The Ideology of American Democracy

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“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other – until one day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology” (Ayn Rand, 1967)

Indeed, ideologies – from the neo-conservative wing of democracy to one which is fundamentally liberal in nature have been subject of harsh criticisms and analysis throughout the course of history. From the founding of democracy to the present milestones of the American presidency, ideologies prominently figured with the events that transpired and the policies that have been adopted or discarded. The meanings that have been ascribed to them could not be undermined, as they became crucial determinants of the political system of a country. As a nation represented by several ideological views on democracy and liberalism, the United States of America has never been an exception to this rule.

Mansfield (1993) pointed out that policy processes in the three governing bodies of American democracy – the executive, legislative and even the judiciary is influenced by a variety of existing ideological traditions. The influence of such has been very notable, that as ideologies became the core principles for action, the promotion of virtue and self-sacrifice for the common good became the dominant philosophy of the American culture (Pocock, 1975).

According to Smith (1988), there are three political philosophies in the United States: republican, liberal and ascriptive. While the republican and liberal ideologies carried contending philosophies and principles, the ascriptive ideology is an opposition to racial and sexual hierarchies that have been found to be the bane of the two aforementioned ideologies. These three contending ideologies form part of the arguments and discord of the United States political system in the carrying out of national and even foreign policies.

Indeed, the war that has been waged after the September 11 bombing might have taken a different turn if the Bush Presidency decided to abandon its neo-conservative ideology aspirations. Isn’t President Obama being criticized for allegedly adopting European social democratic ideology on welfare provision, with the advancement of the US National Health Care Policy? The ideological stances of the government dictates the policies being enacted and sometimes, such stances result to bickering and efficiencies, particularly if the majority pushes for a goal that is not compatible with the opposing party’s ideals and aspirations. Ideological polarization often produces more “gridlocks” on pressing policy issues than ordinary political party subdivisions (Sundsquit, 1989).

Spaeth and Segal (1999) added that though the judiciary should be highly impartial on policy matters and issues, judges are still being influenced by their ideological preferences more than by their legal principles. This study has been corroborated by actual documentation of evidences where the votes of justices in the US Supreme Court became an adequate reflection of their personal ideologies (Segal and Spaeth, 1999). This may prove to be somewhat disconcerting – as judges should be nonaligned and that legal principles should always take precedent over personal issues and preferences, for it is with them that laws are interpreted and carried out.

Political parties represent these ideologies in the US Political System. Often it can be seen, how candidates from opposing parties differ on their opinions on certain key issues of the United States affairs. Where a candidate pushes for war, its opponent pushes for reconciliation; such opposing beliefs and opinions are all hinged on the ideological system that the party has adopted. As aforementioned, the liberal framework has a significant difference from the republican, even if in essence, their goals are almost similar. These seemingly “epic” conflicts become one of the key reasons for inefficiencies – particularly during instances when the political party of the head of state is not similar with that of the legislative majority.

Indeed, though critics may question the extent for which these political parties uphold upon their respective ideologies in the face of the United State’s political system, one could not deny the fact that these ideologies are highly stable (Gerring, 1998) and have been able to brave and transcend the criticisms and emerging political thoughts in the course of history – an indication, not of rigidity, but of a lasting belief on democracy and everything that it represents.


Gerring, John. (1998). Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mansfield, Harvey. (1993). America’s Constitutional Soul. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Pocock, J.G.A. (1975). The Machiavellian Moment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rand, Ayn. (1967). Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal. USA: New American Library

Smith, Rogers. (1988). “Political Jurisprudence, the New Institutionalism, and the Future of Public Law.” American Political Science Review. 82: 89-108.

Spaeth, Harold, and Jeffrey Segal. (1999). Majority Rule or Minority Will: Adherence to Precedent in the U.S. Supreme Court. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sundquist, James. (1983). Dynamics of the Party System. Washington DC: Brookings


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