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Ambition in AmericaPolitical Power and the Collapse of Citizenship$
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Jeffrey A. Becker

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813145044

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813145044.001.0001

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The Ambition of Moral Citizens

The Ambition of Moral Citizens

Belonging and the Limits of the Moral Community

Chapter:
(p.19) 1 The Ambition of Moral Citizens
Source:
Ambition in America
Author(s):

Jeffrey A. Becker

Publisher:
University Press of Kentucky
DOI:10.5810/kentucky/9780813145044.003.0002

This chapter argues the New England Puritans provide a case study of the ambition to form a model political community by dividing people into in-groups and out-groups based on moral categories of righteous and sinful. Though separating people into categories of us and them is socially inevitable, this chapter shows how people who seek political power on grounds of righteousness, while excluding others from power on the grounds of sinfulness, undermine the capacity of citizens to build a political unity out of a morally heterogeneous population. When citizens combine their ambitions to exercise power with claims that the only legitimate political authority rests on the moral righteousness of the leaders, they foster conditions that expand and entrench an authoritarian approach to politics hostile to democratic practices. This chapter argues that dividing us from them, as a strategy for ambitious citizens seeking political power (a strategy still prominent in contemporary electoral politics), sorts citizens into coalitions defined by increasingly polarized worldviews. Rethinking the nature of Puritanical ambition helps citizens disrupt the polarizing sorting of the population. Left undeterred, such polarizing undermines democratic practices of persuasive speech essential to forming collective responsibility for public decisions.

Keywords:   ambition, Puritans, polarization, morality

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