1. You were at Berkeley during the demonstrations of the sixties. What can we learn today, good or bad, from the sixties?
2. It’s easy both to romanticise and denigrate the sixties. But the one essential thing I come away with is the idea of a participatory understanding of Politics. The wide range of Groups and People who are now involved in Politics in America would otherwise have never reached that level of political consciousness – that’s the legacy of the sixties.
3. Power to the People?
4. –Yes, and the decentralisation of Power, the notion of Power as shared and of political activity as collaborative, and also a kind of antihero understanding of Politics. People in the sixties, particularly in the Student Movements, were very reluctant to repeat the old notion of Politics as requiring a strong, single leader. Even though the Student Movements produced their particular leaders, there was always a reluctance to see them as anything more than temporarily useful.
5. Do you see any signs of political creativity today at the grass roots level?
6. I do, much more than really gets through to Television or Newspapers. There are occasional mentions of a grass roots activist here or a movement there, but they all understate the pervasiveness of the phenomenon. People do take matters into their own hands through innovative, creative ways of developing Institutions or Practices that will meet a particular concrete Need, whether it’s Public Utility rates, or Schools, or Drug problems, or Law enforcement. Those things are going on all over the country, all of the Time.
7. But nothing you just mentioned seems to have much of an Ideological purpose or passion.
8. No, it hasn’t, and that has been something of a weakness. People involved in grass roots activities tend to be concerned with a specific concrete problem, with the result that there’s always a fragmentation of these Groups, each pursuing a particular Agenda and each having a particular purpose. It often becomes very difficult for People to unite on a large scale to meet problems and attack Power structures that are more formidable than strictly local ones.
9. Do you think that the expectations raised by the sixties, of democratic Participation and Power to the People, have been largely frustrated?
10. To some degree they have been. One thing that has caused frustration, because it doesn’t receive the Press it needs to, is the continuous, consistent growth of centralised Power in our Society. People think of Ronald Reagan as an opponent of State Power, as someone who wanted to get Government off our backs, and the rest of the campaign Rhetoric, but actually one of the legacies of the Reagan era is a stronger State. The State doesn’t do as much in terms of Regulation of the Economy, but in terms of Defense, of the protection of American interests abroad, of its role in the advancement of Technology, or of Law and Order – all of those involve extensions of national Power. The Reagan era has brought a slimming down of the State so that in some ways it’s more effective and less overextended than it had been in the grand days of Lyndon Johnson and in the New Deal period.
11. Is this for better or worse?
12. I think it’s for worse because it’s been accompanied by an incredible Apathy on the part of the American Electorate, even in terms of the simple fact of Voting. It is a less alert, less involved Electorate at the national level.
13. So the national Government becomes stronger, but the Participation, Knowledge, and Involvement of the People diminish.
14. Absolutely. At the same time, it’s becoming much more of a surveillance and control State in the way that it pries into individual lives. I don’t mean to imply a sinister conspiracy theory. The most spectacular example of what I’m talking about in recent years has been the AIDS problem, where the dimensions of the problem have evoked a great amount of Information gathering, administering, calls for testing, and an attempt to identify a particular Population, to extend Government investigations into private lives and sexual conduct. The attempt to handle, even if in a benevolent way, a clearly difficult problem means, inevitably, an extension and expansion of State Control and State Power.
15. But aren’t the conservatives trying to assert a classic principle of the public Health, even though it may impinge upon the Rights of the Individual?
16. One might want to draw a clear line and say, We’ll confine State Control to the question of AIDS. But clearly you can’t. As you can see, for example, the question of testing for AIDS has also been accompanied by the exertion of pressure for Drug testing, not only for Government employees but also for private employees, and the extension of the State into the private lives of students in high Schools and grammar Schools. Local educational Authorities are clearly playing fast and loose with the Rights of young People. The cause may appear to be a benevolent and generally praiseworthy one of public Health, Drugs, or whatever the case may be, but it’s often the Good causes that bring the Expansion of Power. It’s all accompanied by a decline of Civic Culture.
17. I grew up in East Texas, where Conservatism used to be defined by a Fear, if not a Loathing, of Government. Now conservatives pay deference to the State, and talk at times of President Reagan almost as if he were a Sovereign, in the same way that Tories used to talk about George III.
18. It’s unfortunately not just conservatives. The so-called neo-liberals also have an expanded view of the State. The questions of State Power, Accountability, and Responsiveness are very important questions that unfortunately don’t get the amount of attention they should get because they’re very difficult to translate into concrete questions. We fight over Deregulation and Regulation, or this policy or that policy, but we don’t talk about the question of State Power itself.
19. When you talk about the decline of the Civic Culture, what do you mean?
20. I certainly don’t mean highbrow Culture. I don’t mean opera and Art galleries. Culture has to do with taking care of things, that’s really what its Etymology is. It’s the root from which Agriculture comes.
21. Nurturing the public Life.
22. It’s more concretely the nurturing of People, places, Things, and even Institutions. We understand that physical Environments have to be taken care of. We’ve also come to understand that Cities have to be taken care of. But what we haven’t understood quite so readily is that Institutions require taking care of. They are practices and represent skills. Skills not only have to be honed, they have to be transmitted, they have to be looked after – even things as dry as procedures or institutional processes all represent in important ways part of a Culture, a way of handling Things – especially of handling Power.
23. Are you seeing these practices threatened today?
24. Very much so. There’s a disconnexion between the practices of political Institutions and the tempos they require for handling Affairs of the Public, and the tempos we associate with scientific, technological, and entrepreneurial Innovation. The World of Technology is fast tempo, changing rapidly, with an emphasis on the innovative and the novel. What’s going to happen tomorrow becomes very important. But political processes, like Marriage and Education, really depend upon a rhythm that’s less frenetic, less innovative, and that demands some kind of Respect for how you’ve been carrying on something. Clearly, there’s a danger that these things can ossify and become rigid, but I don’t think that’s the issue at this point. The problem is preserving them.
25. It took a long time to create a Constitution, and it took a long time to amend that Constitution. It took time to nurture the change promoted by the political process. You’re saying that now the time it takes Politics to transform Society is far longer than the Time it takes for radical technological and scientific change.
26. It’s the difference between deliberation and decision-making. Deliberation, which is fundamental to Politics, takes Time. But decision-making often alls for rapidity of Judgement, meeting a particular problem promptly and efficiently. Deliberation is a slow-moving because you have to consider different points of view, different interests, et cetera, et cetera. That’s why Legislatures have been at the heart of what we’ve understood Politics to be. We used to call them “deliberative Assemblies.” Now there’s a problem. Every proposal for constitutional Reform invariably makes an attack upon legislative Power. It’s seen as an anachronistic in terms of what’s required for a high Tech, fast-moving, competitive, volatile, international situation.
27. What are the Consequences?
28. The Consequences are twofold. One is that People are always off-balance. The other thing is a paradox – change has a rigidity about it, because you’re moving so quickly that the area in which you can see Things is limited. You’re like a man trying to dance on a log in a stream. You’re so preoccupied with dancing on the log that you don’t see the waterfall ahead. The result is, You keep doing that same thing more frenetically, which is to say, you’re in a groove. It’s that particular aspect of high-tech Societies that isn’t so well understood – that they are rigid, and that change itself, if pursued systematically, becomes a conservative phenomenon.
29. The New England town hall of two hundred years ago is a far cry from Wall Street with its junk bonds and golden parachutes, and from Silicon Valley out here in California with its freeways and Technologies that are changing the landscape almost overnight. That kind of Democracy is really anachronistic, is it not?
30. In one sense it is.
31. Do we have a Democracy now?
32. I think we don’t.
33. We have a rather thinly concealed Power structure of large public Institutions and private Corporations.
34. The most important development in the last twenty-five years has been the closer intertwining of economic and political Power structures. The differences in the type of Person who sits in one and sits in the other is not what it used to be. The kinds of Skills needed in both domains are also increasingly the same.
35. What do you mean? Give me an example.
36. Managerial skills, managerial attitudes, managerial Ideology, are fundamental to both sets of Institutions.
37. So that the Interest of the Manager and the Institution becomes paramount over the People to whom the Institution is ultimately responsible.
38. I don’t think Managerialism thinks in terms of that kind of Responsibility. Managers may talk rhetorically about shareholders and stockholders, but while bureaucrats do worry about the reaction of Legislators, the average Citizen is not a significant category for them.
The collapse of the distinction between public and private is a very important development in the last century. One of the interesting aspects is this push toward so-called privatisation of public functions, where private Corporations are now encouraged to take over what used to be regarded as public functions – Education, Medical care, Hospital care, Prisons.
39. What does that say to you?
40. Most people think privatisation means a decentralisation of Government Power – that you’re dismantling a State. [Accurate.] That’s absolutely Wrong. What it means is an extension of Power, which now is not coming from the State, but from a combination of public and private Powers. The best recent example is Drug testing, where you begin to talk about public employees in sensitive positions, and before long, private industry is into the same game, talking about Drug testing its employees. The result is a common network of Control and Surveillance pressing into the private lives of People.
41. A structure of Government and private Institutions that is interlocking intertwining and self-reinforcing.
42. It becomes more difficult to bring legal Actions against invasions of private lives. It’s one thing to challenge the Government on the basis of the Bill of Rights, but it’s much more difficult to deal with private forms of Power. [Accurate.] In terms of the extension of Control over individual Lives, private concentrations of Power are as much of a problem now as governmental Agencies.
43. Is this what you meant when you wrote that every one of this Country’s primary Institutions is antidemocratic in spirit, design, and operation?
44. It is.
45. That’s a strong statement.
46. Government Institutions, Educational Institutions, Communications Institutions, Major Institutions of Medica, Communications, major Institutions of the economic kind as well, and large cultural Institutions, again something like the Media. They’re all hierarchical structures, and Hierarchy means Inequality of Power. [Accurate.] Secondly, I think they’re fundamentally elitist in character, which is to say that each of them involves a definition of who should lead or control that Institution, based upon criteria which can only be met by a relative few. [Accurate.] [Steven Soderbergh & George Clooney. Aaron Sorkin.] So it becomes a way of excluding.
47. Yet as you talk, I recall the criticisms of the last ten of fifteen years that there’s been an excess of Democracy. We have too much Democracy, too much Participation, growing in part out of the 1960s – that’s a criticism from some sources.
48. The notion of there being too much Democracy is hogwash. Most of these are self-serving statements that signity the discomfort of decision-makers. Many of these policy-oriented heads of Institutions see Democracy as some of the Founders saw it, as an impediment to rational decision-making. Democracy involves listening to a lot of discordant voices and disparate Interests and conflicting points of view. It’s very tough to make a decision in that context. Consultation drags on, and you feel like nothing’s being done. That’s the complaint. There’s a real conflict between an efficiency orientation, which is one understanding of Rationality, and a democratic orientation, which is a deliberative understanding of Rationality as something that’s composed of a lot of different contributions.
49. A prominent writer said last week that with a little less Democracy, we could have won the War in Vietnam, and the whole History of the Period since would have been different.
50. Yes – a little less Democracy, and I shudder to think of what winning the War in Vietnam would have meant in terms of Executive Power, if nothing else. Watergate and Vietnam are inseparable. I would find it hard to see a successful effort in Vietnam that wouldn’t also have managed to cover up Watergate. By the end of the sixties, the Vietnam War had become preeminently an Executive War. Congress was a critical voice. A triumph would have meant a further consolidation of Executive Power, not to mention a vindication of military Power. The last thing American Power needs at this point in our History is many more heady conquests, because everything that’s happened since Vietnam, as well as Vietnam itself, indicates a realisation, slow and difficult, of the limitations upon Power.
51. But these critics are saying that the United States has become a pitiful, helpless giant in the World. We can’t accomplish what we want to because of an excess of Democracy and too little Executive Power. You obviously disagree with that.
52. I disagree profoundly with the sense in which they understand Power. They think of successful American Power as broadly coterminous with the Globe itself, it not with interstellar Space. In this vision of Power, which John Kennedy, among others, enunciated in the early sixties and Lyndon Johnson not long thereafter, Power is seen as infinitely expandable. There is a heady, technological understanding of Power as infinitely reproducible in ways that allow you to surpass all sorts of barriers that hitherto a Power had to recognise and stay within. But the World is too small for that understanding of Power. It’s impossible for fallible, frail human beings to handle those magnitudes of Power.
The question of limitations on American Power has to do with what kind of Society we really have in mind and what kind of collective Identity we want as a People. In the first half of the twentieth century through the Vietnam War, our Identity as a People lay with the Expansion of Power, World supremacy, and primacy among Nations. That vision has been very difficult to surrender.
53. But President Kennedy and President Johnson both thought that they were engaged in a Moral enterprise in Vietnam, in the shouldering of a great burden for the Freedom and Well-Being of other Nations and Peoples, not as just an Expansion of military or technological Power.
54. A lot of Crimes have been committed in the name of Morality.
55. – the “seven deadly Virtues.”
56. Yes indeed. American statesmen have combined deep Moral convictions and aggressive Expansion of Power – they’ve seen those not as incompatible, but as mutually reinforcing.
57. Certainly one Consequence of it was this long train of executive abuses that you talk about – from Vietnam, to Watergate, which was really Richard Nixon’s effort to silence the critics of the War in Vietnam, to the Iran-Contra expansion of White House National Security Power. There does seem to be an unsavory creature that grows deep beneath the rock of Power.
58. I don’t think it’s connected to this other problem we were talking about – the problem of the future of Democracy. The commitment to Power that has characterised American since World War II has been very popular with ordinary citizens. Vietnam was clearly a turning point, but Grenada showed us that you could also still get vast outpourings of popular enthusiasm for that display of American Power. In some ways, extension of American Power was a compensation for the growing sense of futility and helplessness ordinary People feel in relation to their own Lives. The Powers that confront us in ordinary Life, Powers of Business Corporations, or Government Agencies, for example, have made it very difficult for People to believe that they could control their own destinies – but lo and behold, here they were, the Citizens of what everybody told them was the greatest Power that had ever existed in the History of Mankind, now controlling an entire Globe. So what get denied in one quarter can find a certain kind of satisfaction or sense of fulfillment in this other area.
59. I never met a President who didn’t mean well.
60. No, I suppose that’s true.
61. I remember Lyndon Johnson looking out the window after seeing demonstrators on Television, and saying, “What are they doing this to me? I’m the Commander in Chief.” Our Presidents began to confuse the State with the Self.
62. In Lyndon Johnson’s case, Elitism confounded itself with Populism, seeing itself not just as itself but as a grander Ego, as representing the whole Collectivity. That somehow adds a justification that wouldn’t be there if it were merely personal-seeking or personal aggrandisement.
63. This is why the founders put checks on Power. They did not believe that one man alone should presume to speak for the State or that he should have untrammeled license to accomplish his purpose. Do you think the checks on executive Power are breaking down?
64. Well, I wouldn’t put myself in the position of suggesting that it was all better once upon a time. I don’t think it was. Even the Founders are equivocal. If we consider the Founders as including not just Madison, who probably believed what you said, but also Hamilton, who really didn’t, but who thought in much more grandiose terms about the Expansion of strong Executive Power and an affirmative Foreign Policy and a strong Defense Establishment, we see the same ambiguity running through American History, from the Founders’ days to our own. We want Power to be restrained, but we also think in terms of glory and have patriotic notions of a strong America, an America that is fully the equal, if not the superior, of any Country in the World. It’s an old American ambiguity.
65. You quote Madison, who said that if every Athenian were Socrates, the Athenian Assembly would still be a Mob.
66. I think it’s saying that no matter how wise your deliberative Assembly might appear, because it is an assemblage of human beings, it is still subject to all the frailties of Human Nature.
67. Do you agree with that?
68. Not really. The Founders, in their own secular way, were much more Calvinistic about Human Nature, which they distrusted. That’s one of the reasons that they believed in Checks and Balances. Commitments to Democracy involve a much more positive, optimistic view of human beings. The Founders’ distrust of Human Nature is bound up, to a certain extent, which Majority rule in legislative Assemblies that were doing things that the Founders disapprouved of – interfering with Business contracts and Currency, for example.
69. Irving Kristol says that we are all democrats, but we have a fear of Democracy that goes back to the beginning. Do you think that’s so?
70. No, I think that one of the most important developments in this Country in the last thirty years has been the steady erosion of Faith in democratic Values. I’ve always drawn a distinction between liberal Values and democratic Values. Liberal Values are Values that are basically suspicious of Democracy. Liberal Values stress the importance of constitutional guarantees, bills of Rights, legal procedures, due process, and so on, as protections against democratic Legislatures of popular Movements. Liberalism has become the home base in which you can agree that you have to have a certain amount of legitimacy to Government that can only come from popular Elections – but that’s the end of a serious commitment to equal Rights and Sharing. The Movement away from democratic Values toward liberal Values is very pronounced. We talk about it in terms of Meritocracy, rewarding those who deserve more because of their Skills. But this is ultimately a way of hollowing out the content of Democracy. It’s not that we’re really all democrats today who distrust Democracy. I think we distrust it, and that therefore we aren’t democrats.
71. How does your idea of Democracy differ from those liberal Values?
72. Democracy does include a strong emphasis upon Rights. But that orientation isn’t really enough. Democracy really does come down to People trying to cooperate, to make common decisions in contexts where there’s great diversity and strong conflict. The problem is not to come to the most rationally justifiable decision as an economist might take it. It’s a problem of trying to come to a decision in which there are conflicting legitimate claims. Democracy involves a capacity to deal with differences, and to respect them – and this is a different understanding of what Power is about, and what the ends of Power are.
73. Explain that to me, because I hear you saying that we’ve got to learn how to get along well together, even though we differ ethnically, culturally, religiously, historically, geographically, psychologically, politically, and ideologically.
74. That’s really, fundamentally, what a political Culture is about. The differences are becoming more pronounced more pronounced, not less pronounced. Twenty-five years ago we used to worry about mass conformity and the homogeneity of American Life.
75. The Organisation Man.
76. Yes. But the influx of such different ethnic and cultural Groups into our Society over the last fifteen years has obviously injected Cultures, Languages, Religions and Outlooks, not to mention Skin Colours, that are so at variance with what we thought was an American Society that the categories we’ve used to think about ourselves politically are really anachronistic now. The strength of Democracy has been its capacity to confront difference and to cherish it, not just to think about it as an impediment to rational decision-making. The problem of handling diversity is really what makes Democracy not just a choice but almost an urgency in the coming future.
77. How do we do it, then?
78. We do it by doing. That is to say, we do it by Communities, Groupings, Associations, and Structures that enable People to come together to handle problems.
79. That’s what de Tocqueville saw. He wrote about the volunteer associations of Life he saw here.
80. Yes he did. But de Tocqueville’s other Work on French Society before the French Revolution is in some ways much more revealing of what that means, because what he talked about there was practical, concrete activity – Buildings, Schools, Churches, the whole range of things that occupy People in ordinary Life. What happened was the development of a modernising State, an attempt at a rational Bureaucracy, using experts with scientific Skills, and resulting in the gradual intrusion of that bureaucratic Structure into the functions that had been handled prior to that Time by local Councils, provincial Estates – our equivalent State Legislatures. What caused the disintegration of that participatory Culture was the gradual creation of a vacuum in which the local Committees, local Structures, and local practices began to dissolve and be taken over by central Powers. What’s crucial in all this is the transference of functions from the locality to a centralised Power. That’s what really destroyed French political Culture before the Revolution destroyed the old regime.
81. You seem to be calling for a much more intensive Participation at the local level by Citizens, in all forms of political decision-making at the very Time, to take your own diagnosis, that the impetus of Society toward larger, more hierarchical, more remote, and more powerful Organisations. Aren’t those two fundamentally at odds with each other?
82. Absolutely. There’s a growing realisation of the frailties, inadequacies, dangers, and inefficiencies of that centralised, hierarchical, meritocratic Structure.
83. So what happens then?
84. We have to think in more complicated terms. I don’t think it’s a question of going back to small-scale Structures. It involves rethinking the scales of central Structures. Clearly, there are some things one needs central structures for. You can’t run Foreign Policy on a modeal of the Articlea of Confederation, and you can’t run a whole range of other things except by centralised Institutions. But the question becomes not whether we have central Institutions, but what kinds of gradations we have in between.
In saying that, I’m simply recapitulating the fundamental schema from which the Americans began themselves. We did have a Federal System, which meant something very important. It was an attempt, for the first time, to create a complicated political system – not just a national Government or a central Government, but a Structure of independent autonomous States which would be viable centers of political Life, and which would handle a great many functions.
The American political system is the most complicated system in the World, but it’s complicated in the Right way. It’s a complication of centralisation, in terms of decentralising things, and it’s a complication of decentralisation, in realising the centralised things that have to be done, whether it’s Foreign Policy or Military Policy or Trade Policy. Clearly, you need both. The problem is the movement away from a federal, decentralised system to an increasingly, almost hopelessly, overcentralised system, so that the whole emphasis has fallen in the one direction.
85. You sound like Reagan.
86. I know. I’ve been accused of that several times. The difference is that Reaganism stands for the revitalisation of Power on another level. Reagan talks about voluntary Associations and voluntary Citizen efforts, but that’s a soft solution, because it implies that it’s ad hoc. I’m talking about much more serious Structures of cooperation and collaboration, much more serious attacks upon centralised State systems. Paradoxically, one of the unintended legacies of Reagan has been to make respectable, at least at a rhetorical level, the vitality of Localism. I don’t think he’s meant it – but the Rhetoric has served that end.
87. Why do you think he doesn’t mean it?
88. Reaganism has been a combination of two elements, one of which is window dressing-
90. Yes, right. And the other is not. Reaganism is a combination of a very strong push toward high Technology and strong State – aggressive Foreign Policy, strong Defense, and the rest of it. But it’s also been nostalgic in terms of nineteenth-century, or even eighteenth-century, Values about Home, Church, Family, and that sort of thing. It’s that peculiar combination of technological Progressivism, in terms of the political State, and a regressive view toward Ethics, Morality, Piety, and Family. It’s that American proclivity toward wanting to find yourself sanctified by some set of Values that you know very well cannot come from what you’re actually into. In other words, defense, high Tech, and a strong Corporate system can’t generate the kinds of Values that really makes us comfortable and that really suggest that the Power we have is Good and that we deserve it.
But if, on the other hand, we say we’re the most Moral People on Earth, we have more Churches, we have stronger Family Values, and we have more simple Virtues than anybody who has ever lived, then the Power that we’ve accumulated in this other area suddenly appears to be legitimate. The guilty conscience exists, and in its place comes now the sense that we have a mission that our Poewr is sanctified.
91. How do you explain this longing of Americans for the past?
92. I think about it mostly as the paradoxical counterpoint to a People who also believe in the importance of constant change and to a Society in which mobility is possible. American is the land where anything’s possible. New frontiers are always there. So Americans find Security in appealing to biblical Myths or Myths of the Founding or Myths about American Virtue, of our Cities on the hill or whatever the metaphor might be. The Progressivism to which the Society is committed doesn’t generate Values that makes People feel Good about what they’ve done. They’ve got to find other modes of justification.
93. Even as we leave the garden, we want to go home. It’s the mobility of American Society that is destructive of many of the things that conservatives honour. Family Life, Community stability, Neighbourhood – all of those human relations that require Time are rent asunder by the rapid change that is remaking our Society.
94. American conservatives don’t seem to realise that the Corporate boardroom, where change is a constant feature of Conversation, goes along with this nostalgia for religious Values that don’t make any sense in terms of what they’re doing six days a week.
95. I think I have an understanding of it. This year President Reagan vetoed the Bill providing for sixty days’ notice to workers who are laid off. That to me was a conservative bill. Sixty days’ notice is a fair requirement if you want to give Families Time to prepare, if you want to give Schools Time to get ready for shock, and if you want to give men and women who are breadwinners a chance to relocate. That is a conservative measure, not a liberal measure. But the Freedom of Capital, the Freedom of Property, took precedence over the Moral requirements of traditional Relationships.
96. I think that’s right.
97. Conservatives always seem to opt for the Freedom of Capital over the Freedom of Individuals.
98. I don’t want to discount their good Faith, but there is a very tortured relation between the progressive, technologically innovative side of Conservatism and its commitment to Values that its own efforts are undercutting. All you need to do is look at the Society, and you’ll see casualties of all kinds. You’ll see Cities that are unlivable, in which the cultural Life is on the edge of extinction, in which there’s Class conflict, sharp cleavages, and distinctions of Rich and Poor which are beginning to become mind-boggling. There isn’t much to compensate for that kind of destructiveness, except the promise of rising Standards of Living – which isn’t insubstantial, of course. But that doesn’t go very far, because this innovative Society we’re committed to has clearly developed a superfluous Population for whom there may be no Work, or for whom, if there is Work, it isn’t terribly meaningful, and it doesn’t have much of a future to it. As a Society, we don’t really know what to do with that surplus Population. It’s a surplus more than in the sense of People huddling in ghettos or being on Welfare. It’s got to do with the substantial number of People who may very well be employed, but who are so marginal and whose fate is so insecure that it becomes very difficult to develop Life plans and Life projects with any assurance that there’s a point to sacrificing for the morrow.
99. What happens to a Society when it has People who are so easily wasted?
100. It leads ultimately to cynicism because there’s a progressive realisation that you can’t do anything about it, that fundamentally, the Poor are with us forever. [Accurate.]
101. Something happens to your own Myth when that occurs.
102. And your own Moral justifications become very insecure at that point.
103. I drove around Los Angeles last night, in the sections where the Gangs have been much in the News and in the affluent sections, places like Beverly Hills. Going through these affluent Neighbourhoods, I was struck with the signs, one after another, that said, “security system,” “armed response security system,” “armed weapons security system,” “armed guards.” More and more People are retreating behind armed walls.
104. I think it’s symptomatic of a very difficult situation, not only here, but elsewhere. You see it represented even in the high-rise, expensive apartment. The higher the floor you live on, the greater the chances for clean Air. It’s clear that the Society has problems even assuring the sort of ordinary access to Air and Water that we used to take for granted not so long ago. The Politics of survival is becoming much more intense and much more bitter, in significant ways.
105. Do we need a Revolution?
106. We need a radical reconsideration of some fundamental assumptions – but violent Revolution is as anachronistic as New England town Meetings, maybe more so. Modern Societies are so fragile that the notion of overthrow makes no sense except if one has an unlimited appetite for Barbarism. Ultimately, I’m driven back to the possibilities of Education to help ease our way into a better kind of World.
107. You speak of Education. What are the skills of Citizensihp and how do we gain them? How do we teach them?
108. I don’t think we approach them the way they’re currently being approached. The famous Bell Report of a few years ago, which talks about Education for excellence, is really based on a regressive understanding of Education, in which the question is primarily, How can we keep American competitive in an international political Economy? [Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton.] which translates into, How can we create an educational system in which students are prepared for jobs after they graduate? [Barack Obama.] The report is concerned with primary and secondary Education, but more basically, it is concerned with technological Competition. Secondly, it’s very much concerned with Discipline and Control in the classrooms. There are a great many measures for tightening up the screw on Students, [Accurate.] tightening up Teacher evaluation, [Accurate.] and centralising questions of Teacher Accountability and Teacher performance. [Accurate.] There’s a vast centralisation Control Ethic inside that report.
But above all, the report thinks of a Student primarily as a potential producer. [Steven Soderbergh & Harvey Weinstein. Amy Pascal & Aaron Sorkin.] It’s a Producer’s understanding of Education. I’m a little suspicious of contemporary educational Reform proposals, because the Business Community is so enthusiastic about them. [USC] They can see, of course, a way in which public Funds get used to create Job training for private Industry.
109. But if you want to empower People to function in an economic order, don’t you give them a vocational skill that they can use to their advantage?
110. To a degree. I wouldn’t undersell it. But the point is, What are you doing? You’re piling the question of Job training onto the whole educational Structure, and something’s got to be excluded. There’s only so much Time in a School day and only so many subjects you can teach. The more you usurp that Time by a practically oriented Curriculum, the more you squeeze Things out. The first Things that tend to go are Art and Music, then Literature courses. The question of what it means to be empowered is at the heart of the whole issue of educational Reform. But it’s being faced only as a Job issue, not as a question of what it means for Students to be systematically deprived of the kind of Knowledge, Sensibility, and Understanding that can come from so-called soft subjects like Literature, Philosophy, History, and some of the softer Social Sciences. Those subjects teach People not Job skills, but how to interpret their Experience, how to interpret what’s happening to them. [Accurate.] What’s the Meaning of this? What’s the Meaning of that? And what Literature, History, Philosophy - and Politics - give you an understanding of is a Relationship of Power in ways that aren’t handled by more scientific Understanding. They give you an Understanding of how Power relates to personal Hopes and Fears and vulnerabilities. [Accurate.] People without that Understanding are powerless to understand what’s happening to them, [Accurate.] powerless to relate to People, [Accurate.] powerless to understand the true dimensions of what it means to be without Power, [Accurate.] or what it means to be dependent, [Accurate.] or in some kind of nonautonomous Relationship. [Accurate.] The History of American Education over the last twenty-five years has been a History of the steadily declining deprivation of Students of that form of Sensibility and Understanding, which, because it doesn’t translate directly into Job skills, appears to be ornamental or impotent.
111. Does this place you squarely on the side of Secretary Bennett, who’s arguing for Values of Western Civilisation being at the core of everyone’s Education?
112. It does to a degree that I think Humanities are important. But Secretary Bennett is hopelessly parochial in his understanding of what the origin and source of Values are. Secretary Bennett believes that Greek and Biblical Ideas are important to the Western tradition, but we know that those Ideas are importantly derived from Near Eastern and Egyptian and other sources. The Myth of “Western” Values preserves a particular understanding of Values that simply isn’t true even to the origins of those Values. What’s important in Values are Values themselves, not so much the sources of them. So I’m on the side of those who say that you really have to enlarge Students’ Understanding of different Cultures and of different range of Values – for example, Values that are more sensitive to the concerns of women and Minorities. You don’t depreciate the Value of cultureal norms by admitting Values that don’t seem to belong to the Greek or Roman or even the Biblical tradition, understood in a certain way.
113. What philosophical principle leads you to that conclusion?
114. It’s the absolutely fundamental Value and richness of Diversity as a source of the expansion of the human Imagination and the human Sensibility and the capacity to sympathise and empathise with others.
115. But we know we’re different. Isn’t the great task, as we move to the twenty-first century, to find ways that, being different, we can nonetheless collaborate in the building of a Society that has room for everybody?
116. We can’t take that step until we honestly acknowledge how deep-seated the differences are. I don’t mean to suggest by “deep-seated” that our differences necessarily separate us, but that these diversities are utterly serious and have to do with the various ways of Cultures understand the World, and what it means to be civil and Moral and decent and pious and whatever the Value may be. Until we make that first strong commitment to understanding the primal significance of diversity, we can’t really move to the level of trying to find areas of commonality.
117. And that’s a political Art?
118. Absolutely a political Art – the political Art is about commonness and difference.
119. –how to actively collaborate, not just isolate yourself from People who are different economically, ethnically, and religiously.
120. America has had a problem with how it handles difference. We treat difference as if it arose from interest Groups. That implies that if you can simply let People into the economic mainstream, or allow them to get their slice of the pie, the problem is solved. But that’s such a superficial way of exploiting the enormous vitalities that are locked up inside difference. It’s also a way of denying oneself the kind of self-criticism that’s only possible once you recognise how really limited your own range of Values is. Bennett and others simply cannot conceive of Western Values as parochial. They simply don’t understand the possibility.
121. I hear so little talk of Civic Virtue. What’s happened to political Language to our Time?
122. Political Language has become increasingly technocratic, dominated by economic modes of Understanding. The cost-benefit analysis approach to public policy issues has become endemic, because it’s a handy, easy way of seeming to deal with our problems. [Steven Soderbergh.] The trouble is you can’t reduce lots of important Things to those kinds of categories.
123. You’re saying we talk about Money and Economics.
124. We talk about Money and scarce Resources and having to make choices in balancing Pollution Costs as against Production Costs. That way of thinking, which is very seductive and compelling, leaves no way of talking about what is fundamental to a civic Language, which is, Why should I contribute, sacrifice, and cooperate in a particular way that’s not going to advance my interests and may even ask me to sacrifice some of those interests?
125. –for the Common Good.
126. Well, for the Common Good or for others whom I may not know personally or who may be an abstract category to me.
127. So for all the talk about Morality today, we’re really getting more economic talk than genuine Moral discourse?
128. There’s not much doubt about it. Economic talk is powerful and becomes more powerful when People are economically insecure, because then, economic talk is talk of salvation in a way that People are really concerned about. They’re concerned about Jobs, about futures, about their Families, and about their Life plans. A Language which seems to be able to make promises about the alleviation of those anxieties then becomes tremendously magnetic and fascinating. People are ready to go along with those who can manipulate that Language.
129. The inscription above the main entrance of the [UT-Austin], my alma mater, says, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” A few years ago a student ran for the Student body Presidency on the one single platform of changing “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” to “Money talks.” It is the idiom of our Time.
Here in Los Angeles, there’s concern about the loss of the Language of Print, the Language of Time and History – which it’s said is being replaced by a video Language. Do you see evidence that that’s happening, and is it having an effect on the Moral discourse of Politics?
130. Los Angeles is special, although I don’t know that it’s unrepresentative. What’s special about it is the concentration of cinematic Language and Culture. The political consequences have been devastating. I don’t find a Civic Culture in Los Angeles. I find a very uneasy kind of Politics, which subsists because there has been thus far a quite brilliant State Economy, and seemingly room enough for all. Because of the Economy, the highly fragmented character of this area with its really diverse ethnic Groups and social Groupings has been blurred to a large degree. But the cost of this is an inability to deal with problems that require long-run solutions. Those problems are clearly pressing in on this area.
131. It seems to me you’ve really put your finger on it here. How do we as a Society, given our talk about Economics and our Self-Interest, solve the problems that otherwise will make our planet uninhabitable?
132. Inherent in the American scheme of Things are tendencies which make it very, very difficult to mount long-run solutions. Interest group Politics is clearly one way of undercutting that possibility, because you always have to compromise policies. Think of the difficulty we’ve had in finding an acid rain policy, even though the information suggests that the problem is urgent.
There are other things involved, too. The Power of Corporations to block long-run solutions to environmental concerns is also accompanied by the fact that the same Corporations are paradoxically engaged in the kind of technological Innovations that create a large number of problems – so they’ve got the combination of political clout sufficient to block long-run Action at the same time that they’re generating the very difficulties that those long-run solutions are trying to deal with. I’m not simply trying to lay blame at the Corporate door, but to say that their structural difficulties are really very profound at this point.
One could also talk about the difficulties of a political party system that’s unable to generate policies that are much more than ad hoc solutions to ad hoc problems, so that problems calling for a coherent political will are beyond the capacity of our system at this point. Without radical reconstitution of a civil Culture that understands and is willing to commit itself to such solutions, I don’t see any way that we’re going to deal with those problems, except in ways that are more authoritarian than we really would want to countenance.
133. Don’t we need to begin by developing a political Language that we can share? Language sets the limit of what we talk about and think about.
134. We do have some beginnings along those lines. We really have made some progress in environmental concerns and with certain kinds of Health problems. Those areas involve a Language of taking care of Things, a Language of concern, a Language of thinking in terms of long-run preoccupations, and so the beginnings of a Civic Discourse are there in embryo, in those areas and in many others, including Education.
135. What are the questions we must ask as we move toward the year 2000?
136. The central question for me is the question of collective Identity. What do we think we want to stand for, as a People? That’s what the preoccupation with a democratic Culture is all about. What I think we want to stand for is not Expansion of American Power and not the endless economic and technological Innovation that I think we’re committed to whether we want to be or not. Do we want to see ourselves identified with notions of Cooperation, Diversity, Respect and Encouragement, and of different kinds of Sensibilities and Cultures? Or do we want to see ourselves instead as the technological Power of the World?
Collective Identity is something that the Founders tried to deal with in the Preamble to the Constitution.
137. “We, the People of the United States, in order to –“
138. “- in order to,” yes. Justice is part of it, and so is Defense, of course. It’s a first stab at an Understanding of ourselves and how we wanted to present ourselves to the World.
139. Is it romantic to think that each of us, High and Low, Black and White, Male and Female, has an Opportunity to contribute to the answer to that question?
140. Oh, I think we do, because fundamentally, a democratic Culture comes down not to big, highfaluting Institutions or policies, but ultimately, to how we treat each other in our ordinary range of Relationships and Conversations.