Political Science 55
State, National and Local Government

    Dr. George Wright
    Professor Emeritus
    Department of Political Science
    California State University, Chico
    gwright@csuchico.edu

Origins and Teaching Objectives

    This project is the latest phase of a unit I have used in my Political Science 55 class (State, National and Local Government) since the mid-1970’s. Influenced by the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, Louis Hartz, Kenneth Dolbeare and Patricia Dolbeare, James Weinstein, and Edward S. Greenberg I thought that it was important to discuss the sociology of political ideas in that class. My objective is to have students understand and decode the political ideas and language of contemporary U.S. politics. Gramsci stresses the role of ideology for the dominant class to maintain hegemony (influence and control) over members of the working classes in society, as well and the importance of oppositional parties and movements developing a counter hegemonic ideology. Louis Hartz argues that the United States was born Liberal in the eighteenth century and that Liberal ideology (competitive individualism, private property, limited government, free-market capitalism, and progress) permeates every facet of “American” political culture. The Dolbeare’s outline the ideology of dominant interests in the society as well as those interests positioned to the right and left of the political center. Weinstein explains how “Classical Liberalism,” was remade into “Corporate Liberalism” during the twentieth century to rationalize the interventionist state and the New Deal. Greenberg further explains that since 1933 the political center has had both Modern Liberal (Democratic Party) and Modern Conservative (Republican Party) components.

    While teaching this unit, I realized that the political center (thus its ideological content) was fluid and regularly shifted, and therefore the positions to the right and left were also fluid. In 1987, I wrote an annotated bibliography tracing the contours of Liberal ideology starting in 1945, and discovered that during that span there were three distinct stages of Liberalism. I used that annotated bibliography in my Political Science 55 classes, calling it “The Umbrella of Liberal-ism.” I asked the students to assess where they fit under the Umbrella of Liberalism and what characterized their position/s. I also asked them to explain the political socialization process that they went through to develop their own political views. (Political socialization explores political/ ideological notions and thought learned from social institutions such as the family, media, advertising, religion, education, politics, sports, etc.) Not surprisingly, over the past years the political center continued to shift, causing me to continue to update the unit. In 2000, I took the California State University early retirement option which enables me to continue to teach Political Science 55 in the Fall semester. Putting the Umbrella of Liberalism onto a Home Page has allowed me to link the project to the actual Home Pages of Center, Right, and Left parties, organizations, movements and individuals so that the students can easily assess and examine the ideas (and programs) of the respective positions and assess their own positions.

I want to thank the following people at the Technology and Learning Program for Faculty for their support and creative input.
Karen Joplin
Shannah Miilu
Tim Munroe
Jerome Heuze
Mike Halsey

 

 

 

 

 


 

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