The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition

The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition

Willmoore Kendall
George W. Carey
Copyright Date: 1995
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  • Book Info
    The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition
    Book Description:

    This thought-provoking book contributes important arguments to the fundamental debate over the place of equality in our political self-understanding. It will continue to be of immense interest to all serious students of American political thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2062-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to This Edition
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
  4. Preface to the Original Edition
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-2)
  6. CHAPTER I What Is Traditional Amongst Us?
    (pp. 3-29)

    The central theme of this book is one that few, if any, historians or political theorists would have chosen to explore as recently as fifteen years ago. Indeed, nobody could have chosen it prior to two developments in the course of those fifteen years that have assuredly taken most students of American politics completely by surprise. To begin with we want to examine these two developments, dealing first with the simpler and more familiar of the two.

    Up to a recent moment—just what moment we need not say precisely—the American political tradition did not constitute a problem, whereas...

  7. CHAPTER II In the Beginning: The Mayflower Compact
    (pp. 30-42)

    The answer to the question “Where, in America, is the beginning?” is not easy to come by, but there is one approach that holds out great promise. Following Voegelin’s prescriptions we should (a) keep to this side of the Atlantic, (b) remain within the same genre or literary category as the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—namely, that of the public documents that have at least the look of ventures in self-interpretation by a political society, and (c) see what evidence we come across, if any, of a continuity among them. Having done this we will be...

  8. CHAPTER III Political Order: The Connecticut and Massachusetts Experiences
    (pp. 43-60)

    We can for good reason deal more briefly with the pre-Declaration of Independence documents on our list because we already have the main elements of the problem in hand. That is, more precisely, we know the main things we must look for in order to decide whether there is continuity from the Mayflower Compact to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We will look first at the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut,¹ composed nineteen years after the Mayflower Compact, and ask this question: Are we, in the Fundamental Orders, still dealing with the Mayflower symbols, albeit in a more or...

  9. CHAPTER IV Rights and the Virginia Declaration
    (pp. 61-74)

    We come, at last, to a moment close to the beginning of the American political tradition as, that is, the official literature understands it. The date is June 12, 1776, only a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence. From the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, that is to say, we take a jump of nearly a century and a half—time enough, in all conscience, for quite a change in people’s self-interpretation, unless, of course, it has found itself content, more or less, with the self-interpretation it started out with. One thing has changed, certainly, and that is the rhetoric:...

  10. CHAPTER V The Declaration of Independence: A Derailment?
    (pp. 75-95)

    We now take up the most difficult and undoubtedly the most controversial of our tasks: the symbolism and so the meaning of the Declaration of Independence in the context of the American tradition.¹ Before we discuss its place in the tradition, a few preliminary comments are in order. One obvious matter—so obvious, in fact, it hardly seems to merit our attention or emphasis—is that the Declaration of Independence should be read for what it purports to be. We begin at this point because the official literature tends to overlook the obvious: The document’s primary purpose is to announce...

  11. CHAPTER VI Constitutional Morality and The Federalist
    (pp. 96-118)

    To treat the Constitution and The Federalist¹ separately is difficult. The two documents are closely associated in most people’s minds, as well they should be, because they come before us in history one upon the other within a very short period of time. Also, as we know very well, The Federalist represents an attempt to justify the Constitution in the strongest possible terms in order to meet the objections of its critics and obtain the support necessary for ratification in New York State. For these reasons, treating the two documents together seems reasonable enough. But our reason for lumping them...

  12. CHAPTER VII The Tradition and the Bill of Rights
    (pp. 119-136)

    We can now analyze the so-called Bill of Rights, usually defined as the first ten amendments to our Constitution. The official literature, as we might well expect, has already taken great care to supply us with answers to most of those questions that arise concerning the Bill of Rights and its place in our tradition. Its teachings come down to something like this: The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, theoretically speaking, fit “hand in glove.” More exactly, the Bill of Rights follows in the “spirit” of the Declaration by asserting individual rights that limit arbitrary and abusive...

  13. CHAPTER VIII Derailment and the Modern Crisis
    (pp. 137-154)

    We have in the foregoing pages talked about a “derailment” in our tradition. The derailment, as we have further remarked, has understandably caused a certain schizophrenia among us, We the People, so that we do not really know who we are and where we are going. To detail when all this came to pass is far beyond our purpose here. We can, however, say this much: The philosophical plants of derailment were seeded and began to grow full force sometime between the very early years of the Republic and the Civil War. This is precisely why Lincoln could speak in...

  14. Appendix I
    (pp. 155-156)
  15. Appendix II
    (pp. 157-164)
  16. Index
    (pp. 165-168)