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By Robert W. Hoffert

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It fosters both continuity and change in American national life. The American political consensus functions in this seemingly contradictory manner, I will argue, because of its hybrid character. It is an artificial association of otherwise disparate, conflicting elements, resulting in an alloy - a compound of different political principles melded into a functioning union. The political consensus is the conceptual equivalent of the reality it models. And not surprisingly so, because it is the product of an American history that transformed purer and simpler sets of political experiences and understandings into a creation uniquely suited for the common purposes of diverse peoples in a new world.

Any government that is not fully majoritarian must be severely restrained in its authority. The majoritarian spirit is best served when participatory involvement is encouraged within the spontaneous life of the community. Government, typically, should be simple and direct, unencumbered with elaborations of technique and strategy. And the efficacy of persuasion through benevolence and trust in a well-ordered community substantially diminishes the need for coercive power or cunning. These two visions of democracy - individualistic and communal - have been presented as purified abstractions.

This requires special attentiveness to the paradoxical association of conflict and consensus in American democracy. The greatest potential impediment to the study of this mixed tradition and its paradoxes is the tacit status of one its major elements. Before the uniqueness of the hybrid can be explored effectively, there must be recognition and understanding of the differen- Page xvii tiated constituent parts, which is the preoccupation of this study. It uses the Articles of Confederation as both a literal and metaphorical representation of a major tacit element.

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A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas by Robert W. Hoffert


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