New version page

UVM POLS 125 - The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics

This preview shows page 1-2-20-21 out of 21 pages.

View Full Document
View Full Document

End of preview. Want to read all 21 pages?

Upload your study docs or become a GradeBuddy member to access this document.

View Full Document
Unformatted text preview:

Article Contentsp. 25p. 26p. 27p. 28p. 29p. 30p. 31p. 32p. [33]p. [34]p. 35p. [36]p. 37p. 38p. 39p. 40p. 41p. 42p. 43p. 44p. 45Issue Table of ContentsDaedalus, Vol. 109, No. 3, The End of Consensus? (Summer, 1980), pp. i-xvi, 1-176Front MatterPreface to the Issue: "The End of Consensus?" [pp. v-xv]Fault Lines in American Elite Consensus [pp. 1-24]The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics [pp. 25-45]The Inadequacy of Contemporary Opposition to Business [pp. 47-58]Re-Establishing an Economic Consensus: An Impossible Agenda? [pp. 59-70]Let's All Play Energy Policy! [pp. 71-84]The Government in the Classroom [pp. 85-97]The Disassembling of American Education [pp. 99-113]Whither Equality of Educational Opportunity? [pp. 115-132]Civility and Psychology [pp. 133-141]Morality in Foreign Policy: A Failed Consensus? [pp. 143-158]The Tyranny of Minorities [pp. 159-168]Back MatterMORRIS P. FIORINA The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics Though the founding fathers believed in the necessity of establishing a gen uinely national government, they took great pains to design one that could not lightly do things to its citizens; what government might do for its citizens was to be limited to the functions of what we know now as the "watchman state." Thus the Founders composed the constitutional litany familiar to every schoolchild: they created a federal system, they distributed and blended powers within and across the federal levels, and they encouraged the occupants of the various posi tions to check and balance each other by structuring incentives so that one of ficeholder's ambitions would be likely to conflict with others'. The resulting system of institutional arrangements predictably hampers efforts to undertake major initiatives and favors maintenance of the status quo. Given the historical record faced by the Founders, their emphasis on con straining government is understandable. But we face a later historical record, one that shows two hundred years of increasing demands for government to act positively. Moreover, developments unforeseen by the Founders increasingly raise the likelihood that the uncoordinated actions of individuals and groups will inflict serious damage on the nation as a whole. The by-products of the industri al and technological revolutions impose physical risks not only on us, but on future generations as well. Resource shortages and international cartels raise the spectre of economic ruin. And the simple proliferation of special interests with their intense, particularistic demands threatens to render us politically in capable of taking actions that might either advance the state of society or pre vent foreseeable deteriorations in that state. None of this is to suggest that we should forget about what government can do to us?the contemporary concern with the proper scope and methods of government intervention in the social and economic orders is long overdue. But the modern age demands as well that we worry about our ability to make government work for us. The problem is that we are gradually losing that ability, and a principal reason for this loss is the steady erosion of responsibility in American politics. What do I mean by this important quality, responsibility? To say that some person or group is responsible for a state of affairs is to assert that he or they have the ability to take legitimate actions that have a major impact on that state of affairs. More colloquially, when someone is responsible, we know whom to blame. Human beings have asymmetric attitudes toward responsibility, as cap 2516 MORRIS P. FIORINA tured by the saying "Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan." This general observation applies very much to politicians, not surprisingly, and this creates a problem for democratic theory, because clear location of responsi bility is vitally important to the operation of democratic governments. Without responsibility, citizens can only guess at who deserves their support; the act of voting loses much of its meaning. Moreover, the expectation of being held re sponsible provides representatives with a personal incentive to govern in their constituents' interest. As ordinary citizens we do not know the proper rate of growth of the money supply, the appropriate level of the federal deficit, the advantages of the mx over alternative missile systems, and so forth. We elect people to make those decisions. But only if those elected know they will be held accountable for the results of their decisions (or nondecisions, as the case may be), do they have a personal incentive to govern in our interest.1 Unfortunately, the importance of responsibility in a democracy is matched by the difficulty of attaining it. In an autocracy, individual responsibility suf fices; the location of power in a single individual locates responsibility in that individual as well. But individual responsibility is insufficient whenever more than one person shares governmental authority. We can hold a particular con gressman individually responsible for a personal transgression such as bribe taking. We can even hold a president individually responsible for military moves where he presents Congress and the citizenry with a fait accompli. But on most national issues individual responsibility is difficult to assess. If one were to go to Washington, randomly accost a Democratic congressman, and berate him about a 20-percent rate of inflation, imagine the response. More than likely it would run, "Don't blame me. If 'they' had done what I've advocated for x years, things would be fine today." And if one were to walk over to the White House and similarly confront President Carter, he would respond as he already has, by blaming Arabs, free-spending congressmen, special interests, and, of course, us. American institutional structure makes this kind of game-playing all too easy. In order to overcome it we must lay the credit or blame for national condi tions on all those who had any hand in bringing them about: some form of collective responsibility is essential. The only way collective responsibility has ever existed, and can exist given our institutions, is through the agency of the political party; in American poli tics, responsibility requires cohesive parties. This is an old claim to be sure, but its age does not detract from its


View Full Document
Loading Unlocking...
Login

Join to view The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics and access 3M+ class-specific study document.

or
We will never post anything without your permission.
Don't have an account?
Sign Up

Join to view The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics and access 3M+ class-specific study document.

or

By creating an account you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use

Already a member?