Capitalism and the American Political Ideal

By Edward S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

3. Toward an Alternative Understanding
of the American System

In Chapter 2, I sketched the major American schools of thought about the nature and purposes of government. In this chapter, I consider an alternative theoretical framework that I believe permits a far more comprehensive understanding of the nature and evolution of government activities, commitments, and responsibilities in the United States. The framework I will present here is decidedly unfamiliar to most Americans, yet it plays an important role in the social sciences in all other parts of the world—in the East and in the West, in the developed countries of the North and in the less-developed South. I am referring to that body of propositions, outlooks, and methodologies derived from the Marxist theoretical tradition. I do not mean Marxism understood as the "state religion" of the Soviet Union and other Soviet-bloc nations; I refer, rather, to a particular method of analysis of social, economic, and political systems. While the American reader may feel uncomfortable about the application of this approach to the understanding of our society, I hope to demonstrate how its analytical method offers a much more powerful tool for explaining our current political and economic situation than do the more familiar perspectives. In my view, free‐ market conservatism, neo-conservatism, and reform liberalism all trade in oversimplifications and attempt to translate popular complaints into coherent theoretical arguments.

In this chapter, I shall attempt to describe this theory in a way that is straightforward and useful. In the chapters that follow, I will use this theory to illuminate diverse issues of historical and contemporary government and attempt to demonstrate how it gives us the best handle for understanding the development of American public policy during the twentieth century. In particular, I will demonstrate how radical trans

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