After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (New Forum Books)
by Paul Edward Gottfried, Professor of Humanities at Elizabethstown College. An analysis of what happened to the meaning of “liberalism” in the United States in the 20th century, focusing on the post-WWII period. It examines the roots of “political correctness”, and how those ideas arose and gained acceptance. Specifically, Gottfried examines the evolution of the meaning of liberalism and democracy and pluralism, the gradual spread of the idea of the welfare state and “state as therapist”, of scientific management of society and bureaucratic interventionism. In particular, Gottfried analyzes the meaning and impact of such works as The Authoritarian Personality and Studies in Prejudice. The quotes below are mainly for my own benefit, and are not representative of the book or of my own opinions. This is not a book review.
Despite the fact that it shares a similar topic with, and is shorter than, The Shadow University, it has taken me longer to read, mainly because it is more dense and requires even more concentration than the Kors & Silverglate book. I usually read before going to bed, but that’s not the best time to read this kind of book.
Democratic citizenship has come to mean eligibility of social services and welfare benefits. It also imposes varying degrees of loyalty to what Jurgen Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism”: the acceptance of legal procedures and of democratic socialization, presumably to be carried out by social experts. (p. ix.) Liberalism has lost any meaningful connection to what it once signified. By now it is hard to find in contemporary liberal thinking much of what it stood for at the beginning of [20th] century, save for talk about expressive and “life-style” freedoms (freedoms that nineteenth century liberals might have had trouble in any case recognizing as rights).
Today’s liberal democracies express and accommodate other political concerns, from the need for entitlements to the combating of prejudice and the privileging by courts of lifestyle rights and designated minorities. In Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, governments have performed these tasks even more energetically than in the United States. There, public administrations control incomes more directly, tax more heavily, and… impose criminal punishments on those whose speech or writing offends ethnic minorities. Though this form of “democratic” governing leaves little to popular consent, it has enjoyed continuing popular support: whence the vexing problem for traditionalist and populist opponents of the current welfare state. They simply cannot convince a majority of people that those who provide, however ineptly, for their material needs are the enemies of democratic self-rule or are interfering unduly in family life. If people care little about such matters and are devoted to the present centralized system of social services, traditionalists and old-fashioned liberal or democratic arguments will not win the day. In this respect the political debate may already be over, despite the echo of populist rumblings in Europe. (p. ix.)
This reminds me of another book I’ve just finished reading, Notes on Democracy by H.L. Mencken, in which (among other, stinging criticism) the author points out that many if not most of the benefits now enjoyed by the majority of people in democratic countries were foisted on them against their will by well meaning, far-sighted and altruistic leaders, members of a traditional elite almost universally hated by the people themselves.
Particularly during the Second World War and its cultural aftermath… Special measures were seen as necessary to curb antiliberal politics and statements, lest they lead to the illiberalism of imperial Germany or, worse yet, Nazism. And as early as 1937, the American Political Sicence Review devoted fifty pages to a monitory essay by Karl Loewenstein, “Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights.” Loewenstein… called for the creation of a “militant democratic” America that would counter antiliberal forces by being affirmative about its “values”.
By the 1930s liberals were themselves engaged in disputes about the direction in which liberalism should be moved. There was heated disagreement between the Progressive educator John Dewey and the sociologist Lewis Mumford about the role of absolutes in a liberal society. (p. 3.)
Social psychological texts, such as Theodor Adorno‘s and Max Horkheimer‘s The Authoritarian Personality (1950), became important for liberal educators and policymakers bent on protecting their fellow citizens and rallying fellow liberals against reactionary attitudes. The intractability of such attitudes was seen to reflect both the force of traditional religion and faulty child-rearing… In this therapeutic literature the discussions centred on attitudes and values and on the need for proper socialization. Without such planning, traditional “authoritarian” attitudes, it was feared, would persist and lead to the kind of repressive society which had existed under European fascists. (p. 4.)
The elites’ understanding of democracy is based on globalist and managerial premises that most people do not accept wholeheartedly. Its adherents in government embrace that ideology out of genuine conviction. They insist on agreement even with aspects of their worldview that are least likely to resonate among the American people. When conservative Republican Congressman Dick Armey lectures his Texas constituents on the need for even higher levels of immigration from Mexico, it is not opportunism but ideological fervor that explains his behavior. (p. 64.)
Mencken would disagree with that: in his opinion, all politicians are frauds, whores and liars intent merely on keeping their jobs at any and all cost to their integrity (of which 99% of them have none).
the American administrative state rests on its own political, or political-scientific, logic and not on constitutional legitimacy. (p. 68.)
The liberal democratic welfare state gained vast power because it gave to most people what they wanted. The “substantial expansion” of its authority into “economic decision-making” fortified its base; and one reason this secular process has continued until now is that the welfare state has built a consensus around economic management. (p. 68.)
the modern administrative state stands or falls not on constitutional legality but on the demand for its services. (p. 69.)
Presumably no one would be free, because inequality and discrimination would be rampant, unless our lives were supervised by experts. This freedom, which the administrative state guarantees, is that today’s democratic faith is about; and for more than half a century it has worn the tag “pluralist”. (p. 69.)
In recent years pluralists inside and outside of government have pushed social designs such as cultural inclusiveness, “secular-scientific” thinking, and global education upon increasingly resistant citizens. (p. 70.)
Contemporary pluralists… have not strayed far from the purposes or methods of their social engineering predecessors. Rather, they have widened the scope and definition of socialization to include behavior modification and the creation of a “sensitive” civic culture. (p. 71.)
What are called New Class attitudes refer to the configuration of ideas linked to the modern administrative state. Two presuppositions for that regime are the mass democratic identification of government with both social planning and material benefits and the prevalence of a pluralist worldview. It may be said that pluralism is the ideology of the administrative state… (p. 73.)
It is the rules of bureaucratic organization that seek, or are alleged, to provide the moral substance of a society thus governed, and those rules… are seen to be coextensive with a universal science of management. (p. 74.)
Finally, pluralism has attained international currency through its identification with America as a superpower. (p. 74.)
It is clear what [S.M.] Lipset [author of Political Man] means by democracy: a welfare state subject to periodic elections and protecting freedom of expression. (p. 75.)
American nationalists can claim as their heritage this vision of a planned society, inasmuch as their own country has become it most prominent laboratory… As National Review editor John O’Sullivan notes, “For much of the world’s left, the U.S. is today a utopia.” (p. 75.)
What Reagan-Thatcher conservatives and their counterparts on the European continent call “liberal democracy” presupposes the operation of public administration as essential for democratic governance. The praise of the “democratic welfare state” that crops up regularly in the Wall Street Journal brings to mind both John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson… The… admiration for Wilson, FDR, and John F. Kennedy among today’s American conservatives is not merely dissembling. It testifies to their acceptance of a managerial welfare state as a point of departure for public policy. (p. 75.)
Habermas favors increased immigration into the federal republic to overcome its association with a discredited German past. Since he believes that German identity should rest entirely on a postwar civic patriotism, there is no reason that it must be specifically German, except linguistic convenience…. Habermas wishes to expiate German sins by obliterating a distinctive German identity, but self-proclaimed American nationalists advocate for their own country what Habermas intends to be a German atonement. They too with to live in a “universal nation” with open borders and changing cultural character. Wall Street Journal columnist Ben Wattenberg and Congressman Richard Armey hold these patriotic positions, which most Europeans would reject for their own lands as an invitation to national suicide. (p. 76-7.)
The discussions among concerned Germans about democratic reeducation for their people corresponded to other deliberations that took place among equally engaged American intellectuals about socializing “democratic” citizens in their country. These socializing plans became increasingly ambitious after the Second World War, in response to what was perceived as the danger of nondemocratic thinking.
In any investigation of liberal democracy from the Progressive era onward, it is important to distinguish between long-term beliefs and short-term variables. At least some early Progressives, including Woodrow Wilson, espoused racial segregation, American nationalism, and other ideas that later ceased to be politically acceptable. but these teachings were subject to change and did not represent the Progressives’ most enduring contributions to modern ideology. These contributions were linking liberal democracy to “scientific” administration and planning a “modern community” that is indeterminately extendible. (p. 77.)
The Progressive appeal to nationalist sentiment was always, to some extent, strategic. It was part of an effort to raise public administration as a reforming force against local institutions alleged to be corrupt…. Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and J.B. Watson were three prominent social scientists who contributed…[they] claimed for their research a scientific precision that was dubious. (p. 78.)
They argued that people could be improved by altering their environment. And this alteration could be planned by social experts (p. 78.)… Social reformers… took what had once been considered unvarnished vice and turned it into dysfunctional behavior, a condition that required “expert” knowledge to be treated. .. the U.S. Commissioner of Education recommended the public use of social psychology, which was held to be vital in creating a “mentally healthy” democracy. (p. 78.)
[H. Addington Bruce's] writings on psychology over several decades… typified the attempt to make psychology into a “highly visible and utilitarian science”. It also reflected the increasing politicization undergone by theorists and practitioners of psychology. Bruce and other popularizing psychologists of his generation were drawn to Progressive politics and presented research that supported their ideological predilections…. Bruce accepted Progressive tenets, which “included faith (including the social sciences), emphasis on environmental manipulation as an instrument of change and an egalitarian view that assumed people to be basically good and more similar than different.”
The invasion of government and the courts by behavioral scientists has produced what Thomas Szasz calls “the therapeutic state.”… Szasz… observes, “If people believe that health values justify coercion, that moral and political do not, those wish to coerce others will tend to enlarge the category of health values at the expense of moral values.” (p.79.)
By defining emotional well-being as both a social good and the overcoming of what is individually and collectively dangerous, the behavioral scientists have been able to impose their absolutes upon a culturally fluid society. .. In The True and Only Heaven Lasch explores the implications for postwar politics of the Authoritarian Personality. .. In the end, Adorno and his colleagues “relegated a broad range of controversial issues to the clinic – to ‘scientific’ study as opposed to philosophical and political debate.”.. Adorno worried that the American blue-collar class expressed racial prejudice and attributed this misfortune to status anxiety…Starting in 1949, the American Jewish Committee sponsored a succession of books by behavioral scientists. The series reflected the fears aroused by the Nazi persecution of Jews… A leitmotif throughout this series is that liberal democracy is being endangered by authoritarian prejudice.” (p. 80.)
Lipset’s close friend, the historian Richard Hofstadter, was also a self-described man of the Left who feared the “paranoid style” of nonurban Americans and of workers who had not been properly socialized. In lectures about those he found culturally and politically alien… Hofstadter was lavish in his use of therapeutic terms… It may be instructive to contrast these broadsides against “prejudice” to other attitudes expressed at the same time by Walter Lippmann. In The public Philosophy and The price of Freedom, both written in the [nineteen-]fifties, Lippmann calls for a responsible governing class able to show independent judgment and resist popular passions…. two of their inspirations [may have been] Jose Ortega y Gassett’s Revolt of the Masses and Irving Babitt’s Democracy and Leadership. (p. 81.)
Lippmann invokes a humanistic ideal of leadership that may have grown obsolete by the time that he wrote The Public Philosophy… The placing of administrators beyond popular control would not have brought them into touch with their second and higher nature. More likely, it would have allowed them to do exactly as they pleased…. By the fifties it was not philosophers but social scientists and therapists who were setting the tone of government… Lippmann’s talk about the need for moral and social traditions showed him moving away from those Progressive intellectuals he had once admired. He had come to reject their trashing of metaphysical certitudes and looked back to a time when people “did agree that there was a valid law which, whether it was the commandment of love or the reason of things, was transcendent.” The systematic attempt to reduce such belief to a “psychological experience and no more” undermined the possibility of moral consensus within political life. What the new democratic theorists had done in debunking this consensus was to leave the mass of people to their own impulses. (p. 81-2).
“Debunking” is an idea and a practice attacked by C.S. Lewis in his essay The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis expresses (in that essay and elsewhere) similar views and values to those of Walter Lippmann, a man whom Mencken greatly admired.
Lippmann’s observation about the political danger of subverting moral habits was no doubt unconvincing to those he criticized. Liberal democrats had long cultivated a skeptical attitude toward received knowledge other than their own. Indeed they quoted with approval Mill’s aphorism (from On Liberty [read the text of chapter one here]) that “the despotism of custom is a standing hindrance to human advancement.”… It was not a socialist but a Victorian liberal, Edward Beesley, who in his confessional essay “Why I am a Liberal” (1885) asserted that “the right course to practical politics cannot be ascertained by mere reference to the will of the people at any given moment but must be sought in conformity with the laws of order and progress revealed in the scientific study of man and his environment.” (p. 83.)
I’m not familiar with the name Beesley, nor with his essay, but its title reminds me of an essay by Friedrich Hayek called Why I am not a conservative. Perhaps Hayek was familiar with Beesley’s.
Like Lippmann, Hallowell believed that the “impugning” of the inherited moral order would undermine the capacity of Americans for self-government. What neither he nor Lippmann saw fuly… is that the impugning of inherited beliefs was merely a first step in the pluralist process of change… It tells much about our intellectual climate that those who today examine cultural pluralism and value-relativity ignore the real use of these concepts. They take for granted that value-relativity is somehow connected to liberal democracy. Religious traditionalists try to minimize that connection while nonetheless professing liberal democrat beliefs. Overlooked is the function played by the relativity in question… Despite his apparent reduction of values to relational and subjective interests, [Horace] Kallen devised ways of privileging his own values by identifying them with a universal good. (p. 84.)
Some of the most respected pluralists present hand-to-mouth arguments, but these arguments have prevailed in the court of public opinion because they jibe with what the managerial state is doing… They begin by appealing to unproved premises, which the reader is nudged into accepting, move on to therapeutic criteria for right reasoning, and finally, as we have seen in recent hate speech and anti-Holocaust revisionist laws, end by reverting to the argumentum baculinum, which may mean arresting those considered criminally insensitive… At stake here is not the idle pastime of scribes. It is an attempt undertaken by prominent intellectuals to elevate pluralism into behavioral coercion… In The End of the Republican Era, former president of the American Political Science Association Theodore Lowi makes two startling admissions about a liberal democratic regime that he claims to admire: one, bureaucratic interventionism is now shaping liberal democratic politics; and two, the interventionism practice by the “instrumentalist state” has become therapeutic. (p. 85.)
He overlooks the values, particularly sensitivity, that democratic pluralists impose in their role as guardians of mental health. He assumes in an equally axiomatic way that his own concern for equality exists in a moral vacuum or as a function of technique… (p. 86.)
A straightforward approach to value-assertion is the one taken by a professor of philosophy at Harvard University, Hilary Putnam. (p. 86.)
Like Horace Kallen, Oxford professor of jurisprudence Ronald Dworkin has to smuggle in his privileged rights in what is intended as a defense of cultural diversity. Although rights, like values, are traced to individual interests, for Dworkin, one particular right trumps others, the demand for social equality on behalf of aggrieved minorities. In a study of the Supreme Court case DeFunis v. Odegaard (1994), in which a Jewish applicant sued the University of Washington Law School on grounds of reverse discrimination, Dworkin dismisses DeFunis’s complaint as morally unconvincing. Though DeFunis had higher grades and test scores than the minority applicants who were admitted, his right to admission rested, for Dworkin, on disputable grounds, namely “intellectualism”. (p. 86-7.)
“… in certain circumstances a policy which puts many individuals at a disadvantage is nonetheless justified because it makes the community as a whole better off.” That result is achieved if compensatory justice is applied to those who personally or through their ancestors had suffered unequal treatment in the past. Members of these groups deserve not only “equal treatment” but “treatment as an equal”, which is the right “to be treated with the same respect and concern as anyone else.” But that respect, we then find out, entails unequal treatment… Dworkin’s position exemplifies what Max Weber characterized as the “tyranny of values”. In nontraditional societies without recognized moral authorities, intellectuals compete, according to Weber, to make their private value-preferences generally accepted. (p. 87.)
… what Dworkin is defending is not some quintessential Lockean civil society. He favors social engineering taking place without popular restraints, and courts in the United States and in Europe have become a vehicle of carrying out change under the guise of guaranteeing newly discovered human rights… Amy Gutmann [director of the Princeton University Center for Human Values] calls for opening academic discussions to the works of black and feminist authors who address contemporary moral and political concerns. (p. 88.)
In the name of multicultural respect, Gutmann explains, “Some differences – racism and anti-Semitism are obvious examples – ought not to be respected.”… It does not seem coincidental that two groups into which Gutmann herself its, Jews and women, are held to be “disadvantaged.” Why these groups in the United States should merit handicap consideration in discourse is never sufficiently explained…. Another problem inherent in Gutmann’s prescriptions concerns the appointment of an umpire to oversee liberal democracy: who gets to decide in her society which opinions are “morally respectable” …? … Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor complains that advocates of multicultural politics and education often labor under two mistaken assumptions: they judge positively other cultures about which they are ignorant, and they prematurely load on to them the “homogenizing assumptions” about all “worthy” cultures that they construct for themselves as Western liberal democrats. (p. 89.)
Like Michael Lerner, his associate at Tikkun and Hillary Clinton’s self-proclaimed mentor, Peter Gabel… Both spirituality and justice signify the inclusion of other groups in a diverse society. This prescribed inclusiveness ought to express itself in therapeutic gestures (“healing” and “caring” being two of the favorite terms of Tikkun), and public administrators should be charged with the task of spiritually transforming the rest of us… The Platonic image found in the Republic of healing (iatrike) as the essence of governing runs through this type of discourse. (p. 90.) … In the Tikkun social vision, however, … Its foundation is not a shared concept of truth located in a presumably unchanging reality but enforced fellowship that comes through sensitizing administrators. (p. 90-91.)
For almost half a century the defense of liberal democratic pluralism has been tied to therapeutic politics. (p. 91.)
In the foreword to the Studies in Prejudice series that Adorno and his group’s research inaugurates, the general editors, Max Horkheimer and S.H. Flowerman, announce that “our aim is not merely to describe prejudice but to explain it in order to help in its eradication. Eradication means reeducation scientifically planned on the basis of understanding scientifically arrived at.” (p. 91-2.)
Curiously, Adorno himself in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, written during the War, had offered a far more devastating criticism of the modern bureaucratic state than any later associated with “pseudodemocrats.” Adorno attacked administrative collectivism as spurious democracy and identified it with a totalitarian development leading from the Enlightenment to Nazism. Adorno changed his own judgement sufficiently to scold Mack for having second thoughts about the growth of American bureaucratic government. This volte-face is all the more remarkable in view of the persistence of the critique of impersonal bureaucratic structures among the German emigres in whose circle Adorno moved. Hannah Arendt and Max Horkheimer continued to produce such criticism into the postwar years, though like Adorno they sometimes conveniently associated the prevalence of bureaucratic control with a capitalist dynamic. In The Authoritarian Personality Adorno also depicts Mack as perverted because of his quest for power instead of love. Mack expresses his belief in the need for male dominance in the home, which is seen to indicate a cluster of troubling, interrelated personality traits: “conventionalism, repression, and a cult of strength and masculinity.” (p. 93.)
The plea by Adorno and other contributors to the Studies in Prejudice series on behalf of social planning and economic reorganization is both continuing and unmistakable. In examinations of “prejudice”, certain traits unacceptable to the authors are forced together made to appear symptomatic of an authoritarian personality… One should not view Adorno’s analysis as the work of an isolated refugee socialist, without bearing on American political culture. His collaborators on The Authoritarian Personality and all the contributors to Studies in Prejudice held respected academic positions, and even a generally reasonable participant in the project, S.M. Lipset, did not dispute Adorno’s conclusions. The American Jewish Committee… promoted the series and financed the Studies… (p. 94.)
The Committee and Commentary [magazine] were concerned about defending liberal democratic values against, on the one side, anti-Semites and “traditional” anti-New Deal conservatives and, on the other, the assembled forces of world Communism. And for those thereafter engaged in debates about liberal democracy, it became convenient to treat one’s opponents as prejudiced and sick…. In After Virtue, ethical philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes the value-invention characteristic of modern culture and treats it as symptomatic of the breakdown of traditional social authorities. Even more striking than this value-inventiveness is the accompanying tendency to impose values in the context of battling prejudice. … This behavior modification must go on indefinitely. The sensitivity needed to practice “democracy” or to enter the political conversation continues to rise. .. today’s public personality must master gender-inclusive language, remain abreast of the changing designations for designated minorities, and say nothing to offend gays. The apparent reasons for these restraints are the growing compassion and openness being practiced by society. But the real reason may be widespread fear. People are afraid to engage in pathologically described dissent or to oppose the favored values of journalists and government administrators. (p. 95.)
… social commentator Chilton Williamson Jr. explains… “By 1964 Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were recognized gods in the pantheon…” The drive toward extending equal citizenship at home and the opening of America’s borders to larger and larger numbers of Third World immigrants became related tendencies in the sixties. As Williamson notes, religious and political publications, like Christian Century and the New Republic, and such national leaders as Robert and Edward Kennedy exalted these twin missions of outreach. .. The point is not only that some choose to make a connection between civil rights and immigration rights… rather, that pluralism as a privileged American creed was brought into play to justify both sets of presumed rights. In Alien Nation, Peter Brimelow, editor of Forbes … makes a compelling case that since the revision of American immigration laws in 1965 and congressional legislation to reunite families, the influx of largely Third World immigrants, with few marketable skills and little incentive to assimilate, has continued to grow. (p. 96.)
One feature piece in the New York Times (13 December 1992) by Deborah Sontag, describes the oppositions in California to illegal immigration as “rudeness goes public.”… A leading advocate of increased American immigration, Julian Simon, observes in the Economic Consequences of Immigration his own “delight in looking at the variety of faces I see on the subway when I visit New York.”… On an equally personal note the director of Brandeis University’s Institute for Jewish Advocacy and an early sponsor of the Studies in Prejudice, Earl Raab, notes with pleasure that “half of the American population will soon be non-white and non-European.” Raab expresses relief that “we have topped the point where a Nazi-Aryan party will be able to prevail in this country.”… does the passion for heterogeneity voiced by Simon and the national press justify the pariah status assigned to those who feel otherwise? Here again, the treatment of dissenters, which this case may describe the majority of American citizens, shows the cost of liberal democratic pluralist argumentation. Not only have the immigration restrictionists supposedly forgotten the presumed lessons of Nazism, but they have also turned their backs on the “American lbieral tradition”. (p. 97.)
… the U.S. Congress is not forbidden to restrict immigration and passed a law to that effect in 1924… a visiting scholar at the Cato Institute, Sikha Dahmia [wrote] “a commitment to individual rights” kept the Founders from giving to Congress “the constitutional authority to keep out immigrants who might dilute that [broad social] consensus [about democracy].” … Nowhere in The Federalist Papers, a liberal document that defends dual federalism and distributed powers, is there evidence of Dahmia’s inalienable right to cross borders while “pursuing private good.” (p. 98.)
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