Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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American Political Culture

The American Mosaic


Daniel J. Elazar

This is a book about location. We usually think about location as referring to spatial location only. Geographers study and map spatial location, adding system to the structure which humans give space. Less frequently do we think of the other two dimension of location -- time and culture. In truth, both are integral to location as space. It is the thesis of this book that location in time and culture have structure no less than location in space, that their structures can be understood to be systematic or at least sufficiently systematic to be mapped.

This book looks at the people of the United States of America in their changing spatial-temporal-cultural location and as a paradigm for understanding the three dimensions of human location. In the following pages we will discuss the systematic structures of the three dimension of location and how they have shaped and continue to shape the lives of the American people. In the process we will do more than a little mapping, though the intention of the book is not mapping per se.

Most people have no difficulty in perceiving differences in location in space. Especially in our rapidly changing times, many people have come to understand how location in time changes meaningfully as well. In principle, differences in cultural location are also becoming more easily perceived, though for Americans, living as they do in a vast land, sharing a common culture in which subcultures are differentiated in relatively subtle ways, recognition of cultural location is sometimes difficult in two ways -- first of all, understanding that there are such differences, and second, even if achieving an intellectual understanding that such differences exist, understanding what they mean in real life. Thus Americans are notoriously "American" in believing that "deep down all people are really alike," even if they speak different languages or wear "exotic" dress, meaning that they are really like other Americans. This optimistic note is touching in its hopefulness, but it has led to some drastic mistakes in American foreign policy, especially in misassessing evil and deviousness among others.

Why should we bother with location, especially with such a complex understanding of it? From time immemorial people have puzzled over causes and effects of human events. The problem of establishing cause and effect is an extraordinarily difficult one to which a substantial literature attests. What is clear is that what we here refer to as location has a major impact on what happens and why. Without suggesting that understanding location is a solution to the problem of understanding cause and effect, we submit that it is a necessary ingredient in trying to achieve causal explanation. At the same time it is worth significant study in its own right. What follows should be considered as an introduction to and guidelines for such a study.

This book is the outgrowth of over 30 years of exploration of the themes dealt with therein. I first formulated the basic questions addressed in this volume and the theses that I present in answer to them in 1954-56 while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Since then I have undertaken several major projects to explore them. The first was a major study of the workings of the American federal system in which I joined with the late Morton Grodzins, my mentor, to explore the practice of American federalism, past and present, which led to the publication of The American Partnership: Federal-State Cooperation in the Nineteenth Century United States, American Federalism: A View from the States, The American System: A New View of Government in the United States, and Cooperation and Conflict: A Reader in American Federalism.

A second major project was the study of medium-sized metropolitan areas in Illinois and other states of the Mississippi Valley in the context of American political, economic, social, and cultural development. I began this, the "Cities of the Prairie" project, in 1959, at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs of the University of Illinois. In the first book to emerge from that project I developed and applied the themes applied in this book. When I inaugurated the project I promised myself that I would conduct several rounds of studies of the selected metropolitan areas over a period of a generation. The project is now in its 31st year and third round of research. From it have emerged Cities of the Prairie: The Metropolitan Frontier and American Politics, Cities of the Prairie Revisited, The Politics of Bellville, and Building Cities in America.

Growing out of these two projects was what became a separate effort to explore American political culture and the three subcultures which I identified early on in my research. The principal statements of that thesis are found in American Federalism: A View from the States and Cities of the Prairie. This project, too, has led to several books including The Ecology of American Political Culture.

Most recently, I and my colleagues at the Center for the Study of Federalism have inaugurated a series of books on state politics and government, cosponsored with the University of Nebraska Press. In these volumes we are exploring the themes presented in this book state by state.

In an enterprise of so many years, it is impossible to properly acknowledge all the assistance I have received and everyone from whom I have benefited. Many of them are acknowledged in the various books that I have published on aspects of this subject in the past. Hence I will confine my thanks to those who were immediately involved in the gestation and completion of this book.

As always, I must begin by thanking my colleagues and staff at the Center for the Study of Federalism who provided the intellectual and work environment needed to undertake the various projects associated with this effort. I would particularly like to mention Benjamin Schuster and John Kincaid, both originally doctoral students of mine, who have since gone on to pursue their own careers, for their studies of the locational and cultural factors. Along with Dr. Kincaid, Ellis Katz, Donald Lutz and Steven L. Schechter have been invaluable as colleagues and partners for nearly two decades. Aaron Wildavsky and Joel Lieske two close colleagues in the elusive pursuit of political culture, were particularly helpful as this manuscript developed.

I am particularly grateful to the Earhart Foundation and its leadership, David Kennedy, Antony Sullivan, and Richard Ware, for providing the support I needed for this project. Their friendship and assistance over the years has been of immeasurable benefit.

Preparation of this manuscript involved the work of people who are vital to all my projects, including Mark Ami-El of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jeff Morenoff and Rina Edelstein, my research assistants at the JCPA, and Pam Scher, my faithful secretary there. Joe Marbach and Marian Pulaski Wolfe at the Center for the Study of Federalism played a very important role as always, as did Mary Duffy, her predecessor. I would also like to thank the people at Westview Press, Dean Birkenkamp, Executive Editor, Sally Ferguson and Jennifer Knerr for their encouragement in this project.

Daniel J. Elazar
Estes Park, Colorado
November 1989

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