Bradley Center Commissioned Essay
May 23, 2006
by James Ceaser
This essay was commissioned in early 2006 to serve as the basis for discussion for the 2006 Bradley Symposium, "What's the Big Idea?" held on May 25 in Washington, DC.
Participants in that discussion included:
The transcript and other information on that event can be found online by clicking here.
Excerpts from "True Blue vs. Deep Red":
The scholarly debate on polarization, now in full swing, finds each side deploying every known statistical device in the mighty arsenal of social science. But in almost direct proportion to the increase in attention given to measuring polarization, there has been a decrease in attention devoted to investigating its substance. (Page 4)
What Lincoln called a philosophical public opinion, or what has been referred to here as a “foundational concept,” is a first principle that is offered in politics to supply a justification for a general political orientation. It is often therefore different from merely proclaiming a “value,” which is a bald assertion and normally evokes an equally bald assertion in response. A foundational concept is supposed to provide the basis, or, in certain cases, the rationale for a value. Foundational concepts derive from three sources: nature, History (capitalization to be explained), and faith. (Page 6)
The reemergence of a concept of natural right in American national life has slowly but steadily been taking place now for nearly forty years. This principle played a prominent role during the Cold War, when it was invoked to help draw a clear line between liberal democracy and Communism and to offer a basis for combating the skepticism and relativism of many in the West who were unwilling to condemn Communism. And it was subsequently introduced in many of the debates over quota policies, diversity programs and multiculturalism. But the concept of natural right has clearly become most visible as a public issue in the last few years. In directly invoking a version of natural right as a primary underpinning and justification for his administration’s approach to foreign policy, George Bush has
James W. Ceaser is professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1976. He has also held visiting appointments at Marquette University, the University of Basel, Claremont McKenna College, the University of Bordeaux, and Harvard University. Dr. Ceaser is author of Nature and History in American Political Development (2006), and coauthor, with Andrew Busch, of The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election (2001), Losing to Win: The 1996 Elections and American Politics (1997), and Upside Down and inside Out: The 1992 Elections and American Politics (1993). He is also the author of Presidential Selection (1979), Reforming the Reforms (1984), Liberal Democracy and Political Science (1991), and Reconstructing America (1997). Professor Ceaser received his doctorate in government from Harvard University in 1976.
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