Debating the American State

Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, 1930-1970

Anne M. Kornhauser
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 336
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    Debating the American State
    Book Description:

    The New Deal left a host of political, institutional, and economic legacies. Among them was the restructuring of the government into an administrative state with a powerful executive leader and a large class of unelected officials. This "leviathan" state was championed by the political left, and its continued growth and dominance in American politics is seen as a product of liberal thoughtto the extent that "Big Government" is now nearly synonymous with liberalism. Yet there were tensions among liberal statists even as the leviathan first arose. Born in crisis and raised by technocrats, the bureaucratic state always rested on shaky foundations, and the liberals who built and supported it disagreed about whether and how to temper the excesses of the state while retaining its basic structure and function.

    Debating the American Statetraces the encounter between liberal thought and the rise of the administrative state and the resulting legitimacy issues that arose for democracy, the rule of law, and individual autonomy. Anne Kornhauser examines a broad and unusual cast of characters, including American social scientists and legal academics, the philosopher John Rawls, and German refugee intellectuals who had witnessed the destruction of democracy in the face of a totalitarian administrative state. In particular, she uncovers the sympathetic but concerned voicescommonly drowned out in the increasingly partisan political discourseof critics who struggled to reconcile the positive aspects of the administrative state with the negative pressure such a contrivance brought on other liberal values such as individual autonomy, popular sovereignty, and social justice. By showing that the leviathan state was never given a principled and scrupulous justification by its proponents,Debating the American Statereveals why the liberal state today remains haunted by programmatic dysfunctions and relentless political attacks.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9115-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    The New Deal era left behind a host of political, institutional, and economic legacies. Among the most familiar are the realignment of the two major parties into a liberal Democratic Party and a conservative Republican Party, a compensatory social services regime, and a commitment to use fiscal and monetary policy to manipulate the economy. Just as important, but less often recognized, the New Deal bequeathed to the United States a new type of state: the administrative state.¹ New Dealers took the administrative seeds planted over the previous several decades of state building and nourished them into a full-blown bureaucratic machine,...

  4. Chapter 1 Leviathan and Its Discontents
    (pp. 18-51)

    In response to ongoing concerns about the legitimacy of the administrative state, historians and scholars of American political development have sought the origins of the modern liberal state further and further back in time. The tacit premise behind this “myth of deep roots” is that the older the modern state, the more legitimate.¹ As with the Commonwealth studies of the 1940s, historians today have looked for governmental intervention in the distant past to vindicate an active state in the present.² Once a product of the New Deal, then constituted by the progressives’ “age of reform,” now the modern American state...

  5. Chapter 2 Democracy and Accountability in the Administrative State
    (pp. 52-89)

    The events in Europe and the distinctive circumstances of the administrative state’s development in the United States ensured that concerns about bureaucracy would come to center on democracy, at least until the outbreak of World War II. In the 1930s, students of public institutions ratcheted up their efforts to rethink democracy in the face of bureaucratic domination, seeking to will the norm of democracy into the new state. As the social critic Max Lerner noted, “there is no permanent democratic norm in government.”¹ Accepting Lerner’s contention, most American social scientists desired merely to make democracy a pragmaticallyworkablesystem. A...

  6. Chapter 3 The Rule of Law When the State Goes to War
    (pp. 90-129)

    The next big test for the legitimacy of the liberal state inevitably came with the build up to and execution of World War II. Not only did the state expand in size and scope; the federal government also ruled more than ever by fiat and discretion—by executive order, emergency decree, and administrative rule making. The United States was hardly alone in participating in these trends. As observers of political institutions in the United States and Europe were well aware, much of the world was moving toward executive, bureaucratic, and emergency-based rule—democracies and totalitarian dictatorships alike.¹ Total war sped...

  7. Chapter 4 Liberal Democracy Conducts an Occupation and a War Crimes Tribunal
    (pp. 130-174)

    For most Americans, the threat posed by Nazism to the integrity of the rule of law and democracy seemed remote. But as the war wound down, the United States became involved in geopolitical projects that ensured the reexamination of legality and its role in a modern administrative democracy would continue apace. Among the most significant of these projects were the military occupations of and war crimes trials in Germany and Japan, which seemed to sit uneasily between the unalloyed emergency of war and the “normal” state of affairs of everyday politics. In truth, they were much closer to the former:...

  8. Chapter 5 Individual Autonomy and the Modern American State: The Philosophy of John Rawls
    (pp. 175-220)

    Most liberal thinkers turned away from the state after World War II. Either they were put off from state power by the persistence of totalitarianism in the guise of Soviet communism, or they focused their anxieties on the perceived psychological and cultural deficiencies of Americans.¹ With their emphasis on the weakness of the American mind, the thinness of American civil society, and the poverty of American political culture, liberal intellectuals ignored the state as long as it did not turn overly repressive in the name of national security or unnecessarily aggressive in the name of controlling capitalism.² They were institutional...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 221-230)

    From the time the administrative state came to fruition in the 1930s, there have been questions about the legitimacy of its institutions and mode of governance. These questions have been voiced by a variety of critics, but among the most insightful have been those posed by the state’s liberal supporters. This is not to say that the political system as a whole has been under constant attack or that the fundamentals of American constitutional democracy have been seriously threatened. Rather, liberal concerns about the administrative state centered and continue to center on the accretion of power by the bureaucracy and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 231-310)
  11. Index
    (pp. 311-320)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 321-323)