The Third Electoral System 1853-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures

By Paul Kleppner | Go to book overview

1
A Prologue to the Analysis of Past Politics

Political history is often sterile stuff, a collection of names, titles, and events beaded on a chronological string. Yet a time perspective can yield an awareness of dimensions of the political system that otherwise escape detection. The wars of domestic politics, like those between nations, are not events of a moment but extend through the years.

V. O. Key, Jr.

The analysis of past politics is replete with potential pitfalls and unique analytical opportunities. Conceived as a series of recurring, but individually unique, developments "beaded on a chronological string," political history produces analytically "sterile stuff." More broadly conceived, political analysis enables us to move beyond idiosyncratic happenings and to penetrate the relation between society and political system.

Traditional research strategies have encumbered that sort of analytical penetration. They have focused instead on exciting events, colorful personalities, and the dramaturgy of political notables. Pertinent evidence has often been skillfully blended to produce graceful, and even elegant, narratives. Yet for all of their informational value and analytical insights, these subordinate conceptual unity to chronological sequencing. Their central preoccupation has been telling the "story."

The ways that events unfolded and the roles that particular elites played are neither unimportant nor irrelevant to an understanding of past politics, but they do not constitute the beginning, the middle, and the end of political history. Yet traditional research strategies typically have focused on these aspects of past politics to the virtual exclusion of mass electoral behavior. Most political narratives, of course, refer to elections and to their results, but those references occupy a distinctly secondary role. Far less attention and fewer pages of monographs are devoted to

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