The three cultures: explaining anomalies in the American welfare state

Aaron Wildavsky

IN the late 1940s, at Brooklyn College, I became aware of a political anomaly: Some of my fellow student activists were neither capitalists nor socialists nor reformists.  Certainly they were on the left (involved with civil rights, folk music, plain foods, and opposition to the college administration) but exactly where they belonged I could not tell. During the 1950s, Lionel Trilling called this group the “adversary culture.” He said it was a critical culture, and he was critical of it, but I could get no sense of its internal dynamics from his description.  The adversary culture clearly was opposed to traditional values in art, literature, and other realms, but what form of social and political life this criticism was designed to keep together remained obscure.

The “reverse sequence” in civil liberties

Aaron Wildavsky

A NUMBER of years I belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union. To me this membership was part of a commitment to perfecting American democracy. I became a political scientist for the same reason. The two commitments, American patriotism and democratic values, went together. By improving the one—the procedures for participation in political life through protection of individual liberty—the other, America as a force for freedom at home and in the world, would also be enhanced.  The combination of a strong national defense, social welfare programs, and civil liberties, as exemplified in the 1940s and 1950s by the New York State Liberal Party (in whose youth division I was active) seemed mutually reinforcing. But that combination, however comforting it seemed in the Eisenhower years, was not to last long.  

The once and future school of public policy

Aaron Wildavsky

I have two partially complementary and partially opposed views. One is that schools of public policy as they now exist will continue much as they are. The other is that social developments, particularly the growing polarization of elites, will substantially alter their character. In the course of elaborating both views, I shall pose the usual questions—Where were these schools before? How did they get there? Where are they now?  What will and/or should happen to them?

The media’s “American egalitarians”

Aaron Wildavsky

YOU are listening to Public Radio or viewing network television news or reading a major newspaper or news magazine. You are certain they are biased, i.e., slanted, systematically favoring one view over another. Yet media people deny that they favor one political party or political ideology over another. They are not party hacks, they tell us with visible irritation; nor are they, in all exasperation, ideologues. They are, instead, professionals devoted to exercizing as much objectivity as fallible beings under constant pressure can muster. Perhaps they do prefer the dramatic to the prosaic, for they must beat the clock by selecting from a potentially huge menu a much smaller number of items that can fit into a vanishingly small news hole. To guard against bias, they have institutionalized precautions. They split off hard news from soft opinion, writers from editors, news pegs (events of the day) from staged events. They cannot give mere opinion, for their stories must have a source, usually some governmental official, for anything they say. And if reporters are biased, a slew of editors are there to counter it. Their focus on conflict is real, they say, but it is exciting for the lay public that has to be wooed to the news, necessary to meet the competition, and does suggest there is more than one side to the story. Whatever their inadequacies, this typical defense continues, the personal political biases of media men and women do not intrude into their stories in any systematic manner.

Where Bias and Influence Meet

Aaron Wildavsky

OF THE THREE GREAT QUESTIONS about the influence of the major media upon political opinion—Is there a systematic media bias? If so, in what direction does it flow? Is public opinion strongly influenced by the media?--the last is arguably the most important.  For if opinion is not much influenced by the way the media report the news (or determine what is news), the prior questions about the extent and direction of bias are, in political life at least, irrelevant. 

How to fix the deficit - really

Aaron Wildavsky & Joseph White

AMERICAN POLITICS in the 1980s has been dominated by Ronald Reagan and federal budget deficits. Reagan is gone now, but the deficit remains. The new President and old Congress have many objectives and concerns, articulated in the electoral campaign; yet the national press resounds with calls for action on the “real problem” which must be solved before all others—the federal deficit.

The three-party system—1980 and after

Aaron Wildavsky

THE election of 1980 could be the beginning of a Republican renaissance, but it could just as well be the beginning of the end for the Republican Party. It could be the herald of limited government, but perhaps it is the siren song of big government, dashing-on the rocks of desire for power-the naive hopes that less could be more. My point is that the importance of an event lies not only in the event itself but also in its results. When we ask whether 1980 was a critical election, we are asking about more than whatever is in the Reagan administration and its supporters: We are asking what the world will do to them as well as what they will try to do to it.

Richer is safer

Aaron Wildavsky

THE proverbial man from Mars, observing our safety efforts in the past decade, could not help but conclude that the youth of America were dropping like flies in the streets. Why else would the United States federal government be engaged in a desperate, multi-billion-dollar effort to increase life expectancy? But the Martian historian of earthly safety would note that in the hundred years from 1870 to 1970 every increase in industrialization and wealth, except possibly at the highest levels, was accompanied by a corresponding increase in safety from accident and disease. Thus he would surely wonder: Since personal safety and economic growth advanced together, why is present policy based precisely on severing that link by deliberately decreasing wealth in order to remove risk?

Is culture the culprit?

Aaron Wildavsky

THEORY IS GOLDEN. In its normative mode, it connects us to what we ought to do; in its empirical expression, it connects what we have done to the actual consequences for ourselves and for others. The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties” Legacy to the Underclass is important because it presents a theory explaining how the policies born of the moral vision of the 1960s created unfortunate consequences both for those the policies were designed to help and for those who wrongly believed they were helping.

Robert Bork and the crime of inequality

Aaron Wildavsky

WHEREAS other failed nominations to the Supreme Court have sunk from public view, the debate over Judge Robert Bork gains in intensity as if the state of the nation, and not merely the fate of an individual jurist, is at issue. Far from settling the matter, the Senates rejection of President Reagans first choice for the seat vacated by Lewis Powell has spurred renewed efforts both to justify and to condemn what was done.

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