New Deal to Neoliberalism
In my own ever evolving historical narrative, the Reagan administration marks the end of the transformed classical liberalism that had evolved through the creation of the New Deal experiment as a way of devising some sort of humane median arbitration between the forces of market capitalism and the needs of human beings caught up in it.
The Great Depression was merely the bursting of a boil that had been growing and festering as industrialization and the economic forces of the idealized free market formed a social environment in which large numbers of human beings found their only capital was their time, and their bargaining power was related to their membership in a class of humans with similar capital, and with that capital they bargained independently and increasingly together for the pay the capitalists were willing to expend for the work that made them more capital. When the boil burst, it made clear to those who followed along in hope, as the "leaders" with the capital led, that the magic market was not making the world safe and prosperous for all as was claimed, and that question of whether it was ever going to, may not be quite as important as putting a few potatoes in the pot today. And so came Roosevelt with a New Deal. There was some tinkerings in the US with the ideas of fascism at the time, but that experiment was left to the Germans and Italians.
For whatever reasons, the New Deal seemed to come through the next forty five years or so, raising a lot of boats in the process, paying off the huge debts from WWII. The US became a leader in the world, both idealistically and economically. But all along forces were at work to return to the ideals of classical liberalism, and so with WWII well behind it, as well as the bumps in the road of Korea and Vietnam, the next phase of trying the old liberal experiment looked to a number of political thinkers like it might be worth a try again. And so with Reagan the US got a "neo"liberalism strategy, complete with a well funded marketing campaign. That campaign once again promoted the following:
- Free markets without government "interference" would be the most efficient and socially optimal allocation of resources, thus a philosophy of maximum deregulation to promote business.
- Privatization removes inefficiencies of the public sector.
- Goverment should mainly function to provide infrastructure to advance the rule of law with respect to property rights and contracts.
- Sustained economic growth is the way to human progress (with the obvious assumption that human progress is the goal).
- Replace the New Deal concept of "the public good" or "Community" with "individual responsibility." The poor are poor because they are lazy. The opportunities are there.
In 1944, Karl Polanyi published his critique of free market capitalism: The Great Transformation representing some of the philosophical ideals the New Deal attempted to merge with tenets of classical liberalism which had predominated up to the crash, and those were concepts like reciprocity and redistribution for the welfare of the whole, and the new hope those had brought to a body politic that awakened to the stark realities of a world wide depression. In the same year, Friedrich Hayek produced what is now commonly known as the conservative vision of classical liberalism, raising the alternative specter of fears of socialisms of all stripes as The Road to Serfdom. So in 1944 we had two pieces of philosophical work that set the tone for what would be the two political ideals that would be at odds with each other, struggling for the minds and hearts of the masses over the rest of the century, and beyond to now. These ideas were romanticised and made understandable by such popular writers as Ayn Rand, who saw the Hayek model as the prototype of ultimate human freedom and dignity, but managed in her romanticization to portray the ideals in Polanyi's work as a form of oppression that was somehow being overcome by the forces of good, and all that was needed was for Atlas (to) Shrug. So with the election of Reagan, Atlas shrugged and we got neoliberalism, or the new, economic oriented version of classical liberalism.
I have always thought one of the oddest results of this refinement of differences from classical liberalism to neoliberalism was the confusing application of "liberal" to the emphasis on a politics oriented in the New Deal way Polanyi describes it, and "conservative" to Hayak's defense of "classical liberalism." I find it best not to try to categorize myself, or else my sense of history just gets scrambled.
So. This revitalized liberalism, which calls itself conservatism, but which follows the principles of neoliberalism, began to chart a new course in the world. By the way, if anyone is fuzzy about what the term "neoliberalism" means, I highly recommend the following article: Neoliberalism: origins, theory, definition:
Enter the Federalist Society
In the first Reagan term a number of changes were enacted. I've already mentioned the pro democracy NGOs in an earlier Blog. At roughly the same time, a private law society was established by a clique of law students and lawyers at three Universities -- University of Chicago, Yale, and Harvard. Its founders named it the Federalist Society in honor of an important ideological founder of the US Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the Federalist Papers, because it saw its own legal principles echoed in that founder and what he wrote. Especially in Federalist Paper Number 78 for its articulation of judicial restraint. It is unabashedly conservative in spirit and in it's aims to further a conservative legal interpretation of the Constitution. Integral to that interpretation is their own fundamentalism of originalism and textualism.
Since it began, the Federalist Society has grown into one of the nation's most powerful legal associations. Its membership has grown to some 35-40,000 (they don't offer a public record). Some 25,000 are practicing attorneys in at least sixty cities. Members include Supreme Court Justices Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito, and possibly John Roberts, though he has disclaimed his membership, though he was listed in 1998. It has chapters in at least 180 US law schools, including all of those that rank in the top 20. And the Society is generously funded by a range of conservative foundations.
A large number of its members were tapped to serve in the first George W. Bush adminstration, which included Spencer Abraham as energy secretary,Gale Norton as interior secretary, John Ashcroft as attorney general, and Theodore Olson as solicitor general. Other Federalist Society members tapped by Bush (many of whom have now moved out of government or on to different posts) and the positions they held include: Alex Acosta (deputy assistant attorney general), Bradford Berenson (associate counsel to the president), Ralph Boyd (assistant attorney general), Michael Chertoff (assistant attorney general and secretary of homeland security), Paul Clement (principal deputy solicitor general), Daniel Collins (associate deputy attorney general), R. Ted Cruz (associate deputy attorney general), Viet Dinh (assistant attorney general), Noel Francisco (associate counsel to the president), Sarah Hart (director, National Institute of Justice), Brian Jones (general counsel, Education Department), Brett Kavanaugh (associate counsel to the president), Thomas Sansonetti (assistant attorney general), Eugene Scalia (Department of Labor solicitor; son of Antonin Scalia), Larry Thompson (deputy attorney general), and Edward Whelan (principal deputy assistant attorney general). There are more: The Conservative Movement Moves In.
The Federalist Society is a nexus for a philosophical makeover of the US Constitution, and it seeks nothing less than to reshape the entire landscape of the US judiciary by promoting right-wing activists into key power positions who will be positioned to pressure judicial decisionmaking in line with the explicit conservative philosophy of the Federalist Society.
All of this is background so I can begin to discuss the Unitary Executive Theory, which is the brainchild of one of its founding members, Steven Calabresi, who is now a legal Scholar teaching at Northwestern University.