Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation

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The idea of an exceptional America remains controversial. In this dazzlingly comprehensive collection of essays, some of the nation’s best scholars and thinkers take on the weighty task of sizing up Goliath in a way Americans and others can comprehend. These twenty studies in American exceptionalism provide a solidly researched and in-depth analysis on the current state of our institutions, our values, and our challenges for the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An illuminating effort to explain America to the world-and to itself. The notion of American exceptionalism-the idea that America is different from the rest of the world-has long been a shibboleth among historians and a magnet for yahoos and jingoes. Editors Schuck (Law/Yale Univ.; Diversity in America: Keeping Government at a Safe Distance, 2003, etc.) and Wilson (Public Policy/Pepperdine Univ.; Thinking About Crime, 1975, etc.) restore it with the wise observation that America is at least unusual in its ability to be "deeply divided, witlessly vulgar, religiously orthodox, militarily aggressive, economically savage, and ungenerous to those in need, while maintaining a political stability, a standard of living, and a love of country that is the envy of the world-all at the same time." The contributors examine the mechanisms, institutions and folkways that allow this curious condition. One is the tripartite division of federal power, especially the autonomous power of Congress, even with the efforts of the current administration to expand executive control. Another is the concurrent complexity of government and broad distribution of decision-making authority. Yet another is the unusual interplay of governmental and nongovernmental agencies to produce government goods and services, which accounts for the military-industrial complex so evident in Iraq today. The citizenry, for its part, expects little from the government by way of economic security, which is in contrast with Europeans, who demand that government assure a decent standard of living. The contributors turn up some surprises and offer some pointed notes on current controversies. For one, the military is far from scraping thebottom of the barrel, though that is a common perception. "It still recruits its enlisted personnel overwhelmingly from high school graduates of middling to high intelligence scores on the standard tests and recruits its officer corps from college graduates," writes Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen. And, notes Schuck in an essay on the subject, "recurrent political efforts to limit immigration almost invariably fail," for all the rhetoric surrounding the matter. A nuanced, warts-and-all portrait that offers much to ponder in this election year and beyond.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586486952
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/6/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 586,114
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter H. Schuck is the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is the author of several books.

James Q. Wilson, a former president of the American Political Science Association, and a former professor at Harvard and UCLA. He was decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part 1 American Institutions and Culture

1 The Political System Nelson W. Polsby 3

2 Bureaucracy Donald F. Kettl 27

3 The Legal System Lawrence M. Friedman 61

4 The Economic System Benjamin M. Friedman 87

5 Federalism Martha Derthick 121

6 Political Culture Jack Citrin 147

7 The Media S. Robert Lichter 181

8 Popular Culture Martha Bayles 219

9 The Military Eliot Cohen 247

10 Religion Robert Wuthnow 275

Part 2 American Public Policies

11 The Family Linda J. Waite Melissa J. K. Howe 309

12 Immigration Peter H. Schuck 341

13 Black Americans Orlando Patterson 375

14 Education Paul E. Peterson 411

15 Health Care David Cutler Patricia Keenan 449

16 Criminal Justice James Q. Wilson 475

17 Inequality, Economic Mobility, and Social Policy Gary Burtless Ron Haskins 495

18 Philanthropy and the Non-Profit Sector Arthur C. Brooks 539

19 Drug Policy Jonathan P. Caulkins Mark A. R. Kleiman 563

Part 3 A Larger Perspective

20 A Canvas, Not a Country: How Europe Sees America Josef Joffe 597

21 Looking Back Peter H. Schuck James Q. Wilson 627

Notes 645

Contributors 689

Index 693

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