Beyond the Third Electoral System
The materialist conception of history has a lot of [friends] nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French "Marxists" of the late seventies: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist."
Friedrich Engels ( 1890)
We need not push the literal phrasing of these demurrers too hard. Marx disclaimed interest-group economic determinism, the "vulgar" notion that shared economic characteristics axiomatically generated social groups that behaved cohesively. Engels ridiculed the use of dogma as a substitute for the study of observable behaviors: "Too many...simply make use of the phrase 'historical materialism' (and everything can be turned into a phrase) only in order to get their own relatively scanty historical knowledge...constructed into a neat system as quickly as possible."1
Marx and Engels aimed their reproaches at those "Marxists" whom they judged not to have assimilated correctly the main principles of their theory of historical materialism. However, as much of Marxian social analysis, both of these strictures contain insights of broader and continuing relevance. Applied more generally, they alert us to the inadequacies of monistic and monolithic explanations of complex phenomena. They warn as well of the tendency to transmute analytical constructs into vacuous slogans and to employ the latter as virtually all-encompassing "explanations."
We can use these insights to deal with two general areas of controversy concerning both the substantive findings and the analytical significance of that genre of political history denoted by the phrase voting-behavior studies.2 The first of these controversies involves a con--____________________