True Blue vs. Deep Red: The Ideas that Move American Politics


Publication Date: May 2006

Publisher: Hudson Institute

Author(s): James W. Ceaser

Research Area: Politics

Type: Other


The scholarly debate on polarization, now in full swing, finds each side deploying every known statistical device in the mighty arsenal of social science. But in almost direct proportion to the increase in attention given to measuring polarization, there has been a decrease in attention devoted to investigating its substance.

What Lincoln called a philosophical public opinion, or what has been referred to here as a “foundational concept,” is a first principle that is offered in politics to supply a justification for a general political orientation. It is often therefore different from merely proclaiming a “value,” which is a bald assertion and normally evokes an equally bald assertion in response. A foundational concept is supposed to provide the basis, or, in certain cases, the rationale for a value. Foundational concepts derive from three sources: nature, History (capitalization to be explained), and faith.

The reemergence of a concept of natural right in American national life has slowly but steadily been taking place now for nearly forty years. This principle played a prominent role during the Cold War, when it was invoked to help draw a clear line between liberal democracy and Communism and to offer a basis for combating the skepticism and relativism of many in the West who were unwilling to condemn Communism. And it was subsequently introduced in many of the debates over quota policies, diversity programs and multiculturalism. But the concept of natural right has clearly become most visible as a public issue in the last few years.