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The Key Ideologies of American Political Culture

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1. What are the key elements of U.S. political culture, and how do they express themselves in contemporary U.S. politics? (990 Words)

Crucial to exploring the key elements of U.S. political culture is in the understanding of the ideology known as 'Americanism'. Historian Richard Hofstadter articulates this idea as he asserts, "It has been our fate as a nation not to have an ideology, but to be one". It is this pursuit of moral and ethical principles of which leads to several overarching elements of political definitiveness and social vitality, which are engrained in American culture and politics. These moral and ethical principles, which will be seen as key elements of the U.S political culture, include 'exceptionalism', liberty, democracy, individualism, equality and Laissex Faire.


A primary purpose of constitutional government in the United States is to make the liberty of individuals secure. The preamble to the Constitution proclaims that a principal reason for establishing the federal government is to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". 
In many of its landmark decisions, the Supreme Court has decided to protect the individual' rights to liberty under the Constitution from an unconstitutional exercise of power by government officials. In Katz v. United States (1967), for example, the Court prohibited federal law enforcement officials from using evidence against a defendant gained by electronic surveillance of his telephone conversations. However, this notion of liberty has also been expelled in contemporary American politics. This can be seen by the political implications of the Patriot Acts 1 and 2. It has been controversial from inception due to the idea that it infringes on fundamental liberties and gives too much unsupervised power to law enforcement agencies. Hundreds of communities, several major cities such as Los Angeles, and a few states including New York and Chicago have passed resolutions denouncing the act.


Indivualism is an important element in U.S. political culture. It reveals itself in many ways and is underlined by self-reliance and individual responsibility. It is a theory, which assumes that ' individual success and failure are the result not of structural circumstances but of personal qualities or lack thereof'. This can be underlined by the overriding attitudes in America which place more importance on individual- self-reliance rather then collectivist 'greater good' political endeavours. These attitudes were crystallised in the 2008 election campaign as Barrack Obama stressed the need to reduce inequalities through changes in the tax system (taxing the rich more and the poor less) and John McCain stressing the need to reduce taxation on order to enhance economic opportunities.

American exceptionalism

Exceptionalism is fundamental is the interworking of the U.S. political system. American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, America's exceptionalism stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming "the first new nation" and the idea that it is 'alone in the world in being able to exercise power for the enlargement of human freedom and the advancement



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