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A Solution to Fishkin's Trilemma

A Solution to Fishkin's Trilemma

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Published by Joe Adams
This paper suggests that resolving the trilemma between equal opportunity, selection on the basis of merit, and the protection of familiy assets is a clue to the left-right dimension within American liberalism.
This paper suggests that resolving the trilemma between equal opportunity, selection on the basis of merit, and the protection of familiy assets is a clue to the left-right dimension within American liberalism.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Joe Adams on Jun 28, 2011
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ASolutioD
toFishldu's
TrllemmaJoeAdams
Auburu
University
Abstract
James
S.
Fishkinhasargued
that
threeimportantteDets
of
Americanliberalismare
at
odds.ThesetenetsiDcludetheautonomy
of
thefamily,equality
of
opportunity
and
selection
OD
the
basis
of
merit.According
to
Fishkin,
in
practice
it
ispossibletomaintain
any
two,
but
not
a
third
tenetsimultaneously.Fishkin'sresponseto
this
problemisasequential
remedy
wherebyalternativepoliciesarefashionedtoalternatesupport
of
eachtenet
atdifferent
times.Whilethisapproach
might
temporarilyresolvethesystemictensionswithinliberalism
and
provideabasisforlegitimizinggovernmentalauthority,
it
may
not
accuratelyportrayhow
the
tenetsthemselvesaregenerallyregarded.This
paper
positsthat,
atthe
individuallevel,Americansregardsome
of
thesetenetsmorehighlythanothers
and
that
suchorderingsmayusedto
identify
leftand
right
in
the
context
of
American
politics.Suchorderingsmayberelated
to
aperson'seconomicposition,whichmaychangeovertime.
Totheextentthat
politicalpartiesrepresentcompetingideologicalpositions,aggregateshifts
in
adherencetoone
or
another
tenetsmayhelpexplainaggregateshifts
in
partisanallegiances
and
thepoliciesderivedfromthosecommitments.
Paper
presented
at
theSouthwesternPoliticalScienceAssociation
Annual
Meeting
in
NewOrleans,
March18-20,
1993(Edited
and
Revised).
 
INTRODUCTIONAmericanpoliticsisusuallyeharacterizedasnon-ideological.
The
overwhelmingscholarlyconsensusis
that
abroadagreementonliberaldemocraticprinciples,experimentation
and
pragmatism
are
the
major
attributes
of
theideologicalclimate
in
the
United
States.
1
Onemightsay
that
Americansarephilosophicallyunsophisticated
in
their
politicalorientations,
and
unaware
of
many
of
theproblems
inherentto
liberalvalues.
2
Suchcharacterizationscan
be
tracedtosome
of
theearliest
writings
on
the
subject.
For
example,Alexis
De
Tocquevillewrotethat,
'I
think
nocountryinthecivilizedworldislessattentionpaidtophilosophythan
in
the
United
States.'"Moreover,DeTocquevillenotedthatAmericanstended
tobe
moreoccupiedwithprivateaffairs
than
people
in
Europe.
This
description
fits
wellinto
other
accounts
of
Americansbeingindividualistic,
self
-interested,
andpragmatic.Unfortunately,becauseideologicalcontroversieshave
not
beenconsidered
an
importantfeature
of
Americanpolitics,manycharaeterizatious
of
ideologicaldifferences
in
Americanpoliticsrely
on
conceptuallyemptyorblurredperceptions
of
the
kinds
of
ideologicaldistinctionswhichmayexist
in
aliberalsociety.
1
The
twomostprominentworksonthis
subject
areLouisHartz,
The
LiberalTradition
in
America(NewYork:Harcourt,Brace,1955);andRichardHofstadter,LiberalisminAmerica(NewYork:VintageBooks,1958).
2
This
hasbeenrecognized
in
manypublicopinionstudies.Althoughthereisscholarlydebateconcerningthevalidity
of
theconclusion
that
Americansarebecomingmoreideologicallysophisticated
than
theyhadbeenduringthe1950s.See
Herbert
B.Asher,"VotingBehaviorResearch
in
the1980s:
an
Examination
of
SomeOldandNewProblem
Areas,'
in
The
State
of
theDiscipline,
Ada
Finifter,
ed.,(Washington,D.C.:AmericanPoliticalScienceAssociation,1983).According
to
Robert
Dahl,"Mostcitizensareunlikelyto
be
highlycompetentsocialtheoristsorpoliticalphilosophers.'[See
Robert
A.Dahl,Dilemmas
of
PluralistDemocracy:Autonomyvs.Control,(NewHaven:YaleUniversityPress,1982),160.]
3
AlexisdeTocqueville,DemocracyinAmerica,ed.PhillipsBradley,Vol.
I,
pt.2ch.10(NewYork:Knopf,
1945),3.
1
 
2
To
provicieananalyticallycoherentspecification
of
the
left-right
dimension
in
Americanliberalism,
this
paper
presents'solutions'tothetrilemmaposedbyJames
S.
Fishkin.Thesesolutions
of
this
three-homed
problemprovideaconceptuallycoherentdescription
of
left
andright
withinthepeculiar,sometimesparadoxical,confines
of
liberalvalues.AMERICANS:IDEOLOGYANDPRINCIPLESThe
left-right
or
liberal-conservativecontinuumisfamiliartojournalists,historians
and
politicalscientists.Indeed,
it
is
part
of
our
everydaypoliticalvocabulary.Moreover,empiricalresearchsuggests
that
thepublicunderstandstheterminology
of
an
ideologicalcontinuumarrayedfrom
leftto
right.
The
practice
of
using
left-right
terminology
to
describethepolitical
orienta-
tionsdates
fromtheFrench
Revolution,
and
remainsapopularway
of
describingpolitics.
The
concept
of
a
left-right
continuumappearstohavesomedegree
of
validityacrosscultural
and
politicalboundaries.
Upon
gatheringresponsestosurveyquestions,GiacomoSani
and
GiovanniSartorinotethat:
As
it
stands,
our
evidenceonlysaysthat,
in
allthecountries
under
consideration,samples
of
respondentsarewilling
and
apparentlyabletolocatethemselves
on
a
left-right
continuum
in
satisfactorypercentages(67.6isthelowestpercentage
of
responses
in
the
Eight-nation
Study,
and
asurprisinglyhighoneconsidering
that
it
isthe
U.s.).The
important
underlyingquestionsare,first,whatisthecross-culturaltravellingcapacity
of
the
left-right
imagery;
and,
second,howdowereckonwith
their
inevitable,
context-based
relativity?Cross-culturalequivalenceisageneralproblem
of
allcomparativeanalyses;yetweseem
to
be
better
off
-on
travellinggronnds-with
'left
-
right'
thanwith'liberalconservative'.Asto
the
issue
of
relativity-howrightis
'right'
-
it
shouldbeclear
that
in
our
analysistheproblemisminimized
by
thefact
that
theprimaryconcernisthecomparison
of
groups
of
partisanswithintheirrespectivecountries.
Thus,
noassumptionneedstobemade
about
equivalence
of
the
left
-
right
scale
indifferent
countries.
4
Sani
and
Sartorisuccinctlystatetheessentialproblem
of
usingthe
leftright
continuum.
That
is
'it's
conteJ:t-basedrelativity.'Thefundamentalproblemisdefiningwhat
it
meanstobe
left
or
right.Becausethisapproach
to
classifyingpoliticalattitudeshasbeenwidelyused,
and
empirical
4
GiacomoSaul
and
GiovanniSartori,'Polarization,Fragmentation
and
Competition
in
WesternDemocracies,'Western
European
PartySystems,ed.HansDaalder
andPeterMair
(Beverly
Hills:
Sage,1983),309.

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