The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview
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Patterns and Periodicity in American National Politics


Students of republican government have long been concerned that the powers allocated to governments and the programs and policies that governments pursue may affect the very nature of the polity. James Madison, following Thucydides, Cicero, Machiavelli, and Hume, warned the founding generation that "measures can mold governments" and that new "systems of policy" can redefine the character of a regime ( Madison, 1900, 6:338-340, 407). Like Montesquieu, Madison thought that every regime radiated a distinctive "spirit" and that some governmental activities were incompatible with the "spirit" of republican government. For example, both Montesquieu and Madison were convinced that when a republican regime turned its attention to war or to preparations for war it encouraged an imperious and overbearing officialdom and an aggressive martial spirit among its citizens -- both of which were destructive of republican aims and institutions. Further, the passage of two centuries has not altered the importance of Madison's recognition that what government does affects what it is or may become. Theodore Lowi's contention that "policies determine politics" serves to remind us of the continuing relevance of Madison's warning that "measures can mold governments" ( Lowi, 1972:299).


Cicero defined a "commonwealth" for the republican tradition as "the coming together of a considerable number of men who are united by a common agreement about law and rights and by the desire to participate in mutual advantages" ( Cicero, 1929:129). Nonetheless, this same republican tradition encouraged the conviction that just and efficient government, even once established, could never be maintained, given the inevi


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The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations
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