October 9, 2010

When shall we descry this new republic struggling to be born?

Glenn Reynolds just re-linked to this excellent 2009 article by James V. DeLong, The Coming of the Fourth American Republic. I initially noticed this...

...Shift the angle of vision and the continuity is less clear, because we have had two upheavals so sweeping that the institutional arrangements under which we now operate can fairly be classified as the Third American Republic. Furthermore, this Third Republic is teetering (these things seem to run in cycles of about 70 years) and is on the edge of giving way to a revised Fourth Republic with arrangements as yet murky to our present-bound perceptions....[my emphasis]

At one point I was writing about how the dominance of political parties in our country seems to last just about 70 years. (Link.) As I recall most of my readers pooh-poohed the idea, but I still think what I wrote was pretty good.

DeLong's point is broader. The parties become dominant because they embody new institutional arrangements. The Republicans created and were the second republic, after the Civil War...

...The later historians of the New Deal and the Great Society sneered that the idea of "laissez faire" was an abdication of governmental responsibility, but this was propaganda. The best translation of the term is the activist "let us do," not the passive "let us be," and the societal quid pro quo was dynamic economic expansion, not the easy life of the rentier. To a large degree, the ideology of laissez faire was designed to protect interstate commerce from rentiers in the form of government officials extorting payments...

And the third, which we are in now. Begun with the New Deal, and embodied by the Dems...

...It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of "faction" and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

And so the Special Interest State expanded, blessed by the intelligentsia. And it feeds on itself; the larger and more complex the government becomes, the higher the costs of monitoring it. This means that no one without a strong interest in a particular area can afford to keep track, which leaves the turf to the beneficiaries. And as existing interests dig in to defend their turf, new interests require continuing expansions of governmental activity to stake a claim on...
Posted by John Weidner at October 9, 2010 9:43 AM
Weblog by John Weidner