Calhoun and the American Political Tradition
In her 1990 presidential address to the American Political Science Association, the late Judith Shklar urged the redemption of American political theory from its “petty intellectual squabbles” and “ideological combat” of recent decades, while encouraging a rekindled emphasis on the imaginative study of the American tradition of theorizing about political life. 1. Such an invitation begs the revisiting of neglected and maligned sources of the “tradition” by arguing for a departure from the norms of recent scholarship, as well as a new willingness to encounter the richness of American political theory undeterred by previous models of textual, historical, and philosophical exposition.
One means of overcoming the various academic barriers to authentic historical and philosophical reflection in the field of American political theory can be found by exploring the self-understanding of the citizenry. The process of self-interpretation is the result of a quest for ultimate meaning, and the search usually ends with a turn to the divine, transcendent basis of history and a shared experience. Throughout American history, this quest for explaining and explicating the historical and philosophical foundations of American political thought has continued to unfold.
The place of American self-understanding and its progression towards a greater complexity and completeness belies a simplistic explanation. In addition to the pioneering work of Willmoore Kendall and George Carey, several important recent studies have also succeeded in applying this approach to American political____________________