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

By Eugene J. McCarthy | Go to book overview
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29
Out of Phase

No society can make orderly progress unless its philosophy, its poli. cies, and its programs are reasonably in phase. Philosophy, policy, and program were in phase at the founding of our country. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and their fellow conspirators had a philosophy of government and of social organization. They had policies by which they sought to make that philosophy a reality in history. They had a program: the Revolutionary War and the establishment of a new government. It all went together.

Today, in almost every major area of political and social concern, philosophy, policy, and program are out of phase. We have in some areas more philosophy than we have either policy or program; in some, we have policies without philosophy or program; in others, the program dominates both policy and philosophy.

Take first the issue of civil rights, especially as it relates to equality under the law. Our philosophy is beyond reproach. We hold that all persons are created equal, that all citizens of the United States are entitled to equal protection under the law. Yet our policies -- some fixed into law -- did not until recently come close to reflecting our philosophy. And even now, when policies have been brought closer to philosophy, principally because of Supreme Court decisions, programs to achieve the objectives of the policies fall short.

We have a policy about poverty in this country. Stated quite simply, the policy is to eliminate either poverty or the poor. The program to accomplish this is not only underfinanced, but it is based on a misconception of the nature and causes of poverty in the United States. We are still proceeding on Herbert Spencer's nineteenthcentury philosophy that poverty is its own reward, and that poverty reflects faults that should not be encouraged by public help. Thus President Nixon in supporting his family-assistance program said

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