Studies in American Political Development
In 1997, Ira Katznelson contributed to the ongoing discussion among social scientists and historians about how to analyze class formation and the development of the American state. He was particularly interested in tying this research to the history of liberalism in an effort to both historicize the generalizations of Louis Hartz and address the question of American exceptionalism. Evaluating the body of research, Katznelson argued that authors had too frequently abstracted the state from its context and then used it to explain the very phenomena that helped define the state's character in the first place. In part to imbed the state more concretely in its environment, he suggested “a shift in angle of vision away from the state as such to the character of the rules and institutions that govern the transactions between the state and civil society.” This shift would also contribute to the study of America's prevailing liberalism, which has shaped the environment of the working class and the state, even while its own particular character has been the subject of some of the most profound divisions in American public life. Using J. David Greenstone's work, Katznelson defined liberalism as a “boundary condition,” that is, “‘a set of relatively permanent features of a particular context that affect causal relationships within it' even as it remains subject to dispute.” In times of crisis, conflicts over liberalism's “grammar of rules,” or it's “bundle of institutions and norms,” spill across the line between state and civil society, because they involve redefining the relation between the two. 1 Footnotes 1 Ira Katznelson, “Working-Class Formation and American Exceptionalism, Yet Again,” in American Exceptionalism? US Working-Class Formation in an International Context, ed. Rick Halpern and Jonathan Morris (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 36–55, quotations on 40 and 42.