Monday, April 18, 2011

Rational Government?

Elizabeth Drew had a post ready for NYRBlog almost as soon as an agreement on the budget had been reached to prevent the shutdown of the United States Government.  As usual, she did an excellent job in providing a “post-game” analysis, with both recent and historical context to put the week’s antics in their proper perspective.  I find it ironic that Donald Trump seems to have taken the closure of these follies as a cue to start testing the waters for his own run for the Presidency, and I can only imagine that Drew is warming up her fingers for her next assault on her keyboard.

Nevertheless, that irony is also a reflection of one of the key assertions in Drew’s Friday post.  Reviewing the who production of political theater over the budget, she concludes that it raises the question of “whether in the current political circumstances, this country can be governed in any rational way.”  That appeal to rationality strikes me as a bit naïve, coming from someone with so much experience in watching politicians at work.  One would have thought that Drew would have recognized Max Weber’s precept that politics is ultimately all about power and who gets to exercise how much of it.  Furthermore, issues of power are situated along the “dimension of domination” in Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory, which Giddens identified as “orthogonal” (my word, not his) to the dimension of “signification,” along which we engage rational thinking to make sense of the world.  To play with words a bit, there may be a rationale behind actions taken over matters of power;  but the motives behind those actions need not necessarily be rational!

Even our Founding Fathers realized that the new country that had just emerged would not (and probably could not) be “governed in any rational way.”  This is why separation of powers and the need for checks and balances played such a significant role in the Constitution that was drafted.  It was also why “selling” those concepts was a major “selling point” in The Federalist, those papers published and circulated to encourage the ratification of that Constitution by all thirteen newly-formed states.  Even Peanuts recognized the inadequacy of rationality in the face of power.  In the words of Lucy van Pelt:

He was beginning to make sense, so I hit him.

No comments: