Tilly, Charles. Stories, Identities, and Political Change
Orville D. Menard
Tilly, Charles. Stories, Identities, and Political Change. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002. 255 pp. Cloth, $79; paper, $29.95.
Tilly’s search for understanding political processes and changes involves several basic yet complex and interrelated questions. What is the role of stories in answering who are you, who are we, who are they? Stories are the bearers of the responses and fuel movements that inspire political activism. Accordingly, answers to these questions may help us to better understand political mobilization, identities, and change.
This compilation of a dozen essays by Tilly is dedicated to stories and how they spurred people to collective action. Designed to make some sense of what happened, the essays cover a variety of stories and tales. Despite being written for different audiences, the essays are united by their common ambition and the whole is indeed the sum of its parts. Each can stand alone, but together are collectively coherent.
The analyses take the reader into a variety of settings and bear witness to Tilly’s years of pondering the nature of social science. Interesting chapters cover social-movement stories that wrought change, such as early nationalism, anti-slavery advocates, and various twentieth century protest groups. The rise and predicted fall of the nation-state system are examined, as are individual rights and issues of democratization.
Particularly salient to the United States as an exporter of democracy are Tilly’s remarks regarding the processes of democratization. What conditions are most likely to foster the establishment of a democratic system? Certain circumstances promote democratization, he suggests, including revolution and conquest that result in an uprooting of old stories and opportunity to create anew. Political science has long held to the notion of political culture, the patterns of beliefs and values of a society (its story). The accompanying concept of an authoritarian cultural lag holds that changing from an authoritarian to a democratic one will be a lengthy process. In America, colonists had over 150 years to embed their stories of self-government before their leaders established their democratic republic. France had her revolution in 1789 after centuries of autocratic kings. Short-lived First and Second Republics succumbed to the cultural lag and were replaced by emperors. The longer lasting Third Republic fell to the Vichy dictatorship. Only since World War II has France sustained democracy. Germany’s and Japan’s cultural lag occurred under the shadow of American troops, and democracy came to these countries after several years of occupation. Even with revolution and conquest as the milieu, democratization is a long and laborious process. Add societal fragmentation to the mix and the obstacles are magnified.
Common to all the essays is the striving for a comparative social science methodology, making possible the tools for identifying, comparing, and classifying the subject matter. A ponderous Thorsten Veblen style is encountered (Tilly was a student of his at the University of Chicago) as the author strives to define his terms scientifically and precisely. The bibliography is vast, as is Tilly’s store of knowledge as demonstrated in his essays. He concludes that his is not a book of “findings,” but an effort to advance ways for understanding our world. As he states, his purpose is “to stimulate new work at that promising intersection of social progress” (p. 13). Stories, Identities, and Political Change is a fine example of interdisciplinary work, but probably best suited for advanced students in the social sciences.
Orville D. Menard, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
University of Nebraska at Omaha
COPYRIGHT 2004 Pi Gamma Mu
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group