Government of the People: A Study in the American Political System

Government of the People: A Study in the American Political System

Government of the People: A Study in the American Political System

Government of the People: A Study in the American Political System

Excerpt

It is the purpose of this book to describe the working of the American political system as it is to-day. That system has its own history, its own internal coherence, and the main effort of this book has been to depict it as it is, with as little reference as possible to what it might be. Although comparison has not been excluded where it seemed useful, this book is, in only a very minor sense, an essay in comparative government. Indeed, a general background of common political ideas and methods has been taken for granted. No attempt has been made to probe deeply into political ideas and institutions which are common to Great Britain and the United States, or, for that matter, to the whole Western world. The emphasis has been laid, deliberately, on those aspects of the American system which, in their origin or development, are most American. For this reason it has been necessary to introduce more historical matter than may, at first sight, seem in place in a contemporary study. But if we are to reject Seeley's dictum that history is past politics, we have to reverse it in America, for there half at least of politics is past history.

It is inevitable that a study such as this, confined to politics, ignoring the other aspects of government and of the national life, should appear to make an unworthy picture of the United States, for there, as in many other countries, politics are far from being the noblest aspect of the national life, or even of the national government. It is, for example, unfortunate that it should be necessary to devote so much attention to the "pork barrel" and none to the Panama Canal; a complete section of the book to the "spoils system" and not a page to the Bureau of Standards. But even with the excuse that the subject chosen involves such inclusions and exclusions, there remains the difficulty that to write a book about the institutions of a country other than one's own, is to enter on a dangerous trade. The citizens of the country may well receive the foreigner's criticisms as the Archbishop of Granada did those of Gil Blas, indeed, with an added sense of grievance since, unlike the Archbishop, they have not asked for them. The only excuse I can make for myself is that which the Archbishop made for Gil Blas, a want of sense, not the presence of ill-will, accounts for the many defects of the book and . . .

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