Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Isaiah Berlin's approach to history of philosophy

Isaiah Berlin's approach to the study of philosophy was strikingly different from that taken by practitioners of the technical disciplines of analytic philosophy. In the style of analytic philosophy, a study should consist of pure abstract arguments to be assessed on the basis of their apparent logical cogency. Berlin was more interested in treating philosophical ideas in their particular historical and intellectual settings, and to probe the ways in which those ideas contributed to the ability of human beings to make sense of the world in which they lived.

A good example of Berlin's style of philosophizing is found in his introduction to The Age of Enlightenment. (Here is a link to an online version of the book; link.) The extensive essays in the volume are devoted to Locke, Hume, and Berkeley, with shorter pieces on other writers. Berlin organizes his treatment around a reflective discussion of how philosophical questions are different from empirical or logical questions.

Philosophical problems arise when men ask questions of themselves or of others which, though very diverse, have certain characteristics in common. These questions tend to be very general, to involve issues of principle, and to have little or no concern with practical utility. But what is even more characteristic of them is that there seem to be no obvious and generally accepted procedures for answering them, nor any class of specialists to whom we automatically turn for the solutions. Indeed there is something peculiar about the questions themselves: those who ask them do not seem any too certain about what kind of answers they require, or indeed how to set about finding them. (1)

But unlike the philosophers of the Vienna Circle who advocated for the verificationist principle of significance and therefore categorically rejected questions like these, Berlin believes these questions are meaningful and worthy of study.

The history of such questions, and of the means employed to provide the answers, is, in effect, the history of philosophy. The frame of ideas within which, and the methods by which, various thinkers at various times try to arrive at the truth about such issues – the very ways in which the questions themselves are construed –change under the influence of many forces, among them answers given by philosophers of an earlier age, the prevailing moral, religious and social beliefs of the period, the state of scientific knowledge, and, not least important, the methods used by the scientists of the time, especially if they have achieved spectacular successes, and have, therefore, bound their spell upon the imagination of their own and later generations. (2)

Berlin construes the development of philosophy throughout the Enlightenment as the efforts of philosophers like Locke, Hume, and Berkeley to find resources for analyzing these kinds of problems in a rigorous way -- e.g. mathematics or Newton's mechanics. But ultimately these efforts were rejected by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason.

The heroic attempt to make philosophy a natural science was brought to an end by the great break with the traditions both of rationalism and of empiricism as they had developed hitherto, inaugurated by Kant, whose philosophical views are the source of much of the thought of the nineteenth century, and are not included in the compass of this volume. (15)

So here we have Berlin, acknowledging the oddness of philosophical questions but respecting the reflective efforts of philosophers to find rigorous ways of approaching them using the best thinking of their times. Whether he would have used this language or not, Berlin treats this tradition as a "bootstrapping" effort to move from challenging but indefinite questions to questions amenable to rational reflective analysis.

Consider next Berlin's treatment of anti-Enlightenment philosophers (Vico, Herder, and J.G. Hamann) in Three Critics of the Enlightenment. Here is how Berlin distinguishes between the philosophical perspective of Herder and that of the philosophers of the Enlightenment:

Herder’s fame rests on the fact that he is the father of the related notions of nationalism, historicism and the Volksgeist, one of the leaders of the Romantic revolt against classicism, rationalism and faith in the omnipotence of scientific method – in short, the most formidable of the adversaries of the French philosophes and their German disciples. Whereas they – or at least the best known among them, d’Alembert, Helvétius, Holbach and, with qualifications, Voltaire and Diderot, Wolff and Reimarus – believed that reality was ordered in terms of universal, timeless, objective, unalterable laws which rational investigation could discover, Herder maintained that every activity, situation, historical period or civilisation possessed a unique character of its own; so that the attempt to reduce such phenomena to combinations of uniform elements, and to describe or analyse them in terms of universal rules, tended to obliterate precisely those crucial differences which constituted the specific quality of the object under study, whether in nature or in history. (208)

Berlin undertakes to probe more deeply into the particularism and historicism that is commonly attributed to Herder. He begins by attempting to trace some of the intellectual and philosophical lineage of Herder's views, and identifies a line of development from Voltaire and Montesquieu through Schlözer, Gatterer, and Vico (second hand), along with a number of other writers of the seventeenth century. Notably, Berlin finds that the "historicism" attributed to Herder was familiar in these earlier writers as well. Even one of Herder's central ideas, "spirit of the nation", has clear and evident precedents:

The notion of the spirit of a nation or a culture had been central not only to Vico and Montesquieu, but to the famous publicist Friedrich Karl von Moser, whom Herder read and knew, to Bodmer and Breitinger, to Hamann and to Zimmermann. (213)

So far, then, Herder is a synthesizer, although a gifted one:

If Herder had done no more than create a genuine synthesis out of these attitudes and doctrines, and built with them, if not a system, at any rate a coherent Weltanschauung destined to have a decisive influence on the literature and thought of his country, this alone would have been a high enough achievement to earn for him a unique place in the history of civilisation. Invention is not everything. (217)

So what, then, were Herder's distinctive contributions, according to Berlin? Berlin highlights three ideas: populism (the value of belonging to a group); expressionism (the capacity of art to express the individual or group's identity); and pluralism (the idea of the multiplicity and sometimes "incommensurability of the values of different cultures" (218). Berlin argues that these three ideas are new, and they are at odds with the doctrines of the Enlightenment. And Berlin's strongest philosophical ideas about Herder take the form of development of these three ideas, and their significance for later generations. And Berlin finds encapsulated in these ideas an impassioned advocacy for freedom and against centralized tyranny.

The German mission is not to conquer; it is to be a nation of thinkers and educators. This is their true glory. Sacrifice – self-sacrifice – not the domination of one man over another, is the proper end of man. Herder sets his face against everything that is predatory, against the use of force in any cause but that of self-defence. The Crusades, no matter how Christian in inspiration, are hateful to him, since they conquered and crushed other human communities. (229)

Another important and distinctive contribution contained in Herder's work is his emphasis on the importance and historicity of language:

Hence Herder’s stress on the importance of genetic studies and the history of language, and hence, too, the great impulsion that he gave to studies of comparative linguistics, comparative anthropology and ethnology, and above all to the great philological movement that became the pride of German scholarship towards the end of his life and in the century that followed. His own efforts in this direction were no less suggestive or speculative than those of Vico. After declaring, in language borrowed from Lavater, that the ‘physiognomy of languages’ is all-important, he insisted, for example, that the languages which preserved genders (such as Russian, with which he came into contact during his Riga years) implied a vision of a world different from the world of those whose languages are sexless; so too did particular uses of pronouns. (239)

There is much more of interest in Berlin's treatment of Herder. What is particularly striking is the breadth of Berlin's own knowledge of the intellectual and philosophical context within which Herder worked, and his ability to work out in detail the implications of some of Herder's central ideas. This is not "Herder for dummies"; rather, it is a profound and extended seminar that seeks to explicate Herder's ideas and place Herder's thought into an ongoing intellectual history.

Berlin's philosophical writings show some very appealing intellectual qualities -- exactness of observation, ability to place variation in context, and a broad knowledge of the intellectual context of a given philosopher's work. The thinker from Riga has left a permanent and always enlightening legacy.

* * * * *

Michael Michael Ignatieff's Isaiah Berlin: A Life is outstanding. Here is a link to the Berlin Virtual Library at Oxford (link), which contains a number of interesting secondary materials.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Mechanisms of extremist mobilization

The increase in public belief in core claims of far-right extremism in the United States is alarming. Central among those beliefs is the "Great Replacement" theory advocated by Fox News pundits, and contributing to white supremacist mobilization and violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a public opinion survey in spring 2022 (link) and found "substantial public support" for "great replacement" theory; and, not surprisingly, this support differed significantly by party affiliation, gender, and age. Here are several particularly striking tables from the report.

The first graph provides data showing a stark difference between Republicans and Democrats concerning attitudes towards rising racial diversity in the United Staes. 47% of Republic respondents were somewhat or very negative about this fact, whereas 63% of Democrats were somewhat or very positive about this fact. The second table indicates that 58% of Republicans feel strongly, somewhat, or a little that this fact is a threat to white Americans, whereas 67% of Democrats feel that this fact is not a threat to white Americans. 

The rise of extremist beliefs and violence in the US (and in other liberal democracies) raises many questions. Especially important is the topic of mechanisms: what are the pathways and strategies through which extremist ideologies and activism are conveyed? Cynthia Miller-Idriss's Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right provides granular details about how right-wing extremist groups are currently mobilizing young people in support of their causes. Her account is eye-opening. Her focus is on the techniques of mobilization that extremist leaders and activists have chosen to influence potential followers to get engaged and to follow their lead. Ideology and rhetoric play important roles in these efforts; but so do music, style, sports, and food. Here is her brief description of the underlying ideologies of the far right:

Far-right ideologies are hierarchical and exclusionary. They establish clear lines of superiority and inferiority according to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, and sexuality. This includes a range of racist, anti-immigrant, nativist, nationalist, white-supremacist, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others) beliefs. At their extreme, these are ideologies that dehumanize groups of people who are deemed to be inferior, in ways that have justified generations of violence in such forms as white supremacy, patriarchy, Christian supremacy, and compulsory heterosexuality. These kinds of ideologies have imbued individuals from the dominant groups with a sense of perceived superiority over others: slaves, nonwhites, women, non-Christians, or the LGBTQ+ community. (6)

Miller-Idriss focuses on "youth" mobilization -- not because this is the only segment of population that is active in far-right activism and violence, but because success with young people lays the ground for an even greater level of activism in the future.

In this light, the efforts of organized far-right groups to engage with young people in the spaces and places described in this book—combat sports and MMA clubs, music scenes, YouTube cooking channels, college campuses, and a variety of youth-oriented online spaces like gaming chatrooms or social-media platforms—are especially important. Far-right groups have always worked to recruit young people to their movements and politicize youth spaces like concerts, festivals, youth-oriented events, and music lyrics. These are sometimes referred to as youth “scenes”—a word that reflects a less hierarchical and more disorganized structure than traditional social movements. Today there exists a broader range of spaces, places, and scenes to engage young people in the far right. Older leaders in far-right movements rely on college students for speaking invitations and campus activism. They recruit young people to join boxing gyms and compete in combat sports tournaments. Propaganda videos featuring fit, young men in training camps and shooting ranges use music and imagery clearly oriented toward younger recruits. (23-24)

And she emphasizes that the majority of these young people are men. 

It’s not only youth who drive most of the violence on the far right, of course. Mostly, it’s youth who are men. There is much to say about masculinity and toxic masculinity as drivers of far-right violence in both online and off-line contexts, through online harassment and trolling as well as physical violence against others. It’s also important to note that we have seen and are still seeing increasing participation of women in the far right, including in violent fringe and terrorist groups. Women also enable the far right in important ways, whether through YouTube cooking videos that create a softer entry or by playing more supportive roles in extremist movements as mothers, partners, and wives who help to reproduce white nations. (24-25)

Miller-Idriss describes a progression of engagement with far-right activism:

Far-right youth today might initially encounter extremist narratives through chance encounters in mainstream spaces like the MMA, a campus auditorium, a podcast, or a YouTube video. Each of those mainstream spaces, however, can act as a channel, opening the door to dedicated far-right MMA festivals, alt-tech platforms and encrypted communication platforms, and dedicated YouTube subscriptions that mix mainstream interest in cooking or music with far-right ideology. Understanding these new spaces and places—the geography of hate—is key to comprehending the far right in its modern form. (25-26)

This approach emphasizes the importance of studying the spaces within which far-right extremist narratives are conveyed and where they find the beginnings of a mass audience. And she points out that memes of "place and space" play a major role in the narratives of the far right -- in polemics and in popular culture:

Fans of one clothing brand that is well-known for its use of far-right symbols could connect with other brand fans and learn about in-person meet-ups on a now-defunct Tumblr blog. In 2016, this included an announcement of a one-week trip to the “lands of Hyperborea—a mythical pre-historic motherland of our race”—in the region of the Karelia and Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia. Hyperborea was also the name of a prior clothing product line for the German brand Ansgar Aryan, which featured website and catalog text that explained the importance of Hyperborea and described its epic battle between the people of the “light” and the “dark men.” (37)

An especially interesting feature of M-I's research focuses on clothing style within popular culture, and the symbolic importance that far-right extremists place on "costume":

For a generation of adults who grew up with images of far-right extremists as racist Nazi skinheads, far-right aesthetics had clear signals: a uniform style of shaved heads, high black combat boots, and leather bomber jackets. You would be hard-pressed to find a bomber jacket in far-right youth scenes today. The past few years have seen a dramatic shift in the aesthetics of far-right extremism, as the far right has all but abandoned the shaved heads and combat boots of the racist skinhead in favor of a hip, youth-oriented style that blends in with the mainstream. (62)

In the years since white-supremacist blogger Andrew Anglin urged his followers to dress in “hip” and “cool” ways at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, far-right fashion has rapidly evolved. The clean-cut aesthetic of the white polo shirts and khakis that drew national attention in 2017 has been supplanted by new brands marketing the far right, with messages and symbols embedded in clothing to convey white-supremacist ideology. (78)

In Northwest Washington, DC, I glanced out of my office window and saw a young man with an imperial eagle emblazoned across his jacket—part of a British fashion brand’s controversial logo, which has been likened to the Nazi eagle symbol. Later that year, I shared a campus elevator with a man wearing a “patriotic” brand T-shirt whose advertising tagline is “forcing hipsters into their safe space, one shirt at a time.” Symbols and messaging on otherwise ordinary clothing help signal connections to far-right ideology and organized movements—like the torch-bearing Charlottesville marcher, for example, whose polo shirt bore a logo from the white-supremacist group Identity Evropa. (78-79)

And what is the function of extremist branding of clothing? It is to establish "signaling" among a group of people, and to "mainstream" the messages of the hate-based extremist right.

Hate clothing celebrates violence in the name of a cause—often using patriotic images and phrases and calls to act like an American, along with Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and white-supremacist messages. In this way, far-right clothing links patriotism with violence and xenophobia. On one T-shirt, a saluting, grimacing emoji wielding a semiautomatic gun replaces the stars in the American flag, overlaid with the words “locked-n-loaded;” on the back of the T-shirt, the text reads “White American/Hated by Many/Zero F#cks Given.” In the “about” section of the website, the company explains it was “not founded on prejudice, seperatism (sic) or racism, but simply out of pride.” (80)

M-I also notes the importance of extremist music in the mobilization of young people: 

New genres of racist music—such as “fashwave” (fascism wave, a variant of electronic music) and white-power country and pop—have broadened far-right music scenes far beyond the hard rock style typically associated with white-power music. Across the globe, the commercial and cultural spaces the far right uses to reach new audiences and communicate its ideologies have expanded rapidly—aided in no small part by social media and “brand fan” image-sharing sites that help promote and circulate new products. (69-70)

And these fashions in extremist music have effect in the broader population:

Decades of research on far-right youth culture has shown how particular facets of subcultures and youth scenes—like hate music—can spread intolerance and prejudice against minorities, not only in expected genres like right-wing hard rock and black metal, but also in more mainstream genres like country and pop music. (82)

The most surprising part of M-I's book is her treatment of fight clubs and mixed martial arts. She regards these as important vectors of extremist mobilization in many countries. 

By the mid-2000s, MMA gyms across the European continent had developed a reputation as places where far-right youth were recruited and radicalized. This was a significant shift for violent far-right youth scenes, which had previously been oriented around soccer hooliganism and stadium brawls, but were now gravitating toward the MMA world. Journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks, and watchdog groups have documented connections between the MMA world and white supremacists across Europe and North America. (97)

In retrospect, it isn’t surprising that the far right homed in on MMA and other combat sports like jujitsu and boxing as a perfect way to channel ideologies and narratives about national defense, military-style discipline, masculinity, and physical fitness to mainstream markets. Hitler himself had advocated for the importance of combat sports for training Nazi soldiers. The National Socialist Sturmabteilung (storm division, or storm troopers) incorporated not only calisthenics but also boxing and jujitsu as a core part of training for street fights. (95)

She notes that this phenomenon is under-studied in North America, but equally present.

MMA is a perfect incubator for the far right. It helps recruit new youth to the movement from adjacent subcultures, introducing key far-right messages about discipline, resistance to the mainstream, and apocalyptic battles. The combat-sports scene helps the far right motivate youth around ideals related to physical fitness, strength, combat, and violence. This mobilization calls on youth to train physically to defend the nation and white European civilization against the dual threats posed by immigrants and the degenerate left. At the same time, MMA and combat sports reinforce dominant ideals about masculinity and being a man—related not only to violence, risk, and danger but also to solidarity, brotherhood, and bonding.47 The MMA world also helps radicalize and mobilize youth by intensifying far-right ideals about masculinity and violence and the range of exclusionary and dehumanizing ideologies that relate to the supposed incursion of immigrants, the coming of “Eurabia,” “white genocide,” or the “great replacement.” (100-101)

MMA also has the advantage of a built-in structure to reach out to groups of young men through local gyms’ efforts to increase profitability and broaden their client base. Local MMA gyms in the United States, for example, regularly host live sparring demonstrations for broader communities—at open houses, martial-arts facilities, fraternity houses, and university and community centers—to promote their gyms. (104)

In addition to these aspects of cultural mobilization on the far right, M-I also sheds light on the increase that has occurred on university campuses in the open promulgation of extremist speech and mobilization and the sustained attack on the supposed "cultural Marxism" endemic in university faculties. 

Propaganda, white-supremacist fliers, racist graffiti, and provocative speaking tours have brought hate to campuses across the country in new ways, exposing hundreds of thousands of students to far-right ideologies. This kind of hate intimidates and threatens members of vulnerable groups, unsettles campus climates, and creates significant anxiety around student safety and well-being. Students at Syracuse University who staged a sit-in in November 2019 following more than a dozen hate incidents at the university told journalists that they didn’t feel safe on campus. (120)

There is much more of interest in Hate in the Homeland. The book should be priority reading for anyone interested in stemming the rise of extremism in western liberal democracies. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Decline of support for democratic norms

The signs of authoritarian and extremist assaults on the US constitutional democracy are ominous and increasing. The former president's explicit lawlessness and alignment with white supremacism; the governor of Florida's unrelenting assault on freedom of speech, academic freedom, the freedom of students to learn about their history, and even the freedom of major companies like Disney to express values of diversity and inclusion in their business activities; the evidence of conspiracy to commit acts of violent insurrection emerging from the trial of leaders of the Proud Boys (link) -- these are all developments that feel like the tremors that precede a volcano. Far right extremists are pressing their agenda, from paramilitary groups to high elected officials.

So where does the US public stand? What are the current attitudes of the citizens of our democracy? Researchers at the Allegheny College Center for Political Participation have disturbing news on that front as well, based on a national representative survey conducted in 2018 (link). Andrew Bloeser, Tarah Williams, Candaisy Crawford, and Brian Harward report the results of public opinion research on attitudes toward several related topics relating to disaffection from democratic norms. They published their primary results in "Are Stealth Democrats Really Committed to Democracy? Process Preferences Revisited" (link). They describe stealth democrats in these terms: "When it comes to governance, many Americans prefer uncompromising political leaders who take decisive action, rather than those who debate issues and are open to finding common ground" (1). Here is the abstract to the paper:

Scholarship on “stealth democracy” finds that many citizens want to avoid the debate and conflict that often come with democratic governance. This scholarship has argued that citizens adopt this posture because they are uncomfortable with disagreement and desire a more expedient political process that enables leaders to make decisions without discussion or compromise. We revisit this argument in light of recent political developments that suggest another reason why citizens may desire a more expedient political process. We examine the possibility that some citizens are not merely uncomfortable with disagreement but also want leaders who will aggressively protect them and champion their interests. Using a nationally representative survey, we ask citizens about their preferences for stealth democracy. We also ask questions that tap into their willingness to support leaders who would “bend the rules for supporters” and take aggressive action against political opponents. We find that a substantial component of the electorate continues to prefer a stealth version of democracy. However, we also find that many “stealth democrats” are willing to support leadership practices that would threaten or even undermine democratic norms. We argue that this evidence indicates that, in recent years, many citizens who appear to desire “stealth democracy” pose a threat to democracy itself. 

In a more recent article in The Conversation (link) these researchers use the same data set to suggest that a disturbing fraction of the US population favor measures clearly associated with authoritarian rule. Consider responses to the statement, "The only way our country can solve its current problems is by supporting tough leaders who will crack down on those who undermine American values." 92% of "Strong Republicans" agree with this statement; 62% of Independents agree with the statement; and 59% of Strong Democrats in the sample agree with the statement. Consider another key statement: "To protect the interests of people like you, political leaders must sometimes bend the rules to get things done." 49% of Strong Republicans agree; 28% of Independents agree; and 36% of Strong Democrats agree. And what does this statement involve? It involves the rule of law.

These findings suggest a significant erosion of support for constitutional democracy in favor of strongman government like that of Viktor Orbán in Hungary. 

Why would US citizens develop a set of political values that favor the restriction or elimination of limits on the use of executive power -- by governors or presidents -- that very well could lead to harm to themselves and their families? A constitution exists to ensure equal treatment to all citizens and to establish equal liberties for all citizens; so why would some citizens favor authoritarian rule over constitutional protections? One possible motivation is the misplaced confidence that the strongman who emerges will naturally protect the interests of one's own group. But logic and history both suggest that all citizens benefit from constitutional and legal protections, and surrendering those for shortterm anxieties is a horrible mistake.

Seeing the behavior of the preponderance of GOP elected officials and the opinion research data offered by the Allegheny group raises major concerns about the future of US democracy -- as Levitsky and Ziblatt argued in How Democracies Die. Similar processes have already advanced even further in other countries, including Hungary and India. Compare the 2018 Allegheny College survey of US voters with a survey of Hungarian voters conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2022 (link). The Pew survey of Hungarian voters suggests a decline in Hungarian democracy under Orbán's rule since about 2012. (Similar results show up in a 2017 public opinion survey conducted in Hungary by the Center for Insights in Survey Research; link.)

What will it take to reinvigorate broad public allegiance to the institutions of a constitutional democracy? We would like to imagine that reactionary developments like overturning Roe v. Wade would have the effect of mobilizing vast numbers of voters in support of the rule of law and the voice of the people, and indeed the 2022 elections showed that effect (link). But how will a weary public and "stealth democrats" deal with continuing efforts to restrict voting rights, create gerrymandered districts, and assault basic constitutional rights like freedom of speech and learning in public schools? Will we gain the commitment and courage to speak and act in support of our democracy?

And what will it take to struggle against the anti-democratic efforts of politicians like Kari Lake in Arizona? (The very idea, now the subject of speculation in Arizona, that Lake might be a strong contender in the 2024 Senate race in Arizona is almost beyond belief. What voter could ever support a person running for elected office who has already demonstrated that she will only accept the outcome of the election if it goes in her favor?) When will the reputation for rejecting the laws and norms of a democracy become a political liability for these unscrupulous politicians?

Thursday, February 2, 2023

New public administration 1968-2002

Image: org chart, Housing and Urban Development (9,500 staff)

Herbert Simon's important contribution to the study of administrative organizations appeared in 1947, with the title Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organizations. It is a remarkably sophisticated book in the social scientific study of bureaucracy and large organizations. (Here is an earlier discussion of some of the main lines of thought in the book (link).) Simon provides a treatment of four of what he takes to be the key mechanisms underlying the operations of large organizations: authority, communications, efficiency, and "organizational identification". These mechanisms contribute to the ability of leaders to coordinate the actions of subordinates in pursuit of goals and plans articulated on behalf of the organization and its division. The book is still worth reading carefully.

In the 1960s there was a flurry of discussion and debate within the field of public administration about how thinking in the field ought to be reconceived. Much of this thinking was summarized in a volume edited by Frank Marini with the title Toward a New Public Administration: The Minnowbrook Perspective. It is now worth asking whether that burst of disciplinary energy lead to new insights about the workings of public agencies. Unhappily, it appears that it did not.

H. George Frederickson's contribution to the Marini volume provided a substantive synthesis of the field at that time. Frederickson was a leader in the field of public administration, and he was a pivotal figure in reconvening the Minnowbrook Conference in 1988 to assess progress since the first Minnowbrook Conference in 1968. Frederickson summarizes the thrust of "New Public Administration" in these terms (included in Shafritz and Hyde, Classics of Public Administration (3rd ed.)).

New Public Administration adds social equity to the classic objectives and rationale. Conventional or classic Public Administration seeks to answer either of these questions: (1) How can we offer more or better services with available resources (efficiency)? or (2) how can we maintain our level of services while spending less money (economy)? New Public Administration adds this question: Does this service enhance social equity? (369)

He observes that specific emphasis on social equity is needed because ...

Pluralistic government systematically discriminates in favor of established stable bureaucracies and their established minority clientele (the Department of Agriculture and large farmers as an example) and against those minorities (farm laborers, both migrant and permanent, as an example) who lack political and economic resources.... Social equity, then, includes activities designed to enhance the political power and economic well-being of these minorities. 369

This realization within the profession of academic public administration represents a recognition of the fact that agencies work within an environment of private actors, and some of those actors have substantially greater power through which to influence agency choices. Agencies are to some extent "open systems". This is the feature of "industry capture" that arises in the case of regulatory agencies. And it is certainly a good thing that the field of academic public administration was encouraged to shift its focus towards equity, not just efficiency and cost-cutting.

What the New Public Administration literature seems not to have addressed is the need for a meso-level analysis of the internal workings of agencies (and firms). This is a virtue of Simon's book, but it seems not to have carried over as a central focus into the paradigms of the New Public Administration. The only meso-level analysis offered in Frederickson's summary of the field concerns the topic of hierarchy. And his observations about "hierarchy" within governmental organizations come into dialogue with Simon's views. Here are a few passages:

Authority hierarchies are the primary means by which the work of persons in publicly administered organizations is coordinated. The formal hierarchy is the most obvious and easiest-to-identify part of the permanent and on-going organization. Administrators are seen as persons taking roles in the hierarchy and performing tasks that are integrated through the hierarchies to constitute a cohesive goal-seeking whole. The public administrator has customarily been regarded as the one who builds and maintains the organization through the hierarchy. He attempts to understand formal-informal relationships, status, politics, and power in authority hierarchies. The hierarchy environment is at once an ideal design and a hospitable for the person who wishes to manage, control, or direct the work of large numbers of people.

The counterproductive characteristics of hierarchies are now well known. New Public Administration is probably best understood as advocating modified hierarchic systems. Several means both in theory and practice are utilized to modify traditional hierarchies. The first and perhaps the best known is the project or matrix technique. The project is, by definition, temporary. (374)

Frederickson considers several alternatives to the authority hierarchies described here.

The search for less structured, less formal, and less authoritative integrative techniques in publicly administered organizations is only beginning. The preference for these types of organizational modes implies first a relative tolerance for variation.... The second problem [with less formal methods] is in the inherent conflict between higher-and lower-level administrators in less formal, integrative systems.... (375)

This passage suggests the conflict of priorities emphasized by Fligstein and McAdam in their treatment of organizations as strategic action fields (link).

This short discussion of the role and effectiveness of hierarchy is the only example I can find of efforts within the program of new public administration to open up the black box of the workings of a public agency, and this is a blindspot for the discipline.

Decades later Frederickson and Todd R. LaPorte published an article of interest to readers of Understanding Society, "Airport Security, High Reliability, and the Problem of Rationality" (link). (LaPorte is a major contributor to the literature on high-reliability organizations (link).) The establishment of the Transportation Security Administration following the September 11 attacks is the central example. The article reflects some new thinking for public administration from the twenty-first century. The primary new contribution is incorporation of the emerging literature on high-reliability organizations, and the authors' treatment of air safety from that perspective. The authors also give a nod to normal-accident theory, without working out the implications of Perrow's theory in the case of air safety organizations.

And in fact, Frederickson and LaPorte offer enough information about the air safety system to make us very dubious that it constitutes a "high-reliability organization" at all. Consider this relatively detailed description of the air safety system:

With the passage of the Aviation Security Act, the formal governance of the air passenger and baggage security system becomes the responsibility of the TSA, an agency in the Department of Transportation. Under the direction of the secretary of transportation, the TSA has dotted-line responsibilities to other executive agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget and now the Office of Homeland Security. Just as important, however, are contemporary patterns of congressional comanagement and the dotted-line relationships of the TSA to the Senate and House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, and, of course, to the appropriations committees and sub- committees (Gilmour and Halley 1994). The complex horizontal, lateral, and vertical network of participants in the air travel security system is still in place, augmented now by the coordinating role of the Office of Homeland Security (Moynihan and Roberts 2002). While the establishment of the TSA concentrates air passenger and baggage responsibility directly in governmental hands and provides a system of finance that is independent of the air carriers, it does not reduce the system's overall fragmentation and complexity. Much of the contemporary debate over whether the Office of Homeland Security should have more than just coordinating responsibilities has to do with perceived disarticulation between the fragmented components of the air security system. (39)

This is exactly the kind of complexity and tight coupling that Charles Perrow identifies as a potent source of "normal" accidents. It is not at all hard to see how this "complex ... network of participants" can lead to miscommunication, conflicting priorities, principal-agent problems, and the other sources of organizational dysfunction that lead to disaster. "Fragmentation and complexity" are exactly the attributes that have led to major failures, from intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks to the lack of coordination between principal and contractors in the Deepwater Horizon disaster (link).

It would appear, then, that the field of public administration has not made a lot of progress in incorporating and extending the insights of organizational sociology to permit a better understanding of success and failure in government agencies. More case studies are needed to allow us to better understand the workings (and failures) of government agencies, and a more focused attention to the findings of the sociology of organizational failure would be a very welcome infusion.