2 - Public Order - Robert Bellah - Habits of the Heart CH10 - The National Society

2 - Public Order - Robert Bellah - Habits of the Heart CH10 - The National Society

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–11. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 8
Background image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 10
Background image of page 11
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: 10 The National Society Conceptions of the Public Order .So far we have examined some of the ways in which middle—class people in our society understand and live out their involvements in personal and domestic life, in work, in religion, and in politics. We now need to exam- . ine the connection between what we have learned from our interviews and observations and the'larger conception of American society more closely. Since a conversation cut off from past and future necessarily loses its bearings, we seek to reconnect the personal stories we have nar— rated with the enduring national conversation and the public voices that still continue it. _ I I I I In our interviews, it became clear that for most of those With whom We spoke, the triuchstones oftruth and goodness lie in individual experi— ence and intimate relationships. Both the social situations of middle- class life and the vocabularies of everyday language predispose toward private sources ofmeaning. We also found a widespread and strong iden- tification with the United States as a national community. Yet, though the nation was viewed as good, “government” and “politics” often had negative connotations. Americans, it would seem, are genuinely ambiv- alent about public life, and this ambivalence makes it difficult to address the problems confronting us as a whole. A difficulty so pervasive must involve fundamental aspects of how people understand themselves and their society. As we have seen, 'ours is a society in which the language of individualism allows people to de- velop loyalties to others in the context of families, small communities, religious congregations, and what We have termed lifestyle enclaves. Even in these relatively narrow contexts, reciprocal loyalty and under- standing are frequently precarious and hard to maintain. It is thus natu- ral that the larger interdependencies in which people live, geographi— cally, occupationally, and politically, are neither clearly understood nor - 2.50 The National Society 25 I easily encompassed by an effective sympathy. As we saw in chapter 8, the enormous complexity of our society remains to most of us elusive and almost invisible. When people do express a general concern for their fellow citizens as members of the national society, it is usually inspired by a hope that their more personal moral understanding can be extended to the scale ofa' genuinely public good. The problem of articulating the public good in the contemporary United States was evident in the two preceding chapters on citizenship and religion. In this respect, religious life seems strikingly similar to political life. Many with whom we spoke prized their civic and religious activities as vital to their lives, providing ways to share the joy of love and caring that the utilitarian world of work often seemed to inhibit. Yet, as we have seen, pursuit of the joys of involvement is always a pre—‘- carious venture, subject to' derailment from frustration or “humour” _ because of the fragility of voluntary expressive community. The com- _ mercial dynamism at the heart of the ideal ofpersonal success also un- dermines community involvement. California banker jim Reichert found his “desire to be committed” waning as possibilities for career ' advancement put pressure on him to relocatehand so sever his ties with the voluntary organization in whose service he had found so much fulfillment. . . ' .' The American search for spontaneous community with-the like— minded is made urgent by the fear that there may be no way at all to relate to those who are too different. Thus the tremendous nostalgia many Americans have for the idealized “small town.” The wish for a harmonious community we heard from a variety ofsources is a wish 'to transform the roughness of utilitarian dealings in the marketplace, the courts, and government administration into neighborly conciliation. But this nostalgia is belied by the strong focus of American individual- ism on economic success. The rules ofthe competitive market, not the practices of the town meeting or the fellowship of the church, are the real arbiters ofliving. _ _ I Yet the public realm still survives, even though with difficulty, as an enduring association of the different. In the civic republican tradition, . public life is built upon the second languages and practices of commit- ment that shape character. These languages and practices establish a web of interconnection by creating trust, joining people to families, friends, communities, and churches, and making each individual aware of his reli— ance on the larger society. They form those habits of the heart that are the matrix ofa moral ecology, the connecting tissue ofa body politic. At moments, such an understanding becomes truly national in scope. . As we saw at the end of the preceding chapter, the movement for civil 252 Tidbits qfthe Heart ' rights led by Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrated the strength and vi— tality still latent in the sense of the public good Americans have inherited. King’s articulation of the biblical and republican strands of our national history enabled a large number of Americans, black and white, to recog— nize their real relatedness across difference. King characterized legal dis- enfranchisement, poverty, and unemployment as institutionalized denials of personal dignity and social participation—glaring failures ofcollective national responsibility. The powerful response King elicited, transcend— ing simple utilitarian calculations, came from the reawakened recognition by many Americans that their own sense of self was rooted in companion- ,ship with others who, though not necessarily like themselves, nevertheless shared with them a common history and whose appeals to justice and solidarity made powerful claims on their loyalty. On a more local scale, we found similar resources for reappropriating a sense ofthe public good among some ofthose to whom we talked. We found people like Cecilia Dougherty, Mary Taylor, Ed Schwartz, and ' Paul Morrison, whose second languages have enabled them to link their ' . hopes and their sufferings with larger communities of memory. What emerged from these c0nversations was the understanding that becoming one’s own person, while always a risky, demanding effort, takes place in a community loyal to shared ideals of what makes life worth living. Sharing practices ofcommitment rooted in religious life‘and civic orga— nization helps us identify with others different from ourselves, yet joined with us not only in interdependence and a common destiny, but by common ends as well. Because we share a common tradition, certain habits ofthe heart, we can work together to construct a common future. Yet what concrete-shape and direction the public good might take in our present historical circumstances is difficult for most Americans to envi- sion. Even the most articulate ofthose to whom we talked found it dif- ficult to conceive of a social vision that would embody their deepest moral commitments. The Public Good: _ The Uncompleted American Quest The search for an adequate vision of the public good has a long history in the United States, reaching back to the founders of the republic. Perhaps our best hope for gaining perspective on our present situation is to connect . our contemporary reflections with the reflections of those who began the ' 'nation.'Despite agreement that they were establishing a republic, the lead— The National Society 25 3 ers of the revolutionary generation differed in important ways about the .kind of republic best suited to the conditions they confronted. john Ad- ams, for example, argued that government should represent in its institu— tions the major social groups in the society. Thomas jefferson and Thomas Paine from the beginning of the Revolution pressed vigorously for widespread democratic participation both as a check on the ambitions of leaders and as vital education in the spirit of republicanism. By con- trast, Alexander Hamilton andJames Madison feared that without strong leadership and central direction, a territorially extended and commercially Oriented republic such as they contemplated would dissipate itselfin end— less factional battles. Yet all were agreed that a republic needed a govern— ment that was more than an arena within which various interests could compete, protected by a set of procedural rules. Republican government, . they insisted, could survive only if animated by a spirit of virtue and con- cern for the public good. It is perhaps most instructive to listen 'closely to james' Madison on this topic. Madison, the Constitution’s chief architect andjoint author with Alexander Hamilton andjohnjay of The Federalist Papers, has often been presented as the hard-headed advocate of the political machinery of checks and balances against the republican idealism ofjefferson and "Paine. Yet it was Madison who warned in The Federalist Papers that “the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the su- preme object to he pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment 'of this object” (Federalist No. 45). Madison was here drawing on the tradition of civic republicanism as he had come t‘o'understand it through years of struggle with Great Britain and through the painful emergence ofa new nation moving in an irresistibly democratic and commercial direction. Mobilized through the revolutionary experience, the “great body of the people” —that is, white, male freeholders, and not only men ofMad— ison’s own gentry class—were the actual as well as legal source of sover-' eignty. And despite misgivings about the dangers of easily swayed masses that had been the commonplaces of aristocratic arguments against democracy, Madison agreed with Hamilton that “it is ajust obser- vation that the people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD" (Federalist No. 71, emphasis in original). Madison confided in another, less public writing that, “I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and Wisdom.” The basis of this “great republican principle” was the proposition that the citizens ofa republic are capable of recognizing and acting on what the eighteenth century called virtue. “Is there no virtue among us?" asked - -Madison. "Ifthere be not, no form ofgovernment can render us secure. - - 254 Habits ofthe Heart To suppose that any form ofgovernment will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.”1 ‘ ' The notion ofpublic virtue, as Gary Wills has recently reminded us, bulked very large for the revolutionary generation, with “a heft and weightiness unknown to us.” Virtue was to them not an abstraction but a visible quality exemplified by contemporary men of virtue: by George Washington, the modern Cincinnatus, forming the new nation, ruling without excess, and returning to ordinary life, or by Nathan Hale be- coming the American Cato in his last moments.2 The notion of virtue described an ideal ofcharacter made concrete notjust in the works ofthe ancient writers but in the stories of the revolutionaries themselves. It - '_depended upon the beliefthat besides the grimly self—focussed passions, there was in human beings a capacity to apprehend and pursue the good and to recognize in the character of others the qualities of integrity, grace, and excellence. Madison and his contemporaries thought of the pursuit of virtue as the way to reconcile the desire to be esteemed by one’s peers with publicly beneficial ends. ' Yet as Madison, -l-Iamilton,'_}efferson, Adams, and the others knew, aristocratic republicshad been both more numerous historically and more enduring than'democracies. As students of the Enlightenment philosoPher Montesquieu, they also knew the explanation for this dis- comfiting fact, which set the problem the new democratic republic had to solve. Montesquieu had defined a republic as a self—regulating political society whoSe mainspring is the identification of one’s own good with * the common good, calling this identity civic virtue. For Montesquieu, the virtuous citizen was one who understood that personal welfare is dependent on the general welfare and could be expected to act accord~ ingly. Forming'such character requires the context of practices in which the coincidence of personal concern and the common welfare can be experienced. For a specialized ruling group, an aristocracy, this conjunc— tion of private and public identity is, other things being equal, more likely than it is in a democracy whose citizens spend most of their time in private affairs, taking part in government only part-time. This, accord- . ing to Montesquieu, accounts for the relatively greater stability and en— durance ofaristocratic as compared with democratic republics. ' Both conviction and political necessity, however, committed Madison and the other framers to a regime that wasultimately democratic in spirit. The special challenge facing the founding generation was thus historically unique. They were attempting to establish republican institutions of dem— ocratic cast in an expansive commercial society. They needed to develop public virtues in democratic citizens. To achieve this end, the Constitution of 1787 organized a-Vmachinery of national government consciously "caduceus ._ .z c , The National Society 25 5 adapted to the social reality of expanding capitalism and the attendant " culture ofphilosophic liberalism. However, the instrumentaiity ofchecks ' and balances has as its positive aim to so offset the centrifugal and anarchic tendency of competitive individual and local self—interest as to foster what Madison called the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community” (Federalist No. 10). The founders were not expecting the common good to result mechanically, as though by the automatic workings of interests, or at least they did not~expect it to happen unaided. Madison designed the elaborate constitutional mechanism to filter and refine popular passions in hopes that in the main it would be men of vision and virtue who would reach office at the national level. _ The premise of the system was that the virtue of the people would ' lead them to choose for their officials and representatives men who would be great—spirited enough to place the public good above their own, or their local region’s, special advantage. Such men would con’sti— tute a genuine aristocracy ofmerit. Ruled by leaders whose public stew- ardship was subject to frequent popular review through elections, the United States would secure the advantages Montesquieu had ascribed to aristocratic republics but with a democratic constitution. ' The revolutionary leaders trusted the people to continue to recognize the claims to political leadership of an educated and cultivated stratum of which they themselves were examples. They thus saw little need actively to shape the political culture of the populace, already shaped by religious, personal, and political ties in local communities. Yet ironically, the Revo- lution, which had brought notions ofpublic virtue and proven wisdom to the fore, also unleashed an egalitarian spirit and a drive for individual suc— cess that soon swamped this first, fragile pattern in a torrent ofterritorial and economic expansion, ending dreams of secure'leadership by a na- tional civic—minded elite in close touch with popular feeling. In the new climate that dominated the nineteenth century, Ameri- cans’ minds turned to private advancement and local economic growth, leaving the weak and distant national government in the hands ofa new breed ofprofessional politicians who specialized in the accommodation . of interests rather than in civic virtue. The first republican vision ofna- tional life receded before a more individual dream of enterprise. But this made the coherence of the national society a continuing problem. The role of guiding the nation, which the founders had originally cast for the proven aristoCracy of merit, was partially assumed by political parties - that attempted to articulate an accommodation of interests in law and national policy. The life of the relatively small-scale local community __was heavily shaped by a religious and civic morality that generally worked to channel and transform private ambition'into the public con~ 256 Habits ofthe Heart cerns ofthe independent citizen and town father, but the economic and social interests ofthe local communities were frequently-in conflict with one another, and at the national level, the brokerage system was hard— pressed to accommodate mounting stresses. It finally broke down alto— gether in the traumatic Civil War ofI86I to I 865. ' ' The war and its aftermath temporarily galvanized a renewed sense of dedication to democratic and republican purposes, particularly in the North, but this sense dissipated rapidly in, territorial and commercial expansion, which continued through the turn ofthe century. Spurred by vast untapped resources, new industrial technology, and waves ofimm'i- grant labor, American capitalism was by the 18905 developing an inte- grated national market centered on the industrial cities ofthe Northeast and Midwest. This new industrial and commercial system decisively subordinated the life of the local community to nationwide economic - development. The result was a new class of economic leaders, who es- tablished new institutions ofprivate power, along with new conditions of work and living that were national in reach and impact. Those old patterns of local life that resisted these tendencies survived only in an attenuated form. The turn—of-the—century economic and social transformation into an interdependent national society was never complemented by new politi- cal institutions to foster Madison’s “permanent and aggregate interests” of the national society. Thus the founders’ problem of developing an effective, democratic civic spirit in a commercial republic was post— poned, not resolved. Six American Visions ofthe Public Good The tension between self—reliant competitive enterprise and a sense of public solidarity espoused by civic republicans has been the most impor- tant unresolved problem in American history. Americans have sought in ' the ideal of community a shared trust to anchor and complete the desire for a free and fulfilled self. This quest finds its public analogue in the desire to integrate economic pursuits and interrelationships in an encompassing .fabric of national institutional life. American culture has long been marked by acute ambivalence about the meshing of self-reliance and co'm- munity, and the nation’s history shows a similar ambivalence over the question of how to combine individual autonomy and the interrelation- ships of a Complex modern economy. ' The National Society 257 Six distinct visions ofthe public good have arisen in the United States in the past hundred years. They each have their specific histories, but all have developed as responses to the need for citizens ofa society grown increasingly interdependent to picture to themselves what sort of a peo- ple they are and where they should be heading. These visions of the public good have, in fact, been different proposals for how best to make sense of that basic American tension between individualism and the common good as this tension has grown in the industrialrage. Historically, the six visions have arisen in pairs, each pair emerging in ' a period ofinstitutional breakdown and subsequent reintegration ofthe national economic order. But since these economic upheavals have also been times of social and political ferment, visions of the public good have been concerned notjust with the narrowly economic but with the meaning ofthe United States as a national society. The first, perhaps most fundamental and enduring, pair ofalternative ' visions arose in the last decades ofthe nineteenth century to shape'na— . ' tional consciousness until after World War I. We will call this the opposi— tion of the Establishment versus Populism. The radically changed cir— cumstances that followed the collapse ofthe private corporate economy in 1929 gave rise to a second debate,_ pitting a revived defense of private capital, or Neocapitalism, against the vision gradually evolving out of the various, largely ad hoc, policies ofthe New Deal, which we will term Welfare Liberalism. While the unsettled economic conditions of the 19805 have resulted from the gradual unravelling ofthe economic settle— ment of1933 —45, the political debate continues to be conducted largely in terms of Neocapitalism versus Welfare Liberalism. But the novel fea— tures ofour present difficulties with inherited corporate-governmental arrangements have brought two other competing visions to the fore, ' though to date'mostly among political and economic specialists. These new, only partially articulated rivals we will call the Administered Soci— ety versus Economic Democracy. We shall briefly consider these six visions in turn, two at a time, ask- ing how they have functioned as forms ofpolitical imagination, and then how they resonate with the themes ofAmerican culture we encountered in our conversations.‘ The first pair of visions, the competing claims of the Establishment versus Populism, arose as a response to new industrial conditions in the 18805 and I 8905, but it was a conflict that contin-- ued earlier American debates. As notions ofthe public good, ofwhat the national community should be like, both the Establishment and Populist visions touched the basic sources ofthe American cultural imagination. Thus these first two visions provide the underlying themes for the fol— --lowing'two pairs as well. - ' - - . wwvmnmmwnmmwmv. . 258 Habits ofthe Heart The Establishment versus Populism The extraordinary scope and speed of the changes American society un- derwent between the 18805 and World War I stirred national awareness and debate to a new intensity. To observers at the time, it seemed that the ' very patterns of American life were being remade- At the dramatically staged World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in the summer of 1893, the historian Frederick jackson Turner presented his famous pa— per arguing that the great western frontier had finally closed, and that with its closing, the strength and optimism of nineteenth—century America was threatened with constriction. Thejournalist Walter Lipp— mann was only one ofmany who responded shortly thereafter to Theo— dore Roosevelt’s aggressive evocation of the “strenuous life” as the be- ginning of a much-needed national renewal. "_‘The days 'of easy expansion had come to amend,” wrote Lippmann, explaining RoOse- velt’s appeal. T. R. was “the first President who realized clearly that na— tional stability and social justice had to be sought deliberately and had consciously to be maintained . . . turning the American mind in the direction it had to go in the Twentieth Century.”3 ' - - _ Thus the context ofpolitical discourse by the turn ofthe century had begun to shift away from the ideologically unadorned competition of interests typical ofthe nineteenth century, a politics many came to see as having failed to confront the new econOmic and social situa.tion.”“Re- . form”. came to mean seeking “national stability and socialjustice” by deliberate means. The issue was how and on what terms Americans were to shape the emerging industrial order into a viable and morally decent national society. _ One answer was the Establishment vision. It was primarily associated with those segments of the industrial and financial elites who at the end of the nineteenth century created and endowed a network of private institu- tions such as universities, hospitals, museums, symphony orchestras, schools, churches, clubs, and associations alongside their new corpora— tions. What is interesting is that these new institutions, Whether metro— politan, regional, or national in scope, were based on the principle of vol—- untary association, as was the corporation itself. Their strength correlated with a relatively weak state in America. Indeed, even to this day, institu— tions such as great research universities and museums of international reputation, which would be run by government in most other societies, ' are still “ rivate” institutions here, a le ac of the Establishment vision of . . P g Y _ institution building. _ The creators of these institutions sought to spread a cosmopolitan __ ethic ofnoblesse oblige and public service to give local magnates a sense of The National Society 259 national responsibility. The Establishment vision clearly had affinities 'with religion ofthe church type. In contrast to the ethics oftown fathers, the Establishment vision accepted large institutions and the bargaining politics ofinterest, while seeking to guide and harmonize social conflicts toward fruitful compromise through personal influence and negotiation. As given theoretical formulation by thinkers such as Walter Lippmann I ' in the first decades ofthe century, the Establishment vision was cosmo- politan, flexible, striving to reconcile interests in larger national pur— poses. Theodore Roosevelt was perhaps its classic embodiment in polit~ ical life. ' . ' ' Against the high—minded, genteel image of the Establishment, the Populist vision accented the egalitarian ethos in the American tradition, often proposing Thomas Jefferson as its founding hero and Aleitander Hamilton as its representative villain. The Populist vision asserted the claims of“the people,” ordinary citizens, to sufficient wisdom to govern their affairs. Like the Establishment vision, Populism was rooted in the ideal of the politics of face-to-facc community. But because Establish— ment ideals from the beginning appealed to the controllers of the com— manding heights ofthe new national institutions, Populist rhetoric of- ten had an oppositional cast. Yet in the program of the People’s party of 1896, Populism sought to expand government power over economic life - ' - for the common good. Populism’s great themes ofthe dignity and im— . portance ofordinary citizens frequently involved biblical language. Pop- ulism had affinities with both the antinomian, mystical aspects ofAmer— ' ican religion'and the fervent commitment of the religious sect. if the Establishment vision rearticulated important aspects of the republican ideal of the common good in turn—of—the—century America, Populism was the great democratizer, insisting on the incompleteness 'ofa republic that excluded any ofits members from full citizenship. ' Despite their vast disagreements, the Establishment and the Populist visions were alike in their insistence on the need to encompass the e— merging industrial and corporate economic society within a public moral order. Moreover, this order was seen in both cases as the reassertion of the authority of a civic and religious moral ecology felt to be endangered by the radically instrumental mores ofthe market. Advocates of Estab— lishment leadership no less than Populist democrats spoke in the strong accents ofa common tradition concerning the ends of public life, ends they feared were being betrayed by the new economic and technological developments of the age. . . . . . . . In 1889, for instance, Andrew Carnegie, the prototypical self—made magnate, spoke in his “Gospel of Wealth” of the need for captains of industry to think (if themselves not as owners but as trustees ofthe na— I 260 Habits qfthe Heart -tion’s wealth, bound to administer it for general betterment. “The prob— lem of our age,” Carnegie wrote, “is the proper administration of wealth, that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship.”4 Henry Lee Higginson, a leading member of Boston’s business establishment, wrote in 1911, “I do not believe that, because a man owns property, 'it belongs to him to do with as he pleases. The property belongs to the community, and he has charge of it, and can dispose of it, if it is well done and not with the sole regard to himselfor to his stockholders.” Higginson, who considered himselfa Progressive in politics, joined Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard, and other leading Bostonians in believing “that the best solution to the problem ofnational order lay in the education of individuals to ideals of - service, stewardship, andncooperation.” The advocates of the Populist vision spoke in similar language. “The I _ spirit of fraternity abroad in the land [counters] the mad chase for the ‘almighty dollar,’ ’_’ wrote labor leader Eugene Debs in 1890. Fraternity, he argued, grows out of “the ties and bonds and obligations that large souled and large hearted men recognize as essentials to human happi- ness.” Later, as a socialist, Debs continued to speak in familiar republi- can and bibliCal terms, stressing the obligations ofcontemporaries to the brave precursors who suffered in their “struggle to leave the world bet— ter for us.” The proper response, Debs urged, was to discharge one’s obligation to those heroic forebears “by doing the best we can for those "who come after us. . . '. {Then] you will know what it is to be a real man or woman. . . to find yourself—to really know yourselfand your purpose in life.“ ' The Populist vision thus shared with the Establishment ideal an un- ' _ derstanding that work, welfare, and authority are tightly interrelated and embedded in community life. For Populism, this pattern often tea sembled the ideals of small town life we have found strongly alive in the ' United States today, whereas the Establishment image was less egalitar— ian and emphasized paternal relationships ofreciprocal, though unequal, duties. However, both visions shared a larger perspective and saw work as a contribution to a public household held together by mutual ties. justice required public efforts torepair the collapse of these social rela- tionships. The Establishment vision was large—scale—national and in- ternational in scope—and Populism was often suspicious of size, but 'both saw politics, like work, as a matter ofpublic trust and, ultimately, ' ofpersonal relationships. This common understanding led to a second major agreement—that a national society requires not only fair proce— dures regulating the individual pursuit of happiness but a substantive conception ofjuSt institutions and virtuous citizens. This substantive - concern about the ends of social life differentiates the Populist and Es— The National Society 261 tablishment visions from the dominant political visions of our own time, which offer conceptions of procedural rules and effective means but have less to say about common ends. Debs’s language of public ends was built on a conception ofajust society as one whose citizens shared both the economic position needed to take active part in social life and an understanding of its duties and rights. Indeed, Debs’s fundamental argument for socialism was that there is a moral substance tojustice that overrides the principles ofmaru ket exchange, a substance grounded in the solidarity of citizens who share an understanding of what human dignity requires. Thus Debs could argue that as industrial development had undermined the nineteenth-century independent citizen’s basis for dignity, which was in his labor 'on his own property, a new conception of social property and economic participation was needed to provide substance to citizenship under industrial conditions. _ . . . . . . The political reform m0vements of the early twentieth century that we group together loosely as “Progressive” borrowed from both the E5- tablishment and the Populist visions yet led finally in a direction differ— ent from either. Like the proponents of the Establishment vision, the Progressives wanted to create a national community, but, like the Popu— lists, they wanted a national community that would be genuinely demo— cratic and inclusive. To the reformers of the Progressive era, as Michael Sandel has put it, “Ifa virtuous republic ofsmall-scale, democratic com- munities was no longer a possibility, a national republic seemed democé racy’s'next best hope.” Still believing in a politics ofthe common good, these reformers “looked to the nation, not as a neutral framework for the play of competing interests, but rather as a formative community, concerned to shape a common life suited to the scale of modern social and economic form's.” Yet there was another side to the thoughtof the Progressive re-_ formers. This was their commitment to “rationality” and “science” as the chief means for attaining the new national community. They devel— oped an enthusiasm for public administration as a sort ofsocial engineer-— ing able to heal political and social divisions and promote a more “ef— ficient” and “rational” national society. Progressives often embraced the goals ofbetter public services, health, and education along with the gov— ernmental regulation ofbig business in the public interest. This desire for a more “rational” politics, standing above interest but based on expertise ' rather than wisdom and virtue,"moved American political discourse away from concern withjustice, with its civic republican echoes, toward a focus on progress—a progress defined primarily as material abun— dance. Thus, ironically, given its original intentions, the reform' move- ' .ment 'shifted the goal of political action away from the realization ofa 262 Habits ofthe Heart democratic republic and toward the creation'of an administrative system that could “deliver the goods.” The new political goal was summed up by Walter Lippmann as the growth of “mastery.” The hopes of that age seemed about to be fulfilled in 1928 with the election 'to the presidency _ ofI-lerbert Hoover, himselfan engineer, hailed by the press as “the most - commanding figure in the modern science of‘engineering statesman- ship’ . . . ‘the dynamics ofmastery.’”8 Neocapitalism versus Welfare Liberalism Whereas the opposing visions of Populism and the Establishment sought to subordinate the Competition of interests in the economic and I political arenas to a national life based on relationships of reciprocity, the visions that emerged from the dislocations of the corporate economy after 1929, Neocapitalism and _Welfare Liberalism, have appealed to a different common aspiration. The Great Depression seemed like noth— ing so much as a loss ofmastery, but as a problem ofmeans rather than ends. Both Neocapitalism and Welfare Liberalism agree about the pri- mary aim of modern Society. It is twofold: to provide physical security and material Well—being for its citizens and at the same time encourage as ' much individual choice as possible regarding the goals of activity. Though with differing Conceptions of how it should be directed and by whom, both visions have inherited the Progressives’ enthusiasm for scientific and technological advance, as well as a belief in the necessity and value ofspecialization offunction. Welfare Liberalism finds its beginnings in' Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ' _ New Deal, when the resources of government were brought massively, but with only partial success, to bear on the solution of the problems created by the Great Depression. World War II greatly expanded the capacities ofthe American state, and from I950 to 1970, in a period of unparalleled economic growth, Welfare Liberalism scored its greatest successes and created something close to a national consensus. Neocapi— talism, an effort to revive older freenmarket ideas in contemporary form, developed as the major critique of Welfare Liberalism, gaining plausibility and adherents as a consequence of the economic difficulties of the 19705. Since 1970 Neocapitalism has entered into a serious contest for hegemony in the American political consciousness. The Neocapitalist vision has, of course, been the basis of the rhetoric of _ Ronald Reagan. From' the time he accepted his party’s nomination as a _ ' The National Society 263 candidate for the presidency in 1980, Reagan has eloquently defined his mission as one of building “a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embedded in these words: family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.” In Reagan’s rhetoric, however, such words, charged with moral resonance, are evocations of private, rather than public, virtues. Work is an economic activity pursued by self—reliant individuals in the interests of themselves and their families. In his inaugu- ral address, Reagan said that "‘ we the people” are “a special interest group” that is “made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man out mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes and heal us when we’re sick.” By defining us by our occupations, Reagan sees us not as a polity but as an economy, in which the population is an all-inclu— sive “interest group,” chiefly concerned with “a healthy, vigorous, grow- _ 'ing economy that provides equal opportunity for all Americans.” The pri- mary aim of government is to safeguard the peace and security necessary to allow self-reliant individuals to pursue their largely economic aims in freedom. “Work and family are at the center of our lives, the foundation ofour dignity as a free people.” . . . _ .' _ . . ' _ ' According to Reagan, a government that attempts to provide more than such essentials is “overgrown and overweight” and "should go on a diet.” Although there is some need for the government to provide 'a I “safety net” for those individuals who fail in their'quest for self-suf- ficiency, such government assistance must be reduced to the minimum necessary to protect the “truly needy,” and, if possible, restore them to self—reliance. Concern for the poor should be encouraged, but as a private virtue, not a public duty. “It’s time to reject the notion,” Reagan said in a speech in early 1984, “that advocating government programs is a form of personal charity. Generosity is a reflection of what one does with his or ' her resources—and not what he or she advocates the government do with everyone’s money.”9 The implication of such remarks is that community . is a voluntary association of neighbors who personally know one another and freely express concern for one another, an essentially private, rather than public, form ofassociation. . ' This Neocapitalist vision of national life has its origins in the eco« .nomic and social transformation ofthe late nineteenth century. It derives from the creed of business, particularly corporate business, which was able in that era to emanci pate itself from the strictures of local communi- ties and explicitly to celebrate the flourishing of business as the principal means toward a better future. In an interview published in the Los An- geles Times in 1982, President Reagan’s longtime friend and “kitchen cabinet” member, the late multimillionaire businessmanjustin Dart, ar— ' ticulated the classic moraljustificatio'n for this vision in franker terms ' 264. Habits (ifthe Heart than Reagan himself: "I have never looked for a business that’s going to render a service to mankind. l figure that ifit employs a lot ofpeople and makes a lot of money, it is in fact rendering a service to mankind. Greed is involved in everything we do. I find no fault with that.”10 Whereas entrepreneurs have often been indifferent to social issues—what Dart ealls “these crappy issues like equal rights”—the Neocapitalist vision has frequently been allied with religious and cultural currents that seek, in the words of Jerry Falwell, to “bring back decency to America,” by promoting the traditional family and conservative forms ofChristianity, though remaining largely positive about scientific technology and mate- rial progress as the means toward individual prosperity. Neocapita'lism has thus retained continuity in some respects with the culture of the [nineteenth—Century town, though it accepts that culture only as the foundation for a local, private life and perceives the dynamics of the free market as the sole effective means of integrating the national society. Neocapitalism developed its present form in opposition to the con— ' " I trasting vision of Welfare Liberalism, which in turn developed as a re— : spouse to the breakdown ofthe private corporate economy in the Great Depression. The hallmark of Welfare Liberalism has been administra- tive intervention by the government to balance the operations of the market in the interests of economic growth and social harmony. Like _”Neocapitalism, Welfare Liberalism has accepted the capitalist market and its private economic institutions as the core mechanism for growth in material abundance, while promoting the application of expertise and functional organization to both economic and social life. Welfare Liber— alism views the market as in more or less permanent need of interven— tion by the national state through a variety of institutions designed to regulate or assist market exchange. This emphasis on governmental intervention in the'market leads to Welfare Liberalism’s conception of politics. The public good is defined as national harmony achieved through sharing the benefits ofeconomic growth. It is the purpose of activist government to promote economic growth and to guarantee individuals a fair chance to benefit from it. This intervention in economy and society has moral purposes: to provide all citizens with an -“equal opportunity” to engage in economic competi— tion, to prevent economic exploitation, and, since the early 19705, to conserve environmental resources. The most eloquent, unabashed re— cent statement ofthe Welfare Liberal vision has come not from the Dem- ocratic aspirants in the 1984 election, but from Senator Edward Ken— nedy. In the speech he gave while conceding the presidential nomination ofthe Democratic party tojimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy gave a ring— ing call for a government based on fairness and compassion: ‘.‘The com— The National Society 265 mitment I seek is not to outworn values but to old values which will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot .solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw Ont our national problems onto a scrap heap ofinatten— tion and indifference. . . . The demand of our people in 1980 is not for smaller government or bigger government but for better government." Kennedy went on to call for government spending to provide full employment, promote worker safety, “reindustrialize” America, and _ protect the environment. He demanded that the “full power ofthe gov- ernment” be invoked to control inflation. He called for tax reforms that would increase the taxes paid by the wealthy. And he insisted that the government control the rising cost of medical treatment and make gov- ernment-sponsored health insurance available to all. All of this would ensure a fair government, one that would be based on our willingness as a people to “give back to our country in return for all it has given us” and on the principle that “whatever sacrifices must be made will be shared— and shared fairly.” And it would ensure a compassionate government that would maintain a commitment to “the cause of the cOmmon man and the common woman.” I' . . . ' _ ' Yet despite all of its contrasts with Neocapitalist policies on tax 're- form, government intervention in the market, and the. provision of so— cial services to the poor, the Welfare Liberal vision articulated by Ken— nedy shares with Neocapitalism a fundamental assumption about the relationship between public and private life. The purpose of government is to give individuals the means to pursue their private ends. Welfare Liberals believe that this can be done only if the economy is managed by bureaucratic agencies guided by experts and if those who have histori- cally suffered from disadvantages are given government assistance to enable them to compete on an equal basis with more privileged individ~ uals. But the disagreement with the Neocapitalists is about the means by which to foster individual self-reliance, not about the ultimate value of fostering it. The debate is over procedures to achieve fairness for each, not about the-substantive meaning ofjustice for all. For those who might fail to achieve individual self—sufficiency even in a fair competition, Welfare Liberalism offers only what Neocapitalists such as Reagan offer: “compassion,” the subjective feeling of sympathy of one - private individual for another. Unlike Neocapitalists, of course, 'Welfare' Liberals argue that compassion toward the losers in the social competition - is best administered by government agencies staffed by experts from the '. “helpingprofessions.” But such agencies gain their legitimacy only as the ' H 266 Habits offlic Heart social expression of compassion. When the price of government welfare programs becomes high, or when they seem to increase the dependency of their clients rather than foster self—reliance, Welfare Liberals are vulnerable to the charge of being “bleeding hearts” who are imprudently compas- sionatemor, as President Reagan put it, all too willing to express their personal feelings of generosity with someone else’s money. They lack a language to express their own deep moral commitment tojustice in a way that would be perSuasive to their fellow citizens. . _ 'In the decades after World War II, Welfare Liberalism continued to be the basis for a national consensus only so long as its prescriptions for government intervention in the economy actually worked to provide ris- ing standards ofliving for the majority and only so long as the cost ofth'e ' bureaucratic agencies of compassion seemed less for most people than the ' benefits 'of rising affluence. And then, in the 19705, the economic growth machine began-to falter seriously, with unfortunate, but predictable, -- - - results. If the great pie would no longer grow very fast, then the whole optimistic vision of Welfare Liberalism became less and less credible. The American electorate grew increasingly volatile and resistant to party ap— peals. The stage was set for the resurgence of Neocapitalism, a vision that, for many, promised a more effective means than Welfare Liberalism 'to continue the individual pursuit of private goods allowing for the expres— sion of personal compassion for the unfortunate, but at less cost. ' If the Welfare Liberal vision is in trouble in an “era of limits," the NéoCapitalist vision is also on shaky ground in pretending that the links between government and the private market can be dissolved in a complex modern society. The huge military—industrial complex ardently espoused by the Neocapitalists refutes their own claims, and there is the critical problem of providing convincing and effective substitutes for active man- agement of the political economy and “compassionate government,” given the persistent structural problems of poverty and unemployment in modern capitalism. 7 ' To cope with these difficulties, contemporary adherents 'of both Neocapitalism and Welfare Liberalism borrow rhetorically from the ear- lier images ofcommunity ties and concern for the common good found in the Populist and Establishment traditions. Yet the growth of unprec— edented deficits, a deeply troubled world economy, and other economic, social, and political uncertainties have led some to suggest that the time is fast approaching when neither Welfare Liberalism nor NeOca'pitalism' will be able to cope with our mounting difficulties. These concerns have given rise to yet another pair of contrasting visions of how to pursue the public good. The National Society 267 The Administered Society versus Economic Democracy The Administered Society and Economic Democracy represent the two 7 boldest efforts to imagine a next step beyond the stalemated efforts of Welfare Liberalism and Neocapitalism to solve the problems ofour soci— ety. The advocates of these new visions strongly reject the notion that the United States can return to anything like the situation that prevailed . before I929. In accepting the interpenetration of private and public power, they represent a crucial break with the assumption that funda— mental economic interests can be effectively integrated either through - the market alone or through informal alliances among interest groups. _ Rather, these two visions declare the need to go beyond exclusive reli— ance on voluntarist strategies for integrating major sectors of society such as business, labor, and government. They propose a more visible, I public institutionalization, expanding the linkages between sectors and placing them in a more encompassing national framework. ' There is a similarity between the proponents of these still inchoate visions. Both annoimce that something new to American politics is re- quired because of the failure of older visions. Proponents of these new viewsjoin others in a widespread criticism 'ofNéo'Capitalism and Welfare Liberalism as alike sacrificing the general welfare to “special interests.” Welfare Liberals such as Walter Mondale are thought to give too much attention to labor, ethnic and racial minorities, and other special constit— uencies, and Neocapitalists such as President Reagan are criticized as agents of the corporations and the selfish rich. The proponents of the Administered Society and Economic Democracy present their visions as efforts to incorporate and transcend contending interests. Like earlier reformers, they do so with confidence in expertise as the way to extri— cate our society from its apparent impasse. As yet, major politicians have embraced only fragments ofthese new visions as they seek to update fundamentally older conceptions. For co— herent expression ofthese visions we must turn to theorists rather than politicians. We may consider first a vocal advocate ofan administratively more integrated national society, the well—known investment banker Fe— lix Rohatyn. In the 19703, Rohatyn figured prominently in the rescue of New York City from bankruptcy, a rescue carried out by placing fiscal authority in the hands ofan appointed board ofthe city’s creditors, em— ployees, bondholders, and bankers, operating outside ordinary legisla- tive channels. Rohatyn proposed in the early 19805 that the United States, confronting an increasingly competitive international economy, 268 Habits qftize Heart needed a similar rescue that would produce “stable growth, iow unem- ployment, reasonably balanced budgets, and reasonably valued cur- rency." Such a policy would need to be “committed to maintaining our social gains by promoting economic growth and full employment," 'which Rohatyn argued could not be realized by the kinds of political compromises characteristic ofcongr'essional politics. “Only institutions that can take the long view and act accordingly will be able to bring about the kinds ofchanges that are required,” he contended. ' In arguing for the necessity for such new institutionai arrangements, Rohatyn spoke in a language strong in technical economic and adminis- trative terms, as Welfare Liberals and Neocapitalists have done for along - time, but with a weaker evocation of the moral tradition of American politics than evenfthese long—dominant positions usually contain. Roha- tyn’s specific proposal was for a “trifipartite economic development board,” made up of representatives of “business, labor and govern- ment," appointed by the president and the Congress, in order to inter— vene in' the economy to promote the economic goals described above. The board, the centerpiece of Rohatyn’s “industrial policy,” was mod— eled after the New York City rescue board and drew inspiration from the . Reconstruction Finance Corporation designed by Herbert Hoover to fight the 1929 depression. To bring so massive a reorganization into being, Rohatyn called for strong national leadership by a “bipartisan administration in which a Republican or Democratic president would include opposition leaders in his cabinet" and which would select mem- ' bers ofthe economic board in a similar spirit.11 The Administered Society is above all a vision of social harmony among different and unequal groups cooperating for the goals of im— ' proved individual security and widely shared economic growth. To ac- complish these ends, it would link private groups, especially business and labor, -with governmental agencies to steer economic development through this period of technological and international change. At the same time, traditional Welfare Liberal programs such as improved op- portunity and assistance for those dislocated by major change would be continued. One-key to this vision is the idea of “partnership” among various sectbrs of the economy and society, brought together through governmental boards, commissions, and agencies.12 Such a policy would depend heavily on the administrative structure of government, rather than on popular representation, and would thus bring technical and managerial experts toincreased prominencc. Yet the basic under- standing of work as a means toward private goals would remain the same as in Neocapitalism and Welfare Liberalism. The “permanent and aggre— " gate'interests” of the nation would receive more focused and perhaps The Natimmi Society 269 more expert attention, but presumably only by those at or near the sum- mits of their respective institutions. The ironic result of the Adminis— tered Society is very likely to be an increase ofprivatized attitudes for the many, now more securely provided for. . Iinlike the proponents of the Administered Society, advocates of Eco— nomic Democracy consciously worry about how to empower citizens to take part in the array ofnew integrating institutions that they, too, see as necessary to a more humane, as well as a more abundant future. An im— portant voice ofthis developing position in the early 19805 was Michael Harrington, a long—time advocate of what he has termed “democratic so- cialism.” To Harrington, neither 1Welfare Liberalism nor Neocapitalism will do: “We have entered a decade of decision, a crisis of the system whether we like'it or not.” As'an alternative to the failed policies of the past, l-larrington endorses a part of Rohatyn’s logic on the grounds that . conscmus centralization in economic policy is the precondition for more Citizen participation in economic decisions—for “decentralization.” See— - ing corporate domination of the economy as the chief obstacle, Har— rington proposes an active government role to bring about a “democrati-' zation of the investment function.” Such a policy would lead eventually to “introducing democracy from the shop floor to the board room.” While a planner such as Rohatyn can be sanguine about the benevo— lence of centralized institutions, ‘I—Iarrington thinks the situation re— quires more ingenuity. Rohatyn defends his proposals as ultimately likely to enhance democracy, saying that “far from being undemocratic the work ofsuch a board could add to the democratic process an elemeni ofconsultation with the major forces ofour society.” In contrast, Har- rington sees public as well as private bureaucracies as threats to freedom. But, he asks, “What ifthere were legal provisions offunds for any signi— ficant group of citizens who wanted to hire their own experts to put together a counter-plan?” For Harrington, the element that divides Eco— ‘ nomlc Democracy and the Administered Society is the notion ofcitizen empowerment.13 Yet Harrington shares the same universe ofdiscourse with Rohatyn to such an extent that he turns to the provision offunds to citizens “to hire - their own experts" as the major defense of the democratic nature'of his proposed reforms. But experts, no matter how “democratic” in spirit are neither moral exemplars nor prophets nor political leaders, and the _ politics of competing experts sounds like a “high tech” version of the politics ofinterest. Harrmgtons v151on ofEconomic Democracy intends I 'to evoke a political vision greater than the sum of competing interests 1 and it recognizes that this vision would require the support ofa wide- ' . spread socml movement. Harrington even recognizes something Roha- E g g 27o Habits ofthe Hm rt tyn gives no hint of—that the new vision requires a major cultural trans— formation as well as institutional innovation. But when it comes to suggesting the substancc of that cultural transformation, Harrington’s vision falls as silent as Rohatyn’s. They mutely reveal the lack ofa moral basis for their political purposes, the end point ofa discourse of means _ without ends. This is not to say that there is no difference between these two most recent visions, any more than it could be said that there is no difference _ between Welfare Liberalism and Neocapitalism. Though Rohatyn may not intend it, it is certainly possible that the Administered Society as he envisions it would only tighten the hold of corporate business on our collective life and result in the administrative despotism that Tocqueville warned against. The vision of Economic Democracy continues the long struggle to bring the corporate economy under democratic control that we alluded to in chapter 8. But can we not imagine that without a cultural _ and moral transformation, the experts—on whom the Economic Dem— ocrats, too, rely-Fwould succeed in bringing about an administrative despotism, or what-Tocqueville also called a “democratic despotism,” just as surely under Economic Democracy as under the Administered Society? The UnreSOIVed Tension Earlier in this chapter, we spoke ofthe beliefof Madison and the other founders that our form ofgovernment was dependent on the existence of .virtue among the people. It was such 'virtue that they expected to resolve the tension between private interest and the public good. Without civic virtue, they thought, the republic would decline into factional chaos and probably end in authoritarian rule. Half a century later, this idea was reiterated in Tocqueville’s argument about the importance of the mo— res—4the “habits of the heart”—of Americans. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, when Establishment and Populist visions were the I chiefantagonists in the continuing argument about the shape'ofour'so- ciety, Madisonian ideas were still presupposed. The tension between private interest and the public good is never completely resolved in any society. But in a free republic, it is the task of the citizen, whether ruler 'or'ruled, to cultivate civic virtue in order to mitigate the'tension and - render it manageable. 7 As the twentieth century has progressed, that understanding, so im— portant through most ofour history, has begun to slip from our grasp.- g. }l i i The National Society 271 As we unthinkingly use the oxymoron “private citizen,’.' the very mean- ing of citizenship escapes us. And with Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “we the people" are “a special interest group," our concern for the econ— omy being the only thing that holds us together, we have reached a kind ofend ofthe line. The citizen has been swallowed up in “economic man.” Yet this kind ofeconomic liberalism is not ultimately liberating, for, as became quite clear with the final two visions of the public good de— scribed, when economics is the main model for our common life, we are more and more tempted to put ourselves in the hands ofthe manager and the expert. lfsociety is shattered into as many special interests as there are individuals, then, as Tocqueville foresaw, there is only the school— 'master state left to take 'care ofus and keep us from one another’s throats. ' But if the fears of Madison, Tocqueville, and Debs seem today to be becoming alarmingly true, then perhaps their hopes can speak to us as well. They believed that the survival of a free people depends on the (revival ofa public virtue that is able to find political expression. The way a free society meets its problems depends not only on its economic and - administrative rescurces but on its political imagination. Political vision . thus plays an indispensable role in providing understanding of the present and of the possibilities for change. Is it possible that we could become citizens again and together seek the common good in the post- industrial, postmodern age? ' ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 08/31/2011 for the course STS 302 taught by Professor Nkriesbert during the Summer '08 term at N.C. State.

Page1 / 11

2 - Public Order - Robert Bellah - Habits of the Heart CH10 - The National Society

This preview shows document pages 1 - 11. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online