The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions

By Eugene J. McCarthy | Go to book overview
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16
The Cult of the Expert

Following the elections of 1968, Henry Kissinger, the Nixon assistant in charge of national security, replaced the Johnson assistant, Walt Rostow. The office of assistant for national-security affairs is something new in our government. It is not provided for in the Constitution or in any law passed by the Congress. The powers of the office are undefined, though certainly great.

Mr. Rostow came from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Kissinger from the department of government at Harvard. Mr. Rostow brought with him his best-known book, The Stages of Economic Growth, which hold that a nation goes through more or less certain stages of economic growth. Mr. Kissinger brought as a text his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, the thesis of which is that nuclear weapons have brought about a qualitative change in foreign policy. Both Mr. Rostow and Mr. Kissinger are classified as intellectuals.

Borrowing from a remark by G. K. Chesterton, one could say that years ago whenever a problem arose in the United States, someone said that we needed a practical man, and unfortunately there was usually one around.

Acceptance of the intellectual's role in government has been a gradual movement of the past forty years. The role began with the "brain trust" of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Members of that group were never more than consultants who were held at arm's length. The separation of government and the scholars was maintained. President Roosevelt was careful never to arm the clerks with power or even the appearance of power or to admit that they knew more about political problems than did the Cabinet members. His special assistants -- men like Harry Hopkins -- were identified as practical politicians and special operators.

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The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions
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