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On Political Edification, Eloquence and Memory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2022

Wilson Carey McWilliams
Rutgers University
Marc K. Landy
Boston College


Citizenship is not terra incognita for political science, but it is not home ground either. Citizenship is more art than science, more practice than theory, and in the education of citizens, political science is subject to two obvious limitations.

In the first place, the basic character of citizens is formed before they become students of political science and even before they are taught civics by the schools. The first principles by which they perceive the world and relate to others already have been shaped by the family, by the laws and by early education generally. In that sense, political science influences citizens most profoundly when it teaches their teachers, although in a more superficial way political science can and does instruct citizens themselves.

Second, as Aristotle taught us, civic virtue is not identical with human goodness, and citizenship is a questionable excellence. The art of citizenship is specific to and limited by the regime in which the citizen is to practice it. In the ordinary sense of the term, a good citizen accepts the laws and “works within the system,” and even if we argue that citizens should pursue ends which are universal and by nature, citizenship requires them to do so in ways which are adapted to a particular people, place and time.

Educating for Citizenship: What Should Political Scientists Be Teaching?
Copyright © The American Political Science Association 1984

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1 Jouvenel, Bertrand de reminded us that “edification” means “to build up” (“On the Nature of Political Science,” American Political Science Review, LV, 1961, p. 776).Google Scholar The scorn in which the term is held reflects the view that moral and civic education, if not politics itself, are only “superstructure.” This familiar position, however, seems to slight the fact that human beings live in superstructures.

2 On this point and in the discussion which follows, we are indebted to Jacobson, Norman, “Political Science and Political Education,” American Political Science Review, LVII (1963), pp. 561569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Hence Jouvenei's urging that political science turn its attention to “elementary behaviors” (op. cit., p. 779).

4 For example, compare Berger, Brigitte and Berger, Peter L., The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983)Google Scholar, with Elshtain's, Jean Bethke fine essay, “Family Reconstruction,” Commonweal, 107 (August 1, 1980), pp. 430431 Google Scholar; or Dinnerstein, Dorothy, The Mermaid and the Minotaur (New York: Harper and Row, 1976).Google Scholar

5 The citation is from John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity.” See Winthrop, Robert, ed., The Life and Letters of John Winthrop (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867), II, p. 19.Google Scholar

6 Of course, political scientists can also support policies designed to reinforce the call of duty with the support of law. For an excellent study of citizenship in relation to the workplace, see Mansbridge, Jane, Beyond Adversary Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1980).Google Scholar

7 Landy, Marc K. and Plotkin, Henry, “Limits of the Market Metaphor,” Society, 19 (May/June 1982), pp. 817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Lasswell, Harold D., “Psychology Looks at Morals and Politics,” Ethics, LI (1941), pp. 325336 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Berger, Peter L., “On the Obsolescence of the Concept of Honor,” European Journal of Sociology, XI (1970), pp. 339347.Google Scholar

9 Mr. Reagan stands out by comparison, but he is generally regarded as “amiable,” which indicates that he is not perceived as particularly exciting or worthy of attention. The problem of bad performance is more serious because the economics of political performance differ from those of the theater. Since a play must draw a certain number of people or close, voting with your feet counts; politics stays open unless the level of disaffection is catastrophic.

10 Leuchtenburg, William, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).Google Scholar

11 Will's, George own alternative doctrine does not seem adequate to the implications of his assertion that the Constitution is “ill founded” (Statecraft as Soulcraft (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. 18).Google Scholar

12 Despite the conservative associations of memory, it should be obvious that recollection is often literally “revolutionary.” See Arendt, Hannah, On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1963), pp. 1352.Google Scholar

13 Freud, Sigmund, “Mourning and Melancholia,” in Strachey, James, ed., Complete Psychological Works, vol. XIV (London: Hogarth, 1957), pp. 243258.Google Scholar

14 Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech in 1964, which dates from the same era, is probably too little remembered to be included.

15 Berelson, Bernard, Lazarsfeld, Paul F. and McPhee, William, Voting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), pp. 305323 Google Scholar; Greenstein, Fred, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (New York: Basic Books, 1982).Google Scholar

16 For a similar view, see Arkes, Hadley, The Philosopher and the City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 2391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Kammen, Michael, People of Paradox: An inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (New York: Knopf, 1972).Google Scholar

18 McWilliams, Wilson Carey, “The Bible and the American Political Tradition,” in Aronoff, Myron J., ed., Religion and Politics (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1984), pp. 1146 Google Scholar; Benestad, J. Brian, The Pursuit of a Just Social Order (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1982).Google Scholar