Friday, June 15, 2012
I consider it a vital observation – from 45 years ago – on the enlargement of American government and on the operational Beltway philosophy of how to craft legislation and regulations. And I want to show how this philosophy went on to become even more significant in the Advocacy-Identity Politics Age that began in the late 1960s and has engorged with consistent intensity ever since.
When quoting him I will use the page reference printed in the article (which began on page 5 of the journal issue in which it was first published).
He begins by noting that “until astonishingly recent times American national government played a marginal role in the life of the nation”. (p.5) As an example, the State Department could support itself on “consular fees” as late as the run-up to World War 1.
He cuts quickly and acutely to the chase: “The relatively small size of the public [i.e. governmental] sphere was maintained in great part by the constitutional wall of separation between government and private life”. (p.5) So there are profound issues involved here. (As I have said before on this site, you are never really very far from the profound depths of Constitutional and Framing-Vision first principles. The old Navy witticism holds a vital truth: ‘No matter how far out at sea you are, you are never more than a couple of miles from land”: meaning that if you think in three-dimensions rather than two, the ocean floor is never more than a couple-three miles away.)
“Concern for the proper relation of private life and public order was always a serious and effective issue”. (p.5) That was true for so long, but would not remain so.
“Throughout the decades between the end of the Civil War and the Great Depression, almost every debate over a public policy became involved in the larger debate over the nature and consequences of larger and smaller spheres of government.” (p.5) And in that sense that era was “just as much a constitutional period as that of 1789-1820”. (p.5)
This “public philosophy” (he uses Walter Lippmann’s term here, acknowledging it) “is something that every stable polity possesses”; it is “the ‘political formula’ – the ‘legal and moral basis, or principle, on which the power of the political class rests’”; and it is “something that can and does change over generations”. (all: p.5)
But, he quickly goes on to say, “some types of public philosophy may be better, in various ways, than others”. (p.5) I submit that the “interest group liberalism” ‘public philosophy’ has had – and clearly had from the get-go – seriously dangerous and lethal consequences for maintaining the integrity of American Constitutional democracy.
“In the constitutional epoch immediately preceding our own” (recall that he is writing in 1967), that ended “in 1937” the key Question was “the nature of government itself and whether expansion or contraction best produced public good”. (p.6) I would add that there is also the vital matter of Consequences: you can adopt a different ‘public philosophy’ – perhaps out of the very highest and best intentions – and still wind up creating more problems than you’ve solved because of the consequences inherent in your new version of that ‘public philosophy’.
“Liberal and conservative regimes derived their principles and rationalizations of governing and policy formulation from their positions on the question”. (p.6) Again, here, he is writing in 1967 when the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ meant something different from what they do today.
He neatly limns the two positions.
“Expansion of government was demanded by liberals as the only means of combating the injustices of a brutal physical and social world that would not change as long as it was taken as natural”. (p.6) While this conviction was inherent in American Progressivism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it cannot be ignored that American Progressivism was contemporaneous with European socialist and communist-Marxist philosophies as well; it would be fatuous to presume that the two streams did not somehow influence each other (and, I will say, in the post-1972 era in this country, blended – deliberately mixed by first a Democratic and then a bipartisan Beltway agenda).
The archetypal liberal’s assumption was that “the instruments of government provided the means for conscious induction of social change”, including “the means for expanding rights”. (p.6) All well and good as it stands in theory; but there remained and remains today the question of the Consequences of such expansion. Especially if you are also going to import not only “social change” impulses, but also the type of government necessary to rapidly bring about – that is to say, impose – such “social change”.
“Opposition to such means [i.e. government imposition], but not necessarily those rights”, became the mark of the contemporary conservative”. (p.6) He acutely observes here that one can object to the consequence of an impositional-authoritarian or ‘central-planning’ government without objecting to the good intentions of bringing about better social conditions. And one can do so without – in the period immediately following this article’s publication – being nothing but a ‘back-lasher’.
In Lowi’s view, the Left, generally, focuses on the desired improvement and outcomes; the Right focuses on the dangers naturally inherent in changing or upsetting social ‘order’ in its more profound meaning. I would use a nautical image: the Left functions as the ‘sail’ – seeking to provide forward power that keeps the ship moving, while the Right functions as the ‘keel’ – seeking to preserve the essential balance that keeps the ship afloat.
Generally, he says, “the Right is conservative or reactionary; the Left is liberal or radical”. (p.6) Note that in each pairing, the terms are not equivalent but rather on a spectrum: the Right is conservative closer to the middle, and reactionary on its further extreme. The Left is liberal (not to be understood as post-1972 ‘liberal’ but rather as the original sense of Liberal in 19th-century thought) close to its center, and radical on its further extreme.
But after 1937, Lowi says, the “basis for” the Constitutional doctrine changed. It changed inasmuch as the framework of general political understanding and framing changed. Specifically, “once the principle of positive [i.e., active rather than passive or negative] government in a growing and indeterminable political sphere was established, criteria arising out of the very issue of whether such a principle should be established became extinguished”, because of the “total victory” of positive-active over negative-passive government (a “victory” that had been occasioned by the profound crisis of the Great Depression of 1929 and FDR’s efforts to deal with it). (p.6)
Writing of 1937 from the vantage point of 1967 (a mere 30 years later; note that 1967 is now 45 years ago), Lowi makes a gravid and acute observation: “The old dialogue has passed into the graveyard of consensus”. (p.6) He doesn’t much trust an era of ‘total consensus’; you lose the vital tension and conflict which – at least back then – galvanizes and catalyzes serious political thought and action.
Worse, by continuing to frame American political activity in terms of the old and now functionally abandoned terms, American politics in the 1960s is discussed in terms that are “almost purely ritualistic”, (p.6) i.e. without any actual serious connection to the operative dynamics of those politics.
And from that unhappy and toxic reality, the American politics of the 1960s, he says, is afflicted by “two pathological conditions” (p.6).
The first is that, in the absence of “a basis for meaningful adversary proceedings”, what has developed instead is “that the empty rhetoric has produced a crisis of public authority”. (p.6) Citizens no longer (in 1967) “accept government decisions because they are good”.
In other words, he observes already in that year – a mere 2 or 3 years after the final passage of the major race-based civil-rights legislation of 1964 and 1965, and merely one year after the government’s self-initiated deployment of the first substantial ‘affirmative action’ policies and regulations on a major scale (as part of LBJ’s Great Society program) – that the government’s actions have produced “many problems of political cynicism and irresponsibility in everyday political processes”. (p.6)
It is this development that would neatly and slyly and utter inadequately be characterized dismissively as “backlash” in the early 1970s as the radical-feminist agenda a) got itself included in the general thrust toward positive-active government and b) specifically got itself established as a second major beneficiary of the already-dubious, active and impositional affirmative-action programs, legislation, policies, and regulations.**
The public’s initial doubts about this entire real development of a hugely engorged, far more active, intrusive, and impositional government Stance toward a) the Citizenry and b) toward a deliberate government selectivity and partiality and preference-toward a specific group (on the basis of Race; the actual consequences of Gender or Sex did not start to reveal themselves until the very early 1970s, and add-on groups of others also claimed to be ‘oppressed’ and ‘victimized’ were not governmentally ‘valorized’ until the late-1970s and early 1980s) were not well-received; the brute clarity of the Southern Jim Crow regime against Southern blacks, brought vividly into public consciousness through movie ‘newsreels’ and TV evening-news footage, created a powerful wave of sympathetic outrage that demanded corrective political action.
The era of full-blown Identity-Politics and heavily-organized Advocacy- Politics was still (a very few years) in the future when Lowi writes in 1967.
But the media were already heady with a sense of a) importance and ‘relevance’ and b) deeply concerned about the possibilities of their continued viability (the print media were frightened because by 1963 more Americans were getting their news from television rather than from newspapers, and the electronic media (TV, at the time) were excited about their newly-expanded influence and power and by the commercial possibilities thus opened-up).
All of which contributed to a second “pathological condition”: “the emergence of an ersatz public philosophy that seeks to justify power and to end the crisis of public authority by parceling out public authority to private parties”. (p.6) [italics mine]
What Lowi is working on here is the development of a fake or sham (“ersatz”) ‘public philosophy’ that would claim to justify these huge and somewhat dubious new developments quickly and without further dangerously divisive broad public debate. What he is describing is what would come to be known as Political Correctness (a term, so very very ominously, taken from descriptions of Soviet revolutionary governance: this is the Party-government ‘line’ – you will follow it, or at least not speak out against it, or else …). ***
The sham public philosophy (neither publicly embraced nor any sort of continuation of American political philosophy – see note *** below) would serve to indoctrinate rather than inform the Citizenry of the ‘new order’ (if you will); it would seek – as did its Soviet forebear – to instantaneously shift the very habits of public analysis and understanding such that it would seem ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ to be ‘Correct’ and thus to accept both a) the fact of huge government engorgement and the expansion of its impositional authority upon American society, culture, and Citizens and b) the particular impositions that were made.****
Lowi then makes what I think is his most vitally relevant of all his relevant observations: “parceling out public authority to private parties”. (p.6) [italics mine]
What he means by this is that – as early as the 1950s – the Beltway sought to avoid creating political (and politically costly) dissent between Big Labor and Big Business by allowing those interests (with the government as referee) to essentially get together in smoke-filled rooms and write their own laws, policies and government regulations, acceptable to both ‘sides’ – which the government would then enact or promulgate.
By means of this new-hatched “political formula”, the Beltway sought to “solve the problem of [engorged] public [government] authority by defining it away”. It wasn’t ‘the government’ that was imposing itself on Labor and Business (the major ‘interests’ of the era) but rather the interests were imposing these regulations and laws and policies on themselves willingly and – so to speak – happily.
Low adjudges (in 1967) that this was “a most maladaptive’ political formula’” that “will inevitably exacerbate rather than end the crisis, even though its short-run effect is one of consensus and stabilization”. (p.6)
According to this new scheme, “attitude toward government” and “attitude toward change” could thus be harmonized and actually made to work synchronously. (p.8) People had no reason to fear either the change or the government. To use a term that wouldn’t come into use until some years later: it all goooood.
He calls this new scheme “interest group liberalism”, the interest-groups being Big Labor and the various elements of Big Business that engaged them from the other side.
I would point out as well that any idea of the ‘common weal’ or common-good of the Citizens and the country is somehow pushed into the background here: instead, what is acceptable to the reigning political interest-groups of the day (in this case, Big Labor and Big Business) will have to be willy-nilly primary, and it will simply have to be presumed without any further thought or deliberation that what is good for Big Labor and Big Business is ‘good for the country’ (echoing Coolidge: “the business of America is business” – which deftly dodges the stupendously fundamental Question as to what the primary (and Constitutional) ‘business’ of the government is).
He makes three objections or ‘contentions’: a) that this is a “pathology” created by “the persistence of the old public philosophy” (the Framers’ concept of a limited, ‘negative’ government that simply restrained interference with the rights enumerated in the Constitution and was itself therefore a ‘limited’ government); b) that the new ‘public philosophy’ “is the source of important new political pathologies in America”; c) that “the new public philosophy is pathological because it emerged not out of an evolution of the older but out of the total and complete silence of the older upon those objects with which any new public philosophy has to deal”. (p.11)
In (a) he seems to be getting at the fact that most Americans shared the common Constitutional culture, which presumed that the Framers had created something truly marvelous and that deserved to be preserved. Before half a decade was out, Lowi’s 1967 reflections on that culture were outpaced by events: radical-feminism (which ruthlessly suppressed and supplanted moderate or ‘liberal’ feminism as it was then trying to develop) had embraced the Gramscian-Leninist mantras that sought to discredit and destroy that Constitutional culture shared by all Americans at the time Lowi wrote.
But – and here the treachery intensifies – the Beltway sought to implement the Gramscian assault plan (in order to please its new client Identity, radical-feminism, putatively representing ‘all women’) while at the same time trying to make it seem that all the changes and the new-model government making and imposing those changes were simply the good old government of the Framers and of the Constitutional and Framing Vision.
Thus Political Correctness is doubly noxious: i) it seeks to justify a hugely toxic change and ii) it seeks to do so while insisting upon the illusion that all that change is not really toxic change at all, but merely ‘good’ and/or ‘necessary’ ‘reform’ and tweaking.
In (b) he is already starting to see “toxic new pathologies” that – though it was only just becoming visible in 1967 – would create Identity Politics, ‘deal politics’, ‘symbolic politics’ (who cares if the new law is any good – it sends a great message, as Joe Biden said as Senator about his first Violence Against Women bill: “it may be a bad law, but it sends a great message”), and would both create a new Leviatha from the Left while also breaking open the cage the Framers had constructed to restrain Leviathan from the Right.
In (c) he is sketching what would turn out to be more of a ‘revolution’ than anybody could imagine in 1967: specifically, that the Marxist-Leninist principles, as channeled through Gramsci, would actually be imported here, and by the government itself.
Lowi then goes on to say that the previous decade (i.e. 1957-1967) had seen “as much a constitutional revolution as that of the 1930’s” (p.11), referring specifically to “Little Rock and Sputnik”. Sputnik, the small Soviet satellite that was the first man-made object to be put in orbit above the earth, induced a massive US government effort to get involved in education – science and math were the priorities it embraced at the time – as a matter of national security, i.e. that the government needed to make sure the country had a steady supply of well-trained and competent native-born scientists.
Little Rock, Arkansas was the site of Eisenhower’s reluctant but effective dispatch of troops to enforce school desegregation laws in the Jim Crow South, also in 1957 (who said the ‘50s were boring?). While this act certainly signaled a profound change in government policy, I’m not sure it constituted a Constitutional ‘revolution’: the national laws – which had been on the books since almost the end of the Civil War – were being flouted by formal State actions and laws, on a region-wide scale. It was, I would say, within the scope of the government’s authority to see that those laws – so long ignored, even by the national government itself – were enforced.
But he also then quickly asserts that “the new activity in the 1960’s also proves that the political apparatus of democracy can respond promptly once the constitutional barriers to democratic choices have been lowered”. (p.11)
And here I think he’s getting onto more mushy ground. Because it had been a concern of the Framers (as it had of Aquinas in his “Letter to the King of Cyprus”) that the demos could as easily violate the first principles of a founding Vision as could the elites or the government or the king. It was precisely for that reason that there is in the debates leading up to the Constitution a dual concern on the part of the Framers: to prevent tyranny in the then-familiar monarchical sense, but also to prevent tyranny in the much older sense of ‘the people’ being themselves far too manipulable and unrestrained to be entrusted with any say in their own government.*****
Lowi is astute and honest enough to then realize that “the almost total democratization of the Constitution and the contemporary expansion of the public sector [i.e. government size and scope of authority] has been accompanied by an expansion, not by a contraction, of a sense of illegitimacy about public objects”. (p.11) [italics mine] He calls this “a spectacular paradox”. (p.11)
As I have said above, this deep and profound sense of public hesitation was quickly and conveniently dismissed as mere “backlash” (think of Archie Bunker) by benighted troglodytes who ‘just didn’t get it’. But I believe that there was much much more to it than that.
In the first place, individuals and especially groups are particularly hesitant – indeed resistant – in the face of sudden change, especially large and deep change. And this is an evolutionary advantage, providing a reliability and predictability that grounds common action and a common sense of familiarity and security.
In the second place, so much of what the government was doing seemed – and was publicly bruited as such by certain advocates – as ‘revolutionary’, and specifically in the Marxist-Maoist sense of that term.
And, as We now know, that was indeed precisely where a lot of the ‘justification’ and the basic gameplan were indeed coming from: from Marx-Lenin through Gramsci and from assorted Maoist and Guevarist versions of the same , all of which were enjoying a certain popularity and apparent ‘success’ in the world of the 1960s and had been adopted by certain radical advocacies here, especially the demographically-seductive radical-feminist advocacy that claimed to speak for that huge (52 percent) of the American electoral demographic comprised of women.
So Lowi, I think, winds up over a difficult barrel: on the one hand he has serious misgivings about and objections to ‘interest group liberalism’ as it was evolved in the immediate postwar period’s political practice, yet he is drawn to the ‘democratization’ of public input reflected in the nascent civil-rights agitations of the 1960s.
Although it has to be said that the ‘civil rights movement’ that he would have been familiar with is that marvelous first-phase (in my terms) led by Martin Luther King and his superbly – truly Lincolnesque – spiritual as well as political call to all Americans for a rebirth of the ideals and the true genius of the American Vision. Whereas after 1966 or 1967 King was superseded by the ‘revolutionaries’ among Blacks and then – of course – the whole thing went supernova with the explosion of radical-feminism and its comprehensive adoption of the Gramscian gameplan and agenda in the very early 1970s.
As a result of that sense of governmental illegitimacy, he says, “we witness governmental effort of gigantic proportions to solve problems forthwith and directly; … expressions of personal alienation and disorientation, increasing and certainly not subsiding; and we witness further weakening of informal controls in the family, neighborhood and groups; … [and] a vast expansion of effort to bring the ordinary citizen into closer rapport with the democratic process, including unprecedented efforts to confer upon the poor and ineducable the power to make official decisions involving their own fate”. (p.11)
But also, “at the very same time we witness crisis after crisis in the very institutions in which the new methods of decision-making seemed the most appropriate”. (p.11)
He is limning here – perhaps without fully realizing it – precisely the type of problems that gave serious pause to political thinkers as far back as Aquinas (who, remaining stoutly and robustly intellectually true to the Christian belief in humans being created in the Image of God, refused to ignore the political implications (and complications) imposed by that foundational belief) and certainly vividly and confoundingly evident to the Framers.
To a President like LBJ, a Party as desperate as the Dems, a country that still felt like it had ‘just’ won the greatest war in history (pretty much on its own, as the popular history had it), a Citizenry who presumed that nothing that began with so profoundly impressive a founding as Martin Luther King could possibly go too far wrong, and a national can-do culture that never really liked to think-through consequences and relied instead on willpower and some combination of luck and God’s special assistance … to all that, anything short of immediate and sweeping action was fuddy-duddy, cowardly, and lazy.
“It is as though each new program or program expansion were admission of prior governmental inadequacy or failure without necessarily being a contribution to order and well-being”. (p.11) [italics mine]
Which is a ruthless paradox, when you think about it: here is a government claiming that everything it had supported before was somehow wrong, but now the government would expand hugely and do everything right.
And on top of that, that ‘everything’ would soon come to include all of American culture and tradition and even – oy – first principles and the Framing Vision (all of the foregoing to be soon characterized as ‘macho, dominant, oppressive, hegemonic, and white’) .
From the vantage point of almost half a century later, you can look around and see for yourself how Lowi’s observations have played out. And judge the validity of Aquinas’s and the Framers’ concerns.
There were so many examples (I won’t recount them all here, as he lists them in p.11) that indicated “an increasing impatience with established ways of resolving social conflict and dividing up society’s values … verbal and organizational attacks on that vague being, the ‘power structure’ … all these reflect increasing rejection of pluralistic [I would say ‘democratic’] patterns in favor of more direct prosecution of claims against society”. (p.11)
What was coalescing in 1967 would be given ‘philosophical justification’ and a far more comprehensive and profound gameplan a few years later as “interest group liberalism” was extend to new Players, Big Advocacy (Identities of Race and Gender, almost formally recognized by the government, Victimism (in the 1980s and since, and an increasing pandemonium of other client-Identities and all the various interests that were automatically attracted to the seemingly endless flow of government cash and influence) and Big Pain and Big Outrage.
And for all of them, there was to be no more patience with “deliberative democratic politics” (to use Eurocommunist-feminist Chantal Mouffe’s schematic) but rather, in her phrase, a new “radical democracy” that relied on the government in Washington to simply sweep their demands and agenda into official being through government imposition, treacherously cloaked by the kabuki masquerade that it was all for the good of ‘democracy’ and wasn’t anything more than some creative and transgressive expansion of democracy. You can look around today and see how all that has been working for Us.
In a very real sense, the Beltway followed the gameplan that Bertolt Brecht satirically proposed for the government of East Germany when that Red puppet-state announced that its own East German citizenry “had forfeited the confidence” of the East German government: “Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?”
Forty Biblical years ago the US government decided – while slyly not formally and publicly admitting it –that America’s culture and tradition and first principles and even The People (most of whom ‘just don’t get it’) have forfeited its confidence. And in consequence, since then the government has been doing whatever it possibly can to dissolve the whole shebang and erect/elect more congenial and pliable replacements. Did We not notice?
In short, although Lowi did not and could not see it all from his vantage point in 1967, “interest group liberalism” would morph into “advocacy group liberalism” (Leviatha), while at the same time Big Money would increasingly return to its own eternal Game, with the government pandering now to both, indenturing itself and the national heritage and the national treasure, amassing for itself in the process an increasingly unboundaried and un-limited power (Leviathan).
And here We are.
And it has never stopped. Because – as Lowi saw – all of the government’s efforts to pander to the advocacy groups resulted in what he calls “this alienating gap between expectation and reality”. (p.12) The more you pander, the more you are expected to pander. And when your prior set of panderings doesn’t perform as promised then that simply intensifies the demands even more. And when it does provide more goodies, then more goodies are discovered to be ‘necessary’. And the band plays on.
We have seen it on the Left; We have seen it on the Right, where the military defense contractors and now even the military power itself is increasingly expanded and deployed, often now with only the merest fig-leaf of a justification.
The government can’t stop pandering now. Its only hope can be to find some fresh sources of wealth (what We had has now been blown irretrievably) like Imperial Spain found the gold and resources of the New World to shore up its wobbly imperium’s finances, or else just wait until the money runs out and blame it on History and tell everybody to buck up and face the new reality.
Lowi sees even in early 1967 that “the most important difference between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats [however they define themselves] is to be found in the interest groups they identify with. Congressmen are guided in their votes, Presidents in their programs, and administrators in their discretion, by whatever organized interests have taken for themselves as the most legitimate; and that is the measure of the legitimacy of demands”. (pp.12-13) [italics his]
This is nothing less than the advent of ‘deal politics’ as the primary form of American governmental politics: whatever group we can strike a deal with (we’ll give you public money and the advantage of our power, you give us your demographic’s votes) makes that group ‘legitimate’ and indubitably a representative of the common-weal. Whatever group we can strike a deal with makes the demands acceded to in that deal indubitably ‘legitimate’ and shame on all who think ill of it.
Phooey and baloney.
All of what Lowi saw has brought Us to today.
But it gets worse.
The embrace of “interest group liberalism” (or “advocacy group liberalism”) held several attractions for the pols.
First, it “helped flank the constitutional problems of federalism” (p.14). In other words, it got the Beltway around the problem of having to respect the Constitutional apportionment of political power between the States and the national government. The Beltway, if it were to succeed in its objectives, would need to make itself the centralized and efficient ‘power’ in the country; the Identity advocacies relied upon it – after all, it would be easier to win over (and later to infiltrate) one great big national government than 50 various and independent-minded State governments.
Second, such an approach would help politicians avoid getting involved in messy “conflict” (p.14) where they would have to take a side (and thus also accept responsibility for their decision and live with the consequences of that decision). Instead, the pols could simply claim that they were ‘responsive’ to the ‘needs’ voiced by the various interests and in rubber-stamping those ‘needs’ they were doing their Constitutional job.
Except that they would not be doing their Constitutional job: the job of Congress is to provide the adult supervision always with an eye to the common-weal of the entire country, not to simply be the (well-remunerated) gate-keepers and rubber-stampers of federal authority.
And, of course, in the age of Identity Politics – when on the Left Big Advocacy for Big Pain not only joined Big Labor but actually assassinated and replaced it – the pols would not simply rubber-stamp business and contractual arrangements but would take on the job of formally putting the government’s power and public purse (and legitimacy, I would say) literally in the service of the ‘revolutions’ as well as at the service of Gramsci’s subtle but thoroughly revolutionary gameplan.
Thus, rather than being the ‘discerning clearing house’ that applied the final but vital test to determine if this or that demand or proposal were truly in the public interest and would contribute substantially to the common-weal (and sufficiently so as to override any negative consequences), the Beltway pols made themselves merely the enablers and rubber-stampers and funds-disbursers of this or that demanded ‘revolution’.
In the Navy, there is one office charged with making a final assessment about any new system that is to be installed aboard a warship. That office asks the vital questions: Assuming this thing works, can this type of warship actually serve as a platform for it? Or will this thing overtax the vessel’s capabilities and compromise the ship’s basic seaworthiness or battle-worthiness? Will this system be compatible with all the other systems already installed on the ship? Or will it interfere with those other systems? What are the costs and consequences to the vessel’s fighting capability of this system compared to the advantages it is supposed to bring? Can the crews and officers be sufficiently trained to operate (and if necessary repair) this system? And generally: can this type of ship and crew handle this system advantageously or will this system create more problems than it solves and result in more disadvantage than advantage?
Congress is supposed to be that ‘office’ and is supposed to ask (and accurately and truthfully answer) those Questions about any proposal (or ‘demand’ or ‘need’).
But instead the pols have chosen to simply pander, saying Yes to whomever from Big Advocacy or Big Money can offer a useful ‘deal’ to them (delivering votes or PAC monies in return for the demanded legislation or policy change).
And worse – Lowi notes – this “transforms logrolling from necessary evil to greater good”. (p.14) In other words, all this is spun not as simply the occasionally necessary backroom political deals that have to be struck, but rather as a ‘liberating’ and vital necessary ‘good’ (although not any good for the common-weal ). This, he says – in words that apply with even more fateful accuracy today – “is the basis for the ‘consensus’ that is so often claimed these days”, i.e. in 1967. (p.14)
The third attraction was that “interest group liberalism” constitutes “a direct, even if pathological” response to the crisis of public authority”. (p.15). It helps – he says – “create a sense that power need not be power at all, nor control control”. (p.15)
In other words, the government can control without seeming to control; indeed, by seeming to allow ‘the public’ or nongovernmental entities to wield the actual decision-power (that, as I have said, is actually the Constitutional responsibility of the pols themselves).
This is a bennie because “ultimately the involvement of coercion in government decisions is always a gnawing problem in democratic cultures”. (p.15) We don’t like to think about it often, but every time the government passes a law or regulation or adopts a policy, the threat of coercion (by government against dissenting or refuse-nik Citizens) hovers over things. And the pols preferred to be seen as not-being coercive (and to avoid creating too many enemies for themselves politically).
But of course, in the matters that were just beginning to come to the fore in early 1967 (the earliest Great Society affirmative-action programs were hardly a year old, and those programs still basked in the reflected glow of Dr. King’s powerful aura) the government was going to be acting very coercively indeed, imposing laws, regulations, and policies that were designed to bring about the New Order of the Advocacy-Identity Politics Age.
The Beltway pols – starting with the Dems in the very early 1970s – indentured themselves to demands that not only required the immediate creation of a New Order but the necessary deconstruction of the prior Order. And since the whole scheme was based on the Gramscian playbook, then the older Order would have to be undermined in the service of principles that were precisely antithetical to any deliberative democratic politics.
And the whole scheme would, of course, have to be spun as ‘liberation’ and as merely an ‘expansion’ of the older (i.e. traditional American Framing Vision) Order, when really the whole scheme required a very coercive and impositional assault on American culture, society, tradition and first principles.
And here the seeds were sown not only of the Beltway’s assault on American culture, but its fundamental and pervasive dishonesty in explaining or presenting its actions to The People. This, I think, far more than the assorted duplicities in spinning the failing war in Vietnam, was the real watershed development in American politics in those years.
The whole scheme was spun – Lowi observes – as a sort of constructive effort to implement John Kenneth Galbraith’s theory of “countervailing power”: when “private [or corporate]economic power is held in check by the countervailing power of those who are subject to it”. Thus Identity and Advocacy Politics (and the pols pandering to those agendas) were to be seen as a robust and scrappy Beltway effort to allow the underdogs to ‘countervail’ against their economic ‘oppressors’.
But that was duplicitous in the extreme. Because Identity Politics and Advocacy agitprop were grounded from the get-go not in the American Framing Vision but rather in the Gramscian gameplan for implementing Marxist-Leninist principles and practice through a sustained undermining-assault on American’s still-robust democracy and its sustaining culture and society.
The whole thing was anti-American in a profoundly and thoroughly literal way, and it was so from the get-go.
This whole scheme was not primarily going to give the Citizenry and The People a larger and louder ‘voice’; it was going to use agitprop-amplified voices of carefully-honed cadres to undermine the entire Vision of a government “of the People, by the People, and for the People”. And instead, as in the Soviet version of the game, America would wind up with a centralized, impositional government Leviathan (the Leviatha bit was the contribution of radical-feminism and victimism) whose primary objectives were to deconstruct and delegitimize the Framing Vision and its actual democracy and functioning republic.
Galbraith himself – Lowi very acutely observes – actually admitted that any sort of Norman Rockwell, Frank Capra type of countervailing power was highly unlikely to be effective; but that therefore government itself had to create such countervailing entities that – Galbraith thought – the Citizens were too flaccid and lazy or distracted to create for themselves. Which is also precisely why both Lenin and Gramsci called for the creation of “vanguard elites” who would have to herd the marginalized and oppressed masses who were too bovine to move themselves toward the bright future.
This, Lowi observes, results in Galbraith not proposing a theory of any sort of the government somehow enabling a democratic people-power but rather in Galbraith “writing a program for government action”. (p.15)
Thus too when the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote in a campaign-tract for the 1960 elections that the Democrats were a “multi-interest” party in the best traditions of Federalist No. 10 and should thus be infinitely preferable to the Republicans: what was really being touted was a huge expansion of government power and the social-cultural acceptance of its writ now running far more extensively than any ‘classical’ American experience or political philosophy could ever have envisioned. (p.15)
And, of course, all this was before the late-1960s explosion of Advocacy/Identity Politics with its grounding in the utterly alien anti-Universe of Marxism-Leninism as channeled through Gramsci by the radical-feminists.
And Lowi then goes on quickly to observe that the Republicans “would disagree with Schlesinger on the facts but not on the basis of his distinction” (p.16) [italics his] And that this, in Lowi’s opinion, “is pretty much the whole truth” of the real dynamics actually operating here. (p.16)
It was then – Lowi asserts – in JFK’s administration, that ‘interest group liberalism’ becomes erected within the Democratic Party, to give more ‘interests’ among that huge congeries of ethnic, religious, neighborhood and economic groups a chance to have their say. (p.16)
But, Lowi quickly goes on, “there is a vast difference between pluralism inside political parties and the legitimized pluralism built into government programs” (p.16) [italics mine]
What happens in the latter case – that is to say – is that the government, which is Constitutionally bound in its actions in a way that a political Party is not, begins to organize, erect (and control) entities which while they are ostensibly instances of ‘participatory democracy’ on the part of Citizens, are actually entities created by the government power and dependent upon it.
Thus, as We have seen in the ensuing half-century now, the Advocacy-Identity Age has hugely engorged the government’s authority and writ, with the government-created Identities (spun as ‘victims’ of ‘marginalization’ and ‘oppression’) now functioning as client-entities dependent upon the government for public monies, preferences, and for their continued existence as demographic and electoral ‘bases’.
The Advocacy-Identities then function in a very real (but hidden and cloaked) sense as pretexts for the engorgement of government power and authority.
Once this dynamic is off and running, then it filters down to the level of political activity in the several States, and the government can proclaim – as it did – an era of “creative federalism” whereby State pols now must participate, indentured – as States became in the postwar era – to Washington for a sharing of tax-monies and funds. (p.17)
Thus when LBJ rammed through his Great Society agenda the States already had no choice but to acquiesce.
And further, Lowi asserts rightly that “creative federalism is not federalism” at all. Because “federalism divides sovereignty between duly constituted levels of government” whereas “’creative federalism’ is a parceling of powers between the federal government and all structures of power, governmental and otherwise”. (p.17) [italics his]
In a very real way, then, the federal government, created non-elected dependent client-entities which function to support its agenda against the Constitutionally-assigned power of the States, thus forcing the States to comply with the federal power or else run the risk of appearing anti-democratic (and ‘oppressive’ and ‘hegemonic’ and so forth, according to the Gramscian script).
A neat scam – but then Gramsci was nothing if not a shrewd thinker and planner.
Worse, Lowi continues, is that as a result of all this “little distinction is made between what government is and what it is not”. (p.17) Thus – and in early 1967! – Lowi sees that the outcome of all this will be a federal government that is so pervasive that it becomes the primary driving engine of the nation’s civic life. (And, of course, in the Age of Identity-Advocacy, the government power will extend – as the radical-feminists demanded – even into the hearths as well as the hearts and minds of the Citizenry, using not only its ‘soft’ power of influence, but its ‘hard’ power of regulatory and even criminal law.)
Inexorably, the federal government was moving away from the Framing Vision of the ‘Great American Experiment’ in democracy, and regressively back towards a Leviathan-type elitist society where only those who are ‘worthy’ get to say how things are going to be. (Money, however, will remain – as ever – a powerful determinant of that ‘worth’.)
(From this vantage point, it is not difficult to see what happened in the history of the federal government’s relationship to Victimism. The feds first found a sudden official love for ‘the victim’ in Reagan’s first administration , when that new entity was quickly raised-up to counter the 1960s-1970s judicial and popular concern for the rights of the accused. Suddenly an addition was made to the traditional criminal-law equation of prosecutor (representing the government and the People) vs. accused: now there was a third variable, the ‘victim’, who somehow had morphed away from being simply a member of The People whose interests were represented by the prosecutor, and instead suddenly became an independent third-element whose ‘interests’ and suddenly-discovered ‘rights’ invariably subtracted from the practical implementation of the rights of the accused.
Thus the law-and-order Right started the thing. But quickly enough, the Advocacy-Identity forces on the Left saw the value of ‘the victim’ in their own power-play calculations. All of the ‘oppressed’ and ‘marginalized’ were now ‘victims’, especially – following the radical-feminist tweaking of Gramsci and Marx and Lenin – women, who were suddenly spun as primarily ‘sexual victims’ of the macho, patriarchal, male, sex-crazed power. And, as I implied above, this would require the government police power to enter into the ‘home’ and the ‘family’, which concomitantly had been changed in the blink of an eye from the heart of society to the nation’s and the world’s largest and most horrific ongoing crime-scene.)
What Lowi then goes on to observe – already in early 1967 – about the dynamics of LBJ’s War on Poverty have repeated themselves with increasing intensity throughout recent political history in this country: “To the old progressive the elimination of poverty was a passionate dream; to the socialist a philosophic and historic necessity. To the interest-group liberal, poverty is becoming just another status around which power centers ought to organize … Organizing the poor … helps legitimize the interest-group liberal’s preference for dealing only with organized claims”. (p.18)
Thus when the first Poverty ‘czar’ (as he would be called nowadays), Sargent Shriver, insisted that “the poor be represented in some mathematically exact way” and that in all matters of governance, “governmental groups, philanthropic, religious, business and labor groups, and ‘the poor’” be represented in all efforts to address governance ‘solutions’, he was setting up the template for a pandemonium of follow-on Identities that would quickly be created by the government in the ensuing decades. (p.18) [italics mine]
Thus racial minorities, women, ethnic minorities, sexual-orientation minorities (this category is still evolving), physically disabled minorities, and all ‘victims’ generally … all would be included in the template originally set up to include ‘the poor’. So that finally, the entire country was comprised of dependent minorities, except for white-male-patriarchal types, who – in addition – were not simply excluded from ‘preference’ but were actually the fons et origo for all of the others’ variously-claimed ‘oppression’, ‘marginalization’, and ‘victimization’.
And here We are.
Divided, fractalized, and – by some amazingly awful coincidence – broke.
So, Lowi decides, “interest group liberalism thus seems closer to being the established, operative ideology of the American elite than any other body of doctrine”. (p.18)
Worse, “to the undoubted power of organized interests has now been added the belief in their virtue”. (p.18) It is a requirement of Political Correctness – that bacillus imported from the old Soviet plague – that all of this is nothing but Good and will have nothing but Good consequences and to think otherwise or even to have any doubts about this dogma is merely to be a ‘backlasher’ and a ‘defender of oppression’ and probably a perpetrator of victimization yourself.
This country was headed for ‘1984’ long before that date actually arrived.
Lowi concludes his paper with a brief tally of the costs of interest group liberalism, as best he could see in early 1967.
He begins by pointing out that “unfortunately, these costs are not strongly apparent at the time of the creation of group-based programs”. (p.18) But they increasingly apparent now, aren’t they?
He lists three main costs (beginning on p.18 and proceeding through p.22).
The three are i) the atrophy of institutions of popular control; ii) the maintenance of old and creation of new structures of privilege; iii) conservatism, in several senses of the word.
In (i) he quotes Walter Lippmann’s rightful concern over “’the derangement of power’ whereby modern democracies tend first toward unchecked elective leadership and then toward drainage of public authority from elective leaders down into their constituencies”.
Acutely, Lowi sees that Lippmann made a mistake in thinking that such “constituencies” were comprised only of “voting constituencies”. Rather, says Lowi, “drainage has tended toward “support group constituencies” (what I would call the organized Advocacy-Identity groups). Worse, Lowi sees that “parceling out policy-making power to the most interested parties destroys political responsibility”+*
And, I would say, in destroying any sense of political responsibility among the politicians, the gates are opened for politicians simply ignoring The People (except when it comes time for their votes at election time) and the common-weal.
Lowi (accurately) observes that “a program split off with a special imperium to govern itself is not merely an administrative unit … it is a structure of power with impressive capacities to resist central political control”. We have seen this now not only on the Right – the defense/industrial/congressional complex that Eisenhower warned Us about in 1961, added to by Big Money as America’s productive sources of wealth-generation were allowed to wane – but on the Left among so many now highly-organized advocacies and the pandemonium of hanger-on ‘industries’ that synergistically support ongoing discoveries of useful ‘outrages’ and will do so for as long as (but only so long as) the Beltway bucks continue to flow.
With unusual candor Lowi flatly asserts that this development makes “conflict of interest a principle of government rather than a criminal act”. Which precisely presages the insistence by theoreticians of Identity Politics that hostility and conflict – and not consensus – are a) the necessary new mode of American political and cultural discourse and praxis and b) that all of this is really not much more than a sharpening of the good-old American tradition of politics (with, slyly, no mention of the Gramscian assault-gameplan). And - in an amazing coincidence - in the mid-1970s the Dems spearheaded a bipartisan erection of PACs, whereby money could be transferred to the pols legally and openly (rather than by bags of cash being transferred surreptitiously.
Worse, these so-called “participatory programs” actually “shut out the public” (which, you will recall, will soon be written off because so many of The People ‘just don’t’ get it’ anyway, and because every oppression is so ‘unique’ that if you aren’t victimized by it then you have no right to comment about – let alone doubt – it). Thus, in this entire wide (and soon to be expanding, apparently infinitely) panoply of specially-privileged “programs”, The People will have no right to assess and deliberate and their elected representatives will refuse to accept the responsibility to assess and deliberate.
And the band will play on until the bucks run out.
And even worse, Lowi realizes, is that The People will be shut out of the assessment of “accountability”. Information will be withheld from them or false information given them (with – alas, as We now know – the assistance of a fawning and stenographic media indentured to the government and the organized interests) and on top of all that The People will be considered incompetent and unworthy to pass judgment on those sly paragons who have aided and abetted and implemented and funded this entire scheme.
As well: “To the extent that organized interests” are allowed to “control a program” then there is no “substantive accountability” and that results in merely technical discussion of how the program is operating but no questions “of whether or not the program should be maintained or discontinued”. Of course, because the Beltway pols have given over assessment and control to the very interests that want to keep the ball rolling (and the funding coming).
And also, it means that “experts” rather than “amateurs” are listened-to. By “experts” he means those who are paid to justify the continued operation of the program; by “amateurs” he means those persons formerly known as Citizens and collectively as The People.
But how can this be a surprise? Once the Beltway pols decided – at the behest of their client-Advocacies and Identities – that most of the Citizens ‘just don’t get it’, then the pols had already crossed an awful and ominous political (and Constitutional) Rubicon.
And, but of course: “The public is shut out by tendencies toward conspiracy to shut the public out”. The age-old enemy that is government-secrecy is given free rein, although the Framers envisioned the preventive to this – a widely and accurately informed Citizenry – would be protected and sustained by “a free press”. But, driven by economic concerns and by a pathetic desire to ‘make’ history rather than ‘merely report it’, the American mainstream media indentured themselves in the ensuing decades to this entire scheme.
At its core, there would be no ‘countervailing’ influence that would be allowed to interfere with the success of the scheme.
In regard to (ii), “Programs following the principles of interest-group liberalism create privilege, and it is a type of privilege particularly hard to bear or combat because it is touched with the symbolism of the state”. In other words, the government itself lends its aura of authority and legitimacy to the ‘interests’ and their agendas and programs, such that many folks simply presume that somewhere in the Beltway their elected representatives must have done their Constitutional duty and assessed all the new ‘changes’ and ‘reforms’ carefully and so public affairs can be allowed to proceed.
Thus the government itself provides and even becomes a cloak to hide the nature and doings of the very programs that it is paying (with public funds) to help expand its own engorgement. This is a self-licking ice-cream cone in the service of Leviathan/Leviatha.
Worse, Lowi notes that “in combat people want and need to be organized and led”. (p.19) [italics mine]
Hence, and in borrowing the imagery of ‘war’ (War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Women), the Advocacy-Identity interests and the government together are insidiously tapping into the human need – in an emergency – to seek direct and forceful leadership to which they can entrust their fate.
Thus We see here the seeds of ‘emergency politics’ and ‘war politics’ as they will grow – in matters foreign and domestic – to become the uncritically-accepted public Stance toward all undertakings and actions. This contributes, and has contributed, to a militarization of numerous vital elements and aspects of American life, cultural and societal and political and legal.
And this “combat” imagery dovetails neatly and slyly with Identity-Politics’ insistence that strife and divisive public struggle are the ‘natural and necessary’ mode of American political discourse and activity in the New Correct Order.
Worse, the more these combined dynamics take hold, the more any and all members of these interest groups will be required not to doubt or debate but merely to accept ‘loyally’ whatever the group’s party-line agenda and assertions might be.
And even worse: the more government embraces the practice of “recognizing only organized interests” (rather than, say, individual points of view) then the more “hierarchy is introduced into society”.
And even worse: “Even when the purpose of the program is the uplifting of the under privileged [we have not yet gotten to the ‘victimized’ in early 1967], the administrative arrangements favored by interest-group liberalism tends toward the creation of new privilege instead”. [italics mine]
All of which We have seen happen.
In the matter of (iii), “government by and through interest groups is in impact conservative in almost every sense of that term”. This is a statement that requires a caution: what Lowi is going for here is that once established, these dynamics and arrangements will want to become the accepted norm, the status-quo, and thus they will resist change (including, of course, any changes meant to correct or remove them). They will want to conserve themselves, as it were; to protect and sustain themselves, regardless of whether they work or whether they are any longer needed.
But then Lowi, I think, goes off a bit: “Weakening of popular government and support of privilege are, in other words, two aspects of conservatism”.
I would say No to that. Genuine conservatism seeks not merely to preserve the status-quo (which is the preferred Marxist take on the matter) but rather seeks to preserve the best of the tradition that informs the original Vision.
It is here, I would say, that Lowi makes the substantial error of identifying and defining ‘conservatism’ merely in the Marxist mode. This was characteristic of the later 1960s and of the Boomery impatience with anything that wasn’t ‘new’, ‘fresh’, ‘creative’, ‘free’, and – in later decades – ‘transgressive’ and ‘rich’ and ‘diverse’ and ‘pluralistic’ and so on and so forth.
Nor is it sufficient when he then claims that “It is beside the point to argue that these consequences are not intended”. It is very much to the point, I would say. Because if conservatism is appreciated in its genuine form, then such a profound advantage and benefit to the common-weal and the Framing Vision heavily outweighs the naturally-occurring human tendency toward creating a status-quo.
And in the American political Universe, governed by the Framing Vision and the Constitutional machinery the Framers constructed, there are built-in mechanisms for preventing the exclusion of The People to the advantage of entrenched ‘interests’ and interest-groups.
Which precisely is not the case in that alien political anti-Universe of Marxism-Leninism, where it is precisely the object of the exercise that the masses (who ‘just don’t get it’) are to be led by cadres of the “vanguard elite” that most surely do ‘get it’ and who are charged with the task of imposing their presumed True Knowledge on everybody else, on the herds of human cattle who come under their control. There is, for all practical purposes, no room for The People or for any ‘deliberative democratic politics’ in this anti-Universe (although such an end-state – where the masses will be transformed into vital and informed agents of their own political destiny – was dreamily envisioned by Marx and by Gramsci).
Lowi continues by assessing what was available to him by early 1967: the course of development of the War on Poverty.
He observed that “early cooption of poverty leaders creates privilege before, and perhaps, instead of, alleviating poverty”. [italics mine] And this would continue throughout the huge 1970s expansion of Advocacy-Identity Politics and their leaders.
And this presumes that those leaders were ‘innocent’ and ‘well-intentioned’ to begin with. And that may have been true in the early years of the late 1960s, but surely was not to be presumed by the early 1970s when ‘leaders’ were not some type of Norman Rockwell or Frank Capra ‘concerned and honest Citizens’ but instead were rather calculating if not also entrepreneurial types who, for reasons ideological or self-aggrandizing or both, had figured out how to surf the waves of cash and influence that the Beltway pols had set sloshing around Washington.
Interestingly, he also realized that “established welfare and church groups” were opposing “the new groups” that were erected and ‘valorized’ by the government. Again, this may well be attributable not to some Marxist conception of the status-quo resisting the sharing of power with the ‘marginalized’ but rather to a deep if inchoate awareness that somehow a) the poor were not going to be helped as much as promised and b) that such centralization of effort would serve the purpose of engorging the government, to the detriment of efforts at the more effective level of local community and government.
Lowi decides that in the light of the tremendous and unprecedented power accorded to the interest-groups by the liberals, a genuine Question arises as to just “who shall be the government” in this country. And under those circumstances, he says, “conservatism then becomes necessary as a matter of survival”.
For the survival, that is to say, of the nation as a Constitutional and democratic republic.
In the final section of his paper, Lowi discusses “interest group liberalism and how to survive it” (p.22)
It is quite possible, he says, that “all of these developments are part of some irresistible historical process” (which would be the Marxist explanation, more or less). (p.22) If that were so, then policy-makers “would never have really had any alternative when they created group-based programs”. (p.22)
It seems to me that in the best case the Beltway pols – led by the Dems who themselves were led by LBJ – tried what Italian politicians had tried with social radicalism in the late 19th-century: trasformismo. This was a strategy by which the radical leaders were invited (verrrry gingerly) into the government, where – as often as not – the leaders would get a little of their agenda enacted and would meanwhile settle into a life as members of the governing class.
In this strategy, the government invites the radical transformers in, under the hope and expectation that the government can absorb them with a minimum of upset and bothersome change. Or – depending on the agenda – dangerous or deleterious change.
But if this was the case in the period of 1968-72 in this country, then the Dems were either witlessly outflanked or were treacherously successful in a reprehensible scheme. Either, like sorcerer’s apprentices, they were utterly overwhelmed by the forces they had embraced and unleashed. Or else, like treacherous sharpies, they knew exactly what they were doing: inviting the vampire of Marxism-Leninism into the castle they were sworn to defend, figuring to feather their own nests as matters developed from there, and in any case completely prepared to see the end of the American cultural and social tradition that had existed since the Founding. (When the Dems were defeated 49 states to 1 in the elections of 1972, they quickly accepted the fact that the American political Universe of the Founding would have to go too.)
My own thought is that the Dems were terrified both of wide and deep social unrest and of losing electoral viability as a Party, and thus pretty much turned the whole government over to forces which were not simply the usual American ad-hoc alliances looking for some specific type and amount of change, but rather were forces organized (especially under the guidance of radical-feminism) consistently and robustly around a comprehensive gameplan of complete subversion as it exists in Gramsci’s playbook, supported by all the tomes of Marxist-Leninist ‘philosophy’ and all of the apparently successful examples of successful imposition and subversion such as Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Guevarist-Castroite praxis.
Desperate, that is to say, the Dems impatiently gave up on the possibility of any sufficient democratic self-correction or change and accepted what nobody wanted to admit was the ‘revolutionary’ option, cloaked however in the aura of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberation’ and touted as clearly a ‘good’ alternative to then-loud Black Power calls for outright revolution in the overt, direct, un-subtle and non-Gramscian sense.
Happy that outright revolution had been averted, Americans did not think to see if a more subtle but even more corrosive revolutionary gameplan had been introduced instead.
Nor did the media or many of the academic and scholarly intelligentsia help to enlighten them. The government, after all, included plenty of funding for academic and educational grants and projects.
And most folks still presumed that whatever ‘change’ was enacted was simply a continuation of Martin Luther King’s truly impressive legacy. Which most of the post-1968 change most certainly was not (think about how much of today’s ‘liberal and progressive’ agenda Dr. King might have embraced – or not).
So Lowi’s first suggestion – restoring the self-correcting components of the American political system – could never have been embraced precisely because to the emergent Advocacy-Identities and to the Beltway pols it was precisely the fact that those components were nothing more than mere ‘obstructions’ to the Great Work of the True Knowledge that had to be accomplished forthwith.
Lowi – and he can’t be greatly faulted here – seems to have been unaware of the Gramscian and ominously revolutionary forces gathering force, and of the Beltway pols’ attraction to those forces. Having studied the administrative interest-group liberalism of the immediate postwar period and only the earliest phases of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives, he could not have seen the incipient Gramscian strategies that were still in the radical-feminist crockpot, simmering to the boil that would bubble up to break through the surface of American history in the very early 1970s.
So too with his second suggestion: to “push direct group access back one giant step in the political process, somehow to insulate administrative agencies from full group participation”. (p.23) Again, he presumes that his readers would want to restore the balance of the original American Founding Vision and its political processes. What he does not imagine – in early 1967 – is that the Beltway pols were already entroute to the Gramscian and revolutionary prospect of a thorough overthrow of the entire Framing Vision (a lethal vision exuberantly and sassily outlined in great detail by radical-feminist law professor Catharine MacKinnon in her 1989 book “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”, summing up ideas which – she assures everyone – were already in play as early as 1971 and even before). And in 1972 they would commit to that prospect and without wide public discussion would erect it into a Plan, i.e. the new American 'public philosophy'.
And so too with his third and final suggestion: that in any case each of the new programs be assigned a “Jeffersonian limit” of from five to ten years in which to gauge its success or failure. One need only glance at the history of the concept of affirmative-action since its inception in the Kennedy years to its formal establishment as a mainstream government policy in the 1966 period to its continuous extension and exponential expansion in the 1970s up to the present day to realize that the entire concept of Jeffersonian limits had gone out the door with both the Gramscian gameplan and the later radical-feminist claim that Jefferson was, along with all the other Framers and all their works, nothing more than a morally and politically bankrupt scheme for ensuring patriarchal and white male dominance. (See MacKinnon’s book or my Posts on it on this site.)
In other words, Lowi in this paper is honestly trying to repair a system that the Beltway pols and the emergent Advocacy-Identity Politics interest groups had destined for overthrow and replacement by a political and cultural Order from an entirely alien anti-Universe. And what Lowi sees as damage already-inflicted and needing repair is precisely what in the Gramscian gameplan are the first harbingers of revolutionary success.
The consequences of all this are now, almost half a century down the road, becoming increasingly clear. Nor are the costs of those consequences sufficiently offset by all the claims and good-intentions loudly trumpeted by their advocates and political enablers.
And so, finally, here We are today.
*Theodore Lowi. “The Public Philosophy: Interest Group Liberalism”. Published in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, (Mar. 1967), pp.5-24. Available at JSTOR as No. 1953872.
**In a bit of last-minute political maneuvering that is still debated to this day, that Act – primarily and widely understood to be directed against racial discrimination – was expanded to include discrimination on the basis of “sex”. It is here, in my estimation, that the Democrats first began to toy with the idea of creating not one but two new ‘Identities’ whose indenture to the Party might replace the clearly now-fractured New Deal electoral coalition (industrial North and Jim Crow South) that had grounded the Party’s electoral power up til then. You can begin a look at the matter here.
***What he didn’t and couldn’t know at the time, and what had only just begun to develop – mostly in post-Martin Luther King era Black revolutionaries’ outright embrace of largely Maoist and Guevarist versions of communist revolution – was the far more sinuous and cloaked radical-feminist embrace of Marxism-Leninism, not so much in terms of outright revolutionary activity, but rather in the matter of insinuating the core principles of the Marxist-Leninist analysis as interpreted by such ‘neo-communist’ thinkers as Antonio Gramsci into American politics and eventually replacing (functionally and for all practical purposes; lip service would still be ritualistically be paid to them in public political rhetoric) the Framing and Founding principles. The Beltway, initially led by the demographically-desperate Dems, bought into the whole thing, figuring either a) that the pols could somehow ‘tame’ or ‘baptize’ these toxic gambits or else that b) making ‘deals’ was now the only real politics left, and thus America would either magically survive their treacherous neglect or else didn’t deserve to survive in its Framing form anyway. And here We are today.
****These impositions – via legislation, policies, Executive action, and judicial decisions and thus through all three Branches and the ‘4th Branch’ (if I may) of the engorged and sempiternal Bureaucracies – would soon demand not only the eradication of ‘racism’ (however broadly yet minutely defined) but rather an all-out governmental assault on ‘male, white, patriarchal dominance, oppression, hegemony, marginalization, and violence’ and on the Framing Vision and Constitution and rule of law and principles of reason and democratic public deliberation that were merely the bankrupt instrumental modes of their continuation. (See my mini-series of Posts on Gramsci and MacKinnon on this site starting late last year.)
*****In his “Letter to the King of Cyprus” Aquinas tackles this whole thing systematically and head-on: a monarch – if suitably committed to the ideals of Christian governance – is the best form of government (although Aquinas did not for a moment deny that his schema was an ‘ideal’). But even then, ‘the people’ – since each human being is created in the Image of God – have rights that must be respected and even are themselves in a sense “kings” (and “priests”) and have rights in their own governance. The Framers, having seen the failure of History to live up to Aquinas’s ideal, decided to risk the demos by erecting a democratic republic, with a government machinery Constitutionally designed to prevent the abuse of power by either the Sovereign Authority of the government or by the voters themselves (even though it was on the authority of The People that the entire governing system was erected).
+*I can’t warn urgently enough how thoroughly and lethally toxic this dynamic becomes – as it has with the various ‘successes’ of Victimism – when it is allowed to operate in the realm of civil and criminal law. Vital first-principles of the Framing Vision and the Constitution have to be corroded and undermined in order to subtract from the rights of the accused and redistribute – as it were – the substantive content of those vital and essential rights to the ‘victim’. The rule of law and indeed the very legitimacy of the law and its processes become deranged, diminished, and corrupted.
What has resulted from all this? A Beltway that allows its particularly favored ‘interest groups’ (financial and corporate and defense/security-related on the one hand; Identity-Advocacy groups of all sorts on the other) to pretty much write their own laws, policies and regulations, to which the pols will affix the rubber-stamp of government authority and funding.
There is not – and has not been for several decades – any concern for the common-weal nor any sense of responsibility on the part of the pols that they must carefully judge any proposed legislation as to its potential benefit or detriment to the common-good.
The satirical publication The Onion not long ago captured this reality with one of its famous fake headlines: “American people hire high-priced lobbyist to represent their interests on Capitol Hill”.