Hartz’s Propositions of American Liberalism

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “liberal” is defined as “archaic : of or befitting a man of free birth” or “marked by generosity.” In the eyes of most people, the term “liberal” is synonymous with “tolerant” and “open-minded.” However, in “The Concept of a Liberal Society,” Louis Hartz — an influential political scientist and advocate of American exceptionalism — defines liberalism as a government ruled by universal suffrage whose powers are limited by citizens. Hartz frankly rejects the definition of liberalism pertaining to struggles associated with a capitalist order and the conflicts that arise among classes. He claims that said definition may be suitable to other nations, however, American life has a unique aspect of uniformity to it and American people are unconsciously proponents of liberalism. Thus, the harmonic American way of life has resulted in a compulsive and insular perspective in support of their own ideologies and against those of other nations. This has resulted in an overtly liberal society.

Hartz begins his chapter by establishing the concept that a culture rises from certain postulates and speculations. Said culture writes its history through events that occur as a result of the corresponding postulates. For example, many premises necessary for the development social conflicts and significant political thought, including feudalism, were not present in America. Thus, America’s lack of feudalism has resulted in the country’s successful existence without a restricted social order. In this way, America is differentiable from other nations whose society was developed upon the notion of a fixed hierarchy: “America represents the liberal mechanism of Europe functioning without the European social antagonisms” (Hartz 16). This standard of living has allowed for a sense of American liberalism to develop with respect to social structures, institutions, relations, customs, values and practices.

Furthermore, Hartz asserts that America has struggled with numerous political revolutions, which has assisted with its development of a uniform government as well as its establishment of an unconscious sense of liberalism in the minds of politicians and common people. Besides slavery, no critical issue has diverged the country’s political thought; as a result, the country’s moral unity has been enhanced. However, with this unity comes the drawback of conformism: “Here is a doctrine which everywhere in the West has been a glorious symbol of individual liberty, yet in America its compulsive power has been so great that it has posed a threat to liberty itself.” (Hartz 18). Citizens and politicians tend to feel deeply threatened by international doctrines that challenge the American way of life. This danger of unanimity has caused a tyranny of opinion in other nations; in other words, world politics has the power to shatter Americanism. Hence, regardless of the different political parties that continue to prevail, America exists as an impetuously liberal society, where all parties remain in harmony in terms of political ideas and decisions.

Hartz furthers the notion of American liberalism by contending that the material abundance allowed for the country to abandon the ideologies pursued by the ‘Old World.’ “Americans have been singularly able to build their social and political systems on the basis of individualism, free markets, and limited government.” (Hartz 11). For example, to replace the outdated barter economy, the United States developed a wider economy that provided opportunities for commercial gain. The abundance of materials, time, and place all provided a basis for socio-economic mobility. The setting of the United States allowed the country to overcome the disadvantages that it faced as a result of the country’s circumstances at birth. This contributes to the idea of liberalism, in which the individual circumstances that people faced at birth affected their rights and responsibilities little, if at all.

Summarily, Hartz asserts that liberalism in America was acquired through observations and understandings of external experiences rather than internal conflicts, such as social diversity and the clashing of social classes. The lack of a class system has deprived the country of socialism, allowing for social mobility and self-actualization. However, with this, the country has achieved conformity to its own doctrines. Some claim that said conformity is a result of a false conscious towards liberalism. However, Hartz explains that since the United States is not structured by class, it cannot be compared to the definitive idea of liberalism in other nations where class is the foundation of society. Thus, although America must face the limits of its unique cultural pattern, its foundation of liberalism allows for variety, equality, and freedom, which has allowed it to develop into the prosperous nation that it is today.

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Hartz’s Propositions of American Liberalism. (2021, Aug 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/hartzs-propositions-of-american-liberalism/

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