Saturday, February 18, 2017

2/18 Political Identity & Political Culture




Randolph Bourne
1886-1918
The next essay we are looking at is "Trans-National America" (1916) published in the The Atlantic Monthly (now just The Atlantic) an influential literary and political newsmagazine founded by American poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1859. "Trans" is a prefix that means beyond, so in a sense, he is arguing for a position "beyond nationalism." The essay is divided up into three sections: 
I. He explains the failure of the "melting pot" as a metaphor for assimilation; II. He argues that true "genius" of America is its ability to incorporate diverse cultures into its national culture; III. Finally he argues for some methods to further this ideal of "transnational" America and emphasizes cultural diversity in the universities and dual-citizenship status as means to further this goal. If the nation is a cultural entity, then he is arguing for going beyond a certain culture, but what is that culture? 

Bourne, is writing shortly before the U.S. enters World War I (1914-1918) allied with the British and the French against the Germans and the Austrians. This essay is as much an anti-war essay as it is a defense of what we today call "multiculturalism," or "cosmopolitanism." The year after this essay is published, the U.S. Congress will declare war on Germany under the pretext of "making the world safe for democracy," and will pass the Immigration Act of 1917 and another in 1918, along with the Espionage and Sedition Acts in 1917 and 1918. These acts gave the state tremendous power to detain and deport immigrants (or hyphenated Americans) suspected of sabotage, espionage, or other subversive activity. Domestic dissent, even speech, was also suppressed and many radical leaders like Eugene Debs of the Socialist Party were thrown in jail. German language was banned in schools, and German food was renamed (frankfurter to hot dog, sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage"). In solidarity with their English allies, many parades and public displays were held emphasizing the nation's Anglo-
Saxon heritage.


By the 1920s many modern technologies have been created. Designs and operations are primitive but people are able to buy or use the following: automobiles, airplanes, electric lighting (the first electric automobile was invented in 1892), electric stoves, other electric household appliances, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioning, elevators, credit cards, color photography, telephones, radio, movies, caterpillar tractors, skyscrapers, and many other inventions. These scientific achievements also helped reinforce the sense of cultural superiority. 

Obviously American culture in some part it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon (British) colonists who settled here in the 17th century, displacing the original Indian settlers. The most notable contribution are the political institutions modeled after Anglo-Saxon tribal customs. Bourne argues that over time this culture has become very rigid, and very set in its ways, and seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to change. Furthermore, he argues that the imposition of Anglo-Saxon culture upon other ethnic groups has been a dismal failure and has had the opposite effect of strengthening loyalty to ethnic culture:

To face the fact that our aliens are already strong enough to take a share in the direction of their own destiny, and that the strong cultural movements represented by the foreign press, schools, and colonies are a challenge to our facile attempts, is not, however, to admit the failure of Americanization. It is not to fear the failure of democracy. It is rather to urge us to an investigation of what Americanism may rightly mean. It is to ask ourselves whether our ideal has been broad or narrow--whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the "melting-pot" Surely we cannot be certain of our spiritual democracy when, claiming to melt the nations within us to a comprehension of our free and democratic institutions, we fly into panic at the first sign of their own will and tendency. We act as if we wanted Americanization to take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed. All our elaborate machinery of settlement and school and union, of social and political naturalization, however, will move with friction just in so far as it neglects to take into account this strong and virile insistence that America shall be what the immigrant will have a hand in making it, and not what a ruling class, descendant of those British stocks which were the first permanent immigrants, decide that America shall be made. This is the condition which confronts us, and which demands a clear and general readjustment of our attitude and our ideal.

However, he also seems to suggest that there is no real American national culture, that in fact it has always been sort of a mash-up between all kinds of different cultures–the Anglo-Saxon being just more predominant, but never exclusively. What he wants to do is separate Anglo-Saxon culture from its identification with "America." American culture then is really a mixture of different cultures and customs, that collectively form a unique, transnational political culture.


In the North where this mixing has already taken place to a large extent, the whole region has grown and developed, it is in the South which has remained more "Anglo-Saxon" that has lagged behind in development:



The South, in fact, while this vast Northern development has gone onstill remains an English colony, stagnant and complacent, having progressed scarcely beyond the early Victorian era. It is culturally sterile because it has had no advantage of cross-fertilization like the Northern states....The foreign cultures have not been melted down or run together, made into some homogeneous Americanism, but have remained distinct but cooperating to the greater glory and benefit, not only of themselves but of all the native "Americanism" around them.

In this regard, he sees the process of "Americanization" as flawed, as he says: 

But if freedom means a democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its culture upon the minority peoples.

Ironically, Anglo-Saxon it is itself a mix. The Saxons are a German tribe. The Angles were another Germanic tribe that settled the land earlier and were the original inhabitants of the land that is England (Angland) when the Saxons arrived beginning around the 5th century CE. The English language is actually considered a Germanic language, that has over time synthesized different elements of Latin, French, Scandinavian and other languages–all of these linguistic influences can be traced to foreign conquerors.


What Bourne's essay suggests, in part, is that national identities are constructions and in the modern era people are more aware of these identities, as opposed to a biological or mystical explanation for nationalism. Consider the Germans: Deutschland means "Germany" but it also means "Fatherland" as in the word patria, as if they were somehow the children of the land they were born on (nativus or natus). It also explains in part why symbolic depictions of the nation are commonly portrayed as a woman or maternal figure:

"Germania," Philipp Veit, 1848


"Columbia," from WWI poster an early personification of U.S. predating "Uncle Sam." The Columbia Pictures logo depicts the same figure.

 Of course paternity or maternity suggests a sense of obligation to the parent as well. Instead, nationality is a more or less made up idea. This is not to deny the influence or power that this idea has over people. In fact, cultural constructs such as nationalism seem to have even more influence over people, than supposedly "natural behavior." Nationalism persists: because many share this value already, because it is supported by the state, and because it gives people a sense of meaning in life.


However, by becoming more self-conscious of the influence of culture over people's lives, gives people greater control over the shape of this culture. So in one regard, Bourne seeks to strip away the mask that conceals the prejudice behind the process of Americanization; at the same time, he does not want to abolish citizenship or the process of Americanization but to redefine it in a way that allows more equal expression from different groups in society, as he says "Let us not speak, of inferior races, but of inferior civilizations. We are all to educate and be educated. These peoples in America are in a common enterprise. It is not what we are now that concerns us, but what this plastic next generation might become in the light of a new cosmopolitan ideal." (Cosmopolitan meaning "cosmos" as in universe and "polis" meaning city-state or political community, universal political community. Or, cosmopolitan is a derivative of metropolitan or metropolis, also a Greek word, meaning "mother city"–like Fatherland using familial language to describe a relationship to land and community.


He argues that the growth of nationalism is dangerous and has contributed greatly to the violence of the war. The U.S. is unique in that it contains all the diversity of Europe without the bitter antagonisms that characterize actual life in Europe:



The voices which have cried for a tight and jealous nationalism of the European pattern are failing. From that ideal, however valiantly and disinterestedly it has been set for us, time and tendency have moved us further and further away. What we have achieved has been rather a cosmopolitan federation of national colonies, of foreign cultures, from whom the sting of devastating competition has been removed. America is already the world-federation in miniature, the continent where for the first time in history has been achieved that miracle of hope, the peaceful living side by side, with character substantially preserved, of the most heterogeneous peoples under the sun. Nowhere else has such contiguity been anything but the breeder of misery. Here, notwithstanding our tragic failures of adjustment, the outlines are already too clear not to give us a new vision and a new-orientation of the American mind in the world.



Bourne is not a total relativist and does judge cultures as being better than others. You will notice that he still confines his analysis to mostly different European cultures who were the major immigrant groups a this time. Until the 1960s, the U.S. would restrict immigration from most non-European states. Bourne also does not really say anything about race relations between blacks and whites in this essay at least. He does suggest that at an institutional level, colleges and universities play a role in developing this cosmopolitan ideal:

 In them he finds the cosmopolitan note. In these youths, foreign-born or the children of foreign-born parents, he is likely to find many of his old inbred morbid problems washed away. These friends are oblivious to the repressions of that tight little society in which he so provincially grew up. He has a pleasurable sense of liberation from the stale and familiar attitudes of those whose ingrowing culture has scarcely created anything vital for his America of to-day. He breathes a larger air. In his new enthusiasms for continental literature, for unplumbed Russian depths, for French clarity of thought, for Teuton philosophies of power, he feels himself citizen of a larger world. He may be absurdly superficial, his outward-reaching wonder may ignore all the stiller and homelier virtues of his Anglo-Saxon home, but he has at least found the clue to that international mind which will be essential to all men and women of good-will if they are ever to save this Western world of ours from suicide.
He also advocates allowing immigrants to hold dual citizenship:
Dual citizenship we may have to recognize as the rudimentary form of that international citizenship to which, if our words mean anything, we aspire. We have assumed unquestioningly that mere participation in the political life of the United States must cut the new citizen off from all sympathy with his old allegiance. Anything but a bodily transfer of devotion from one sovereignty to another has been viewed as a sort of moral treason against the Republic. We have insisted that the immigrant whom we welcomed escaping from the very exclusive nationalism of his European home shall forthwith adopt a nationalism just as exclusive, just as narrow, and even less legitimate because it is founded on no warm traditions of his own. Yet a nation like France is said to permit a formal and legal dual citizenship even at the present time. Though a citizen of hers may pretend to cast off his allegiance in favor of some other sovereignty, he is still subject to her laws when he returns. Once a citizen, always a citizen, no matter how many new-citizenships he may embrace. And such a dual citizenship seems to us sound and right. For it recognizes that, although the Frenchman may accept the formal institutional framework of his new country and indeed become intensely loyal to it, yet his Frenchness he will never lose. What makes up the fabric of his soul will always be of this Frenchness,-so that unless he becomes utterly degenerate he will always to some degree dwell still in his native environment .

Bourne himself was an intellectual, but one who was limited by various physical disabilities from participating in public life. He was however a prolific writer and contributor to several influential political news magazines like The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Seven Arts. Sadly, he died at the age of 32, from the influenza pandemic unleashed in the aftermath of World War I. Before his death, Bourne was considered one of the leading Progressive intellectuals. Progressive liberalism is still influential to this day and in part I choose these essays to begin with to show the similarities.


The obvious question to ask then as we conclude is to what extent has this vision been achieved in the U.S. in the present today? Is Bourne's idea practical, and if so what are the obstacles that prevent its realization?



The other essay we are reading  is actually the first chapter, "What is America?" in the book 
What I Saw in America, by British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) in 1922.  Bourne is writing when World War I is still going and as a public intellectual figure, Bourne's writing is serious and meant to persuade and is moralistic to that extent. Chesterton is writing in the aftermath of the war and shows a more ironic and almost amused nature in his writings, it does not have the moral urgency of Bourne's writing, but in its own way it could be equally persuasive for pointing out absurd aspects of modern life. 
Chesterton, Vanity Fair

 The essay we are reading is his reflection about filling out his passport information at the American Consulate. This leads him to question how much do people really learn when they travel. There are many distortions that prevent people from experiencing another culture. For one, people have a conservative instinct to want to stay by what is familiar, "to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside" (Chesterton 2008, p. 1), in other words the inside representing the family or the community and the outside being the outside world. This can turn into hostility towards those who seem different.


Another reaction is to find amusement in different cultures. He finds no fault in being "amused" by another culture (although that is debatable) but argues, "where they are wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously" (p. 1). In other words most people never challenge their own superficial first impressions and are content with getting by on that. This second reaction he regards as clearly better than aggression or hostility, and argues that under certain conditions amusement can be constructive: "But I believe there is a better way which largely consists of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is actually founded on differences" (p. 1). We can assume that this is his overall point. The rest of the essay is his reflection of his experience in the U.S. which to him offers a guideline for how this could be created.
 However what is the source of his own amusement upon reading the passport application? Why are these questions so unusual to him?:
One of the questions on the paper was, 'Are you an anarchist?' To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, 'What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist?' along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes an ἁρχη [Greek: archê]. Then there was the question, 'Are you in favour of subverting the government of the United States by force?' Against this I should write, 'I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.' The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, 'Are you a polygamist?' The answer to this is, 'No such luck' or 'Not such a fool,' according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, 'Shall I slay my brother Boer?'—the answer that ran, 'Never interfere in family matters.' But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, 'I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.' Or, 'I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into Mr. Harding at the earliest opportunity.' Or again, 'Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.' There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies (pp. 4-5).

At first he is taken back by how invasive the questions seem and makes some comparisons to other authoritarian states and the Spanish Inquisition. This then sets up his main argument about the U.S.: it is founded on a creed, the meaning of the creed is best captured in The Declaration of Independence:
The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things (p. 8).

Chesterton is considered to have anticipated the idea of "civil religion" that I mentioned. This relates to what he said earlier about a form of "friendship based on differences," but why does he believe the creed in the Declaration is good for this purpose?

In its most simplest form he believes the creed is based on the ideas of equality and justice. It is only to the extent that government supports these principles that its authority can be considered legitimate. As stated clearly in the Declaration if the government does not and will not change its abuses then the population has the right to rebel and to form a new government.

Being based on the idea of equality the creed is also universal, much like the Christian religion. It is no surprise then that the U.S. is heavily influenced by Christian values. Or more than that: democratic political values are basically Christian values. Chesterton would argue that the "Christian" aspect to American democracy comes out most clearly by using the metaphor of the "melting-pot," or as he says:
Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial (p. 9).
The mixture of races he refers to still needs a strong government to provide some shape to the fluid mix of culture, or as he says the pot must not melt. He argues that the political system established by Jefferson (the 3rd president) most closely resembles this and is most appropriate for containing the melting-pot. Bourne regards the "melting pot" metaphor as a failure, Chesterton argues otherwise, but both seem to suggest that the exclusivity of Anglo-Saxon culture is antiquated and cannot sustain itself. At the time in which they are writing anti-miscegenation laws make it illegal to marry outside your race, miscegenation, meaning "mixed race."

Chesterton contrasts what he calls the "American experiment" with the European states. Why does he argue that in Europe they do not have a creed because they have a type? He refers to the "national type" of England which he seems to suggest is a set of beliefs, values, and attitudes that are heavily embedded in English culture and reproduced through institutions which leaves their imprint on every English subject (not citizen, they have a king). He seems to suggest that there is an absence of a similar American 'type'. This point is highly debatable. 

He is not unaware of the realities of American life "but the point is not that nothing exists in America except this idea; it is that nothing like this idea exists anywhere except in America" (p. 15). He argues that this experiment is  not internationalism (inter- a prefix meaning "between" as in between nations, similar but not identical to "transnational," trans- being a prefix meaning "beyond"). Instead, he refers to it as "nationalization of the internationalized" (-ize or -ized past tense, is a suffix that creates transitive verbs that usually mean "to create or make something" as in "creating a nation" out of people who have been "created between nations"). This process is sustained to the extent in which equality and justice guide the actions of the government.

What then undermines equality? Besides, racial and gender inequality, Chesterton writing in the 1920s is aware of the enormous income inequality in American society at this time. The period of the Gilded Age (circa 1868-1896) and the rise of the "robber barons" is over and they have consolidated their power. By the 1920s, large international corporations like General Motors and the United Fruit Co. already exist. Automobiles, especially the Model T produced by Ford have now become affordable to many middle and working class Americans. The first suburbs are created as transportation allows people to live further away from where they work. "Culture industries" like radio and film are already developing quickly which also tended to replace the participation of citizens in the public sphere with diversions and spectacles that reinforces the status quo. Despite this income inequality is at an all time high in the 1920s. Economists like Paul Krugman have spoken of the 1930s and 40s as the "great compression" meaning the relatively compressed period of time in which a middle class is created in the country. In other words, before that there was no middle class in the country at least not since before the Civil War.
"Top 10% Share of Income," Saez, 2010

In this economic  context, the "natural law" of equality tends to be obscured leading people to believe that inequality between people is the normal and natural state of being, but as Chesterton says:
In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of changing lights and lengthening shadows. A twilight full of fancies and distortions....It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men; it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when  men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of their elaborate experiments, that they see men under an equal light of death and daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many (p. 19).

In part to compensate for the large size of early 20th corporations large government bureaucracies were created in order to manage and regulate the increasingly complex demands placed on the political system and society. One of these vital demands is regulation of the immigration system which was crucial for American economic expansion since its beginning and provides a large work force for corporations and businesses. However bureaucracies work by creating a standard set of rules that are applied to all cases, however this makes it difficult to adapt to circumstances as well as creating something broad to encompass everyone–this is the origin of the absurd questions Chesterton is asked. It is a product of bureaucratic decision making.

Bureaucracies according to the sociologist Max Weber, despite their flaws, are the highest development of order and rationality. However, at least since the Romantic era of the 19th century there has been a reaction against the suffocating and "dehumanizing" (making people less than human) tendencies of science and reason. Distrust  increased more after World War I (1914-1918) witnessed supposedly "rational" European states massacre each other by the millions in a few years, all appling "science and technology" to more efficiently kill each other with poison gas, machine guns, and tanks. These events loom larger in Chesterton's imagination, who is only writing a few years after the end of the war, and this is probably why he emphasizes the "direct experience" of things rather than more abstract scientific models of understanding (which would never allow laughing at differences or even notice them) and is able to poke fun at the "rational" bureaucracies.

The 1920s is known as the "Roaring 20s" or the "Jazz Age" in part because of the development of consumer mass culture adding more "excitement" to life. The 20s was also the time of Prohibition when the manufacture and sale of alcohol was illegal which created "organized crime" in the U.S. Prohibition was also directed at immigrant groups many of whom consumed alcohol regularly. It is not a coincidence that most of the major beer manufacturers were German. The influence of the time period shows, Chesterton speaks only of "men" and says other things that would not be considered politically correct today. 

Chesterton also seems to assume that "nationalism" in the form of the "national type" or personality is natural. He may poke fun at the stereotypes of the English but he does not seem to think that they are unnatural, nor does he give any indication these values will change and seems to assume they are fixed and permanent, and not constructed from institutionalized social practices. In the 1920s the British Empire still existed after becoming the dominant world power in the 19th century and would last until World War II. At one point their empire reached every continent in the world and even had a slogan: "The sun never sets on the British Empire," and at one point it controlled the territories that are now India and Pakistan; Burma; Singapore; Iraq; large parts of East Africa including Kenya and the Sudan; Australia; Canada; and islands in the Caribbean like the Bahamas as well as parts of Honduras, and British Guiana in South America. In a sense, what helped Great Britain become a world power was its geographical separation from the rest of Europe; Great Britain is an island nation separated by water.


Bitram.org
Until World War II (1939-1945), this protected it from attacks from other European powers; it also encouraged the development of a strong navy which was what made Great Britain a powerful empire in its day. Trade and commerce also developed alongside its naval power and Great Britain is usually regarded as the first nation to undergo the "Industrial Revolution" beginning in the mid 1700s. Textile production was the major industry which required raw materials from different parts of the world like Egypt and India and this in turn facilitated colonization of these areas. Even more important was the production of opium by the East India Company whose ships supplied the world (Greenberg 1951). During World War II, its colonial empire in Asia was mostly destroyed by the Japanese. This and the war in Europe and North Africa against Germany destabilized the entire empire. After the war, liberation movements many of which began before the war were able to throw off the foreign control of the British once and for all, in some cases this continued into the 1980s. The last major colony to gain independence was Hong Kong in 1997 when it was returned to China. After World War II, the United States became the dominant world power. At the same in which decolonization as a global process is occurring throughout the world, a massive new influx of immigration to the U.S., and to a lesser extent Europe, occurs as barriers against travel and immigration are lifted.


Chesterton points backwards to many thinkers who have come before him and points forward to many future thinkers who still echo many of the things he said in this essay. Chesterton is an early influence in developing the idea of "civil religion" to explain the relationship of citizens to the state. Chesterton could also be classified among influential American political scientists and historians, writers like Louis Hartz associated with the term "American Exceptionalism" that came about in the 1950s. The basis of this idea was that the development of the United States followed a unique path of development from Europe. Some of the basic "exceptional" characteristics that are isolated are:
1) Lack of feudal history i.e. a division of land and power between hereditary lords who rule over peasants.
2) The Western frontier that until about 1890 permitted almost continuous expansion west.
3) The geographical separation from the rest of Europe and "natural defenses" like the ocean.
4) The influence of the Puritans and emphasis on religious tolerance.
5) Relative income equality compared to Europe.
Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Although originally the term exceptional was supposed to be a neutral term only indicating the uniqueness of American development, although that is questionable. In the present day this term has been taken up conservatives and liberals who equate exceptional with meaning something like "special" or better than the rest.

1) Tocqueville emphasized equality as the chief virtue of democracy (although he saw downsides that Chesterton does not acknowledge as much, he also believed that equality creates anxiety and that's what makes American life so fast paced).

The origins of this idea however runs deep in American political culture and go as far back to the colonial times and the Puritans who saw their community as "a city on a hill," a model for the rest of the world. All of the American "Founding Fathers" were also similarly aware of this and saw themselves in this role as well. Another famous foreign visitor to the U.S. is Alexis de Tocqueville who in 1835 published volume 1 of Democracy in America (volume 2 1840). Tocqueville basically set the pattern for how everyone who follows American politics studies it. The influence of Tocqueville on Chesterton is apparent in many areas:
2) The emphasis on the Puritans who established small democracies upon their arrival that became the foundation for all democratic institutions in this country.
3) The emphasis on values or what he refers to as "mores" (as in morality) beliefs that are accepted without question for sustaining American democracy.


Here is a passage from Democracy in America that reflects these ideas:
Thus the Americans are in an exceptional situation, and it is unlikely that any other other democratic people will be similarly placed. Their strictly Puritan origin; their exclusively commercial habits; even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the study of science, literature, and the arts; the accessibility of Europe, which allows them to neglect these things without relapsing into barbarism–a thousand special causes, of which I have indicated only the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American on purely practical objects. His desires, needs, education, and circumstances all seem united to draw the American's mind earthward. Only religion from time to time makes him turn a transient and distracted glance toward heaven. We should therefore give up looking at all democratic peoples through American spectacles and try at last to see them as they actually are (Tocqueville 2000, pp. 455-56). 




Friday, February 10, 2017

2/10 Power





For today's class there were three essays we are going over, "Despite Negativity, Americans Mixed on Ideal Role of Gov't" by Frank Newport and "Americans Names Government as Number One Problem," by Justin McCarthy, both published by Gallup Inc. There was also the essay "Two Faces of Power" by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz. The essay comes from the American Political Science Review [abbreviated as APSR in the syllabus] the most influential academic journal in the field of political science. Journals like this publish essays of contemporary scholars in the field (reviewed by other scholars), this particular essay is the most cited article of this journal.

In this essay, Bachrach and Baratz are concerned with analyzing political power. The concept of power is a central concept in political science, but its meaning is not always clear. Power is usually understood as a relationship between people, not an individual quality that someone possesses. Since power is defined as a relationship between people, power is by definition a social relation. Part of the reason this article is so influential is because they begin from a previous discussion regarding the nature of power between sociologist C. Wright Mills and Robert Dahl, a leading "pluralist theorist" in political science.

Mills most famous work in this area was The Power Elite first published in 1956 at the height of the Cold War. Mills argued that political power in the U.S. was concentrated among what he called the "power elite" or the close-knit group made up of government bureaucracy, the military, and corporate elites. This view was affirmed by of all people Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Commander during World War II and President of the U.S. during the 1950s, who in his farewell address warned of the "military-industrial complex."
http://www.npr.org/2011/01/17/132942244/ikes-warning-of-military-expansion-50-years-later

However, there were many criticisms of Mills. Bachrach and Baratz side with Dahl, arguing that Mills sees power in a one-dimensional sense, unlike the theory of pluralism which sees power divided up between different groups. The theory of pluralism, is found in the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, but developed in modern times by theorists like Dahl that sees power as divided between different groups and institutions which provide a check and balance on each other. Pluralists argue that Mills ignored empirical evidence that shows multiple groups are able to exercise some power over each other, power is defined as influence in the law-making process or decisions made by the government. Dahl's work shows the division of power between local communities in his book Who Governs? published a few years after Mills in 1961. However, Dahl limits his research to the local community, but Mills analyzes the highest levels of political power.

The pluralist approach to analyzing power can be broken down as follows:
a) key issues: identify important public issues that are open to disagreement.
b) actors: who are the key groups or individuals involved in this issue?
c) behavior: analysis must give a thorough and detailed account of the behavior of actors in this decision.
d) outcome: what are the actual policies or laws adopted regarding key issues?

By following this approach, pluralists believe you can give an accurate analysis of who wields political power.


In the article "Two Faces of Power," Bachrach and Baratz, argue that Dahl is also one-dimensional because he limits his definition of power to decisions in a formal political setting. They call this the first face of power, but the second face of power has to take into consideration what they call the second face of power, or "mobilization of bias," but now generally referred to as "framing." To frame an issue is to define what is considered an important issue and what are the appropriate choices for dealing with this issue. In other words, Dahl takes for granted the choices that people make in a political setting but does not consider that political debates might censor or exclude other important issues or alternatives. The ability to limit discussion, according to Bachrach and Baratz, is an exercise of power, but one that is completely missed by Dahl.

To influence what is considered an important issue is one example of this, whether it is the environment, drugs, abortion, or gay rights, before the 1970s these issues were not significantly debated in national politics.

Another example could be the limited choices given by the Democratic and Republican parties both of whom are rated very low in terms of public opinion. More recently, libertarian and social democratic movements have arisen to challenge the often stale and repetitive choices given by both major parties. In a modern setting, the media plays an important role in determining "key issues." Simply by reporting on certain issues or focusing on certain aspects of issues the media gives the impression that these are the important issues. To properly analyze power requires you to investigate how issues are framed, what is excluded, and most importantly who benefits from this. Once this step has been taken can you begin to analyze power in the way described by pluralists.

Power is also exercised when issues are "re-framed" or in other words when the boundaries of discussion are changed. Two examples can be the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that reframed the economic discussion in the country to focus on income inequality using terms like "we are the 99%." Also, the  civil rights and black powers movements in the 1960s and 70s that changed the discussion on race in the country as well as, focusing more attention on institutionalized racism in the North. By changing the debate, or reframing the issues, these groups were able to exercise power.

The concept of power was further expanded on by sociologist Steven Lukes who argued there are actually "three dimensions of power": the first being political decisions (Dahl), the second is framing, or controlling what issues and policies are discussed (Bachrach and Baratz), but the third is the power to influence values or social norms, that is to control the basic ideas of right and wrong and what is considered good or bad. Lukes argues it is ultimately what people consider to be right or wrong, or normal, that will influence what choices are available and what decisions are made. In our society today, there is significant debate over whether "capitalism" is truly a beneficial economic system for the majority of people, or whether or not "socialism" is a better alternative. During the Cold War era in the U.S., capitalism was generally valued as something "good," and socialism was considered "evil" and associated with the Soviet Union. However, since the occupy movements (and associated movements like CrimethInc.) and the rise of socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, there exists now a renewed debate over the how we value these economic systems.

http://www.crimethinc.com/tools/deluxe/pyramid_24x36.pdf
The diagram above, can be thought of as an exercise of power because it tries to influence your basic values towards capitalism.

Power over values should not be mistaken as a more peaceful or benevolent form of power. Although it is easy to think of the use of force as the "bad" form of power, and influencing values as "good," history shows many examples of political movements that try to influence people's values in a manipulative way. Adolf Hitler for example is known for developing what is known as the "big lie" theory (the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it), and once in power the Nazis were known for their extensive use of propaganda as a way of consolidating their power over the masses (in addition, of course, to the blatant use of force).

In political science one way of trying to interpret and measure political values is to conduct public opinion polls. A small sampling of a few thousand people are given a questionnaire to fill out, the results of which are combined and calculated in a way that is believed to reflect the general attitude of the entire population. Modern public opinion polls were created by George Gallup in the 1930s who also founded the organization that bears his name, still generally considered the most influential company that conducts these polls. Polls also help shape discussions by identifying what important issues are, and thus also exercise power.

The results of this poll and commentary reflect the generally negative opinions that Americans have towards the government. Negative attitudes towards the government would mean that choices for government action will be limited since people are skeptical over the benefits of government action. Overall, the poll shows that people are distrustful of the government but are also skeptical of taking away too much government power. In terms of political parties, when a party is in power their supporters clearly support more government intervention, than when they are out of power, this suggests that voters are less concerned about the power of government itself, but the power of opposing parties. Furthermore, there are often contradictions in the results surveyed. For example, although people still commonly identify the term socialism in a negative way, there is more support for specific policies associated with socialism like a single-payer healthcare system or free tuition for public colleges. Another well known example, is that people also respond negatively to the word "welfare" but show much more support when the term is re-phrased as "support for the poor," or something similar like that. This suggests that public opinion polls themselves might be limited in their usefulness, as it does not take into consideration how well informed people are on political issues before they express an opinion.





Saturday, December 3, 2016

12/3 Interest Groups




Interest Groups and Social Movements

Interest Groups
Interest groups are organizations like the AFL-CIO that represent labor unions; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents business interests; and others ranging from different political ideologies and agenda: the National Rifle Association (NRA); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many more. These groups are formal organizations seeking to influence policy through political channels using methods I will discuss shortly. The U.S. has so many interest groups, the true number of interest groups are unknown. The most well-known groups like the ones mentioned above are highly organized.

Minority interests often win out over the majority in democratic politics. The reason for this is the ability to organize. The early 20th century sociologist Robert Michels developed the "iron law of oligarchy" (oligarchy being a Greek word meaning rule by the few). The "law" states as organizations grow and become more complex, control of the organization is placed in the hands of those who have superior technical and organizational skills.

In the 1960s, economist Mancur Olson Jr. developed what he called the "logic of collective action." Collective action refers to combined efforts pursuing goals, obviously, political action is collective actions. Olson argues that you can separate "diffuse interests," the will of the majority, from "concentrated interests," minority interests. For example, trade policy is made by certain sectors of the economy, whether industry, agriculture, or services, lobbying the government for tariffs on certain products from foreign countries. This would result in higher prices being placed on these items. A majority of people might be opposed to this but since the interests of the minority are much more concentrated, meaning their income, and even their jobs might be on the line, they will work harder to lobby the government. The majority interests are diffuse, meaning increases in price will not hit them as hard as say someone who risks being laid off. This notion of different interests contradicts Madison's notion of politics, constitutional government, and the notion of checks and balances that reduces the influence of the majority. Is it possible that the U.S. Constitution is overly guarded against the will of the majority? If it is true that minority interests often are better organized than the majority and are able to translate that into political policy, then it is very likely to be true.

Related to the idea of diffuse v. concentrated interests is what Olson calls the "free-rider problem." A free rider is someone who benefits from a public service, but contributes nothing to maintaining this benefit. What made Olson's account of collective action so influential was that he argued that it was rational to be a free-rider. If rationality is the ability to figure out what is in your best interest, then Olson argues it is rational to free-ride. This leads to a paradox however, where if everyone free rides than no one will do the work needed to maintain the benefit, for example a clean public park, or well run schools. How then can you solve the free-rider problem? Olson argues four solutions:1) keep the size of the group small enough so people get a feeling of friendship or solidarity, that you do not get in a large organization, this however, will limit the effectiveness of the group; 2) create "selective benefits" that are only given if you participate in the group; 3) use coercion to force people to participate; 4) someone takes it upon themselves to provide the cost of the benefit. Olson offers this as an explanation for the often hierarchical structure of many interest groups, which are hardly run in democratic fashion, whether they are business associations or unions. However some critics argues that Olson and Michels are pessimistic and narrowly focused on individual groups. While it might be true that all organizations degenerate over time even as they grow larger, if you take a step back and look at the larger society there are always more groups forming to replace older organizations. Of course this is not an easy process and often there is intense struggle and conflict for newer groups to replace older ones. Still it offers one possible solution for the "iron law of oligarchy." Understanding this larger process takes us out of looking at interest groups and seeing the larger dynamic between interest groups and social movements, however a few more things about interest groups before moving on.

I already mentioned briefly the different types of interest groups, you also have to consider the different tactics used by groups to influence policy.

  1. Most common is lobbying which refers to meeting directly with legislators and trying to influence their decisions on voting for laws. Lobbyists are not missionaries trying to convert people, but looking for people who think the same way on most issues. Political parties provide a political identity that interest groups can use to determine who to approach, helping establish connections between interest groups and candidates. Lobbyists have direct access to key policy-makers in government and is usually reserved for the most influential groups. 
  2.  Campaign contributions to finance election campaigns, something every politician is looking for.
  3. Economically well-connected groups can use the threat of moving as a way to influence policy, by effectively leaving or exiting the political arena. Sports teams have used this tactic to influence local governments to vote for tax breaks or other concessions.
  4. Outside lobbying refers to large groups who write or phone legislators in order to influence their vote. This is seen as more of a "grass-roots" approach to lobbying. 
  5. Voting against a candidate. Many groups opposing tax increases on the rich have used this tactic against Republicans in the House of Representatives, making sure they do not vote for tax increases. Those who do not comply are voted out of office, even in the primary, during the next election.
  6. Demonstrations and boycotts. This tactic is probably most famous for being used during the early civil movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott organized by Martin Luther King Jr.
  7. Litigation is another tactic used by the civil rights movement as in Brown v. Board of Ed. To litigate means to bring your issue to court in the form of a lawsuit.
  8. Forming coalitions or alliances with other groups.
  9. Control over information. Many areas for law makers are highly technical (e.g. science and medicine) and depend on interest groups for relevant information.
  10. Public information campaigns are directed towards voters to motivate them to lobby legislators. The flow of information is from interest groups to the broader public.
  11. Sometimes violence is used even by formally organized groups, (e.g. employers have been known to use violent means to disperse striking workers) but usually this tactic is associated with social movements. 


Before moving on to social movements, there are two main ways to classify interest group politics: pluralist or corporatist

The U.S. system is pluralist. Pluralism refers to large groups acting independently of each other, trying to pursue their own interests. Germany is an example of a corporatist system, with a smaller number of groups: government, business, and labor. In a pluralist system groups like business and labor act as separate, and often antagonistic interests, while in a corporatist system business and labor are brought together in an institutional environment to create cooperation between these groups, characterized by large trade associations with close ties to the government. Economists Peter Hall and David Soskice argue there are six crucial areas that distinguishes a competitive pluralist system (or in their terms a liberal-market economy, LME) from cooperative corporatist system (coordinated market economy, CME).
  1. Finance: Businesses in pluralist systems finance their activities through capital markets (banks) and are publicly traded on stock exchanges relative to their "market value." In a corporatist systems, business firms are self-financed in cooperation with other firms in the same industry, or rely on financing from the state.
  2. Industrial relations: pluralist systems make business and labor adversaries. Wage contracts are negotiated between business and labor representatives. In a corporatist system wages are decided by institutions representing business and labor, union officials even serve on corporations' board of directors
  3. Skill formation: In a pluralist system workers invest in their own skills through education. Employers have little incentive to invest in worker training since workers leave often and find new jobs. Corporatist systems usually have better job training programs, funded by unions and employers, employment at firms is longer.
  4. Product markets: In a pluralist system businesses have to compete against each other for a share or a piece of a certain market. Marketing and advertising campaigns are common ways of increasing market share. A corporatist system divides markets between firms, that negotiate for a share of the market
  5. Inter-firm relations: In a pluralist system, technology is shared by firms through paid licensing. A corporatist system allows for technology sharing in a more cooperative setting.
  6. Firm-employee relations: In a pluralist system corporate managers have much more freedom and power than they do in a corporatist system.

Hall and Soskice argue that in a liberal-market economy like the U.S. or a coordinated economy like Germany these six areas will all complement and reinforce each other.

Social Movements
Social movement differ from interest groups mainly by level of organization, although most social movements have some organization, it is usually not as institutionalized. This has various advantages and disadvantages. Lack of formal organization gives social movements greater flexibility than interest groups, however they often lack the resources of organized interests. At the same time interest groups might have closer ties to government, but often lack the popular support social movements have. Social movements are not necessarily good while interest groups are bad. Social movements can range from anything from the civil rights movement to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s (and now again). Many social movements use the tactics of interest groups, like bus boycotts for example, but often social movements can use violence as well.

Theorists of social movements like Doug McAdam argue there is a structure for how social movements operate, and must take into account three factors:
  1. The political opportunity structure: meaning what are the options for political action given by the political system. An authoritarian government will have a more restricted opportunity structure than a democratic government.  Political opportunities are also created outside of national boundaries by global social movements and international organizations
  2. Mobilization structure: refers to how the movement is able to generate collective action by mobilizing its supporters. The growth of communication technology and social media has greatly increased the ability to mobilize people.
  3. Framing: refers to how the goals of the movement are articulated. Ideology is important as well because a belief system which ties supporters together and gives them a way of framing or interpreting the goals of the movement.

There is a logic to social movements, bringing up the same problems of collective action, namely the free-rider problem. People have an incentive to free-ride as well, if civil rights legislation is passed it will benefit all minority groups affected, but there is still a tendency not to contribute assistance and to allow someone else to do the work of providing this benefit.

Another approach to the logic of collective actions is given by Albert Hirschman, who argues there are three primary responses from a group or individual to a declining institution: exit, voice, or loyalty. Hirschman developed his analysis originally by looking at the responses of consumers to businesses but then argues this model can be used for politics as well. The most common response of a consumer to a product they do not like anymore, is to exit, meaning to take their business elsewhere, but in a political sense this can be done as well, for example sports teams which threaten to leave a city, or even people threatening to leave a country (e.g. various celebrities vowing to move out of the country—of course no one ever leaves). However, the idea of threatening to leave, or exit leads to the second response, voice, to express your discontent with the institution and desire to change or reform it. So when confronted by a situation one does not like, one can either exit the situation, or voice their discontent and try to change the situation. What then determines the influence of voice? There are many factors involved like resources and connections, but also the threat of exit has to be considered as well. Simply put, if I am threatening to leave you but you do not take this threat seriously then you are less likely to give in to my threat, however if you do believe I might actually leave you might be more willing to make concessions. For example, if an employer feels that a union's threat to strike (exit) is credible, it is more likely to give in to demands. Counter-culture groups that refuse to participate in mainstream society is also a kind of "exit" tactic. Finally, there is loyalty, which means you do nothing and wait for things to change. The level of loyalty influences the threat of exit. If I am loyal, I am less likely to leave. Hirschman's goal was then to specify in real situations the values of exit, voice, and loyalty and to predict the likelihood groups would use these responses in situations. Hirschman's logic like Olson's can be used for both interest groups and social movements.

To sum up, the goals of interest groups and social movements can be very similar, as are the problems that limit their effectiveness.The tactics chosen by interest groups and social movements are related to their level of organization and ability to mobilize people, and these tactics can be thought of in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty as possible responses. Many social movements as they become more formalized over time become more like interest groups (or in some case change into political parties). In many ways, the more successful a social movement, the more it risks losing what makes it effective.

Assignment Due: Choose a passage from the reading. Write it out, explain what it means and why you chose this passage.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

11/19 The Judiciary

The American legal system is based on the idea of "common law," taken from the older English legal system. In a common law system the authority of the judges to decide cases are emphasized. Many other countries have a "civil law" system where laws are laid out in written codes of law, and the task of judges are to interpret when the laws apply in specific cases. In common law, obviously the judges still have to follow the written laws, but are given more freedom to come to their own decisions. 

However, past decisions of judges are carried over into present cases, so before a case is decided, lawyers and judges consult past court decisions, this is known as "legal precedent," or stare decisis, since judges cannot contradict previous decisions (except in rare circumstances) the authority of past decisions has a strong hold on legal outcomes in the present. Furthermore, another feature of the American legal system are the high frequency of "plea bargains." Again, since common law allows for more interpretation, court cases can be very time consuming. To compensate for this, many cases are "plead out," meaning that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser offense without a trial, in order to speed up the process of coming to a legal decision. Almost 80% of legal decisions in the U.S. are the result of plea bargains.

Many conservatives, oppose what they call "judicial activism" or what they consider to be the judicial branch of government taking too much of a pro-active role in deciding legislation, rather than interpreting the law, as it says in the Constitution. However, this criticism seems to overlook the features of how a common law system works. That being said, the judicial branch has almost always tended to be the most conservative branch of government, the branch least influenced by popular majorities. It should not be surprising, that Alexander Hamilton, the most conservative of the founders, spent the most time emphasizing the importance of the judiciary in the Federalist Papers.


The federal judiciary (of which Hamilton was a prime architect) set up under the Constitution went into effect, along with the Judiciary Act of 1789 which further specified the structure and duties of federal courts. One of the busiest was the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The Judicial branch of the government, makes up so much more than the Supreme Court. The 94 federal district courts are the lowest level of the federal judiciary. Above them, presently, there are 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal, in most cases these are the highest federal judicial authority most people will deal with if they have to. Higher than this is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but it limits the amount of cases it hears every year to about 100. The Supreme Court has a maximum of nine justices of the court including the Chief Justice, and Associate Justices. They are nominated by the President, approved by the Senate and serve life-terms. The power of the court is specified in Article III of the Constitution. 


The primary concern of the Southern District today includes Manhattan and the Bronx and handling cases under "admiralty law" or cases involving trade or shipping disputes with foreign countries or interstate trade from other states. This is a highly sought after position and has been used a springboard for even higher offices, for example before he became Mayor of New York City in 1993, Rudolph Giuliani was the State's Attorney (or federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York. This is distinct from the Government of New York State and the City of New York, and you can see now how the different layers of government: federal, state, and municipal all overlap with each other depending on authority and function.
Southern District of New York

Legal matters involving trade with a foreign country come under the jurisdiction of federal law. Since the port of New York was the busiest port in the country, most cases involving disputes over shipping and international trade would occupy most of the court's activity.


The Supreme Court (as the federalists intended) has tended to play a more conservative role in government, often siding with business interests against attempts to regulate commerce through legislation. However, in the public imagination the court is seen as a crucial part of the civil rights movement, as the institution which finally ended legal segregation in the nation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Ed. By looking at some of the most important cases to come through the Supreme Court we begin to understand better the dual role the court has played in American history.


In judicial history the first really important case heard by the court was Marbury v. Madison in 1803. This case is important because it established the importance of judicial review in the U.S. The power of judicial review is the most important power of the court, and it is a power which is fairly unique to the U.S. supreme court, although all nations have a judicial branch of government, not all nations have this power. Basically, the power of judicial review gives the court the power to cancel out laws passed by Congress or actions undertaken by the executive branch, by determining the constitutionality of laws and actions, the court can deem them to be unconstitutional and thus invalidate them. This power was not clearly specified in the Article III of the Constitution, and it was not until Marbury v. Madison that the power of the court was established.

Since then, the court has weighed on many important matters from the regulation of businesses (Swift & Co. v. U.S.), to freedom of speech (Schenck v. U.S.), civil rights (Brown v. Board of Ed; Loving v. Virginia), abortion (Roe v. Wade), legalization of drugs (Gonzales v. Raich) and the notion of "corporate persons" and the role of money in government (Buckley v. Valeo). As mentioned already it has tended to side more with business interests in cases regarding it, but has also supported the civil rights of minorities. In other words, the court has tended consistently to support minority interests (whatever they may be) against the majority. That being said, at times, the court has been more susceptible to the dominant values of the day, e.g. the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Ed, contradict earlier decisions which affirmed segregation like Plessy v. Feguson or Dred Scott v. Sanford which denied the citizenship and even the humanity of African-Americans. 

Many of the court's decisions have relied on the 14th amendment, specifically, the due process and equal protection clauses. The equal protection clause states that the same standards of law must be applied to everyone, and obviously laws that harm one group of people would fail the test created by the equal protection clause. The concept of due process is something inherited from British political institutions, dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215. The idea of due process states that government must have sufficient reason, and must follow established rules, before it can deprive an individual of their rights. In a modern context, the idea of due process can be broken down into procedural and substantive aspects. Procedural due process establishes formal rules followed by government, and includes things like a warrant to arrest or search someone's property must be obtained; before being charged with a major crime a person must be indicted by a grand jury; that individuals have a right to a trial by jury, that in turn must render a unanimous decision, all of these are procedural aspects of due process, as are prohibitions against torture and cruel and unusual punishment, especially as a means of gaining a confession. If authorities are to gain intelligence they must do through legal means. 

Most of the major cases were not about issues of procedural due process, but substantive due process, which asks whether or not the government has a good reason to deprive someone of their rights. In many cases, the Supreme Court has said no, and have defined many more rights than originally specified in the Constitution, since the 9th amendment mentions "unenumerated" rights that are not specifically named. In some cases, maybe, you want the court to say yes, like the issue of unlimited financing of political campaigns. Many of the rights we enjoy today are a result of rights implied by the Constitution, but defined by judicial review looking at concrete cases. The notion of substantive due process then guides the process of judicial review, which itself has a defined procedure it follows, applying "strict scrutiny" in only the most important cases:


Procedural Due Process: Rules are followed
·      Warrants—4th Amendment
·      Grand Jury—5th Amendment
·      Trial by Jury—6th Amendment
·      Torture—8th Amendment

Substantive Due Process: Does the government have a good reason to deprive someone of liberty?
      Freedom of contract (Lochner v. New York)
·      Right to custody (Troxel v. Granville)
·      Right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut)
·      Right to marriage (Loving v. Virginia)

Judicial Review:
·      Rational basis review: “rationally related to a legitimate government interest”
·      Intermediate scrutiny: equal protections
·      Strict scrutiny: fundamental rights or suspect classification
1.     compelling government interest
2.     narrowly tailored

3.     least restrictive means

The judicial branch continues to play an important role in protecting the rights of minorities (whether it be business interests or ethnic/racial minorities), however it does raise the question of whether the courts are too independent of the majority will. With life terms for federal judges and the lack of any accountability to the populace through elections it is relatively easy for the courts to ignore or defy popular will. The recurring question that will always be associated with the courts are what is the proper balance between the independence of the judges and the demands made by popular majorities?

As we have already discussed, since there are no term limits for federal judges, most serve until they die or retire. The recent death of Antonin Scalia, long considered the most conservative member of the SCOTUS, has recently caused yet another constitutional controversy between the Obama administration and the Republican Congress. Although it clearly specifies in the Constitution that the President is the sole authority to nominate candidates for the federal government (approved by the Senate), Republicans have already declared they will not listen to any nominees put forward by the President. This is blatantly illegal, and does not follow any precedent set in this country. The president serves a four-year term and during the entire length of that term is empowered to make replacements in the federal government when they come up, there is no rule at all that the president cannot do this in their last term of office. Yet, another example of the unpatriotic and frankly illegal obstructionism shown by Republicans. It should be said though that the President has also once again disappointed his liberal supporters, by nominating a conservative judge, Merrick Garland, to take Scalia's place. Although, it certainly make Republicans look bad, since some have actually named Garland in the past as a good candidate for a judge, only to disapprove once Obama nominated him, it does not say much for the current President's willingness to stand up to the conservative establishment.



Assignment: Choose one of the Supreme Court case summaries and select a passage, write out the passage, explain how the decision was made, and then explain why you chose it and why you believe this case is important.