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

By Paul Kleppner | Go to book overview

2
The Third Electoral System: An Empirical Perspective

To this day many of our comrades still do not understand that they must attend to the quantitative aspect of things -- the basic statistics, the main percentages and the quantitative limits that determine the qualities of things. They have no "figures" in their heads and as a result cannot help making mistakes.... In all mass movements we must make a basic investigation and analysis of the number of active supporters, opponents and neutrals and must not decide problems subjectively and without basis.

Mao Tse-tung ( 1949)

Periodization is both a tool and an objective of historical analysis. By demarcating a specified period of time and assigning a particular label to it, historians mean to denote that it has certain qualities or characteristics setting it apart from other periods of time. And the assigned label suggests the nature of those qualities -- for example, the Era of Good Feelings, The Gilded Age, The Progressive Era. These semantic tags are employed as shorthand surrogates for concepts; each concept, in turn, refers "either to a class of phenomena or to certain aspects or characteristics that a range of phenomena have in common."1 That is, the concepts integrate and thus impart analytical unity to a variety of discrete occurrences whose aggregate quality is posited to differ from that of the occurrences in other specified periods of time. Often, however, historical periodization proceeds "subjectively and without basis." Researchers tend to ignore the fact that concepts are logical abstractions that refer to underlying empirical phenomena. They regularly write of ages, epochs, and eras without first attending "to the quantitative aspect of things."

To avoid that mistake, one must begin with an overview of "the quantitative limits." Within a nation of continental proportions, even

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1
Social Science Research Council, Report of the Committee on Historiography, The Social Sciences in Historical Study, pp. 89-95; the quotation is on p. 91.

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