning the lottery, but this acceptance assumes that all have had
an equal opportunity to become educated, make effort, take risks, invest, use talents, or just
be lucky. To the extent race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or other factors make equality of
opportunity different for different classes of citizens, Americans feel the value of equality of
opportunity is violated.
, which comprises efforts to remedy the effects of
past bias, is a value which is in dispute and cannot be said to be part of American political
culture, though many Americans support it.