Dr. David Frisk, Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), recently published a review of a book on how Americans have become so politically divided in recent decades.
This is his fifth review in the last two years on Liberty Fund’s prominent Law & Liberty website, which posts a wide range of writings that look at the American constitutional, legal, and political system.
Frisk reviewed The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era by political historian Sam Rosenfeld, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colgate University, The book details how the Democratic and Republican parties have changed in response to visions of a more ideological politics—advocated by leaders on both sides. Among such advocates were William F. Buckley Jr editor of National Review, and William Rusher, its publisher. Frisk wrote a widely praised biography of Rusher, published in 2012.
“In recent years, a growing number of books have analyzed how the intense ‘Red/Blue’ gap in American society developed and the extent to which it really exists,” Frisk notes. “But The Polarizers focuses on the parties as organizations and alliances, rather than as forces in the electorate.”
In the review, which Law & Liberty posted on August 23, Frisk writes that Rosenfeld demonstrates how “important political players worked for half a century to redefine both parties as starkly contrasting ideological forces.
“Their success in this project is the main reason for today’s partisan polarization. When a party’s control of the White House or Congress has clear ideological implications, people who prefer the opposite set of beliefs, or fear the beliefs that seem to be in power, can be expected to take it badly. Their responses, in turn, are likely to upset the other side. . . .
“Why these wide-ranging efforts to ideologize the Democratic and Republican parties? Although many citizens find the current polarization strange and frustrating, they might find non-polarized parties at least as strange, and just as frustrating, if they traveled back 60 years.”
A Resident Fellow at AHI since 2013, Dr. Frisk teaches its popular continuing education courses on history and politics, assists with reading groups the AHI sponsors at Hamilton College, and helps to edit Enquiry, the weekly publication of AHI’s Undergraduate Fellows Program at Hamilton. Last fall, he taught a course titled “Modern Conservative Politics” in the college’s Government Department. He is the author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012).