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“Our Republican Example”: The Significance of the American Experiments in Government in the Twenty-First Century

Rogers M. Smith
American Political Thought
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 101-128
Published by: University of Chicago Press in association with the Notre Dame Program in Constitutional Studies and the Jack Miller Center
DOI: 10.1086/664593
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664593
Page Count: 28
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“Our Republican Example”: The Significance of the American Experiments in Government in the Twenty-First Century
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Abstract

The founding generations of Americans saw themselves as undertaking experiments in government that included creating constitutional democratic republics and promoting commerce, science, and religious freedom. As Tocqueville recognized, their efforts fostered a society in which, for a time, there was extensive agreement on what James Ceaser has termed “foundational concepts,” despite sharp policy differences, and a society in which commerce, science, and religion all flourished. Yet as they did, they created a national context in which, in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many embraced notions of evolution that challenged older rationalist and religious foundational concepts, while many others continued to affirm these older beliefs. The American experiments in government thus initiated changes that have increasingly fostered deep political and philosophical divisions, creating major new challenges for democratic republican self-governance today.

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