The American Political Science Association has just announced that Emily Pears of Claremont McKenna College has won the award for best book in American political thought.
In Cords of Affection: Constructing Constitutional Union in Early American History Emily Pears investigates efforts by the founding generation’s leadership to construct and strengthen political attachments in and among the citizens of the new republic. These emotional connections between citizens and their institutions were critical to the success of the new nation. The founders recognized that attachments do not form automatically and require constant tending. Emily Pears defines and develops a theory of political attachments based on an analysis of the approaches used in the founding era. In particular, she identifies three methods of political attachment—a utilitarian method, a cultural method, and a participatory method. Cords of Affection offers a comparative analysis of the theories and projects undertaken by a wide array of political leaders in the early republic and antebellum periods that exemplify each of the three methods. The work includes new historical analysis of the implementation of projects of nationalism and attachment, ranging from data on federal funding for internal improvements to analysis of Whig orations.
In Cords of Affection Emily Pears offers lessons from history about the strengths, weaknesses, and pitfalls of various approaches to constructing national political attachments. Twenty-first century Americans’ attachments to their national government have waned. While there are multiple narratives of this decline, they all have the same core element: a citizenry unwilling to uphold the norms and institutions of American democracy in the face of challenge. When a demagogue or a populist movement or a foreign power threatens action that undermines American democracy, citizens will not come to its defense. Citizens cheer their own side, regardless of the means it uses, or they are simply apathetic to the role that institutions and institutional constraints play in keeping us all free and equal. At worst, Americans have come to regard their inherited constitutional foundations as unjust, biased, or ill-equipped for the modern world, and the notion of a shared political community as prejudicial and old-fashioned. They feel little sense of attachment to the American regime. By contrast the lessons in Cords of Affection allow us to consider a broader array of possible tools for the maintenance of todays political attachments.