Polarization and the Politics of Personal Responsibility

Paperback | September 15, 2015

byMark D. Brewer, Jeffrey M. Stonecash

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Contemporary American politics is highly polarized, and it is increasingly clear that this polarization exists at both the elite and mass levels. What is less clear is the source of this polarization. Social issues are routinely presented by some as the driver of polarization, while otherspoint to economic inequality and class divisions. Still others single out divisions surrounding race and ethnicity, or gender, or religion as the underlying source of the deep political divide that currently exists in the United States. All of these phenomena are undoubtedly highly relevant inAmerican politics, and it is also beyond question that they represent significant cleavages within the American polity. We argue, however, that disagreement over a much more fundamental matter lies at the foundation of the polarization that marks American politics in the early 21st century. Thatmatter is personal responsibility. Some Americans fervently believe that an individual's lot in life is primarily if not exclusively his or her own responsibility. Opportunity is widespread in American society, and individuals succeed or fail based on their own talents and efforts. Society greatly benefits from such an arrangement,and as such government policies should support and reward individual initiative and responsibility. Other Americans see personal responsibility - while fine in theory - as an unjust organizing principle for contemporary American society. For these Americans, success or failure in life is far toooften not the result of personal effort but of large forces well beyond the control of the individual. Opportunity is not widespread, and is by no means equally available to all Americans. In light of these basic facts of American life, it is the responsibility of the state to step in and implement policies that alleviate inequality and assist those who fail by no fault of their own. These basicdifferences surrounding the idea of personal responsibility are what separate Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, in contemporary American politics.

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Contemporary American politics is highly polarized, and it is increasingly clear that this polarization exists at both the elite and mass levels. What is less clear is the source of this polarization. Social issues are routinely presented by some as the driver of polarization, while otherspoint to economic inequality and class division...

Mark D. Brewer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine, where he teaches broadly in American politics and government and in the Honors College. Brewer's research focuses on American political parties and electoral behavior and religion and politics in the US. He is currently at work on a project examining the place...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 9.21 × 6.1 × 0.71 inPublished:September 15, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190239824

ISBN - 13:9780190239824

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Table of Contents

PrefaceI: The Sources of Conflict in American Politics1. Political Conflict in America: Over What?II: The Evolution of Liberal Thought2. America's Commitment to Individualism3. Social Conditions and a Role for Government4. Expanding the Concept of Societal Effects5. Inequality and Social JusticeIII: The Conservative Response6. Limited Government, Fiscal Restraint and Free Markets7. The Threats of Communism, Socialism and Redistribution8. Tradition, Religion and Rejection of Moral RelativismIV: Politics, Policy and the Personal Responsibility Debate9. Focusing the Debate: Growing Partisan Differences10. Policy Battles Over Responsibility11. What Is and What Should BeAppendix: NES QuestionsBibliography

Editorial Reviews

"Brewer and Stonecash shed a novel, essential light on a key element of intense partisan polarization. Highly charged disputes, like health care reform, spring from varying assessments of blame-the system or the individual. This important book sends us back to the basics, thankfully." --Daniel M. Shea, Professor of Government, Colby College