The Great Society: Lessons for the Future

By Eli Ginzberg; Robert M. Solow | Go to book overview

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Social intervention in a democracy

LANCE LIEBMAN

BORN in the Enlightenment, the great age of making men good through the structure of social institutions, America has always sought justice and happiness through collective agreements. A proper constitution, John Adams wrote, "causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general . . . and makes the common people brave and enterprising." Thus it is wrong to say, as Charles Schultze and his Brookings associates do, that only recently has the American government sought "to change fundamental behavior patterns of individuals and institutions." Although some of the national crusades in the 1960's were different from most bread-and-butter New Deal programs, seen as a whole the 1960's were merely the latest phase of a two-century-old series of American obsessions and efforts. Nevertheless, they were a phase that revealed new aspects of the old ideas.

During the 10 years since Lyndon Johnson proposed a war on poverty, two main themes have dominated domestic politics. One is the question of man's ability to master his world. The moon trip--delivered as promised, almost like Babe Ruth pointing to the bleachers before a home run--was man's most dramatic feat in taming nature. Unlike Lindbergh's trip, it required thousands of participants, in a vast collection of orchestrated bureaucratic

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