I will be speaking at the AFEA (The French Association for American Studies, Association Française d’Études Américaines) 2014 Conference. The title of the conference is The USA: Models, Counter-Models, The End of Models?
I will participate in a panel entitled “American Politics: What future model for political America: manifestly gridlocked destiny or reinvented union?” The panel will be at 8:15 to 11:45 a.m. on May 23, 2014. The venue is Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle (13 rue Santeuil).
The panel will consist of Jérôme Noirot, of the Ecole Centrale, Lyon, the organizer of the panel, myself, and the following distinguished persons, speaking on the following subjects:
Ashley Byock (Edgewood College), « The Bonded/Resistant Slave Body and The Emergence of Neoliberalism in the U.S. Context ».
Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3), «American Mythology in Presidential Discourse : National Shared Values or Political Partisanship ?».
François Vergniollle de Chantal (Université Paris Diderot), «Polarized politics under President Obama».
I will speak on “America 3.0, Decentralization and the Tenth Amendment.”
(Don’t tell anyone, but I am currently mugging up on the Tenth Amendment!)
Immense thanks to Jérôme Noirot for this invitation. Initially Jim Bennett was the invitee, but Jim could not make it. So I am pinch hitting for the maestro!
I also offer my heartfelt thanks to two very good friends whose financial support helped to make this trip possible, and two a third old friend who kindly offered to let me stay at his home in Paris.
A detailed description of the issues to be raised in the panel discussion is below the fold.
AFEA May 2014
American Politics: What future model for political America: manifestly gridlocked destiny or reinvented union?
Conventional wisdom has it that ever since New Deal policies were first carried out and fuelled conservative opposition to the growth of government, two increasingly distinct visions of American society have vied for public support and moved the nation closer to political gridlock with potentially dire economic consequences. The gap between these two visions is said to originate in the seemingly irreconcilable answers which they give to two basic philosophical and political questions: first, what are respectively the proper limits of government and individual freedom? Second, what role should the Constitution, and more generally the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage, play in marking out those limits?
On one side is the vision of the Founding Fathers who designed a system of government focusing on the primacy of inalienable individual rights particularly as defined in the Declaration of Independence. From this perspective, the need to protect such rights and obviate any risk of a “war of all against all” mechanically brings individuals together and societies into existence. That in turn leads to the creation of government whose role consists essentially in promoting the peaceful exercise of individual rights and freedoms. However because of the fallen condition of human nature as reflected in selfishness and the lust for domination, limits must be set to political power. It is therefore to neutralize the threat of tyranny that separation of power came to be adopted as a guiding principle by the Founding Fathers. The Founders regarded a written constitution as the essential tool to codify that separation both horizontally between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, and vertically between the federal government and the States. Yet such a constitution could not on its own guarantee the success of a republican form of government based on the consistent exercise of individual freedom. The Founding Fathers therefore stressed the need to foster durably, both among the governed and their elected representatives, the notion of virtue described as the religiously-inspired moral ability to tame selfish impulses for the common good.
The opposing vision of American society has successively been conceived and partly implemented by Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and today Barack Obama. It is based on a more optimistic view of government’s ability to craft solutions to contemporary social and economic issues. Consequently, less divided government may well be needed to share out the country’s wealth more equitably, allow the exercise of individual freedom more fully particularly through universal access to health care and education, and adjust tradition to changing lifestyles. Seen from this perspective, the Constitution is dismissed as both obsolete and a political, social, and economic straitjacket that needs to be made more “living”, flexible, and inclusive to reflect society’s constantly changing norms.
The aim of this panel is to examine the actual scope and depth of the increasingly strident political, legislative, and judicial strifes that the two visions of American society seem to be generating both at the federal level and within the States. More particularly, the panel will look into whether such strifes reflect artificially partisan positioning naturally dictated by the rules of democratic electioneering, or whether they act as a check on the growing unification of the executive and legislative branches that may have been developing since the presidency of George W. Bush whenever either party has held the two branches simultaneously. In other words, is American society hopeless riven by divergent philosophical and political views of its nature and function, or is there still enough common ground for the American people to shape their country’s destiny consensually? If the survival of nations does depend on constant renewal, the panel will test the proposition that American renewal may ultimately rest on a combination of innovation and tradition in yet another rendition of E Pluribus Unum.