Contact: Carl Smith
STARKVILLE, Miss.—In a time of divisive culture wars, distrust in government and political uncertainty, Brian Shoup, a professor in and the head of Mississippi State’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration, said Americans can do two things to ensure the continued durability of the republic: love one another and love their country.
Shoup’s advice came during Monday’s [Sept. 19] Lamar Conerly Governance Forum lecture “What is a Republic?” in which the university celebrated Constitution Day, the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787—12 years after the infamous “shot heard ’round the world” began the American Revolutionary War and 11 years after the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence.
In his lecture, Shoup noted the decline of public support and confidence in democratic governance across the world, evidenced from a 2020-21 AmericasBarometer survey in which only 63% of respondents indicated support for democracy to the rise of populist authoritarian leaders in Hungry, India, Turkey, the Philippines and other countries.
Many factors, from income inequality to abandonment issues derived from years of population moving from rural environments to dense urban centers, have led to the erosion of confidence in American governance, Shoup said, but perhaps the most influential is affective polarization. These divisions based on internal feelings and ideology, as opposed to specific issues, have placed Americans on differing sides where many “don’t like who [they] vote for but hate who [they] vote against,” he said, just to beat the perceived existential threat posed by the opposition. This move to the extremes has made political discourse more difficult, he said, even though many Americans do not have extremely differing viewpoints on many issues.
“When people think that participatory politics actively hurts them—and if they believe free-market principles that we attach typically to our forms of constitutional republics actively hurt them—they won’t support them,” Shoup said. “It turns out when you ask people who profess to be in polar-opposite ideological camps about their attitudes on a lot of issues, they actually don’t disagree that much.”
Cultures with flourishing democratic republics, Shoup said, have strong civic virtues in which individuals recognize their obligations to society, healthy rhetorical cultures open to debate and discussion, a fealty to truth and citizens who follow the spirit of law instead of seeking out loopholes to game the system to their advantage or the disadvantage of others.
Shoup asked attendees to give reverence to and reflect upon American institutions of government in light of Constitution Day.
“The history of the United States has not always been fully equitable, free or fair, but I hope we can perceive ourselves as an aspirational society that is committed to making these very valuable liberties that we have been given universal and equitably met. In doing so, we have something that is very beautiful and is something I think is a remarkable experiment,” he said. “For us to sustain the work as experimenters, we must make sure it achieves these fruitful ends.”
Sponsored by MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, PSPA department and the Lamar Conerly Governance Forum, Shoup’s presentation was part of MSU’s Conerly Governance Lecture Series. The lecture series is made possible by major support from Conerly, a 1971 MSU accounting/pre-law graduate and longtime partner in the Destin, Florida, law firm of Conerly, Bowman and Dykes LLP. He is both a former national MSU Alumni Association president and continuing College of Business Alumni Fellow.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.