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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Democratic Culture in America


America has multiple civic traditions and is a nation that blends liberal and illiberal ideals. The Lockean liberal foundations the American civic community is built upon left space for people like Thomas Jefferson to add non-liberal elements to Locke’s theory, so it could better fit the context of the situation. Rogers Smith argues that the political elite fill that space with illiberal values to obtain power or maintain already established power structures.The political elite create “civic myths,” tales that are made from falsehoods, that give the individuals of a certain community greater worth than individuals who do not share the community’s common identity. This can help politicians mobilize their base in times of economic hardship. Since Lockean liberalism gives individuals theirworth based upon their productivity, individuals find their worth in sub-community identities, which politiciansare not afraid to use for their own political gain.


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