Tuesday, April 17, 2012

James Q Wilson, #3, Division and New Politics

“We would certainly tolerate no different system [democracy] in our own states.  Yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works.  One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly.  They have overreached themselves.”

Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind

To some people government appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it.  They have favorite projects, of various dimensions, which they sincerely believe are for the benefit of mankind, and to capture this source of power, if necessary to increase it, and to use it for imposing their favorite projects upon their fellows is what they understand as the adventure of governing men.  They are, thus, disposed to recognize government as an instrument of passion; the art of politics is to inflame and direct desire…..

The man of [conservative] disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down.”

Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics, On Being Conservative

It is curious to me that in James Q. Wilson’s examination of increasing division in American politics and culture http://porcupinehuddle.blogspot.com/2012/03/james-q-wilson-1-how-divided-are-we.html  he no more than touches on, if that, his earlier essay American Politics, Then and Now. http://porcupinehuddle.blogspot.com/2012/04/james-q-wilson-2-american-politics-then.html   The two are clearly connected or to be more specific increased polarization is almost inevitable after the change in politics which Wilson describes.

To repeat, Wilson identifies the causes of increasing polarization in political parties realigned ideologically, in the change from mass media to more niche focused coverage, and in the replacement of material/economic type interest groups by moral/ethical issue groups.  That is fine, so far as it goes but incomplete.  In the first post, I pointed out that he left out the clear break in ideology that took place in the sixties.  But Wilson’s description of the change in how the political system operates is at least an equal contributor to division.

It is difficult to see how an all encompassing federal government can lead to anything other than division and polarization, never mind one which operates without the implicit restraint of a “concurrent majority.”  This is particularly true if that style of politics is new rather than how it’s always been.  As the two quotes that open this post suggest, increased division is baked into the cake of the new politics that Wilson describes, i.e the politics of liberal-progressivism.

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