FDR and the Modern Presidency: Leadership and Legacy

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson | Go to book overview
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The Utility of Newness: State
Managers and the Creation of
Civil Works

Michael Lewis

Over the past fifteen years, a debate has arisen in political sociology over the source of power in the development of policy. In this debate two views have emerged. Supporters of the first view contend that political struggles are essential contests between social and economic classes. In this view the state is nothing more than an arena in which conflicts over basic social and economic interests are fought. It is further asserted by society-centered theorists that, due to their control of the economic forces of society, elites will usually win these political battles.1

In contrast to the society-centered view, Theda Skocpol and others argue that "states may be sites of official autonomous action, not reducible to the demands or preferences of any social group(s)."2 State autonomy theorists assert that state managers often have agendas separate from those of economic elites. Further, the existing structure of the state may affect policy by determining what is politically practical or possible.

Although much has been written on this subject (or perhaps because of it), there is still no clear consensus on what a state must do to become "relatively autonomous."3 While I do not intend to address this issue completely in the course of this chapter, I would like to offer one possible circumstance as a clear example of an autonomous state. If by "autonomy" we mean that the state is capable of something more than reflecting the


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