American-born Theodore J. Lowi is a prominent figure in political science as well as sociology and law. Lowi is considered to be one of the most influential political scientists of modern times, making significant contributions during the 1970s.
Lowi coined the term "interest-group liberalism," which was regarded at the time as a new public philosophy dominating politics in the United States. This viewpoint considered government expansion as a social good, in contrast to "old liberalism" – previously referred to as conservatism. Lowi studied the proliferation of public programs in the United States, among them the "Great Society." This was established by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and was seen as the flagship of the president's war on poverty. In the 1970s and 1980s, interest-group liberalism as a theory of political power was widely believed to be an alternative to Robert A. Dahl's pluralist theory of political power.
Lowi was born on July 9, 1931, in Gadsden, Alabama. He received a BA from Michigan State University in 1954 and obtained both his M.A. (1955) and PhD (1961) from Yale University. Lowi joined the Cornell faculty in 1959 and stayed until 1965. He served on the political science faculty at the University of Chicago from 1965 to 1972. In 1972, Lowi became the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Government Department at Cornell University and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected President of the American Political Science Association in 1990.
Lowi has served as President of the Policy Studies Organization and the International Political Science Association and has been a member of the latter's research committee on world pluralism and minority representation. His primary areas of research are American government, public policy and political institutions, as well as the politics of globalization. He also worked on a critical history of the American Democratic party. Lowi's numerous books include The End of Liberalism (1969, 1979) and The Pursuit of Justice (1964), a collaborative effort with Robert F. Kennedy.
The End of Liberalism, Lowi's seminal book, was first published in 1969. It offered a review of the role of interest groups in the government of the United States, arguing that the government sees demands by nearly all pressure group as legitimate and considers its job is to balance and advance their petitions, rarely taking national policy into account. Lowi's theory opposed pluralist theories of political power, supported by Dahl and others, according to which interest groups secure competition and represent an essential democratic link between government and people.
Lowi argues that the liberal state neglected self-examination while growing to its huge size and presence thus failing to see the problematic consequences of its development. Responding to demands by major interest groups s the government assumed responsibility for programs that these coalitions sought and assigned it to administrative agencies. Gradually, through negotiation and compromise, interest groups exerted their influence on the agencies, a tendency that Lowi defined as clientelism.
The use of the term liberalism in Lowi's theory refers not to political opinions, but to the term's meaning in political philosophy, where it denotes those that define democracy in accordance with some decision making process, rather than those that go by standards of justice in the government practice. According to Lowi, liberalism in the process of decision making pervaded the values of decision makers in the United States' legislative, executive, and judicial branches, so that legislation was drawn up and interpreted without going by reliable and unambiguous standards of administration and justice. In order to reform this system of political power, Lowi called for institutional reforms to introduce clear and unambiguous standards in legislation and public policy administration, among them judicial veto on legislation seen as wanting in terms of clarity.
Lowi based The End of Liberalism on three types of public policies he had outlined earlier: regulatory, distributive and redistributive. He later added a fourth type, namely government reform. Regulatory policies refer to the introduction and execution of legal regulations including civil rights law, labor law, environmental regulations, and so forth. Distributive policies regard the distribution of certain benefits, most often material ones, for example, government contracts and grants. Redistributive policies are applied to transfer wealth from rich individuals to poor ones. Class politics, which characterize redistribution, are not common in the United States. The majority of political scientists generally agree with the distinctions between these types of policies established by Lowi.