Friday, April 14, 2023



The goal of this textbook is to provide students with a comprehensive survey of the American political system and with a framework for analyzing its processes and functions. It will appeal to instructors of introductory American government courses who wish to take students beyond a traditional institutional orientation. Throughout the text, the various dimensions of American politics are integrated into an analytical framework designed to stimulate thoughtful understanding of the political world.

Two kinds of student will read this book. Some will continue in political science. Others will not. Which kind of student is more important for introductory courses to reach? Those who continue political studies should get a good foundation. But for the others, the first course may be the last chance to study government systematically.

The presence of diverse students in introductory classes baffles mainstream political scientists. Should the instructor focus on scientific methodology for the benefit of majors or on preparation for citizenship to meet the needs of nonmajors? Separate sections for majors and nonmajors, common in the physical sciences, are uncommon in political science.

Introductory textbooks necessarily have limits. Well-informed and sophisticated thinking about politics requires broad, sustained, and individualized reading as well as a lot of contemplation and discussion. A textbook may help to kick off and guide this larger educational process but cannot replace it. Texts that try to cover too much may even be counterproductive.

I have tried to make Thinking about Politics interesting, intellectually manageable, and relevant to student concerns. Richard Cobden, leader of a nineteenth-century English reform group, once observed that instructors must amuse as well as instruct. As long as amusement remains a means and does not displace the instructional goal, Cobden's rule may be regarded as a primary pedagogical principle. Sugar coating, however, can go only so far to make a difficult subject easy. To master the principles expounded in this book students must concentrate long and hard, just as they would expect to do in physics, accounting, or foreign-language classes.

Political observers and actors reach many conclusions intuitively, and these may be valid and important. When possible, such conclusions should be tested for compatibility with evidence and with our other beliefs. Conflict with evidence indicates that the intuitive conclusion should be abandoned or modified; conflict with other ideas suggests that we should think some more. Students of politics need to develop their ability to employ schooled intuition. It is hoped that Thinking about Politics will help students develop their analytical competence in the political arena.

Acknowledgments and Open Invitation for Feedback

Excellent criticism and ideas for revisions, discussion topics, exam questions, and the like, are bound to occur to many instructors who use this book. Some may also have questions about what particular statements in the book mean. While I have tried to write as clearly as possible, some ambiguities may remain. Accordingly, I invite instructors, even interested students, to send me questions and suggestions. I promise to acknowledge all such communications. Please address your letters to me at the Department of Political Science, Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan 49221.

Basic ideas presented here have been germinating for some time. Several occurred to me under peculiar circumstances. I do not even know the full name of one person with whom I had a particularly influential discussion back in 1963. It was a chance meeting over dinner one evening at the Johns Hopkins University cafeteria in Levering Hall. An undergraduate chemistry major named Frank (as I recall) struck up a conversation with me, proposing that the United States invade Nicaragua. He said this would liberate the Nicaraguans from dictatorship and bring them the benefits of American civilization. Trying to convince Frank that this was not a good idea, I came up with the abstract formula for rational action introduced in Chapter 2 and Appendix A.

Others whose influence and assistance have been profound need not go unnamed. Most have been colleagues and students at Adrian College. Several people at other institutions have been especially helpful at one stage or another of my work: Larry Esterly, Youngstown State University, who told me to review the Federalist,; Harold J. Berman, Harvard Law School, whose special program combined stimulation with time to think about associations; Alfred G. Meyer, University of Michigan, for whose NEH seminar I did my initial exploration of the complexity problem; and Charles Glassick, now president of Gettysburg College, who suggested that the National Science Foundation might help finance my sabbatical year at Harvard.

At Adrian College, hundreds of my students have served as "guinea pigs" and critics during the last sixteen years. Some twenty Senior Scholars in Political Science have helped me in many unique ways. Several colleagues have helped with the present project: Ken Ross and Erwina Godfrey read and criticized parts of the manuscript; Pat Husband "published" it informally for classroom use; John Dawson, now president emeritus, granted me the sabbatical during which I wrote the bulk of the manuscript. I wish to express special gratitude to the eight outstanding students who, in a special seminar, helped me think about Thinking about Politics. This book has been heavily influenced by the advice I received from the TAP group, as they were known here: Dan Amstutz, Shelly Garner, Luann Kerentoff, Mark Larson, Lisa Mohnkem, Stephen Rickard, Jim Toigo, and Bob Wentworth.

The following critical reviewers also contributed valuable suggestions to the development of Thinking about Politics.- Ross K. Baker, Rutgers University; Gordon S. Black, University of Rochester; Larry Elowitz, Georgia College; Stanley Feldman, Brown University; Dale Vineyard, Wayne State University; Margaret J. Wyszomirski, Douglass College; and Joseph B. Tucker, Ohio University.

At D. Van Nostrand Company, I would like to express my warmest thanks to publishing director Judith R. Joseph and editor Elaine S. Krause for all their help and patience.

This book has also been something of a family affair. My wife, Doris Stringham deLespinasse, rewrote critical portions of the manuscript. My father-in-law, Ray Stringham, sent helpful criticisms from a lawyer's point of view, and my father, F. A. deLespinasse, from an engineer's. The photograph of the Repulsattractor was contributed by my brother, H. T. deLespinasse. My children also got into the act: Cobie Ann discovered that government is made out of "gover" (a plausible idea that had, thus far, eluded me). Alan--no doubt after hearing me erupt about time-wasting faculty meetings--invented a new disease called "committee sickness." The symptoms? "Your hair turns green and you can't think!" Shortly after I began writing this book, I suddenly acquired some new brothers. It gives me particular pleasure to acknowledge the friendship, moral support, and encouragement given to me during a difficult period by my brothers, the men of the Theta Omicron chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon.

Paul F. deLespinasse


Prologue: The Constitutional Convention of 1987


The Constitutional Convention of 1987


Imagine that a constitutional convention has been convened in 1987. On the two hundredth anniversary of the historic Philadelphia convention, delegates have gathered to write a new basic law for the United States. And you are one of these delegates.

Perhaps the constitutional convention will meet in San Francisco at the Cow Palace, as the grand conference center there is irreverently called. Or perhaps you will meet in Houston or Chicago or Kansas City or Boston or any of a dozen other great cities. Until quite recently, our three "capitals" were all in the east: Washington, D.C., the political capital; New York, the financial capital; Boston, the cultural capital. But time moves on, and our national center of gravity is no longer presumed to be on the east coast.

Let us assume, however, that for tactical reasons the convention will be in Philadelphia. Perhaps some committees will even meet in the very Convention Hall where the original founding fathers deliberated during the hot and humid summer of 1787. Sweeping changes in our government are most acceptable to Americans when garbed in history and symbols of continuity. Convention leaders will be morbidly aware that ratification of the new document will be hard to get; anything likely to increase public support for it will strongly appeal to them.

Even as you head for Philadelphia, however, you know the new convention will not be a rerun of 1787. Many differences are symbolized by the ways delegates are traveling to Philadelphia. The delegates of 1787 came in by horse, stagecoach, or ship; most of you are coming by jetliner, automobile, or Amtrak. True, one younger member from Montana is bicycling east, surveying grass roots opinions at campgrounds as she comes. But except for Ms. Morrison, you are getting to Convention Hall much faster than your predecessors did, even though the U.S. is a vastly bigger country in 1987.


Now let us stop imagining and start thinking. You have been asked to think about a convention that will write a new constitution for the U.S. What were your reactions? Were you surprised at the idea of a new constitution? Why? Do you assume that the present Constitution, the world's oldest written one, will remain in force forever? Or that it should? Did you take the very suggestion of a new constitution as a scandalous reflection on the present revered document?

Our present Constitution provides several methods of amendment. But if they wrote a perfect document, why did the founding fathers include an amendment clause? How did you react to the suggestion that you were to participate in the new convention? Did you think: Who, me? Why me? What is an obscure student lost in the shuffle of urban congestion or, equally lost, in the open spaces of rural Nebraska, doing at a constitutional convention? Or did you think: Well, it's certainly possible.

Members of the 1787 convention were young and obscure once, themselves. Will you still be a student in 1987? Or will you be a college graduate, perhaps with a professional degree? Of course, where you are and what you are doing will affect your chances of becoming a delegate. But remember: as a college student and presumptive graduate, your chances are already above average. Members of the 1787 convention were well- educated by the standards of their day, and a new convention is unlikely to be different in this respect. If you asked: Who, me? you are perhaps a woman [footnote 1] or a black person. The first constitutional convention was, of course, all white, and its members are quite literally called founding fathers. Can we assume, though, that the convention of 1987 will be the same in these respects?

What do you think you would need to know in order to do a good job of drafting a new constitution? Would it help to know something about the 1787 convention, the various objectives of its members, the arguments expressed during its debates? Where could you go to find out something about these things in a hurry?Footnote 2

Would it help to have some ideas about what a perfect constitution might look like? Where might we look for such ideas? Basic laws from many different countries can be inspected in most libraries. The United Nations in 1979 had 149 member countries, most of which had some kind of written charter. Perhaps we can discover good ideas in the Swedish constitution or in the Ecuadorian or the Egyptian. The U.S.S.R. adopted a new constitution in 1977, the sixtieth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Can we afford to assume that there is no food for thought in the Soviet basic law?

Of course, existence of particular constitutional features is no proof that they are desirable. The original U.S. Constitution, for example, explicitly recognized slavery. The drafters themselves did not claim that they had produced a perfect document. "I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect men," said Alexander Hamilton. Footnote 3

. Actual constitutions can provide inspiration, but cannot tell us what is desirable. To reach conclusions about desirability, we must employ principles of evaluation. We may therefore wish to consult great political philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or John Stuart Mill. But here again our inquiry will be inconclusive. These six thinkers appear to disagree violently on basic principles. Worse, it is easy to construct lists of other philosophers with equal claim to consideration and whose views are even more varied.

Presumably as a delegate you would do well to know as much as possible about current public opinion and the basic desires of the people in 1987. You might or might not feel that the new constitution should reflect these prevailing desires. Public opinion, after all, could be shortsighted or even thoroughly perverse. But whether you agree with them or not, public sentiments are something you had better understand. If you agree, you will want to express them as fully as possible in your new document. If you disagree, you will want to know how far the new draft constitution can defy them and still secure ratification.

Is a New Constitutional Convention Advisable?

There are serious doubts that a new convention should be held. Obviously, no convention should be called unless it can be expected to write a better constitution than we already have. To what extent would a 1987 convention be in a position to write a better document than the charter of 1787, as amended?

Advantages. An obvious advantage in 1987 would be the accumulated experience in government that can be tapped by the delegates. Two hundred years under the present Constitution, a Civil War and several world wars as well as many "small" ones, a Depression and a multiplicity of recessions, two presidential impeachment crises, and more than 400 volumes of Supreme Court decisions have taught us much about what works and what does not.

Disadvantages. Any new convention faces numerous disadvantages. President Woodrow Wilson, attacking secret diplomatic agreements during World War 1, popularized "open covenants, openly arrived at." Domestically, "sunshine" or antisecrecy laws have become increasingly popular in the U.S. Pressure for the 1987 convention to be an "open" one might be overwhelming. One can imagine newspaper reporters, TV cameramen, and other journalists attending every convention session, every committee meeting. What effect will an omnipresent mass media have on the quality of debates? On delegates' willingness to back down from tentative proposals without fearing loss of face? On the delicate compromises essential to a successful convention? Will the delegates talk to one another, or will they make political hay and address the galleries?

How many Americans in 1987 will remember that the 1787 convention was entirely "closed," excluding both nondelegates and members of the press? That a committee was informally appointed to keep an eye on the aging Benjamin Franklin, lest his lips be loosened by a bit too much good cheer during his evening relaxation at a local pub? That the unofficial records of the convention were not published until decades after the Constitution was ratified? How many Americans in 1987 will be willing to settle for an open document, secretly arrived at?

How sophisticated are modern voters compared with their 1787 counterparts? In 1787 there were extensive limitations on the right to vote, including property ownership requirements. These restrictions, while horribly undemocratic, did mean that voters were above average in some respects: they were relatively wealthy, relatively well educated, relatively future-oriented.

Today's electorate is, by contrast merely average if by "electorate" we mean all eligible to register and vote. True, well educated people are more likely to exercise their right to vote than the less educated. But non-voting only reduces the differences from 1787. To appreciate the possible difference, imagine how the average modern reader would react to the Federalist Papers. These articles by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, urged ratification of our present Constitution and were serialized in the New York newspapers.

Even more worrisome may be the proliferation since 1787 of organized interest groups. The pressures and influence exerted through these organizations could deflect delegates' attention from the general welfare. If it is greatly influenced by some of these pressures, the new constitution may not be worth ratifying. But if the delegates staunchly resist them, they may never reach agreement and ratification may be impossible.

Special domestic interests would not deliberately promote constitutional changes that would ruin the country. But the U.S. is an "open" society existing on a much smaller planet than in 1787, and nothing prevents foreign interests, private or governmental, from trying to influence the convention. This kind of international interference is not unprecedented. Perhaps you remember the Japanese prime minister who fell from power because of bribes allegedly received from an American aircraft firm.

Frankly, convention members will probably be charged with "selling out," even if they have done no such thing. Of course the founding fathers of 1787 had to take their own knocks, both from contemporary political critics and from later historians such as Charles Beard. [Footnote 4] But today, such charges are more likely to be taken seriously.

Another thing might render a new constitutional convention inadvisable: our current Constitution is not as obviously defective as the Articles of Confederation, which preceded it. In 1787 the inadequacies of our government were so clear that consensus on radical change was relatively easy to obtain. Chief defects included the lack of a national executive and national judiciary and of power to levy taxes. Extraordinary majorities were required to enact national laws, and individual states were free to obstruct interstate commerce. The Articles regime resembled the modern United Nations--a loose organization of independent governments--more than a real government. The founders feared that European governments would "divide and conquer" by dealing directly with state governments. Today's more subtle problems could hinder efforts to write and ratify a new constitution.

Finally, society today is vastly more complex than in 1787. As society gets more complicated, it becomes ever harder to predict the consequences of sweeping changes. It might be safer to continue our historical, piecemeal approach to constitutional change: one amendment, one judicial reinterpretation, at a time.

Not all objections to a new convention derive from its possible inexpediency. Discussing a new constitution may divert us from more important issues. "For forms of government let fools contest," said Alexander Pope two centuries ago. "Whate'er is best administered is best." [Footnote 5] To a reader familiar with the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and India, Pope's words may sound absurd. But how do we know that the contrasts between these countries result from different constitutions and not from more basic social conditions, which constitutions merely reflect?

More radically, why assume that we should have any government at all? If we find our car unsatisfactory, we do not necessarily replace it. We might do better to scrap it and use public transportation or a bicycle. It has been said that "that government is best which governs least." But as the anarchist Benjamin Tucker sarcastically pointed out, "that government governs least which governs not at all." [Footnote 6] If we agree that "least is best," how can we disagree with Tucker?


"Constitution" is an ambiguous word. It can describe a piece of paper largely ignored by those who govern. Or it can refer to how a particular government is constituted, how it works in fact. To date, the U.S.S.R's constitution has been largely a paper one, but the real constitution of the U.S.S.R. can be described. Does Russia, then, have a "constitution"? That depends on what we mean.

"Constitution" is often also used to express a value judgment. To be good, according to many writers, government must be constitutional. Calhoun, for example, said that constitution is the means by which we prevent government powers from being "converted into instruments to oppress the rest of the community." And "it is one of the most difficult tasks imposed on man to form a constitution worthy of the name.." [Footnote 7] Clearly, Calhoun used the term normatively rather than descriptively; "constitution" in this sense is inherently good, and a "bad constitution" would be a contradiction. (Descriptive here refers to things as they actually are; normative refers to what ought to be or ought to be done.)

To achieve clarity, I propose henceforth in this book to use "constitution" only in the descriptive sense. We will not assume that all actions allowed by the present Constitution are good. Nor will we assume that all bad actions are unconstitutional or that all unconstitutional actions are bad. We will still want to refer to the idea commonly expressed by constitution in the normative sense: the idea of what a constitution ought to say and of how a government ought to be arranged. When referring to a constitution that is perfect, according to some yardstick external to that constitution, I shall therefore use the term metaconstitution. And when referring to what my own personal analysis suggests is the ideal constitution, I will use the same word capitalized: Metaconstitution.

In these terms, the convention of 1987 must try to write a new constitution that will be more metaconstitutional than our present one. As a delegate, you will be responsible for formulating your own concept of the metaconstitution, of what a constitution would say if it were perfect. Even if your reactions to my Metaconstitution are completely negative, you may learn a lot in figuring out where I have gone wrong. What is important is that you improve your ability to think clearly and coherently about politics. I have tried to present my evaluations as sharply and baldly as possible. My analysis may be faulty, but I agree with Francis Bacon that "Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion." Footnote 8.

The image of the metaconstitution that you bring to Philadelphia in 1987 may not be very different from that inspiring the delegates in 1787. You have grown up in a country strongly shaped by the values of the founding fathers. And many of their concerns were lasting ones. National security, for example, a big worry in 1787, will probably still be a problem in 1987. Even ideal internal arrangements will not guarantee the welfare of Americans if we cannot fend off foreign attacks. Likewise, 1987's delegates will probably share with their predecessors a strong concern for national prosperity. Recognizing that man does not live by bread alone, Americans have always regarded it as a nice thing to have around the house. Another continuing desire will probably be maximum individual liberty combined with strong government protection from abuses of that liberty by others. And 1987 delegates will be at least as interested as the founders in reconciling governmental sensitivity to majorities with stability and with decent treatment of minorities. The modern concept of what constitutes a deserving minority will, of course, be much broader than it was in 1787.

Basic values animating the two conventions may prove in fact to be amazingly similar. With some simplification, the beliefs of the founding fathers can be expressed as four propositions:

  • First: There should be government. Anarchy, that is to say, cannot create a good atmosphere in which people live. There must be some central authority having final say in political matters, with power to suppress those not complying with its decisions. As Carl Friedrich has put it, "Constitutionalism came as restraining, civilizing improvement; there must first be government, in other words, before it can be constitutionalized." [Footnote 9] The founding fathers took the desirability of government for granted.

  • Second: Government power should be restrained. As we know, the separation of powers as a means to this end was a most influential idea among the delegates at Philadelphia in 1787.

  • Third: The people should be the ultimate foundation and origin of power. The founders were clearly interested in democracy, although that was not all they were interested in and their Constitution (before amendments) was not a highly democratic document.

  • Fourth: Even democratic power is still power and should be restrained This idea grew out-of a reaction to excessive devotion by some people to the third proposition and is basically a reemphasis of the continuing validity of the second.

As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, a generation after our first Convention:

If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power . . . . why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with each other. . . . For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke because it is held out to me by the arms of a million of men. Footnote 10

These four propositions can be found in only two consecutive sentences of the Federalist, Number 51:

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed [proposition 11; and in the next place oblige it to control itself [proposition 2]. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on government [proposition 3]; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions [proposition 4].

Presumably members of a new convention would find these ideas just as compelling as delegates did in 1787. Differences, however, might occur about what "auxiliary precautions" we should adopt as means to these ends. In 1787 delegates opted for federalism and the separation of powers as major precautions. The Bill of Rights was added soon after the Constitution had been ratified. You and your fellow delegates in 1987 might want to look back at the intervening 200 years and ask: How well have these "precautions" actually worked? Were they too little? Too much? The wrong kind?


By now you may have another question: What is the relevance of all this to the average student? Even if by some wild coincidence there is a convention in 1987, probability that any of us will be delegates to it is obviously very low. There are more than two hundred million Americans, and only a tiny fraction of one percent could participate in any convention. Why should the average person be able to think clearly about politics? It is a good question, to which I would like to give two answers:

First, most of you are or soon will be a member of the ultimate authority in the United States: the electorate. True, the electorate does not and indeed cannot make the day-to-day government decisions. It exercises power only in general terms and over the long haul. Each voter wields only a fraction of the sovereign power, one vote out of hundreds, thousands, or, at the national level, tens of millions. However for reasons we will discuss later, close elections are common in the United States. Quite often, for example, the presidency would have gone to the other major candidate if only a few voters in certain states had voted differently. Like it or not, realize it or not, you will be wielding political power.

Second, consider the many personal decisions you will have to make during your lifetime. You are already making some of them: what to study; what profession to prepare for; how long to continue your formal education; whether to buy a car and, if so, which one; whether to get married; whether to have children; where to live; what job to accept; whether to subject yourself to dangerous medical treatment or to live with an unpleasant but potentially correctable health problem. By learning to think about politics, which includes making "big" decisions on behalf of large numbers of people, perhaps you can improve your ability to make "small" decisions. Politics is often dramatic, and studying it may uncover principles equally valid, but less obvious, in a purely personal or private context. And maybe there will be times in your life when public issues intrude themselves into Your private affairs. Somebody may try to build a freeway through your back yard, or to draft your daughter (or you!) to fight a war in Antarctica, or to destroy your business by discriminatory legislation. When your own affairs are concerned, there is no such thing as a "small" decision. Any method of learning to decide more wisely ought to be in your interest. Studying politics may be one of the best methods.



1. This text is not based on any sexist assumptions. However, I will use the linguistic convention of "man, he," as the generic reference instead of the bulkier "he or she."

2. Carl Gustavson, A Preface to History, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955, p. 3.

3. Federalist, Number 85.

. 4. Charles Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, New York: Macmillan, 1913.

5. Alexander Pope (1688-1744), An Essay on Man, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950, pp. 123- 124.

6. Benjamin Tucker, "State Socialism and Libertarianism," in Irving L. Horowitz (ed.), The Anarchists, New York: Dell, 1964, p. 181.

7. John Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953, p. 8.

8. Quoted in Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, p. 18.

9. Carl J. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1941, p. 37.

10. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), Democracy in America, New York: New American Library, 1956, pp. 114, 149.


Chapter 1: The American Political Scene: A Blooming, Buzzing Confusion



A Reintroduction to Thinking about Politics

Of all forms of mental activity, the most difficult to induce even in the minds of the young, who may be presumed not to have lost their flexibility, is the art of handling the same bundle of data as before, but placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework.

Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modem Science

Chapter 1: The American Political Scene: A Blooming, Buzzing Confusion

Chapter Objectives

By the time you have finished reading this chapter you should understand:

  • 1. Why it is impossible to "introduce" a college student to American govemment.

  • 2. Several reasons why government and politics are difficult subjects.

  • 3. Why we must try to avoid both undersimplifying and oversimplifying when thinking about politics.

  • 4. What is meant by a "paradigm" and why the U.S. Constitution is an example of one.

  • 5. Some advantages of testing our ideas to see whether they are compatible with one another.

  • 6. Several reasons why the Constitution is not an adequate paradigm upon which to base a study of modem government.

Key Terms

conceptual acuity

We have seen that scientific and technological discoveries have considerable effects on the development of society. It follows that societies in which scientific and technological discovery is particularly frequent must be societies in which predictions of their future condition is particularly hazardous.*


Western political philosophy goes back at least to the ancient Greeks. Several centuries B.C., people like Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle were trying to think systematically about politics. Their ideas are still worth examining. If you continue to study government, you certainly should and probably will read things by the Greek philoso- phers and their distinguished successors: Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and many others. These people had many useful ideas, and this textbook naturally has been greatly influenced by them. But if the present work merely expressed old ideas, it would only be an "introduction" to thinking about politics. it is also a reintroduction. Some of the approaches suggested here have not been tried before. We speak of a reintroduction also because few students will find thinking about politics an entirely new experience. It is impossible to "intro- duce" people to something with which they are already somewhat acquainted.

What Makes Politics Complex?

Politics can be a difficult study for several reasons. Societies are very complex. The number of possible interactions among four billion individuals is incredibly large.

Language. Language, another complicating factor, is part of the basic stuff of politics. Campaign oratory, legislative debates and hearings, communications between bureaucrats, opinions handed down by courts--all are expressed in words. But let us try to answer the simple question, What is the opposite of "go"? There are at least two different answers: "come" and "stop." But these do not mean the same thing and could themselves be considered opposites. "Go" therefore must have at least two different meanings, one of which is the opposite of "come," and the other the opposite of "stop." And this is not unusual! Commonly used political words such as democracy, liberty, rights, segregation, and aggression often have More than one meaning or referent; they express more than one concept. We must consider context in determining what people mean when using words like these.

Students of politics must therefore try to improve their conceptual acuity, their ability to see different concepts expressed by a single term. (When we find this practice a nuisance in others, we ungenerously call it "hairsplitting.") Sensitivity to language is a must for those who would think about politics and make sense. "The meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter." [Footnote 1] If your instructor has not asked you to do so as a part of your course, you would do well to get and carefully read a book such as S. 1. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action, Stuart Chase's The Tyranny of Words, or-for real gluttons for intellectual punishment-Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity.

The Invisibility of Government. Another complication for students of politics is govemment's invisibility. As Woodrow Wilson once said, "No man has ever seen a government. I live in the midst of the government of the United States, but I never saw the government of the United States." [Footnote 2] All that we can see are specific people, buildings, documents. We can see the president. But the president is not the government. We can see the Capitol Building, but that building is not the government. We can see the Constitution, but the Constitution is not the government. "Government" is a high level abstraction alluding to all of these things and much more. Its invisibility places us in the same position as physical scientists studying such unobservable things as the internal structure of atoms. We must look at what we can see, add to personal observations the credible reports of others, and put together an inferential picture of government, just as physicists and chemists put together inferential models of atomic structure.

Inferences are conclusions about what cannot be observed based upon what can be. In drawing inferences, good logic is all important. We do not want to imitate the six blind men who tried to identify an elephant by experiencing it in different separate parts. [Footnote 3] We cannot rest our notions of government or politics upon our experience of their segments. And if we are to think realistically and creatively, we must be willing to push our logic to its limits, to follow ideas wherever they lead.

Remember that all political discourse is a mixture of sense and nonsense, and that the two are often integrally related. This is true in the works of Plato, Alexander Hamilton, Karl Marx, in your own ideas and those in this textbook. Your job is to try to figure out which is the sense and which is the nonsense and to avoid the twin pitfalls in uncritical thinking: accepting blindly and rejecting too quickly.


To be well-informed about American politics, we must read newspapers and magazines, listen to radio and television, and observe what people immediately around us are doing and saying. But if we cannot process them into a composite picture, our efforts to follow current events will only confuse us. Before discussing strategies for clarifying our vision, let us look at today's world without benefit of systematic processing.

An Unsystematic Survey of the World

In Georgia no one can be licensed to work as a commercial photographer unless he can "pass with flying colors a Wasserman test for syphilis." [Footnote 4] Eighteen years after the much-applauded Supreme Court decision striking down racially discriminatory treatment of students by the public schools, an amendment is offered to the Constitution:

This Constitution shall not be construed to require that pupils be assigned or transported to public schools on the basis of their race, color, religion, or national origin.

The proposal draws screams of anguish from civil rights groups.

"Fly now, pay later!" proclaim the travel brochures. Airlines advertise the joys and comforts of their particular planes, meals, and stewardesses. Russell Baker, viewing the same panorama, acidly notes that we "sit strapped in metal containers eating unspeakable messes while being shot through the air at 500 miles per hour." [Footnote 5] To end a strike by Newark, New Jersey, firemen, "state urban aid funds originally authorized for helping the poor, were diverted to salary increases." Footnote 6

An expert predicts that the price of football helmets could increase from $50 to $300 if present trends in liability insurance costs continue. [Footnote 7] The National Association of Parliamentarians decides that parliamentarians must use the word "chairman" rather than "chairperson," noting long usage of the expressions "madam chairman" and "mister chairman." A tax based on the number of times a person engages in sexual intercourse is proposed. Footnote 8

Snow high in acid content falls on North America and Europe. Experts suggest a connection with increased burning of coal. [Footnote 9] Health authorities in a small Pennsylvania town provoke public outcries by efforts to inspect the kitchens of people making things for charitable baked goods sales. Footnote 10

William Howard Taft, the only man to serve both as president and as chief justice of the Supreme Court, observes that "I have heard of the man who went into office with a majority and left with unanimity." [Footnote 11] President Richard Nixon abdicates, but not with unanimous approval. Some Americans would have him stay, for one reason or another. Others will not be satisfied unless he immolates himself on prime time television. Of 120 families offered $500 each to give up watching TV for a month, 93 turn the offer down.Footnote 12

English Prime Minister Edward Heath, who went through college on a pipe organ scholarship, says he had no stomach for the nastiness of a musical career. "I did not want anything to do with unpleasantness, so I went into politics. [Footnote 13] Two coeds at MIT publish an article "in which they rated the sexual performance of 36 male students by name, awarding each from four stars to none. . . . The women said they based the ratings on personal experience." Footnote 14

Dr. Henry Kissinger comments on right wing extremists opposing his arrangements for President Nixon to visit Red China: "They sound very much like leftwing extremists, only their vocabulary is not as good." [Footnote 15] Inflation continues. Unemployment goes down, and then goes up again. New scandals regarding bribes paid by multinational corporations to government officials come to light. Taxes now constitute the largest single item in the average individual's cost of living--more than food, shelter, or clothing--and are also increasing faster than the other items that make up the cost of living. Warning: apricot pits may be dangerous to your health. Pope reaffirms opposition to birth control and abortion. Inflation continues. U.S. attacked in the U.N. Warning: children's pajamas fireproofed by requirement of federal law may be dangerous to health. . . . Plane crashes. . . . Seat belt use in automobiles decreases. . . . Record small voter turnout. Congress continues energy debate . . .

A System for Making Sense of the World: Three Strategies

To avoid being swamped by the facts which are available for our attention, we must adopt intellectual strategies. We will consider three useful strategies here: (1) avoiding undersimplification; (2) being self-conscious about paradigms; and (3) striving for consistency in thinking.

Avoiding Undersimplification. That people are rarely accused of undersimplifying may suggest something about our society. Everybody knows that oversimplifying is bad, but fewer people today seem aware of the opposite danger. Our world offers an infinite variety of events. Literally, we can never step into the same river twice. Different molecules of water are present at different times. The currents, temperatures, lighting, pollution levels, etc., are never exactly the same. As long as we focus on this variety with no theoretical processing, conscious or unconscious, we can never understand our environment. Without processing, our world is a blooming, buzzing confusion.

An "unprocessed" world may resemble that perceived by young babies. To babies, almost all experiences are equally alien and equally interesting. At first, a baby may perceive no patterns, no repetitions, no regularities in the world around it. What parents see as repetitions of the same event, such as changing a diaper, may not seem repetitive to the baby. The words said, the lighting, the order in which cleaning operations are undertaken, may seem to be completely unique occurrences.

We do not have a basis for predicting the future until we can perceive regularities. Until we see "repetitions," we can have no language. Language itself appears rooted in classified experiences, different events lumped into the same "class" or category. To classify, we abstract, we concentrate on similarities and ignore many differences. A simple word like "election," for example, can refer to extremely diverse events: the public rubber-stamping of official candidates in the U.S.S.R., the characteristic two party battles in U.S. presidential politics, the multiringed circuses in European countries with five or more major political parties.

Abstraction, classification, and language itself are thus forms of simplification. They are tools with which we avoid undersimplifying. They help make our complex physical and social environments intellectually manageable. By putting apples into the same category as the moon, Newton was able to formulate the modern laws of motion and gravity. Similar simplifications are equally necessary for thinking about the equally complicated world of politics.

Of course, the more commonly feared problem of oversimplification is itself all too real. "Earth, air, fire, and water" proved to be an oversimplification, and modern chemistry did not take off until the more complex classification of Mendelyeev's periodic table was put forward. As Aristotle indicated over 2000 years ago, "goodness is the quality that hits the mean. . . . [Virtue is] a mean condition as lying between two forms of badness, one being excess and the other deficiency." [Footnote 16] We must seek neither the greatest possible simplification, nor the least. We must aim for that degree of simplification most conducive to profitable thinking about the problems at hand.

Paradigms. A second strategy for thinking about politics is to develop self-consciousness about our use of paradigms. A paradigm is an overall view of things in terms of which particular experiences can be understood. Such a pattern helps us fit perceived facts into a coherent picture and provides basic rules whereby we draw inferences about our observations. If a few facts appear inconsistent with a paradigm they are merely regarded as anomalies, not as reasons for abandoning the paradigm. But too many awkward facts exert pressure to find a way of looking at things that handles observations more gracefully. A scientific revolution, or paradigm shift, may then occur. [Footnote 17] Ptolemy's earth-centered astronomy was a paradigm until the Copernican revolution replaced it. The Aristotelian paradigm in physics was displaced by the Newtonian system, itself overthrown by relativity theory in the twentieth century. Footnote 18

Paradigms are not just found in the physical sciences. Political observers must process their experiences; if they do not employ a conscious paradigm, they will use an unconscious one.

It may not matter whether people whose political actions we observe (votes, speeches, donations, expenditures, aggressions) understand their own paradigms. But as observers, it is important for us to be self-conscious about ours. Paradigms always incorporate assumptions. These may be incompatible with each other or with experience. It is impossible, however, to reject an assumption that we do not know we have made.

Some people claim we should abandon all "metaphysical" speculations, never assuming anything. Their advice cannot be followed. The only alternatives to conscious assumptions are unconscious ones. Mere awareness that we are assuming something is therefore no basis for rejecting a belief The physical sciences themselves rest upon assumptions not provable by scientific methods. Awareness of our assumptions can clarify our thought, help us to become more consistent, and enable us to abandon those ideas whose implications we are not prepared to accept.

Consistency. This brings us to a third strategy for thinking about politics: we should strive for consistent analysis. There are naturally many different ways to interpret any particular fact or limited area of experience. Each interpretation may be compatible with evidence about these limited areas. Nonvoting, for example, may be a sign of extreme alienation, hostility to the very foundations of a political system. But it might only mean that these people are not interested in politics.

When a senator votes against a bill, what does it mean? Does it mean he opposes the bill's stated objective ("helping the poor," for example) or does he doubt the bill will produce the intended results? Does he think the bill uses the wrong means to promoting its objectives, or is he voting against his own views because the bill is unpopular back home and he wants to be re-elected? Is he swapping his vote on this bill, which he somewhat favors, to get another senator's support on a more crucial bill? If we are considering a senator's single action, many conflicting interpretations can be put upon it.

It is harder to find a satisfying, consistent interpretation of a larger range of facts. The fewer facts we know, the more assumptions we must make in interpreting any one of them; the more assumptions, the more flexible our analysis and the easier to defend each of the conflicting interpretations. As we learn more facts, however, they become harder to account for. Explanations based on assumptions that conflict with other facts must now be ruled out, which leaves us with fewer possible explanations. For example, if the senator voting against the bill also strongly supported other bills aimed at the same objective, this tends to contradict explanations of his present actions based on the assumption he is hostile to the bill's goal.

Consistency in applying assumptions forces us to think about more than one thing at a time. We cannot just assume one thing for one purpose and the opposite thing for other purposes. Assumptions made for one purpose must be applied across the board, wherever they have implications. Any experience that appears to contradict any generalization is relevant.

If we want to assume that Earl Warren was a dedicated Communist in order to explain his behavior as Chief Justice, [Footnote 19] we must also assume that he was either a Communist while governor of California or became one after going on to the Supreme Court. If we find that Warren's record as governor is not that of a Communist, we must conclude that he was converted or that he never was a Communist at all. If we also want to assume that President Eisenhower was a Communist, as the John Birch Society founder charged, we then face a possible dilemma: If Ike was a Communist, why would he appoint a non-Communist as Chief Justice? The question can be answered, but this might require additional assumptions, some of which could conflict with other available facts.

Of course in political life principled, consistent analysis is not always prominent. A politician who can get what he wants by accusing opponents of mutually incompatible sins will not always opt for consistency. Nor will loudly proclaimed principles necessarily prevail when leaders decide they can get better results by violating them. President Thomas Jefferson, a strict constructionist who argued that government could do nothing not expressly authorized by the Constitution, disregarded this principle to buy the Louisiana ter ritory when the opportunity arose in 1 803. The principle, at best a dubious one, was perhaps best ignored; the Louisiana Purchase provided vast new horizons for American expansion. President Nixon imposed wage and price controls in 1971 after denouncing such controls for 20 years. Nixon's principle was probably sound and the action economically unwise, but he correctly saw that controls would be good politics.

Southern senators claiming principles that barred voting cloture to end a filibuster against civil rights legislation, supported shutdown of a liberal filibuster against renewing the draft during the Vietnam War. When Justice John Marshall Harlan (the elder)Footnote 20 issued his famous dissenting opinion that "our Constitution is colorblind" in the Plessy v. Ferguson case (1896), he became the hero of civil rights advocates. The Court's Plessy decision upholding laws requiring "separate but equal" facilities for black people was not swept away until the desegregation cases of the 1950s. By the late 1960s a law school casebook edited by civil rights enthusiasts deleted Harlan's "colorblind" remark-probably the most quoted line from any dissenting opinion in our judicial history. The previously favored principle of colorblindness was now an awkwardness for people urging racial balancing, busing, quotas, and other activities in which an individual's race cannot be ignored.

That political actions do not always show great concern for principled consistency may be disheartening. But this does not justify our being unprincipled in our thinking about politics. There is, presumably, some distinction between politics and political science, just as there is between crime and criminology.


Americans tend to think about politics in terms of categories suggested by the Constitution. Our Constitution is thus not just a set of legal rules; it is also a paradigm. It is the basis of our thinking about government as well as the basis of our government. For example, from our youngest years we are taught to see a government composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Wielding separated powers, these branches are said to constitute checks and balances upon each other, preventing any one part of government from running amuck.

Another major element of our constitutional paradigm is federalism, dividing powers and responsibilities between the central government and those of the various states. Our paradigm also places heavy emphasis on individual "rights," especially the right not to be deprived of "life, liberty, or property" without "due process of law." We will think about all of these things in due course. Our constitutional paradigm still has enough validity that no text on American government can omit chapters on the three branches. Here, these mandatory discussions will be found in Chapters 5, 7, and 8.

No doubt the present constitutional paradigm is vastly better than nothing. It provides a basic map of many governmental institutions, indicating important connections between them. It provides us with a reasonably sophisticated political vocabulary. Any person who understands key constitutional terms has a good foundation for thinking about politics. The Constitution is full of important terms and concepts, such as impeachment, treason, treaty, pardons, full faith and credit, freedom of speech, unreasonable searches, trial by jury, habeas corpus, ex post facto, and equal protection of the laws.

Inadequacies of the Present Constitutional Paradigm

New Elements in American Life. Many of today's institutions, never anticipated by the founding fathers, are not mentioned at all in the Constitution. The federal bureaucracy is a prime example. Only a few hundred people were employed by the early federal government. Even by 1871, only 53,000 civilians were on the payroll. [Footnote 21] Nobody at the 1787 convention could have foreseen the nearly three million federal civil servants by the 1980s. After all, our total population in 1789 was only about four million.

Civil Service. The Constitution naturally has little to say about the civil service. It does provide that the president "may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices" (Article II, Section 2.) And the same article decrees that the president shall "nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law." This last power is qualified, however, by a provision that "The Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the president alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments." Aside from a provision in Article IV that "all executive officers" (among others) "shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this constitution," the Constitution says nothing else applying specifically to bureaucracy.

Corporations. The Constitution is also silent about big corporations. Some corporations did exist by 1787, but they were relatively small. Large corporations only emerged with nineteenth-century industrialization. The super-corporations now dominating our economic landscape--General Motors, General Electric, General Dynamics, Boeing, RCA, CBS--are recent developments. In 1787 typical Americans lived and worked on family farms or in small towns. Today, they work for huge corporations or for large ones, all gigantic by 1787 standards. Yet the Constitution does not even provide for federal chartering of corporations. Nearly all American corporations are chartered under state laws.

Commenting on this state of affairs, a prominent legal scholar has pointed out that:

The corporation . . . is a constitutional anomaly, a creature that cannot be understood in terms of three-hundred- year-old political theory from John Locke or even in terms of later theory from Thomas Jefferson. The classical economic theory of Adam Smith . . . is also inadequate. The same may be said for the underlying theory of the American Constitution, which assumes that only two entities--the individual natural person and government-- exist or are important. By making no provision for collective activity (the corporation, the trade union, the political party, among others) classical political theory is now outmoded. Footnote 22

Political Parties. As this passage notes, the Constitutionignores unions and political parties as well as corporations. The founding fathersknew about parties, which were already well-established in England, but they werelargely hostile to parties, regarding them as obstacles to good government. While The Federalist complains eloquently about the "mischiefs of faction," the Constitution itself simply ignores the subject. Of course, parties did not take the hint and vanish and have, indeed, strongly influenced American government. Perhaps most dramatically, party discipline has prevented the Electoral College from functioning as intended. Instead of deliberating independently, it simply reflects the majority vote for president in the respective states. Thus, no one can understand how the president is actually chosen merely by reading the Constitution.

Labor Unions. As for labor unions, neither the Constitution nor The Federalist mentions them at all. The founders would undoubtedly be just as amazed by the AFL-CIO, the UAW, and the Teamsters as by the giant corporations. Some of them might be horrified to learn that their concept of "checks and balances" may have encouraged enactment of pro-union laws as a way of controlling corporations. The founders might be amused to find that these unions, governmentally encouraged to limit concentrations of private power, later turned to "organizing" government employees.

Education and Ecology. Many other important things are not dealt with by the Constitution. Mass higher education was constitutionally unheralded. Not even Benjamin Franklin foresaw inventions like radio and TV or their impact on American politics. The founders would have been astounded to learn that President Kennedy would promise the moon and President Nixon would deliver it. Early America had low population densities, apparently limitless natural resources, and production based chiefly on human and animal labor. How could the founders have anticipated environmental pollution or energy problems?

Cities. Consider urbanization! In 1787 America had few cities, none of them big. Constitutional silence makes cities, except for Washington, D.C., entirely creatures of state government. They can be formed, dissolved, consolidated, etc., by simple action of their state legislature. The relation between states and cities is not analogous to that of federal government and states. It is not a federal relationship, but a strictly hierarchical, inferior-superior one. And the cities, according to a literal interpretation of the Constitution, have no direct dealings with the federal government.

Of course, this description of cities is now almost completely untrue. Vast federal grants go directly to city governments for specific purposes or through general "revenue-sharing" programs. Attached to these grants are many strings, federal requirements whose violation leads to a cut-off of future money. Congress has also begun enacting legislation directly restricting how cities as well as state governments can be organized. For example, many cities cannot redistrict councilman elections, or change from single-member districts to at-large elections, without prior consent from Washington. Footnote 23

Exceptions to the Constitutional Rule. As the problem of cities indicates, fitting actualities into the pattern suggested by the Constitution becomes ever more difficult. Even institutions actually provided for in the document do not function as it suggests.

In the Legislature. Congress, for example, is not the national legislature. It does enact some laws, but its members appear to devote most of their time, energy, and staff to other things. Members of Congress act as "ombudsmen," troubleshooters for baffled constituents unable to get satisfaction or sometimes even attention from various bureaucratic agencies. They campaign for re-election. They negotiate details of government spending: how much will be spent on highways, dams, military tanks, and where it will be spent. They hold hearings. They investigate. They go on trips (or "junkets," as they are called by critics).

While Congress, supposedly the legislature, spends most of its time otherwise, other agencies are busy legislating. The courts formulate legal rules as they decide their cases. The president issues executive orders having the force of law. Each month, bureaucratic agencies issue thousands of pages of new legal rules, all published in the voluminous Federal Register.

According to the constitutional paradigm, legislation is what the legislature does. People have therefore been reluctant to call the work of other agencies "legislation." To handle this problem, the expression "quasi-legislative" was invented when the bureaucracy was in its period of rapid growth. Likewise, "quasi-judicial" was devised to refer to adjudication by the independent regulatory agencies, which conflicted with the constitutional paradigm's implication that adjudication (employment of general rules to decide specific cases) was a function of the courts.

In the Judiciary. To say that courts are the judiciary no longer adequately describes American government. Likewise, courts are now doing things our constitutional paradigm would have us expect the executive or legislative branches to handle. Outstanding examples are those court decisions ordering money spent even though no legislature has appropriated it. [Footnote 24] When a federal court orders a state or local government to spend money, expectations deriving from the "federalism" component of our paradigm are confounded. Such orders directed against another branch of the federal government raise the issue of separation of powers, as well as offend the specific constitutional provision that "no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequences of appropriations made by law" (Article 1, Section 9).

Expansion of the Constitutional Regulations: The Amendments. The paradigm suggested by our Constitution is inadequate also because judicial interpretations have gone far beyond its literal words. Nearly 200 years of interpretations have accumulated. The Supreme Court alone has written more than 400 volumes of decisions, and in the process the interpretations seem to have swallowed up the document. In many respects our actual Constitution is therefore just as "unwritten" as that of Great Britain. Today, to study American constitutional law, you do not read the Constitution; you read leading Supreme Court decisions.

On Church and State. For example, the Bill of Rights, taken literally, restricts only the central government. The First Amendment, setting the tone for the whole, begins "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . ." (emphasis added). The Bill of Rights was added to appease people who were skeptical of the new document, but whose support was needed to secure ratification. These skeptics feared that a stronger central government might abuse its powers. They were not worried about abuses by state governments, whose powers were certainly not increased by the new Constitution. Accordingly, the Bill of Rights restricted only the federal government.

When the Bill of Rights was ratified, some state governments still had established churches. No one thought that the First Amendment, with its prohibition against the establishment of a church by Congress, made it unconstitutional for a state legislature to do so. Since the 1930s, however, the Supreme Court has gradually expanded the meaning attributed to the Bill of Rights; today, most of its provisions are considered restrictions on state governments. Thus, by 1948, the Supreme Court had struck down an Illinois public school "released time for religious education" program as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Footnote 25

On Capital Punishment. The capital punishment cases are other examples of judicial conclusions extracted from the literal Constitution only with considerable imagination. In 1972 the Supreme Court struck down all existing death penalty provisions, in spite of explicit constitutional provisions for capital punishment: In the Fifth Amendment, the Grand Jury Clause refers to a "capital crime"; the Double Jeopardy Clause, to being "twice put in jeopardy of life or limb," and the Due Process Clause, to the right not to be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" (emphasis added). Likewise, deprivations of life with due process of law are expressly contemplated by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court justices, however, apparently based their decision in Furman V. Georgia [Footnote 26] on the haphazard and discriminatory way death sentences were imposed. Disproportionate numbers of those executed were poor or black, implying denial of the equal protection of the laws. When several states responded to this case by enacting mandatory death for certain crimes, however, the Court struck this down, too. Such laws, denying courts adequate chance to consider mitigating circumstances, were "cruel and unusual" and violated the Eighth Amendment. [Footnote 27] Still, some new capital punishment statutes were upheld. Footnote 28

Two justices, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, consistently voted against capital punishment in every case. They argued that death is inherently a "cruel and unusual" punishment, hence always a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Here, certainly, was doctrine that would have startled the founders, or anybody reading constitutional language in a straightforward way. The Eighth Amendment with its "cruel and unusual punishment" clause was enacted simultaneously with the Fifth, which contains several overt references to the death penalty. Why would the founders place restrictions on circumstances in which death could be imposed in one clause if they were banning it completely in another?

On Corporate Law. A third important example of our judicially- elaborated Constitution involves corporations. Corporations, important centers of economic production, inevitably litigate a lot. Courts have therefore had to decide to what extent constitutional rights are enjoyed by corporations as well as individuals. The basic legal question was whether a corporation is a "person" in the sense that the term is used in the Constitution. For example, is a corporation a "person" for purposes of the following Fifth Amendment provisions (emphasis added)?

Nor shall any person . . . be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .

For purposes of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, the courts do consider a corporation to be a person and, hence, protected. However for purposes of the Self-Incrimination Clause, as well as Privileges and Immunities clauses in Article IV and the Fourteenth Amendment, a corporation is not a person and, hence, is unprotected. Footnote 29

New World Experiences. A more basic cause of the inadequacy of our political paradigm is that the Constitution is not based on the principled analysis of human associations now possible. This is no reflection on the founders. These men were unusually well educated. They were avid readers, philosophically sophisticated and historically well versed. Their document has lasted longer than any other written constitution. But there has been a great deal of new experience with governments during the last 200 years. The world has changed from domination by monarchies to domination by republics. The twentieth century alone witnessed the fall of monarchies in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, China, and elsewhere. New patterns of government have emerged and, sometimes, disappeared again. We have the Nazis in Germany, the Fascists in Italy, the Peronists in Argentina, and the Communists in the U.S.S.R. and elsewhere. Governments peculiar to local conditions have developed in such countries as Japan, Mexico, India, and Thailand. Since the end of World War II in 1945, several large European colonial empires have disintegrated. Three world wars have already been fought in the twentieth century: World War I in Europe (1914-1918), World War II in Europe, the Far East, and the South Pacific (1939-1945), and World War III (1964-1975), the overt hostilities of which were largely conducted in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Surely what has happened abroad since 1787 can teach us something about human associations; but much can also be gained by studying internal developments. Every foreign war has had domestic complications. The Civil War proved to be educational as well as bloody. We have tried many policies and programs-- the protective tariff, subsidies of waterways, the Homestead Act, the Land Grant Colleges Act, antitrust policy, conservation efforts--all leading, for example, to our national parks, labor policy, housing policy, welfare policy, race relations. Some of these experiments have been successful, others have been disasters. All provide food for thought. In addition, the United States has many governments. There are the fifty states and almost 80,000 lower units of government: cities, counties, education districts, mosquito control districts, library districts, irrigation districts, and so forth. Our country has been called a "laboratory of federalism" because each government is a center of experiments from which new knowledge may be distilled.

Should We Go Beyond the Present Constitution?

Increasing numbers of talented lawyers and academicians are trying to think methodically about the experience we are accumulating. This, too, is an asset which the founding fathers did not have. We have more shoulders to stand on than the founders did, including theirs; it is no reflection on them that we may be able to see a little further along the road. Therefore, we can say that not only is it possible to go beyond the paradigm of the present Constitution, but it is advisable. Under present conditions, misunderstandings which would have been harmless in former times have become harmful indeed. For example, we will see that the term "law" was used in the Constitution in at least three very different senses. Confusions in these three meanings were inconsequential as long as government bureaucracy was small, budgets were tiny, and there was little regulation of the national economy. We will see, however, that under present conditions a paradigm blurring or concealing the distinction between these three different meanings of "law" is highly mischievous. This is especially true when the body failing to make the distinction is the Supreme Court of the United States.


As we have seen, complex societies and events can easily seem like unfathomable chaos. Complexity forces us to rely on language-symbols referring to categories of experience-in order to gather and process the countless individual observations necessary to put together an inferential picture of invisible government. Language, with its classification of merely similar things into identical categories, is part of a more general strategy of simplification which we can use in grappling with complexity. Another strategy is to think in terms of a "paradigm," an overall view of things in terms of which particular experiences can be understood. Still another strategy is to test ideas for consistency both with our other ideas and with experience.

The American Constitution is, among other things, a paradigm. It provides us with an overall view of our government, enabling us to put details into perspective and to see how they fit into the larger picture. It gives us the basic categories in terms of which we perceive and think about government. Unfortunately, our Constitution is now inadequate. Among the important elements that it does not put into place are some of the most important parts of today's political experience: bureaucracy, giant corporations, political parties, unions, mass higher education, and urbanization. When a paradigm conflicts this baldly with experience, it no longer serves its purpose. But it is an old political axiom that you cannot replace something with nothing. In the following chapters, we will be thinking together about politics from the perspectives suggested by a possible replacement for the present Constitutional paradigm.


  • 1. Define an inference and give an example of one.

  • 2. Who is the president of the United States at this moment? To what extent is your answer an inference?

  • 3. Why can we not rely on personal observation for all of our knowledge about American politics?

  • 4. As this chapter notes, many murder victims are criminals killed by other criminals trying to get or keep a piece of the action. If we assume that these victims are no loss to society, does it not follow that their murderers are performing a public service? How could we arrive at a contrary conclusion without rejecting the assumption?

  • 5. It is easy enough to see why we should seek simplicity. But why should we also "distrust it"?

  • 6. Pick an example from recent political events that can be interpreted more than one way, and explain briefly some of the different interpretations which can be placed upon it.

  • 7. If that government is indeed best which governs least, why not anarchy?

  • 8. What is the purpose for raising, in this text, the issue of Earl Warren's alleged membership in the Communist Party? Is your answer to this question an inference? Explain why or why not.

  • 9. What are some differences between politics and political science?

  • 10. What does it mean to say that the Constitution is a paradigm as well as a body of legal rules?

  • 11. Considering that our Constitution does not mention political parties, corporations, and labor unions, how can it provide the basis for a government that works as well as ours does under modern conditions?

  • 12. List a number of ways in which the world has changed since the year the Constitution was written. Also list some ways it has remained the same. Which list is more important? What are your criteria for determining importance? Do you think on the whole, since 1789, things have changed for the better, or for the worse? Why? How do you suppose future students, looking back on our time from the perspective of 200 years, will answer similar questions?

  • 13. How do you react to the unorthodox assertion that the Vietnam involvement can be considered the third world war? Just because it is not presently fashionable to do so, is it wrong to classify it as such? What qualities must a war have to constitute a world war? Who has the right to decide?


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* Harold B. Acton, The Morals of Markets (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1971), p. 92.

1. Gilbert and Sullivan, Patience (1881).

2. Quoted in Forbes, November 15, 1975, p. 13.

3. See John Godfrey Saxe, "The Blind Men and the Elephant," in George Hornby (ed.), Poemsfor Children and Other People, New York: Crown Publishers, 1975, p. 52.

4. Walter Gellhom, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing," 44 University of Chicago Law Review 6 (1976), p. 14.

5. New York Times, February 22, 1977.

6. New York Times, August 7, 1969.

7. Oregon Statesman, July 22, 1977.

8. Boston Globe, January 10, 1971.

9. Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1977.

10. Toledo Blade, September 14, 1975.

11. H. F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1939, Vol. 1, p. 381.

12. Adrian Daily Telegram, November 1, 1977.

13. Time, date uncertain.

14. Toledo Blade, May 15, 1977.

15. Toledo Blade, December 10, 1972.

16. Aristotle, Ethics. Baltimore: Penguin, 1953, pp. 65-66.

17. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

18. The current orthodoxy in physics has not gone unchallenged. See especially the works of Dewey B. Larson, whose work helped inspire the present text in many ways: The Structure of the Physical Universe (1959), The Case against the Nuclear Atom (1963), Beyond Newton (1964), New Light on Space and Time (1965), Quasars and Pulsars (1971), Nothing but Motion (1979). Portland, Oregon: North Pacific Publishers.

19. See John A. Stormer, None Dare Call It Treason. Florissant, Missouri. Liberty Bell Press, 1964.

20. John Marshall Harlan, who served on the Supreme Court from 1877 to 191 1. Not to be confused with his grandson with the same name, who served on the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1970.

21. Leonard D. White, The Republican Era. New York: Free Press, 1958, p. 2.

22. Arthur Selwyn Miller, The Supreme Court and American Capitalism. New York: Free Press, 1968, pp. 7-8.

23. See City of Richmond v. U.S., 422 U.S. 358 (1975).

24. Millikan v. Bradley (11) 433 U.S. 267 (1977).

25. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948).

26. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

27. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).

28. Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1977).

29. Santa Clara County v. S. Pac. RR Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886); Ozborn v. Ozlin, 310 U.S. 53 (1940); B & 0 RR Co. v. L CC, 221 U.S. 612 (191 1).