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Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in America

  • Rogers M. Smith (a1)

Analysts of American politics since Tocqueville have seen the nation as a paradigmatic “liberal democratic” society, shaped most by the comparatively free and equal conditions and the Enlightenment ideals said to have prevailed at its founding. These accounts must be severely revised to recognize the inegalitarian ideologies and institutions of ascriptive hierarchy that defined the political status of racial and ethnic minorities and women through most of U.S. history. A study of the period 1870–1920 illustrates that American political culture is better understood as the often conflictual and contradictory product of multiple political traditions, than as the expression of hegemonic liberal or democratic political traditions.

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