Patterns of Response

Originally published in American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, 1981
  • Samuel P. Huntington


For Huntington, American society is intrinsically conflictual. His reason for thinking so is not the presence of antagonistic social classes, but the incompatibility between what he calls the “American creed” (a political culture of antistatist values including liberty, equality of opportunity, individualism, democracy, constitutionalism and limited local government) and the requirements of running a society. Coping with the various historical contingencies that confront the United States from abroad (e.g., the Nazi challenge) and within (e.g., disability and aging in an increasingly urban society of nuclear households) routinely produces actions destructive of the values of this antistatist American political culture, particularly a large, more active (e.g., large standing military forces and social security) national government. These practical challenges simply require the coping mechanisms (institutions) of a more hierarchical political culture. This creates what Huntington calls the “IvI gap”—a tension between American ideals (the first “I”) and the institutions (the second “I”) that are necessary to practice modern government. As a consequence of this IvI gap, the United States experiences roughly sixty-year cycles of “creedal passion” involving attacks on authority (hierarchy) in general and central political authority in particular designed to bring political life back into conformance with creedal values. Yet life inevitably returns to hierarchical practices that violate these values. In the pages selected here Huntington provides a brief description of this pattern in terms of a four-stage cycle: moralism, cynicism, complacency, and finally hypocrisy that breeds a return to moralism.


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© Lane Crothers and Charles Lockhart 2000

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  • Samuel P. Huntington

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