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This leads to another important theme of our political history that can be communicated through social studies: the resolution of conflict through the establishment and growth of political institutions. Creating Structures Political scientific and sociological research clearly indicates the existence of a profound degree of conflict in our democratic culture.
Specifically, the American political story reveals three major themes: (1) tolerating conflicts between opposing values and beliefs, (2) creating structures to resolve those conflicts, and (3) accommodating conflicts through tolerance and compromise.
Tolerating Conflicts A review of social science literature regarding American political culture indicates that conflict between opposing values and beliefs resolved in ways in which neither side totally wins or loses is one of the essential themes of American political history.
Political scientists also point out that, as Aristotle noted, humans are by nature political animals. Mills is Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana.
Political scientists believe that this nature springs from necessity.
Because historians have often disagreed about the meaning of most episodes in our political history, any attempt to examine and explain the historical political dynamics of our culture-with all of its ironies and paradoxes-is immediately fraught with difficulty.
However, despite the difficulty, our political history may provide some structure that can help guide social studies research and, particularly, social studies instruction.This conflict between order and change is especially intense in a democracy where those groups who have less power are not only tolerated and protected but also have available to them the potential means to change the status quo.Significantly, this sociological notion that conflicts exist in a society between those who seek order and those who seek change parallels the political conflict Wilson and others have noted between an emphasis on liberty and personal freedom, on one hand, and an emphasis on equality and social justice, on the other.Specifically, in a democratic culture, over time, those who have sought liberty and personal freedom will often become successful economically and politically.Once they have achieved a higher status, they may then conversely seek to maintain a more closed economic, social, and political system to protect their status and power.Order and Change Another parallel notion of this paradoxical conflict in American politics is found in sociology.Specifically, sociologists have pointed out that order versus change is one of the primary conflicts in any society (Denisoff and Wahrman 1979; Eshleman and Cashion 1985; Rose, Glazer, and Glazer 1982; Mendoza and Napoli 1982).However, Wilson also related the contradictory nature of these beliefs.Wilson noted, for example, that Equality of opportunity seems an attractive idea, but sometimes it can be pursued only by curtailing personal liberty, another attractive idea.Furthermore, as Ebenstein, Mann, Pritchett, and Turner (1976, 6) explained, political questions ultimately revolve around the problem of the distribution of power: Power in any society or political system may be centralized-that is, it may be held by a small elite-or it may be shared by a plurality of groups. With respect to the analysis of power in the United States, two main approaches or interpretations have been advanced: the pluralist and the elitist. Wright Mills (1958), perhaps more than any other, has argued that elitism is at the core of our social, economic, and political culture.