Understanding Politics: The Cultures of Societies and the Structures of Governments

Understanding Politics: The Cultures of Societies and the Structures of Governments

Understanding Politics: The Cultures of Societies and the Structures of Governments

Understanding Politics: The Cultures of Societies and the Structures of Governments

Excerpt

This book has been written over the last fifteen years for my students and to work out my own thinking on politics. In 1960, the first year I voted, I was a Nixon Republican. In 1988 I am something of a democratic socialist, but feel that different regimes and the cultures beneath them have different effects, depending upon historic, demographic, and other factors relevant to a particular time and place.

My students sometimes ask how my ideas developed, and I respond with a bit of personal history. After graduate school in English Literature and the Marine Corps as an enlisted man, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela. I went there with all the usual American understandings of life, but after a year or so began to suspect that Venezuelans actually had a different culture and different understandings of the truth. My experiences left me scarred and battered, a consequence with which most Peace Corps volunteers will be able to empathize. After teaching high school in New Zealand for a year, I returned to academics in an effort to understand what had happened to me in the Peace Corps. An M.A. in Latin American Studies proved to have very little commercial value, and I ended up as a supervisor of community action workers in Virginia for the Office of Economic Opportunity in the War on Poverty. A year with the OEO convinced me that the problems of poverty and development in Virginia were almost identical with those in Venezuela, particularly in the views the rich and powerful had on the status and motivations of the poor.

How could the United States, a rich and powerful nation which was the envy of the world, and its leader, turn out to be like a struggling Third World country which seemed to be losing its battle with poverty and corruption? I didn't understand what was going on. Dr. Federico Gil had been urging me to return to school at Chapel Hill and I decided to do so, but this time to study the United States as much as Latin America.

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