10 May 2000




American Political Theory and Textual Analysis

Last night's journal entry is continued tonight.  The question last night:  in what manner and to what extent does the reader side of the Lutz textual analysis model affects my notion of virtual courses?  To refine that question, I specifically am talking about my proposed comprehensive study of American Political Thought. 

To answer that question, I revisited Don Lutz's Preface to American Political Theory tonight.  Lutz has a great line about the entire textual-analytical enterprise:  "Presumably the entire point of textual analysis is to elicit the author's meaning; otherwise we could save time by writing our own texts and reading them instead."  He then goes on severely to critique the ideal-text model, but that's a digression (good word, that!).  Another assumption is this:   "[W]e are led to conclude that a text is a confluence of three elements:   an author or authors, a piece of writing, and a reader or readers.  The reader defines a text for his or her purpose and thus, by implication, the definition of a complete text; the author also attempt to define.  The author's text and the reader's text will probably differ unless the questions they ask are the same and unless the reader's purpose is to uncover the authors probable intended meaning, guided by the author's purpose."  A final assumption is that constitutionalism is the core of American political theory, and for that reason, American constitutional documents are texts central to the study of American political theory. 

Preliminaries out of the way, Lutz offers the following:  "The meaning of a text is tied to a number of factors, including

1) the denotation and connotation of words,
2) the structured relationship between words produced by the application of rules of grammar
3) the overall argument or logical progression of implications produced by such meaning and structure over an entire text,
4) the context in which the text was written,
5) the questions we bring to the text.

I used to have a nifty little graphic depicting the Lutz model, but a hard drive crash wiped it a while ago.  But it's not really necessary to my effort tonight or my greater effort in APT -- by laying out Don's model, I've only meant to highlight #5 in order to assess how it applies to my eventual comprehensive study of APT (as this was a topic raised on the message boards some time ago).  The answer is, it needs careful thought because it affects the project immensely!  It seems my enterprise needs some important guiding questions in order even to assemble the proper text -- incidentally, Lutz has a GREAT quote about assembling texts being an "overlooked" yet perhaps THE most important matter in these sorts of studies, and I CANNOT FIND IT.  Annoying.  

For example, to "understand" the constitution, one's assembled text becomes huge -- since constitutionalism defines the American political approach, we would have to examine all of the proto-constitutions right back to the Mayflower Compact that flourished in the early-American regime (1, 4, 5), we would need to take a look at state constitutions (deferred to in the constitution itself -- 2, 3, 4, 5), explanatory writings such as pamphlets, articles (Federalist and Anti-Federalist) and the like (1, 4, 5), related legislative activity such as, for example, the First Judiciary Act (3, 4, 5 -- and an interesting additional question would be, in what manner and to what extent does the First Judiciary Act confirm the natural right basis of American constitutionalism?), intellectual lineage, etc.  This is going to be an exhausting (and exhilarating) enterprise!  But I think the point that has been driven home is that my inquiry needs to be guided to some extent by good questions. (I sound like, to use a typical Ross Lence line, "a goddamn political theory student" now).  Robert Palmer points out that his online course materials do present a point of view (his own!), and of course it's logical to assume that this is in answer to questions he's raised.  Thus, I've concluded I need to be a little more focused and systematic about my inquiry than just wanting to "understand the Founding."  What a fun digression!  Now, back to the dissertation.


Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited