Turns on the Century


In this occasional feature, Boston College faculty offer their comments on key trends of the 20th century, and how those trends are likely to play out in the 21st century.

Prof. Kay Schlozman (Political Science) has written extensively on political activism and civic voluntarism among Americans: "During this century, we've seen people who formerly had little power or influence gradually acquire more political and social rights. But their success in doing so led to internal conflicts over what their ultimate goal should be.

"The civil rights movement had a tremendous impact in demonstrating the collective power of people who were resource-poor. It helped inspire efforts on the part of women, gays , the disabled, and others.

"Eventually, though, people involved in these efforts found themselves in a dilemma. Is the goal to attain equal rights and equal treatment? Or is the movement about celebrating a group's special virtues and characteristics?

"Another question now is, what other groups? I've seen indications of a movement for the overweight. However, I do not have the imagination to predict which particular groups will come forward and make demands on their own behalf."

Prof. Marc Landy (Political Science) has pursued research in the American presidency and trends in US citizenship: "During the latter part of the 20th century, there's been a gradual disconnection between the general public and politics. N ot all that long ago, voters had a bond with the political system through the parties. The parties still function in the roles of mobilizing and fund-raising, but their ability to provide a link for their constituents to the political system has declined.

"Political and social causes provide an alternative kind of involvement, but there are a remarkable number of people who are not energized by an issue or a movement. Since we've been experiencing a lengthy period of economic stability, people may not even feel particularly motivated to connect.

"No trend is forever, or incapable of being reversed. There's nothing like a good, long period of economic depression to convince people they need to do something. If this should happen early on in the next century, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Democratic and Republican parties. They are quite likely to encounter some difficulty in reestablishing their presence with the public, because they've lost their legs."

Adj. Assoc. Prof. Daniel Kanstroom (Law) is director of the Boston College Immigration and Asylum Project: "The American political system has evidenced a deeply ambivalent attitude toward immigration and immigrants during the past 100 years.

"We've cast ourselves as a land of immigrants, and passed laws that have encouraged immigration. One of the most remarkable achievements of our political system was the landmark act in 1980 that established a right to asylum in the US. But we've also had strong anti-immigrant tendencies, from the Palmer Raids of 1919 and similar ideological deportation movements in the early 1920s, to California's Proposition 187.

"One trend that bears watching is the increasing presence of Latinos in the American political system. They were very effective and efficient in organizing against Prop. 187, and there have been a number of successful campaigns in the Southwest, West and South by candidates with Latino backgrounds. There are many Latinos whose families have been in America for generations, so it's wrong to group them all in the 'recently-arrived' category. But they may follow the pattern of the Irish, for example, another immigrant group who after experiencing discrimination and exploitation were able to join the American mainstream in large part due to their political involvement."

-Sean Smith

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