Cultural Interpretations of American Politics
AS WE SAW in chapter 1, one of the most popular interpretations of American politics is that it is confined within what Hartz called the "liberal tradition." The historical experience of the United States resulted in the deep implantation of a liberal tradition that stressed the importance of individual property rights and political rights. Other modern ideologies of the left 1 or right that placed less emphasis on individual property rights or political rights failed to attract a mass following. The fact that the United States was created too late in history to experience feudalism precluded the establishment of a paternalistic conservative tradition, an ideology associated with a hereditary upper class. The extension of citizenship rights, so speedy that by the 1830s nearly all white males had the right to vote irrespective of their income or wealth, precluded the creation of a socialist movement with extensive popular appeal.
Hartz thus provided an account of the "exceptional" character of American politics, an explanation of why the United States alone among the developed democracies has no significant labor or social democratic party, and why the U.S. government provides less for its citizens than governments in any stable democracy other than Japan.
In this chapter, we return to Hartz's cultural analysis of American politics, subjecting it to more detailed criticism.