Volume VIII, Number 2, Fall 2012

"Looking back for the Future: President Harrison and the Backlash of Idealism in American Politics" by Gabriel C. Gherasim

Gabriel C. Gherasim has taught in the American Studies programme of Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj Napoca, since 2009. He holds a PhD in philosophy, his main interests being in analytic philosophy, the philosophy of pragmatism, aesthetics, and political philosophy. The courses and seminars that he teaches include: History of American Political Ideas, American Political System, Contemporary American Art and American Political Discourse. He is currently working on a monograph on the analytics and pragmatics of American political doctrines and ideologies. He is a member of the Romanian Association of American Studies and editor in chief of the Romanian Journal of American Studies. Email: ggherasim@euro.ubbcluj.ro

Preliminaries: what idealism?

Any attempt to define idealism can be deemed adventurous and risky; still, one might think, hardly anything worthwhile about politics remains if one disregards the idealist form and content imprints that characterize it. Furthermore, a rigid and comprehensive definition of idealism would be an endeavour subject to controversy: consequently, it is more appropriate to speak about species of idealism, in keeping with the way in which modern philosophy speaks about the subjective idealism of Berkeley, for instance, as distinctive from Hegel’s objective idealism. As far as the political is concerned – and the emphasis of the present study falls rather on the political discourse – I would like to put forward as working hypothesis a distinction between two species of discursive idealism: substantive idealism and rhetorical idealism. I consider that the distinction between the two is proof of the way in which American political discourse can be understood, analysed and evaluated. What I designate by substantive idealism is an intellectual attitude that i) makes reference to a set of prescriptive norms and principles, ii) brings into the present an intellectual tradition to philosophically justified ideas, iii) is profoundly theoretical and conceptual in nature and iv) is essentialist due to the rigid nature of idealist concepts. On the other hand, what I term rhetorical idealism is rather a discursive attitude that is i) programmatic through both form and content (i.e., in the sense that it is used as justification for a specific political agenda), ii) pragmatic and future-oriented (i.e., without giving a special consideration to an ideational past and traditional values), iii) practicalist (i.e., as opposed to theoretical) and iv) contextualist (i.e., as opposed to essentialist). I believe that this distinction between the two species of idealism is more useful than the oversimplification employed by many authors in order to distinguish between idealists and realists, respectively, all the more so since – say, in the case of “realist” American presidents – one can find idealist discursive elements in the political discourses of the so-called pragmatic presidents. Consequently, my question is whether one can put forward the hypothesis of a distinction between what could be called “idealist presidential natures” or, in other words, between predominantly idealist presidents and ostensibly idealist presidents. This distinction between two species of political idealism could also be understood in terms of a distinction between “strong idealism” and “weak idealism”; in its turn, this perspective is also simplifying if, when comparing the political discourses of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one would consider Wilson a substantive idealist and Roosevelt a pragmatic idealist or even a realist. (Albright 35) Madeleine Albright, in a work reflecting upon the role and mission of a president, prefers to eliminate this kind of distinctions, opting instead for the model of “the hybrid president”:

Without the helium of principles, there is no lift; without the ballast of national interest, the balloon would never return to Earth. The best presidents have melded an informed perception of the world as it is with an ambitious conception of the world as it might be […]” (Albright 39)
The model of a president whose discourse shifts from idealism to realism can be understood by accepting the fact that the political can only preserve possibly realist contents out of idealistically substantivist concepts. This observation strengthens the idea that a president’s discourse uses ideals in a rather revisionist and contextualist manner than in a rigid conceptualist sense. (Arblaster 6)

This principled indecision concerning the establishment of a precise distinction between substantive idealists and rhetorical idealists could stem, according to several scholars, from an initial ambiguity of American political culture. Some (Becker 127) argue that the Declaration of Independence contains ambiguous ideological guidelines on account of which one could formulate both formal and content-related criticism; during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, the dispute between Federalists and Anti-federalists is less theoretical from an ideational standpoint and more rhetorical, polemical; the Federalist Papers, for instance, could be understood as attempts to pragmatically justify republicanism to the detriment of democracy. (Gunnell 36-39) Other authors accurately note the fact that American political culture is but an applicative model of American intellectual culture, in the sense that Americans are inclined rather towards the performative to the detriment of the contemplative, for method to the detriment of theory, for process to the detriment of substance, for the future to the detriment of the past (Fisch); moreover, Americans, from a scientific and epistemological standpoint, are supporters of “mechanics over mathematics, invention over discovery, and practice over theory” (Boorstin 215). Boorstin also notes the Americans’ preoccupation for institutional achievements rather than for theoretical ones: thus, the American Constitution or the issue of national consciousness become, in American political culture, the result of something that could be termed “creative activity” (6), unequivocally concluding that “American thought has produced philosophies to restrain philosophy” (4).

The analysis of the inaugural address of President William Henry Harrison, delivered on March 4, 1841, is relevant both for the ambiguity I have just discussed and for the need to overcome it: I believe that the distinction between substantively idealist presidents and rhetorically idealist presidents can become a means by which one could move beyond crass oversimplifications like the one between realists and idealists. At any rate, Huntington believed that one of the most difficult challenges for a political philosopher would be the one regarding the relationship between ideals and institutions in America; in other words, the relationship between an alleged prescriptive, theoretical, conceptual, and essentialist idealist content and institutional achievements resulting from such an idealist attitude should be clarified so as to understand the meanings of American political idealism and of political institutions. (Huntington 1982, 1-37)


Idealist meanings of democracy in William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address

I believe that the analytic content of Harrison’s inaugural address convincingly reveals an essential tension between democratic ideals understood substantively and democratic ideals understood pragmatically. Before proceeding with the discourse analysis in order to highlight the above-mentioned tension, I would like to make a few observations pertaining to the historical and political context of 1841 America, trying to draw attention to the nature and the ambiguities of Harrison’s idealism. I would like to begin by saying that the Founding Fathers were not preoccupied, when building the American republican government, with a political system consistent with its understanding as democratic political system. What was named “founding principles” in the initial debates had more to do with the republican essence of government, so that the ideas used to build the political system as such were in agreement with the republican form of government. Republicanism as such was justified through arguments that convincingly illustrate idealist ambiguities. Anyway, the ideational arguments used to support the principle of the republican form of government have retained a lot more from the Puritan mindset principle of e unum, pluribus and, consequently, a more markedly idealistic focus (i.e., in a substantivist sense) for such a foundation (be it pragmatic) of the American confederation by comparison to the ideational arguments used beginning with the third decade of the 19th century in order to support the idea of American democracy (Cullen 59-60).

During the transition from the republican idea of the Founding Fathers to the conceptualisation of American democracy (a phenomenon that becomes more visible with and especially after Andrew Jackson), one notices an evident ideological transformation within American political culture, from a certain substantivist idealism towards what I have termed rhetorical idealism. Some authors have noted the fact that the focus on republicanism (as constitutional government) can be seen as a consequence of strong public inputs asking for pure democracy (Foley 81). The question raised here is whether the ideological transformations following the replacement of the republican ideal with the democratic ideal can be justified in terms of substantive idealism or not. As far as I am concerned, although I do have reservations that the republicanism of the Founding Fathers can be accepted in terms of substantivist idealism described in the previous section, I think that the founding debate on politics in America was a more idealist one by comparison with the rhetoric of democracy that succeeded it. This is precisely why the ideal of pure democracy implied recourse to a set of principles and values belonging to substantivist idealism. The democratisation of American political life took place at the end of the third decade of the 19th century, beginning with the presidency of Andrew Jackson. This happened against the backdrop of the decline of substantivist idealism and its replacement with rhetorical formulas. During this time, the Democrats introduced numerous slogans, popular manifestations, the heroic presidency, etc. into the political arena.

From an ideational point of view, Harrison appeared in American politics as someone who was trying to revive the substantivist ideals on the same terms as those in the discourse of the Founding Fathers, considering his discontent with the Jacksonian democratic ideal. Although in 1827 the military hero Harrison supported the nationalist agenda of John Quincy Adams and his nomination for presidency, he considered it as a part of an emancipation process in American politics; in fact, as his inaugural address will reveal, Harrison was a staunch supporter of the pure democracy ideal pre-dating Andrew Jackson, which he regarded as a non-contradictory and natural continuation of the Founding Fathers’ republican ideal. This is why Harrison and his supporters moved away from Jackson’s Democratic Republicans in order to establish a political formation known as the Whig Party (Hamilton 77-80). At any rate, his attachment for the idealism of principles and norms in American political culture during the time of the Founding Fathers can be clearly seen from the way in which, during his inaugural address, Harrison rejected both the practices of the legislative presidency and the interventionist presidency that interfered in the matter of federal funds (Hamilton 81). Nevertheless, the matter of deciding upon Harrison’s idealism remains essentially ambiguous: his substantivist idealism can be defined in the sense of denouncing weak democratic idealism supported by Andrew Jackson. In other words, the return to the republican ideals of the Founding Fathers, in the context of consolidating American democracy, becomes the key to understanding Harrison’s idealism. This is the reason why Harrison sketches an ideal of pure democracy, putting forward a series of corrections meant to redress the shortcomings of Jacksonian democracy. This option for idealism by negation represents his very own ambiguity. His last words, a month after delivering his inaugural address, sounded very idealistic: “I wish you to understand the true principles of government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”

What is the meaning of idealism by negation in the case of Harrison’s inaugural address? An analysis applied to Harrison’s inaugural address clearly reveals that the new president does not sketch a theory of democracy in conceptual terms; Harrison’s commitment to the ideal of pure democracy is evident from the way in which the new president amends the shortcomings of American democracy in the first half of the 19th century. Consequently, one can speak about idealism by negation precisely because the ideal of pure democracy derives from a minimalist conception purged especially of the government’s volunteerism and interventionism in the workings of civic democracy. In an analytic sense, one finds an ambiguous conceptualisation of pure democracy in idealistic terms in Harrison’s address, because the president enumerates twelve errors and evils of American democracy that he would like to see eliminated by putting forward a corresponding number of corrections, as follows:

1. The first source of democratic corruption is the result of the possibility that an individual may be elected for a second term in office. This type of corruption may be corrected by a constitutional amendment to eliminate this possibility (Manis 88). One should note here the fact that president Harrison announced well before his election that he would not accept to run for a second term, so that his idea of pure democracy appears to be fully consistent with his political commitment.

2. The second source that poisons the new democratic ethos is republican patriotism, more precisely, the individuals’ attachment to the political ethos of the Founding Fathers. This form of “passionate patriotism”, of republican nostalgia, could be eliminated by restricting access to public service to republican supporters (Manis 88-89). One recognizes, in this solution put forward by Harrison, the least idealist formula of his democratic commitment, one close to the cynical and demagogic ways of propaganda for democracy.

3. Another source of evil comes from the legislative power of the president granted by the Constitution. This provision, although a fundamental one from the perspective of the checks and balances principle, stands in contradiction to another strong democratic principle, namely separation of powers. This is precisely why the president recommends that Congress should exercise its veto prerogatives and that state legislatures should be wise in adopting legislative measures, so that the interference of the executive would not be necessary (Manis 89-91). Through this, Harrison aims at reducing the powers of the executive as much as possible, thus observing that the nature of ideal government lies in respecting the principle of representation in Congress or in state legislatures. In this case, his idealism results from denying the extended powers of the executive.

4. The next obstacle in the path of democracy is that of obstructing minorities’ rights. The democratic ideal would involve here a reverse correction: the active involvement of the executive; in this particular situation, the president has a moral duty to exercise his veto powers (Manis 91-93).

5. Another threat to democratic order is the interference of the executive in matters pertaining to revenues of state governments. In this case, the correction, although a pragmatic one, is fully in keeping with the principle of separation of powers which was already well-known through Montesquieu’s concept of ideal government: the solution would be here a strict separation of the Treasury from the executive (Manis 93-95).

6. The interference of the executive in electoral matters is, according to Harrison, a menace to free elections, in the absence of which democracy is procedurally inconceivable; in order to abide by this condition necessary to a democratic order, president Harrison recommends restrictions against the involvement of public officers in electoral processes, so that possible frauds could be eliminated (Manis 95).

7. The attempt to influence and control public press represents another undemocratic practice. The obvious correction here derives from strictly abiding by the content of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, in the sense of absolute protection granted to freedom of expression (Manis 95).

8. The interference of the government in financial matters or in the establishment of exclusive metallic currency also represents a source of the conflicts of interests that could undermine an ideal democratic order. The correction here lies in decentralising the decisions at the level of the federal government, in the sense that president Harrison asks that the states should be actively involved through validating alternative currencies according to local, economic, and financial interests (Manis 96-97).

9. Harrison also makes a targeted reference to a certain procedural deficiency of American democracy, namely the issue of depriving the people of the District of Columbia of their political rights. This situation could be remedied by eliminating the political and electoral interests in Congress, so that congressional control over the District of Columbia should be exercised in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (Manis 97-98).

10. A serious threat for the functioning of American democracy is the conflicts of interests between various neighbouring states or, worse still, the interference of some states in internal affairs of others. President Harrison’s appeal in this case is one in keeping with the principles of Confederation and the sacred letter of the Constitution. (Manis 99-100). Moreover, the correction offered by Harrison in this case is inspired by the humanist ideal of brotherhood and peaceful coexistence in the interest of common good.

11. The geographic and political context of American democracy in the first half of the 19th century gave birth to yet another source of threat to democracy, namely the issue of border conflicts. The new president Harrison, a true expert in border matters on account of his participation in various campaigns against Native Americans, puts forward an idealist-rationalist solution, in the sense that he is the supporter of mutual tolerance, moderation, respecting the freedoms of others and negotiation (Manis 101-103). This issue takes up most of Harrison’s inaugural address, and his argumentation seems formulated so as to reprimand those nationalistic impulses towards irrational expansionism; at this point, the controversy lies in interpreting the doctrine of American nationalism; (Kagan 204) this doctrine opposes two sides, the rationalist and the hegemonic-exceptionalist, each confronting the other with arguments concerning probably the most important political problem of the period 1830-1850 in the United States: exceptionalist expansionism.

12. The last peril to democracy according to Harrison is the irrational competition between political parties that, more often than not, degenerated into segregation and political violence; the tough disputes involving partisan interests affected the general interests of the people or, in idealist terms, the secular principle of the common good. The correction in this case is the respect for this principle in accordance with what Harrison terms “a just sense of religious responsibility,” claiming in fact an idealistic response to this inconvenient (Manis 104-105).

Harrison’s inaugural address can be assimilated to a modern, pragmatic, and functional theory of democracy; one can notice the president’s prudence so as not to legitimize a certain conceptualization of democracy (direct, procedural, functional, deliberative, liberal, etc.), thus anticipating its problematic nature in 20th century theoretical debates; in a sense, democracy can be defined as what it is not, and this perspective is both pragmatic and idealistic: pragmatic owing to some precise remedies to experienced democratic evils, and idealistic due to the difficulties in seizing the very complex theoretical apparatus of pure democracy. In brief, Harrison’s idealism is militant rather than contemplative, melioristic rather than conceptually rigid, rational rather than rhetorical. Harrison’s discourse did not aim to elicit passions and charisma and eventually eliminated all those rhetorical tricks used in order to mobilize the audience’s adhesion to his views. His inaugural address remains to this day one of the best examples of lucid examination and criticism directed towards the democratic conditions in America at the time, if one is to assume that there was a long and difficult path to the possibility of achieving the ideal of pure democracy.


The continuous decline of presidential political idealism

The assumption of the present study that we have witnessed the gradual dissolution of discursive idealism in the case of American presidents should be supported with arguments both in favour and against; at any rate, beyond such an observation, the backlash of idealism implies a series of complex explanations, ranging from the presidents’ intellectual and ideological commitment and contextual reasons that favoured the embracing or renouncing, as the case may be, idealist discursive attitudes to more subtle causes pertaining to profound meanings in the evolution of American political culture. Anyway, Madeleine Albright compared two possible human models of American presidents throughout time:

A president elected in the twenty-first century cannot reasonably be expected to emulate a chief executive who served when our country was young. Thomas Jefferson had a library of six thousand books, wrote more than twenty thousand letters, played the violin, designed Monticello, founded the University of Virginia, compiled his own version of the New Testament, introduced the swivel chair to America, and grew nineteen varieties of the English pea. Like Jefferson, John Tyler played the violin; as for other activities, he had fifteen children. James Garfield could write in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other simultaneously. It is amazing what some of these gentlemen found the time and opportunity to do. (Albright 30-31)

By contrast, the model of the American president in the 20th century seems to have been animated by completely different preoccupations, less idealist, with a psychological make-up revealing determination, simplicity, common sense and/or unsophistication (Albright 30-35). In keeping with the ideological and political aims of American presidents, one can mention a succession of six major presidential orientations as historical categories: formative and republican presidents (from Washington to Monroe), democratic presidents (from Jackson to Buchanan), Civil War presidents (from Lincoln to McKinley), progressive presidents (from Theodore Roosevelt to Wilson), republican reactionaries (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover), and finally modern presidents (from Franklin D. Roosevelt onwards) (Hamilton ix-xvi). The ideological features of each of these presidential categories can be delineated by a series of ideals that the American presidents either organically shared (a case when we speak about a substantivist idealism), or promoted as justifying arguments for their political agenda choices (rhetorical or pragmatic idealism).

President William Henry Harrison belongs to the historical category of democratic leaders, according to the division outlined above. Nevertheless, Harrison appears many times as a nostalgic of republicanism, being probably the least democratic in spirit by comparison to his 1830-1860 peers. In 1838, before his election as president, Harrison spoke about the “simplicity and purity” of the executive office that are possible to be preserved only by respecting some principles of government (Healy 38). However, it is not entirely clear whether calling upon these principles of government there is an implicit reference to their original formulation according to the Founding Fathers or to principles of democratic government. In Harrison’s case notwithstanding, it is clear that his idealism is plainly consistent with explicit references to principles of minimal government, be it republican or democratic. It is equally certain that Harrison’s idealism was influenced both by what one could call the features of classical republicanism (i.e., civic participation, public integrity, moral fulfilment of the community) (Foley 80), and by the principles of original American republicanism: “duty, sovereignty, integrity, and the common good” (Hart 154). It is interesting that, while the majority of democrats considered that the principles and values of republicanism were threatening to the new democratic order, Harrison tried to establish a communication bridge between the values and ideals of republicanism and democracy. What seems to ideologically unite the tradition of classical republicanism, original American republicanism and the new American democratic order is the ideal of common good; at any rate, Harrison noted that goodness was necessary both for a political order in general and for a personality: in his own words, “to be esteemed eminently great it is necessary to be eminently good” (Hamilton 80).

The essential ambiguity regarding the idealist orientation of American presidents throughout history is the result–according to several scholars–of Thomas Jefferson’s ideological legacy. He seems to have been trapped by his very own indecisiveness either with regard to something called “people ideology” (which is idealistic in nature, insisting on the optimistic view of human nature, sanctity of individual rights and morality of society) or with regard to “power ideology” (which is realistic in spirit and insists on the solidity of republican government and institutions) (Geyer 35). This constant tension between an idealised view of human society and a pragmatic concept of power made Madison note, in Federalist 10, that civic virtue in an idealistic sense was a form of public devotion impossible to put in practice because of the fierce competition between private interests. This being the case, the Founding Fathers were more inclined towards a compromise, in the sense that they “selectively adopted, creatively integrated, and substantially reconstructed” the ideological traditions in order to accommodate their realities (Gibson 261-307). Huntington, commenting on this permanent contrast between ideals and institutions, noted that a strong idealism both involves and is implied by a powerful commitment to ideology; however, Huntington believes, the weaknesses of idealism derive from the fact that the values promoted by the American creed do not constitute a “systematic ideology” (Huntington 1981, 33) and, at best, American ideology is “a powerful stream of great moral vitality and great ethical ambiguity” (Geyer 34).

Naturally, there are more profound explicative causes regarding the weaknesses and the decline of idealism in American politics; gradually, the political had found argumentative justifications through renouncing the ideological tradition of colonial Puritanism that insisted on the value of sacred principles and adopting secular principles instead. The new institutions founded in the tradition of secular politics started out from the premise of promoting something that could be called “useful knowledge” for masses to the detriment of speculative knowledge about ideals and values (Boorstin 10). Under the pressure of immediate political objectives, the sense of idealism has become perverted and diluted, gradually failing in rhetoric of idealist promises that have brought about the discursive image of the “activist in tone” presidential type (Healey 8). The ideals and principles were more and more often mentioned for populist reasons; from a psychological point of view, strong presidents are not perceived as committed to humanitarian ideals and values, but rather to certain offensive, imperialist-expansionist views. This is precisely why weak idealist presidents (aggressive and powerful) are by far more popular than strong idealist presidents (pacifists and committed to principles) (Healey 279). For those presidents who were less committed to values and ideals, principles played a rather instrumental, strategic role, being used to mobilise commitments towards specific political contexts; this means that “their inconsistency and imperfection” were evident (Hart 36).

Another plausible explanation for the backlash of idealism in American presidential discourses is associated with anti-intellectualism and the gradual devaluation of language. Rigorously, weak idealism as anti-intellectualism is illustrated by the way in which modern presidents, for example, call upon rhetoric and symbols demagogically, paying very little attention to logic and argument (Lim 9-12). The traditional founding values of politics are replaced, in this case, by expressions in relation to which the power of principles lost its authenticity; the values of humanism have become, in turn, abstract ideals, being recently replaced by so-called pragmatic humanitarian values deriving from political agenda priorities.


Conclusions: why idealism?

Certainly, the most important question is why a strong sense of idealism is needed. Moreover, one could wonder whether the distinction between strong and weak idealism used as the working hypothesis of the present study has explicative value when it comes to clarifying the political and ideological transformations of America. Could it be that this distinction might be misleading? Could it also be that the term “ideal” is one with a strictly conventional value, in the sense that the American political language often preferred apparently indistinct alternative formulations (i.e. values, principles, creed, dream, etc.)? Answers to such questions are particularly hard to provide. However, I believe that the force of certain expressions used in language is dependent on their profound meanings: in other words, the profound meaning of a term is given by its positioning between mere rhetoric and expressive authenticity (i.e., language as logos). In order to explain myself at this point, I would like to separate the use of “freedom” in a sacramental, ideational and conceptual sense from the use of the expression “freedom” in language in a rhetorical form.

Beyond the values of expressing oneself through language in all possible registers, I would argue that the evolution in time of the American presidential political discourses reveals a gradual degradation of strong idealism towards a form of weak idealism that probably corresponds to an ideological transition – especially in the first half of the 19th century – from a “republic of duties” to a “democracy of rights” (Hart 152). By simplification, “duties” makes one think about responsibly assuming civic virtues in an idealist sense, while the term “rights”, beyond its normative connotation, makes reference to the instantiation of certain political values, to their positive value in an institutional sense. Thus, throughout this process, virtues and responsibilities were toned down in order to make room for public and private rights. President Kennedy’s famous expression (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”) incorporates a rather inexplicit plea for the ideals of virtue and responsibility to the detriment of pragmatic and realist commitments to politics. In the context of contemporary democracies, idealism as orientation implies “unity of theory and practice, the proceduralist commitment to philosophically justified norms, or the pragmatist belief in shared values and tested methods” (Brenkman 14-15). If this is the case, and the idealised understanding of democracy implies accepting Brenkman’s view, then the question remains that of identifying a homogeneous set of values and ideals that would justify the so-called presumption of an idealist tradition. This presupposition stands in contrast to the divergence of the models used to justify democracy. For, what would that set of values and ideals be that Hannah Arendt’s conception of civic democracy, Dewey’s cooperative democracy, and Rorty’s ironic liberal democracy have in common? Going one step further, what set of values and ideals could one invoke as philosophical justifications for the most recent concept of democracy during the last decade, “democracy at war”? Faced with such interrogations, democracy seems to separate itself from any kind of idealised formulations; in the last case, for instance, how could violence be used as a concept for justifying democracy at war? Any idealist tradition unequivocally teaches us that violence is not consistent with an idealistic view of democracy.

The difficulty of putting forward solid arguments regarding the possibility of a conjunction between an idealist attitude and political practices proper brings us face to face with questions without answers and dilemmas with no solutions. At any rate, the idealised discourse of American democracy throughout time was initially shaped by the conception on the nature of American democracy in the 19th century, then by Tocqueville’s observations and the utilitarian view, later by the issue of political democratic rights at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, by the confrontation between democracy and various forms of totalitarianism and, finally, by the ideological option for global democracy. In a synthetic view on the relationship between idealism and the evolution of American politics from the end of the 18th century until today, one can notice the transition from the minimalist conservatism in conceiving the ideal essence of the republican government towards the interventionist progressivism in conceiving the meaning of democracy at the end of the 19th century; in the process, one can also notice the continuous backlash of idealism. If one is to take seriously the forecasts regarding these matters in the near future, the ambiguities of idealism will become even more profound because of the fact that there is a tendency to conceive the evolution of political thought concerning America in terms of a balance between the two theoretical standpoints.


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