D critical approaches the beginning of the twentieth

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D. Critical approaches The beginning of the twentieth century represented the period of the reform movement in America. This progressive era was critical of the government and governmental institutions. It was from this approach that Charles Beard wrote his criticism of the Founders who wrote the Constitution. V. History and Power A. The Textbook’s Theory The textbook takes the approach that history is basically the study of the changing sources of power over time. In particular American history has been one of the beliefs, values, and interests of the people in power – the elites. “The struggle for the concentration of power for the limitation and division of power is the mainspring of history." (Lord Acton.) In the textbook, Harrison is asking the question, how does the power elite change hands in the United States? The textbook suggests that sources of power in the U.S. change over time. Power in the United States shifts to those groups and individuals who acquired economic resources. First Western expansion and settlement; then industrialization, immigration, urbanization; and now, I might add innovations in technology and information. These all created new sources of wealth, new bases of power, and new power holders. Power changes incrementally - slow and continuous rather than rapid or revolutionary. Power in America has never changed through revolution. Throughout changes in power relationships, American beliefs have been shared over time: individualism private property enterprise competition 5
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ISS 225 Power, Authority, Exchange History The textbook contends that in American history, when non-elites move into elite positions it is done in a slow and continuous manner in order to maintain stability and avoid revolution. Although history shows that elites compete for power they share a broad consensus about preserving the system essentially as it is. Changes in policy are a response to the elite redefining their own self-interest rather than a product of mass influence. Policy changes are always slow and incremental rather than revolutionary. Harrison argues that America’s political history supports this elite domination. At different times, you can see the dominance of different elites in American history. The following diagram summarizes the textbooks theory of periods of American history and elite power. Notice I have added a stage at the end which is not in the textbook. We might suggest that we are now in an Information Age. As the ideals of the liberal New Deal came into question and the nature of the economy changed in response to technology, many argue that we are now in a period where new elite has emerged based on those who control technology and information. B. Conclusion Political conflict in America has centered on a narrow range of issues. Consensus rather than conflict has characterized America’s elite history. Whatever the popular political label has been (Federalist, Democrat, Whig, Republican, Progressive, Conservative, Liberal) America’s leadership has been essentially conservative.
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