Key notes

Key notes will be presented by prof.dr. Glenda Sluga (University of Sydney) and prof.dr. Adam Fairclough (University of Leiden). The key notes are open to the public. Particiation in the workshops: please contact the coordinator of the theme of your choice.

Prof.dr. Glenda Sluga, University of Sydney

The research of Glenda Sluga addresses the dynamic relationship between internationalism and nationalism at the forefront of international history. It offers important insights into the modes and mechanics of European nationalisms and how they interacted with global internationalisms in the twentieth century.

Abstract Glenda Sluga

The international history of democracy and the nation-state: 3 methodological propositions.
Over the last few decades, history has taken not only a transnational and global turn, but also an international turn. In this lecture I will consider the relevance of the new international history for an older history of the nation as the political vehicle of democracy and equality by reflecting on three methodological propositions: Firstly, myths and misconceptions in the study of nationalism and internationalism; secondly, gender as a category of analysis; and finally, the story of the state. These propositions feed into of a larger project that aims to reintegrate the history of internationalism in the modern history of the national and nation-state, and to restore the significance of the nation to the history of twentieth century internationalisms.

Prof.dr. Adam Fairclough, Leiden University

Adam Fairclough is Professor of American History at Leiden University since 2005, and wrote several books and numerous articles on the black civil rights movement in the United States, his main area of expertise.

Abstract Adam Fairclough

"Government B y the People? American Political Parties and the Nation-State."
The basic argument of the talk is that the concept of democracy as "government by the people" (part of Lincoln's famous formulation) has distinguished American politics from the politics of other older democracies.
It draws upon the work of Stephen Skowronek and Francis Fukuyama in arguing that the advent of white, male universal suffrage in the 1830s produced highly-organized political parties which, in effect, substituted for the kind of strong, centralized governments that existed in Europe.  The "spoils system" not only sustained party organizations but also precluded the development of a non-partisan administrative bureaucracy.  From the top of the government to the bottom, party loyalists governed, regardless of expertise.  Somewhat paradoxically, however, the unelected but highly political federal judiciary added coherence to the nation-state and provided a counterweight to the anarchic tendencies of the political parties.  The U.S. was, in the words of Skowronek, a "state of courts and parties."  In Europe, by contrast, democratic politics developed long after the development of strong nation-states.

It goes on to argue that although the 20th century saw the gradual development of a non-partisan federal civil service, and the equally gradual weakening of political party machines, the U.S. remains a "state of courts and parties" to a remarkable degree.  This can be seen in the ubiquity of elective positions (down to proverbial dog-catcher) that in other countries would be merit-based appointments, and in the survival of an albeit weakened "spoils system."  It can be see, too, in a deep distrust of experts (think climate change denial), and in strong hostility to centralized government.  It can be seen, too, in the vastly increased role of the federal judiciary, which is, in effect, the third political branch of the federal government.  The courts not only adjudicate but also administer and (in effect) legislate.  As the power of the parties has declined, that of the courts has increased.

The efforts of progressive reformers to weaken the grip of the political machines, although carried out in the name of democracy, produced a more anarchic, less democratic politics.  The proliferation of the primary system, for example, enables insurgent groups that are numerically small but well organized (e.g. the Tea Party movement) to circumvent and defeat party hierarchies.  It has also vastly increased the role of super-wealthy donors.

Although Walter Dean Burnham, Larry Sabato and other political scientists warn that gerrymandering, low voter turnouts, and an irresponsible Supreme Court have created a crisis of political legitimacy, there is little pressure for change.  Legitimacy is provided by the elective principle itself, and, in the case of the Supreme Court, by reverence for the Constitution as Holy Writ.

Finally, the increasingly polarized politics of today demands a reconsideration of Louis Hartz's influential thesis that the United States has been characterized by a liberal consensus.  Striking is the absence of consensus on such basic issues as the right to vote, which has never been defined a national right.  The fact that the political parties themselves control the machinery of elections and engage in blatant "gerrymandering" fuels this "winner-takes-all" politics.  Paradoxically, the enfranchisement of black southerners after 1965, and the migration of southern whites from the Democratic to the Republican party, has increased political polarization and made old-fashioned deal-making much more difficult.

Last Modified: 13-01-2016