The ideological evolution of American political thought : an honors thesis [(HONRS 499)]
The scope of this study is intended to cover the ideologies, both past and present, found in the United States which have served to shape the course of our nation. This is by no means intended to be a complete history of all the schools of political thought which have been present throughout the past 200 odd years, but rather a brief look at the beliefs present during the writing of the Constitution and subsequent years, with main emphasis on the ideologies which confront American citizens today. This paper will not deal intensively with ideologies of the distant past but will describe significant events which affect the sharing of ideologies today. Integration of current information in a manner which is useful in predicting the future ideological course of our nation is the goal of this paper.Essential to the understanding of this paper is a clear knowledge of the term ideology which will be directly referred to and indirectly alluded to throughout this study. The term originated from France as a product of the Enlightenment and stood for a science of ideas. Contemporary thought held that this new science would enable them to extract precise scientific understanding and control of thoughts which were previously stated only in a commonsensical manner. This would enable ideology, as the science of politics, to formulate the ideal plan for the best possible political system. Needless to say, the new science of ideology failed to achieve its mission and was soon viewed as "a naive logical construct notable for its, abstract neatness but lacking a genuine understanding of the complex givens of human nature and of historical reality."1For the purposes of this paper ideology will be defined as any consistant set of beliefs in the political realm. It is important to realize that very few people in the United States today have a completely consistant set of beliefs. However, this fact does not reduce the usefulness of the term since any large-scale political belief is ideologically significant, regardless of whether or not it is 100% pure as it filters down through average citizens. The leaders of public opinion do have consistant ideologies which make the study of ideologies relevant to the understanding of the course of our nation.Even a brief study of American history reveals the fact that America was founded with hopes of bringing change. Although some of the earliest colonists hoped to find wealth in the New World, the majority of the settlers wanted a new life style. Oppression was a way of life in European countries, as the basic freedoms of religion and speech were not granted. The situation was the worst for the poorest classes, causing them to seek an escape. The natural place to go was the New World which had virtually no government or authority figures of any sort. All kinds of freedoms were in vogue as long as you were in the right part of the country. Settlements like the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay would not permit any freedoms except the limited ones they expressly granted, but there were plenty of other places to settle outside their jurisdiction. There were other groups which were also exclusive, but the vast expanses of land allowed room for each lifestyle to operate under its own rules and not bother those who would disagree.