Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective

By Paul F. deLespinasse, Adrian College

Copyright © 1981 by Paul F. deLespinasse. Details of generous permission to make copies This chapter may not print or copy unless you have clicked here first.

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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

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