Cooper Union forum; 8; Fall 1970
From the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in New York City. National Educational radio presents a lecture entitled whatever happens to the liberals and why this lecture was recorded for broadcast by station WNYC. Now to introduce the speaker. Here is the chairman of the Cooper Union forum series Dr. Johnson a Fairchild speaker for tonight is Dr. So OK Pat over who certainly needs no introduction to intellectual audiences he is just one of the prominent political science with the faculty of the Graduate faculty the new school. He had so many credits that it would take a long time. He has spoken to you not to you personally perhaps but to audiences in the Great Hall at least half a dozen times. I won't mention how many more than half a dozen of his background something to do with a doctorate from Chicago and a Guggenheim
Fellowship Rockefeller. He was formerly a dean at the school of politics of the new school of the University of California ethical cultural society of those investments to the University of Parents Teachers College Columbia University editor of very interesting things such as the complete Jefferson of the national capital Thomas Jefferson National Democracy by Thomas Jefferson and has written a list of that list of books perhaps longer than I could possibly even to read a short time. The genius of America the mind of Alexander. Foreign policy and public opinion. Jefferson experiment in Germany. I'm skipping psychological warfare and other right numbers articles
and addition to our lives. He was a scholar a gentleman a nice guy. Right is there's a pattern. Thank you. He gave me a really very difficult difficult assignment. I would like to say that I wouldn't I wouldn't have chosen the topic myself because it's almost it's almost impossible to comprehend it and talk about it with any conciseness. And I and meaningfulness with it within a relatively short period of time. I therefore hope that our discussion will bring out some important points and we can have a kind of Socratic
dialogue about. What is beyond a doubt the most difficult problem for any commentator or political scientist or speaker to handle. Basically mothers involved really is a talker on the STATE OF THE UNION. Internally that's going to talk about foreign policy tonight. Before before we say anything about what happened to the liberals I think we have to ask ourselves what are liberals who are liberals and what is liberalism really me. Well I think it would help us if we look at the problem in terms of development and then we'll see where we're going from there. As I see it liberalism. It is a relatively modern idea was not
known let's say in the Middle Ages. It's something fairly common to the modern world liberalism under government. I see it stages of development. The first one I think you can say was individual. Now this may not seem like much to some people but nevertheless assertion of individual was one of the most important intellectual events. In the history of civilization certainly in the history of Western civilization. And the assertion of individual isn't my thing. You can't trace. Well you can trace that historic way perhaps to to the period of the Renaissance and with the emergence with emergence of autobiography said Never been autobiographies before the
Renaissance for example because an autobiography involves a kind of self appreciation. It involves a self awareness. It involves an occupation and concerned with the self that this had not existed in previous histories or in past cultures in previous history still let's say before the Renaissance in Europe the people were concerned with what with God the family perhaps the nation or the tribe or the city state or larger units but the individual and no individual he was subsumed under a great many other things. And so the assertion of individual wasn was one of the first I think a revolutionary idea which emerged to make the modern world in effect individual as a meant the
best first the human being says I am somebody for myself not just because I am a member of a certain religion or a race or a family or whatever I am something myself. This was one very important point and individual lesson another important point in the assertion of individual. It was the emphasis on the human individual psychology. So his sense of his being something outside the group his mind to developing his right to his claims to my right to under society to get a good schooling for example to develop his mind and his talents etc. etc.. Now this assertion of individual person was one of the first was perhaps the first element in what we call a liberalist. Now the next element in
liberalism following following individual lesson was the assertion in the village at least in the Western world including America the assertion of individuals that they have a right to challenge the power of government to terrorize over them. This was a very important second stage up to that time. Up to that time a government didn't exist for individuals. Governments were either considered divinely ordained or they were a class government or rather a trick government. In any case there were governments that would without regard to Jones or Smith or any other individual. Now General A government had tended to be a tyrannical and
fairly contemptuous of the rights of the individual civil rights civic rights or any other rights through education or any similar rights governments didn't exist for that purpose. But after the assertion of individual numbers of people then began to claim that a government must adjust itself to this new idea of individual namely it must not it must not turn over the rights of individual men. It should have a different kind of function. It should have the function of protecting the rights of the people and above all this new conception of government which emerged in the 18th century primarily in France in the United States. This new conception of government involved the idea that government
in order not to be tyrannical over the rights of the individual must not have too much power. This was a second important element in the development of liberalism because these individuals argued in the 18th century particularly in the first part of the 19th century they argued that if a government is too powerful. If the government has centralized control over destiny and occupation and everything else of the society that government will not pay attention to any individual or individual lives. So in order to safeguard this very important value new value in society the value of the individual's rights in order to safeguard that thinkers in the 18th century asserted asserted the idea of a limited government. First by the way one of the supreme achievement.
American Revolution the American Constitution and underlie the basic liberalistic ideas of men like Jefferson for example or James Madison or the great founders of the United States. I repeat this second stage in liberalism was the idea that government must be limited in its powers because if it were unlimited It would be tyrannical and the individual would no longer have any rights or claim to right or to the existence of an individual. So this assertion the second assertion of liberalism that is limited government was a milestone in the development of liberalism and in a country like the United States and in some other places in the western world it became the assertion became successful. By and large American government and American political ideas originally
reflected this concept. A government that must not be very strong in any way. But you have just enough strength to carry out the police powers of the state. Carry out national defense. See that the currency is stable. Control it say or help to regulate international trade etc. but nothing else. Everything else was left more or less to the individual. So this was the second element which was a triumph of liberalism today. Then came a third element. In the development of liberalism and the third element you find a third stage if you wish. You find that in America you find that in Britain you find it and in some other parts of western Europe namely the idea that in a society which is growing complex in a society which is becoming urbanized and
industrialized. In a society where a great many problems are being created by the government. Government with a capital G if you wish. Government must take another step. It must move off the dime if you wish. It must not remain just weak and negative. But it must do something to protect. To protect the weak and to help regulate some of the more intractable and more difficult problems that emerge in the new world particularly in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. In other words in the third stage of liberalism liberal and liberal were involved in the concept of using government within certain limits of rectifying a lot of grievances and of helping out the weak as much as possible.
Now at this stage you had liberals for the ideas of reform reform for example reform in the realm of child labor reform and the regulation of working things of that type form period to which the Liberals gave themselves. Because as Woodrow Wilson who was a classical liberal in the American tradition in the third stage I'm talking about as Woodrow Wilson said there are certain problems that only government can and nobody else and the government owes it to the weak and the helpless to do something. But throughout that stage the third stage of liberalism using the instrument of government to help out and to redress grievances throughout that stage. The basic idea of the second stage was really not challenged the basic idea that government must not be too strong
but still accept that accept that man like Wilson or in some ways there to Roosevelt and in many ways Franklin Roosevelt except that they said that you must empower the government to help out. But you must not let it go too far out of hand. You still maintain certain limits on the sphere of government. Then there's however didn't stop there. Unavoidably the third stage led to the fourth stage in this country and of course much more so in other parts of the world. In the fourth stage of liberalism you moved from a relatively limited government from from government that it catered to reform in certain areas. You moved into another world into a world where we are now or perhaps will be moving out of it but we are in the world namely that
government must not just do some reforms in certain areas needed because the injustices are too harsh. But government must take over a great many areas of operations and in some parts of the world even outside the communists or out. Government must take over virtually all the operations of human society. The general the general empathy of liberals and liberalism and the fourth stage has been as I say in this country and abroad the general impetus has been to use the powers of government to try to have every single ailment and difficulty that a human being can friends. This. Of course. Has been one of the truly revolutionary development and development. The fruit of which we are
now eating and it has not been an altogether desirable develop. The consequences of the fourth stage are with us and I think unless unless liberals and society at large to rethink this whole problem we are going to get into a pretty disastrous situation because the logical consequence of the for the abandonment consciously or unconsciously deliberately or not the abandonment by the citizen of personal responsibility. And acceptance by the citizen. The basic idea that whatever needs to be done by the ever troubles you let the politicians and the bureaucrats do it. It is not my business it is government's business. This is where we are
today. Government has moved. Into virtually all areas of human life. Many legitimate areas where nobody else can do the job and many areas which I think are very dangerous indeed and that have to be stopped. Because it will be a strong incentive. So the meaning. And the dignity of both democracy and stability and possibly civilization itself. Nobody no liberal even the noblest liberal could foresee the consequences of what this fourth stage involved. And we perhaps still cannot foresee them. Let me illustrate let me illustrate what I mean. With a few specific examples. One of the one of the greatest difficulties we face in this country and
I think in all civilized countries is a big bag of apples. If you speak governmental or our governmental units have become unmanageable. The United States today like all other great industrial societies is really run by a vast bureaucracy. A bureaucracy not to respond because it cannot be responsive to the well's desires the feelings. And the dignity of the citizen. Increasingly the citizen drops out of the process. Increasingly the bureaucracy takes over and in a sense dehumanizing the process. Nobody could foresee that. But liberals had been pushing in the direction of more government more action. Every time a problem came up at the government for a time a problem came up. We said to Congress let it allocate x billions of dollars and more X billions of dollars let them do and do and do
and do and what does that mean. It means that the citizen is less and less the bureaucrat. And if you know today well let's be very let's be very realistic. If you're just take the example of a great city like New York you know very well and I think virtually every scholar in the field will agree that you cannot reform New York City. There's almost nothing you can do with New York with all its incredible problems with its terrible unless you splinter it. New York is not manageable and not governable because it is too big. This involves tremendous psychological problems. The citizen feels helpless. He's frustrated. You can't fight city hall as the saying as he knows very well it doesn't control the police precinct he doesn't contrive anything to say over the judges he doesn't have anything to
say about collection of the garbage. He doesn't have to say about the problems about traffic about the courts he has nothing to say in a bureaucracy of this size. The citizen becomes helpless. I said in terms of democratic theory and practice can be effective in a relatively small community. He cannot be effective in a great city and a great bound to decline this way. The problems are bound to get worse and worse. And what I said about New York City is of course infinitely more true of the federal government the federal government it is no great secret the federal government is not manageable in any way. If you think the president of the United States can control our quadrille government I sure have another think coming. No president has been able to do so in modern times because the federal government and leaving out the military and foreign affairs. And I'm not talking about that. The federal government has 3 million employees. Those of you who know something about business. Empathize with this.
Put yourself in the position of a man the president is the manager of that business. Does a manager have a business with 3 million employees. Know anything about what those employees are doing even remotely have control over them. After all why a president give up too. They can issue directives. They can threaten they can challenge they can appoint new sub commissioners and members of the cabinet. But the bureaucracy remaining remains virtually unaffected and in fact it is a very very difficult thing to handle the situation. And as we ask the federal government the national government to do more and more and more will reach greater and greater and greater paralysis. He can't do very much with a gigantic arc and his zation which has put the citizen out of the framework
the citizen has virtually removed himself been removed out of the framework of his helplessness as something very tragic. This has nothing to do with any political party it has nothing to do with any personal with any person with anyone it is the whole system. This is the impasse we have reached I think in the fourth stage of liberalism. The impasse of too much liberalism and too much of bigness which is creating as I see it most insuperable problems for ourselves unless we do something about it. I think young people young people today have a real point. First in their protest against the structure which they feel is inhuman. But secondly and the idea which they have been developing and talking about participatory democracy I'm not entirely sure I know what participatory democracy is but I
suspect I know what they mean. What they really mean increasingly larger number of young people what they really mean is let's do something for ourselves. In addition they also want to smash the big system and institute something different something that they can handle something they can feel something they can control something they believe will ever be responsive to the needs not only of their persons but of their trying. The latter part of the 20th century and I think they are psychologically and emotionally on the right track. Just to come back to my example I believe for instance that New York City just as an example should be broken up and perhaps. A minimum of eight units but I would like to see it broken up into a minimum of 80 units. I think 100000 a unit of 100000
roughly would be just about a manageable unit. But the citizen can do something for himself for the citizens that citizen can feel that he is part of the process where his soul is not trampled where he can have perhaps justice and clean streets and do something about the race problem and feel that he belongs in the society and is not part of a terrible machine. The United States government today I think the federal government is very drastic over again for the same reasons. I think we should be centralize as much as possible. We should put more and more emphasis on the individual and his enterprise his imagination his desires his sense of being his ambitions of your life. And his sense of belonging. Now. This is this is a stage where in my point
answering the question of her childhood and the title what happened to the liberals. I say what happened to the liberals. Is that large numbers of them have not yet fully realized the sharpness of the cure. They are enormous problems in the present stage of development which myself and other liberals have led up to. I think what is needed today is rethinking the whole meaning of liberalism thinking of the whole meaning of modern life a rethinking of the whole meaning of individual lives and a return to the great principles of the past. Let's not fool ourselves. No civilized man should be without it. But how soon most Americans are feel themselves as individuals they are
cogs in one machine or another. And I think this is one thing that liberals have to think about. The basic principles you have to go back to Jefferson to whom individual and participation and the government and the idea of limited government was one of the great values one of the great civilized values. Great many things have gotten out of hand for liberals. I know the raisins in the present frustrated and don't know where they're going. It's because they haven't rethought their problem and because many a liberal 19th century kind of lip service to the past many many liberals for example are no longer realistic enough to realize that what was liberalism 30 years. Well 30 40 50 years ago is not very liberal to
many I know and I'm sure you know still still become emotional for example. Now we know that the part used every liberal you and I have ever known was of course pro labor. But you have to really rethink the situation today. I'm giving labor as an example. I'm not saying one should be anti labor but we know very well that labor organized labor isn't what it was 30 years ago. The liberal gave it whole hearted support and fought it and bled for Labor because labor was the underdog and the humane idea for the goodness and the decency of man. But today we know that Labor has become for example labor the great liberal hopes. The labor has become very very important part of the American establishment. Exhibit some of the worst features of the
establishment. We know very well today that one of the most powerful supporters for example of war and armaments are the trade unions not because they are necessarily militaristic but because they have become convinced that it means full employment. We know that labor no longer has to be on the side of civil liberties and civil rights. We know that a great many unions practiced racial discrimination. We know that labor isn't anything to bleed to and this has come as a traumatic shock to a lot of liberals. They have lost one of their basic props. Labor is only one example of what happened. There are many others. There are many other areas of operations which faction liberalism doesn't help for example for example that we have entered a new world of technology where the old cliche the
bleeding heart cliches if you like no longer help you have the old days used to say there is no Republican or Democratic or socialist way of collecting the garbage. There is only one way of collecting the garbage and that's to collect the garbage. If you turn it around in terms of the modern world you realize the terrible problems of our cities and city planning and doing something about the quality of life in the United States. You need technical skills you need engineering skill. You know very well today that some of the best brains in thinking about what can be done about that in the United States which is pretty much of a sick society at the moment. One of the best thinking is being done not by liberals but by technicians by city planners psychologists social engineers a great many others and liberals feel themselves increasingly out of kilter with the
times. This I submit the problem of liberalism in the United States and I would conclude before you throw a lot of darts at me I would conclude that the crisis for liberals is going to get worse rather than better. Unless liberals read thank first the state of the Union and secondly their own position in society. And third the Velo a relative lay scientific modern technological problem program which they can submit to the American nation so that many of the illnesses from which our society suffers increasingly Can begun to be cured because the and the here will really conclude because I will say this for liberalism. Liberalism is also a matter of
the Spirit. Liberalism is a matter of the heart. A liberal by and large in terms of his heart is and has been what we call a nice person. He is really troubled by the world and has been for nearly two centuries now. And we cannot. No society can afford to see liberals permanently disheartened. Here is a reservoir of great emotions and great good well what should be harnessed. But at the moment is disorganized and scattered and misled and completely lost and we cannot afford to lose the liberal impetus the liberal spirit the liberal mind and the liberal imagination. All we need is to rethink some of these terrible problems which confront us. And once we have clarity the liberals might again be in a position
to do some leading for the best. Interests of our society. And so I say that we shouldn't spare the liberals we should try to encourage and to help them and try perhaps to tell them all the time to look at the society much more realistically and rethink their basic principles which have gone astray. I think not their hearts but their minds. Thank you very much. AS. You've heard Dr. Saul pout over speaking on the topic whatever happens to the liberals and why this was one of the 970 series of lectures recorded at the great
hall of the Cooper Union in New York City by station WNYC the chairman for the Cooper Union was Johnson a Fairchild. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
- Cooper Union forum
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- Fall 1970
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