Civic Identity, Civic Deficit: The Unanswered Questions
It is routinely acknowledged that there is a growing ideological divide in the United States. Though this divide appears to be growing, it is not a new phenomenon. Throughout its history, the United States has struggled to resolve the tension between individual rights and the “passions of the majority,” to forge an overarching unity from our substantial and growing diversity without, however, demanding uniformity as the price of membership in the polis.
This paper addresses the role that civic literacy—understood as basic knowledge about U.S. history, the constitution and Bill of Rights--plays in that process, and in fostering perceptions that Americans are all members of a national community despite differences in identity and ideology.
We consider both theoretical perspectives and empirical research on the nature and role of civic knowledge in encouraging democratic participation generally, before moving to a consideration of the degree to which vulnerable and marginalized populations are disenfranchised and/or alienated from the political process by a lack of sufficient civic knowledge. We frame the discussion through both the lens of specific disciplines as well as through an exploration of the ways in which an interdisciplinary approach enhances and informs the inquiry.
Finally, we consider the role of basic civic knowledge in formulating a conception of what it means to be a member of the American political community.