Thinking about politics: american government in associational perspective

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By Paul F. deLespinasse, Adrian College

Copyright © 1981 by Paul F. deLespinasse. Details of generous permission to make copies This chapter may not print or copy unless you have clicked here first.

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The goal of this textbook is to provide students with a comprehensive survey of the American political system and with aframework for analyzing its processes and functions. It will appeal to instructors of introductory American government courses who wish to take students beyond a traditional institutional orientation. Throughout the text, the various dimensions of American politics are integrated into an analytical framework designed to stimulate thoughtful understanding of the political world.

Two kinds ofstudent will read this book. Some will continue in political science. Others will not. Which kind of student is more important for introductory courses to reach? Those who continue political studies should get a good foundation. But for the others, the first course may be the last chance to study government systematically.

The presence of diverse students in introductory classes bafflesmainstream political scientists. Should the instructor focus on scientific methodology for the benefit of majors or on preparation for citizenship to meet the needs of nonmajors? Separate sections for majors and nonmajors, common in the physical sciences, are uncommon in political science.

Introductory textbooks necessarily have limits. Well-informed and sophisticated thinking about politics requiresbroad, sustained, and individualized reading as well as a lot of contemplation and discussion. A textbook may help to kick off and guide this larger educational process but cannot replace it. Texts that try to cover too much may even be counterproductive.

I have tried to make Thinking about Politics interesting, intellectually manageable, and relevant to student concerns. Richard Cobden, leaderof a nineteenth-century English reform group, once observed that instructors must amuse as well as instruct. As long as amusement remains a means and does not displace the instructional goal, Cobden's rule may be regarded as a primary pedagogical principle. Sugar coating, however, can go only so far to make a difficult subject easy. To master the principles expounded in this book students mustconcentrate long and hard, just as they would expect to do in physics, accounting, or foreign-language classes.

Political observers and actors reach many conclusions intuitively, and these may be valid and important. When possible, such conclusions should be tested for compatibility with evidence and with our other beliefs. Conflict with evidence indicates that the intuitive conclusion should beabandoned or modified; conflict with other ideas suggests that we should think some more. Students of politics need to develop their ability to employ schooled intuition. It is hoped that Thinking about Politics will help students develop their analytical competence in the political arena.

Acknowledgments and Open Invitation for Feedback

Excellent criticism and ideas for revisions, discussiontopics, exam questions, and the like, are bound to occur to many instructors who use this book. Some may also have questions about what particular statements in the book mean. While I have tried to write as clearly as possible, some ambiguities may remain. Accordingly, I invite instructors, even interested students, to send me questions and suggestions. I promise to acknowledge all suchcommunications. Please address your letters to me at the Department of Political Science, Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan 49221.

Basic ideas presented here have been germinating for some time. Several occurred to me under peculiar circumstances. I do not even know the full name of one person with whom I had a particularly influential discussion back in 1963. It was a chance meeting over dinner one...
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