The First New Nation: The United States in Historical States in Historical and Comparative Perspective

By Seymour Martin Lipset | Go to book overview

9
Party Systems and
the Representation
of Social Groups

Thus far in this book, I have largely stressed the influence of national value systems on specific institutions. This form of "sociological determinism" is properly subject to the criticism that it ignores ways in which men may change their society and its values by changing its structure. We know that men may modify their conditions of existence by changing the laws which govern them, a process which may be the first step on the road to changing values. So I would like to bring to a close this analysis of the relation of values to the stability of American and other polities by pointing out ways in which the governmental institutions of the polity itself may affect stability. The conclusion of this discussion returns to some of the issues raised in the first section of the book, the factors which affect the polity formed in new nations.

We have had major extremist social movements in this country, of which the Know Nothing Party and the Ku Klux Klan are perhaps the most extreme, but among which must be included Abolitionism, Populism, Prohibitionism, and the like. Although some of these movements have become organized into political parties, they have never been able to sustain themselves, and their programs have been dependent upon endorsement by one of the major political parties for influence in the national power arena. To a considerable degree one must recognize that the failure of these and other movements, such as the Socialist, to create viable third parties which would change the political system is as much a consequence of the legal

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