Social Change and Political Representation in the Long Cycles of American History
In an op-ed article published in the “New York Times” in January 2021, opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg wondered whether Joe Biden’s Presidency would be the first post-Reagan Presidency. According to a theory that divides American political history into cycles or “political times” (Skowronek, 2008), long-term political regimes in the United States are based on shared beliefs that change through time after exhausting their strength. In this theoretical approach, presidents can either shape their action to “reconstruct” a political order or be “preemptive” of a new one. Thus, American political history can be partitioned into the eras of Federalist nationalism (1789-1800), Jeffersonian democracy (1800-1828), Jacksonian democracy (1828-1860), Republican nationalism (1860-1932), New Deal liberalism (1932-1980), and the Reagan era (1980-present). Each of these phases has relied on the empowerment of a coalition of political and social groups defined by race, ethnicity and gender, ideology, political and scientific culture, economic status and professionalism, even geographical distribution of their components.
Several aspects concur to the idea that a new phase is in sight: seismic demographic and economic changes, realignments in the country’s political map, cultural clashes over the racial, gender and class makeup of the country and the rising popularity of some measures in antithesis with Reagan’s small-government mantra (such as a minimum-wage rise and the strengthening of some forms of public healthcare). What can we learn on the next chapter of American history by looking back at past developments and conflicts in US society, culture, and politics?
The fifth issue of USAbroad invites to reflect on the “long cycles” of American history from a broad historical perspective. We are interested in analyses that detail the historical reasons and actors that drove change in political cycles across time; explorations of the social, cultural and economic features of, and transformations along, one or more phases of U.S. history; research that focus on presidential policy and shifts in political and scientific culture in the progressive and conservative spheres; critiques and counter-narratives to the “cycle” thesis in American political history.
Contributions may include but are not limited to: