TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization

By Philip Selznick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE IDEA OF A "GRASS-ROOTS" ADMINISTRATION

"Administration" means more than organization charts. Go in one administrative direction and you have loss of liberty; go far enough and you have decisions enforced by the Gestapo and the lash. Go in the other direction and you have people participating in the decisions of their government actively and with considerable zeal, an increase in freedom and the corresponding increase in responsibility and discipline. Proceeding on this basis, I began a series of public statements on organizational charaetertistics of the TVA, particularly decentralization of administration as a method of securing the participation of the people of the Valley in the TVA undertaking.1

DAVID E. LILIENTHAL

THE TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY has been the subject of widespread comment and study in all parts of the world. In Central Europe, in the Philippines, in Palestine, in China, wherever, indeed, new methods of approach to the problems of resource development and social planning have been discussed, the TVA idea has been in the forefront. TVA has become not merely an administrative model and prototype, but a symbol of the positive, benevolent intervention of government for the general welfare.

In America, too, the TVA is unquestionably a rallying-point for those who favor a welfare state. The defense of the TVA and the extension of its methods are accepted among these groups as an elementary duty. What is known in the United States as the progressive movement (essentially the forces which comprised the popular base of the New Deal) has treated the TVA as a symbol of its aspirations and has been quick to muster its forces behind the agency and the ideas it symbolizes whenever occasion demanded. This has been evident in the unequivocal defense of the TVA organization itself in controversies over finances and accountability; and especially in the vigorous espousal of the TVA idea as a model for regional development in other areas of the United Stateg. For these forces, support of the TVA is a ready criterion of political acceptability.

It is primarily as a symbol that TVA excites allegiances and denunciation. In its capacity as symbol, the organization derives meaning

____________________
1
From a mimeographed transcript of remarks by David E. Lilienthal to the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, Columbia University, New York ( August 28, 1942).

-19-

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