The Rise of the Managers




Simple          -              Complex




As “good determinists,” liberals knew that history always marches forward. “The human race never turns back to an old order.” 

The best hope lay in an orderly “transition to that which Dewey and Beard have called a ‘technological-rationalist society.’” even if the “more valid equality” it promised meant the “inevitable sacrifice” of individual liberties.

“There is something ponderously fatal about such a transition,” Josephson mused, “but if it results in order, enthusiasm, harmony, we will be content with our sacrifice.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.363




"The public interest in a problem," Lippmann argued, "is limited to this: that there shall be rules. ...The public is interested in law, not in the laws; in the method of law, not in the substance." Questions of substance should be left to experts, whose access to scientific knowledge immunized them against the emotional "symbols" and "stereotypes" that dominated public debate.

Lippmann […] rejected the "mystical fallacy of democracy" and the "usual appeal to education as the remedy for the incompetence of democracy." Democratic theory presupposed an "omnicompetent citizen," a "jack of all trades" who could be found only in a "simple self-contained community." In the "wide and unpredictable environment" of the modern world, the old ideal of citizenship was obsolete.

In a complex industrial society, government had to be carried on by officials who were expected to "conceive a common interest." In their attempt to stretch their minds beyond the limits of immediate experience," these officials would be guided either by public opinion or by expert knowledge. There was no escape from this choice.

Public opinion was unreliable, according to Lippmann, because it could be united only by an appeal to slogans and “symbolic pictures.” In a society ruled by public opinion, government became the art of "manipulation" - the "manufacture of consent." "Where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. ... Everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda."

At best, public debate was a disagreeable necessity - not the very essence of democracy, as Brownson or Bourne would have argued, but its "primary defect," which arose only because "exact knowledge," unfortunately, was in limited supply. Ideally public debate would not take place at all; decisions would be based on scientific "standards of measurement" alone. Science cut through "entangling stereotypes and slogans," the "threads of memory and emotion" that kept the "responsible administrator" tied up in knots.

Like Edmund Burke, Lippmann distrusted memory as an important source of conflict and disagreement. He proposed to counter its influence, however, not with custom but with “organized intelligence."

An earlier theory of democracy had considered ordinary citizens at least competent to manage their own affairs, if not consistently capable of self-denial and sacrifice. Their opinions were held to command respect, as Lippman saw it, because the business of government did not greatly exceed their experience. But it was “not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions in the whole population.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.366




The "practical comfort of the moment" outweighed the "great moral issues of the future.” The question of how to provide practical comfort" was a technical question, not something that could be settled by an appeal to first principles. It was a question for "experts," not for "orators.”

As a lawyer, Arnold might have been expected to recognize the intractability of conflicting interests and to doubt the possibility of making politics an exact science. His faith in expertise, however, exceeded even that of many social scientists.

He measured intellectual progress precisely by the absence of debate. 

Doctors, he argued, no longer engaged in pointless controversies about the rival claims of homeopathic and allopathic schools of medicine. The medical profession had been "taken over by men of skill rather than men of principle," with the result that there was "little left in medicine for thinking men to debate.”

Whereas medical learning had become "technical rather than philosophical,” however, economic and legal learning remained “predominantly philosophical” - a sure sign of cultural lag.

He too dismissed as "irrational" the notion that "the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy." "Public argument never convinces the other side," he wrote; its only function was to rally the true believers. The "noise of competing theories" drowned out the voice of the expert. To submit social questions to the "feeble judgment of the common herd" was the height of folly.

Arnold did not have to engage in this kind of self-deception, since he held no brief for democracy in the first place. Insofar as the idea of democracy had any substance, it was simply another name for “humanitarian imperialism,” in his view. It meant the universalisation of material well-being, engineered by “fact-minded persons” and “competent diagnosticians.”

A democratic regime, to be sure, had to “carry its people along with it emotionally”; but that did not imply that the people should take an active part in governing themselves. As long as the governing classes grasped the nature and importance of political symbolism, they could satisfy the public demand for inspiring slogans and “ceremonials” without allowing public “ritual” to interfere with production and distribution.

When the public came to value “practical results” more highly than “preconceived principles,” a “competent, practical, opportunistic governing class” would find it possible to get on with the serious work of making people comfortable, without having to inspire and amuse them as well.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.432, 434-6



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