Toward an Associational Synthesis
Americans are frustrated with government. Partisan gridlock has driven public opinion of Congress to historic lows. Budget deficits loom and the wealth gap expands. The price of homeland security requires citizens to share their homes, or at least their cell phones, with Big Brother. And a host of foreign economic competitors threaten to eclipse the American Century. Even those idealistic souls inclined to give Washington the benefit of the doubt wondered during the Obama administration if their faith had been misplaced after enduring the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the most important government domestic-policy initiative since the Great Society.
Historiography does not rank high on the list of causal factors fueling this frustration. Indeed, Google's top listings for "historiography" link to Princeton, not Politico, CUNY rather than CNN. Yet aligning the fundamental framework that informs the interpretation of political events in the mass media with a perspective forged by cutting-edge scholarship might begin to redefine the kinds of questions that citizens ask, influencing both expectations and demands.
There was a time when scholarship did align with the network news and the New York Times. For the middle third of the twentieth century a powerful perspective on the historical evolution of politics in the United States engaged leading scholars in New Haven and the journalists writing for the New York Times, academics in Cambridge and anchormen at CBS. It was called the "Progressive synthesis," and it was forged by pioneers like Charles Beard and popularized by professors like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. at Harvard, John Morton Blum at Yale, and William Chafe at Duke. The Progressive synthesis featured the march of powerful liberal presidents who represented the people against self-interested groups that hid behind conservative ideology to maintain the status quo or roll back any hint of reform. Many political historians have moved on from the Progressive synthesis, but some opinion makers in the United States (most importantly, elected officials) have not. They continue to demarcate political time and the polity's future through the ideological clash of liberalism and conservatism. They measure progress toward either ideal through the discourse of big or limited government, individual initiative or collective will. The failure to infuse the nation's narrative with post-Progressive scholarly interpretations contributes to some of the frustration with politics today because the analytical lens through which politics is understood does not fit the underlying structural challenges that face the nation. Nor does the old Progressive synthesis capitalize on the hybrid solutions that Americans have crafted to satisfy their insatiable demands for collective action while assuaging their enduring fears of big government.
The battle over the ACA epitomizes this dilemma. Pundits raged over the government's power grab (Fox News) or the failure to procure a unitary payer system (MSNBC). Yet the ACA illustrated America's historical commitment to combining federal financing with voluntary and private-sector mechanisms to deliver health care. Lost in the liberal versus conservative framework was the history of conservative business interests acknowledging that the private sector could not profitably finance care for America's elderly, for instance, and the history of liberal administrations turning to the voluntary and the market sectors to administer the resulting Medicare program. Such public/private partnerships have been the norm for much of American history, and a long line of historians has documented this genealogy. Yet the manner in which these associations were forged and the ways that they evolved have not been expressed in the popular lexicon. Oblivious to this history, elected officials do battle with straw men rather than focusing on the hard work of ensuring the proper balance between government oversight of institutions on the one hand, and autonomy for the intermediaries that citizens historically have preferred over the state, on the other hand—from private physicians to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, to for-profit insurance companies and hospitals. Nor have citizens fully appreciated who wins and who loses as long as the nation's political history is framed along ideological rather than more materially based perspectives—from class and occupation to demographics and region to technological disruption.
I hope that the essays in this book will provide a historical interpretation that speaks to opinion makers as the Progressive synthesis once did, a perspective that explains political phenomena that shape citizens' lives today. Scholars have dismantled virtually every component of the Progressive synthesis, but they have failed to do the one thing that might displace that easy story as the nation's guide to its own history. They have failed to aggregate our case studies and theoretical insights into a perspective that is designed to travel from the ivory tower to Main Street. We must strive to align the exciting interpretations of political history that have displaced Beard and Schlesinger with the mass media's headlines that remain frozen in time and that explain less and less each decade.
Alignment does not mean capitulation. By the turn of the twenty-first century, as liberalism explained less and less, some scholars turned to what looked like a new framing device, conservatism, in order to treat much of the political action that had been neglected, from tax revolts to the rediscovery of religious motivation in politics. At a time of increasing partisan rancor and the proliferation of media outlets arrayed along ideological lines, historicizing the ideological debate and linking it to critical elections comported with headlines and tweets. But did focusing on conservatism instead of liberalism constitute a new approach to understanding our history?
As a framework for capturing the sweep of twentieth-century political history, scholars had not progressed far beyond the Progressive synthesis's muscular partition of the American political universe into ideological camps pitting liberals against conservatives. The Progressive synthesis endured and was tweaked to illuminate the conservative alternative to liberalism, some of the key conservative protagonists that had been overlooked, and a new litany of key elections, beginning with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. The Progressive synthesis morphed into the Progressive/conservative synthesis.
Rather than positing political history as the clash of liberalism and conservatism, the essays here direct our attention to the ways in which Americans have braided public and private actions, state and voluntary-sector institutions, to achieve collective goals without undermining citizens' essential belief in individual freedom. This is a perspective capable of capturing moments when "liberals" employed the market to achieve key objectives, and illuminating instances in which "conservatives" financed their ends through the public purse. It is a framework that weighs the manner in which interests are organized, including those interests organized around identity, as heavily as the interests' rhetorical embrace of liberalism or conservatism. It is hospitable to the powerful influence of spatial factors that scholars have deployed recently. And it takes seriously the changing material conditions that influence public policy as well as the social relationships and processes that often determine those conditions, from communications to scientific and technological advances. It is an approach that values the history that occurs between purportedly key elections as highly as the history that unwinds in the immediate wake of November 1932, 1964, or 1980. It is a framework that captures the crucial political development that occurs between the so-called cycles of reform.
I have labeled this approach to political history the "associational synthesis." It displaces discourse with behavior as the formal currency of the political realm and decenters critical elections, replacing them with the dynamic ways in which public officials—both elected and appointed—engaged their constituents. It considers, for instance, the ways in which political conflict was shoehorned into the narrow channels of interest-group politics in the first half of the twentieth century, and the implications for public policies that could be targeted at more narrowly drawn groups of citizens as a result. It acknowledges the ever-changing authority of professional knowledge and the organizational resources and political autonomy that the professions brought to politics. And it weighs heavily the evolving technology of mass communications, from the impact of the first wire service on party structure to the ways in which ubiquitous public opinion polling displaced interest groups and political parties as the sole sources of information about voters. This associational framework evaluates "the rhetoric of 'anti-government' and 'free enterprise' conservatism as a political and cultural construct, a discursive fiction," to quote the historian Matthew D. Lassiter, rather than as a blueprint for the programs actually carried out by those conservatives. It compares the anti-big business language of Progressive Era icons like Gifford Pinchot to his corporate-friendly actions.
Intense conflicts have characterized twentieth-century politics in the United States. For instance, Americans have battled over the balance between individual and collective action or the proper mix of individual, market, voluntary-sector, and state responsibility. The associational synthesis encourages scholars and informed citizens alike to understand these struggles by considering a more capacious range of motivating factors than ideology and to dig beneath rhetorical representations in order to assess their outcomes. It takes seriously interests, the material factors that shape worldviews—from occupation to suburban homeownership—along with ideology. And it contends that the outcome of these struggles is best understood through a perspective that analyzes the capacity of each advocate's ability to adapt public policy prescriptions to prevailing conceptions of the proper balance between collective ends and individual opportunity. One of the keys to getting that balance right is connecting citizens and the state through a politically palatable mix of intermediary institutions—be they church, university, voluntary agency, corporation, or local or national government. Examining the history of these associational relationships lies at the core of the approach to historical understanding developed in these essays.
External threats to the nation's security often changed the rules of engagement, as did economic crises at times. Yet even at the height of the Great Depression and World War II, the associational synthesis explains a great deal—from the use of interest groups rather than the state to administer the nation's key response to the crisis in agriculture, to the ways in which private public relations firms were tapped to mobilize Americans during wartime.
I am hardly the first historian to call attention to associational patterns of political development. As the historian Ellis Hawley put it almost fifty years agothe 1940s:
America's associational sector had continued in the twentieth century to assume or be assigned governmental duties. In a land that had retained strong constraints on the growth of administrative statism, the desire for economic and social management had produced an expanded system of extra-governmental governance operating through business corporations and associations, labor, farm, and professional organizations, philanthropic orders and foundations, private-sector think tanks, and other agencies justifying their exercise of private power as essential to the maintenance of public order and progress.
Yet Hawley's prescient work on the first three decades of the twentieth century was pigeonholed between a historiographical view of the nineteenth century that positioned associations as the antidote to an energetic state and Herbert Hoover's embrace of associational techniques culminating in the spectacular failure of the National Industrial Recovery Administration during the early New Deal.
Understanding how and why the relationships among citizens, intermediary institutions in the private and voluntary sectors of society, and the variegated branches of the state are associated is essential to understanding the nation's political history. Using that knowledge to assess how these partners performed can also provide insight into politics today and offer some clues about the nation's future.
The associational balance is constantly changing. The continuum of possibilities ranges from government capture by private interests to state overreach. However frustrating the condition of today's associational landscape may be to advocates of liberty on the one hand or collective action on the other, understanding the contours of politics through a historical perspective that connects citizens to the state through a range of intermediary institutions and is sensitive to the material factors that constantly rearrange that balance illuminates America's centuries-old tension between liberty and the commonweal. Scholars are poised to decode the history of the institutional arrangements that have mediated between citizen and state. The rest of this introduction outlines how they arrived at this point.
Bringing the State Back In and Leaving Associations Out
Thirty years ago, political scientists and sociologists joined forces with several historians who had forged the organizational synthesis. This disparate group crafted a historical framework that was relatively free of ideological markers and that privileged the institutional capacity of the American state. This is not to say that these scholars were any less ideologically driven in their personal views than the historians working in the Progressive tradition. They were, however, focused on the ways in which the state—usually the central state—carved out autonomy from a society that, at best, distrusted centralized government authority and, at worst, left the state underdeveloped (in their assessment) compared to other industrialized nations. These scholars "brought the state back in." Regardless of professional discipline, most identified their field as American Political Development (APD), which was represented by the new journal Studies in American Political Development. They coined phrases like "state capacity" and "bureaucratic autonomy." They cared deeply about administrative agencies' discretion and the power that came with the executive branch's authority to implement programs. They were soon joined by policy historians, who founded the Journal of Policy History.
APD scholars underscored the importance of professional competence and reputation in crafting politically viable public policy. They tended to downplay the electoral connection and focus on policy outcomes. They paid special attention to the institutional and constitutional constraints that stacked the odds in favor of past patterns of governance through mechanisms like "intercurrence" and "path dependence." Change was possible, but only during "critical junctures" that offered rare opportunities to revise the rules of the game. And the catalysts for change reached far beyond the older political science conception of "critical elections" that correlated so conveniently with the Progressive synthesis's emphasis on waves of reform.
War complicated easy assumptions between critical elections and policy reform. The economist Robert Higgs offered a powerful thesis regarding the "ratchet effect" of war and economic crisis, arguing that government expansion in response to these extraordinary circumstances persisted even as the crises subsided. Other historical developments extended the reach of government as well: inflation, technological breakthroughs, changes in political communication, social and cultural trends, the ways in which large segments of Americans conceived of their identities, not to mention America's engagement in a world that did not necessarily conform to the latest election results in Washington, DC.
Examining the relationship between citizen and state altered the traditional narrative. As the political scientists Suzanne Mettler and Andrew Milstein observed, "When the role and presence of the state is viewed from citizens' perspective . . . a different periodization becomes apparent and eras that have received relatively little attention from scholars appear to be pivotal." It was not the left-leaning Reconstruction Congress or Progressive Era reformers that created a "prodigious" benefits regime for Civil War veterans, for instance. Rather, pensions expanded during the 1890s. The pathbreaking reforms embodied in the New Deal's Social Security Act reached relatively few Americans during that era. Rather, eligibility for social insurance ballooned during the Eisenhower years, powered by bipartisan support. Techniques like cost of living adjustments, begun during the Nixon administration, provided record-breaking benefit increases to the elderly. APD scholars exposed "hidden" regimes of tax expenditures and legal mandates that expanded America's pension and health care benefits at government expense and incarcerated Americans at unparalleled rates—all during periods dominated by the rhetoric (and votes) of "small government" conservatives.
Even though APD scholarship took explicit aim at the Progressive synthesis, the first generation of this scholarship shared a crucial unexamined conceptual premise with Progressive historiography. Both schools of history were based on the belief that there was an impermeable boundary between state and society. At their most fundamental level, both frameworks credited the rise of a powerful, effective, centralized state with breaking the grip of pluralist congeries of power that overrepresented social elites.
For those who subscribed to the Progressive synthesis, that broker state was adequately harnessed only when forced to serve the will of the entire citizenry, a phenomenon that occurred when liberal reform administrations were empowered. This was especially true when effective Progressive presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were able to transcend the clutter of interest and partisanship to carry out the will of the people. The vision of effective governance was far less egalitarian in the original APD model, but the implications for state-society relations were the same. Autonomous state actors acquired the wherewithal to govern effectively precisely by freeing themselves from the parochial, partisan, and often petty constraints levied by various spokespersons who claimed to represent fragments of the public.
Neither approach considered the possibility that the public might actually communicate rather effectively through the interests. Nor did Progressive historiography or the founders of APD initially take seriously the crucial role that the private sector, trade associations, and professional organizations played in actually implementing public policies. Progressive historiography and much of the original APD scholarship shared the assumption that civil society was independent of the state and that the voluntary institutions and interest groups that made up civil society failed to represent the public will effectively.
For the pioneers of APD, the very essence of the scholarly endeavor was to carve out a space for a state that was independent from the day-to-day tug of interest-based politics. Stating the agenda succinctly in a section headed "The Autonomy and Capacity of States," the political scientist Theda Skocpol insisted that "states conceived as organizations claiming control over territories and people may formulate and pursue goals that are not simply reflective of the demands or interests of social groups, classes, or society." "One may then explore the 'capacities' of states to implement official goals," Skocpol continued, "especially over the actual or potential opposition of powerful social groups or in the face of recalcitrant socioeconomic circumstances." APD provided a way to break out of the structural-functionalist straitjacket that dominated social science in the post-World War II years. The price, however, was a clean break with institutions embedded in a society that threatened to undermine the bold national purpose that European states were perceived to possess.
Stephen Skowronek's Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 concentrated on the structural restraints to state autonomy. In spite of the Herculean efforts of reformers and the hospitable environment for such measures that the Progressive Era offered, the Constitution, the extra-constitutional machinations of political parties, and the statutory interpretations of courts encumbered the early twentieth-century administrative state with the centrifugal mechanisms and inept practices of an earlier "state of courts and parties." Indeed, these roadblocks were built into the very foundation of the newly reconstructed twentieth-century state. Enduring structures (such as the Constitution) and practices (nurtured by political parties) crippled the state's autonomy despite decades of seemingly successful reform.
Skowronek's protagonists were experts who moved in and out of the state and constituted an intellectual vanguard. They used their knack for political learning to craft solutions that liberated the state from the grip of parochial interests, bolstering the autonomy of administrators wherever possible. Yet, Skowronek continued, in spite of the Progressive reforms that these men achieved in the military command structure, railroad regulation, and systematic budgeting and accounting, "The incremental struggle simultaneously to break with the governing arrangements articulated over the course of a century and to build a whole new range of governing capacities ultimately produced a state in disarray." Reform and augmented state capacity marched hand in hand, yet the edifice they produced had been compromised at the very core in America's decentralized and porous polity.
Despite these limitations, identifying those who successfully built state capacity as independent causal agents and highlighting that capacity as the crucial prerequisite to reform offered a powerful alternative to Progressive historiography's ideologically driven interpretation. Among political historians, it emerged as the leading alternative to the Progressive synthesis. As I wrote in Social Science History upon the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Building a New American State, "Structure—of the Constitution, of the party system, of the judiciary, of a bureaucracy carved out from these materials—not ideology is what powers Skowronek's analysis."
If state builders did not achieve all they set out to accomplish, scholars who charted state capacity did succeed in building a sturdy cottage industry, if not a state. As a first-year graduate student in 1983, I wrote a master's thesis that was eventually published under the title "Securing Support: The Emergence of the Social Security Board as a Political Actor." As I breathlessly proclaimed, "With acronyms replacing surnames as history's protagonists, it will not suffice to treat these complex organizations merely as politically passive vehicles. We must chart their political development and attempt to measure the breadth of their influence on the policies they administer," concluding that the agency I studied was a crucial political actor that developed skills essential to ensuring its programs' lasting impact. I need not have worried. Scholars far more seasoned than I were on the case.
Treating the sources of state capacity as an analytical question to be examined more systematically than those who originally sought to bring the state back in, a younger generation of scholars like Dan Carpenter identified key variables, such as reputation, that allowed mezzo-level administrators to act independently. Like Skowronek and Skocpol, Carpenter had to look hard to find autonomy: Indeed, it appeared to be a relatively scarce commodity in the American state. But where it did exist, it was autonomous bureaucrats who initiated and shaped public policy that differed "materially from the designs of elected officials." Bureaucratic autonomy was sustained in agencies like the Food and Drug Administration or the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service by "reputational coalitions" that were "neither partisan, nor ideological, nor sections, nor reducible to one organized interest."
By 2003, Skowronek declared that what previously had served as an agenda had become "common wisdom." History was crucial to the way in which the state developed. And the way the state developed affected all that it touched. Politics was about state building and, more important, politics was the "centerpiece of the social problem, not a mere epiphenomenon." In short, the state was "back in" and the key to understanding politics and broader trends in American history lay inside the day-to-day workings of the state.
Recent work suggests that the relationship between state and civil society is far more fluid than either Progressive historiography or the early APD literature envisioned. Indeed, scholars like William Novak have insisted that civil society itself is shaped by law and public policy. Skocpol has argued that the history of voluntary organizations in America cannot be understood without considering the ways in which the polity has influenced their development. In A Government Out of Sight I drew on the insights of those who chronicled associational patterns of governance to argue that the intermediary institutions used to craft and administer national policy enjoyed broad public support in the nineteenth century, compared to the alternative: direct administration by the government, especially the national government.
Bringing Associations Back In
Even though Skocpol warned against simply turning the theoretical emphases on their head, cautioning that "state-determinist" explanations should not simply replace those grounded in society-centered accounts, our quest to put the state back into the conversation soon overshot the mark, threatening to do just what Skocpol and others cautioned against. In fact, the cacophony created by carpenters eager to build this state-centered account inadvertently reinforced a deep affinity with the very pProgressive historiography that the APD construction crew had set out to demolish.
The conclusion shared by both progressive historiography and the founders of APD was that civil society, the murky territory that lay somewhere between citizen and state, could not be trusted with any of the responsibilities or duties integral to governing. The interests that populated civil society, whether voluntary or profit seeking, were especially suspect. Indeed, what distinguished the state from society was government's plenary power and the ability to wield that power directly in order to fulfill the will of citizens—a mandate that was often thwarted precisely because of the self-serving machinations of interest groups, political parties, and market-driven incentives that skewed the common weal.
No sooner had the intellectual concept of the autonomous state been articulated than many of its architects began renovating it. They were encouraged by a host of other scholars who pushed the state back out—not only meeting civil society half way, but noting the manner in which interest groups, voluntary organizations, the professions, and even corporate practices and ideas were shaped by the state. State authority, it turned out, could be enhanced through private and voluntary mediation, consultation and the creative tension spawned through this associational approach.
Once the state was "back in," even those who charted state capacity and bureaucratic autonomy readily acknowledged the intercourse that occurred regularly between state builders and the institutions of civil society. Carpenter, for instance, who sought explicitly to isolate those factors that allowed administrators to act independently, stressed the importance of coalitions built in conjunction with key elements of civil society. Granted, the public administrator's value added was his ability to survey the landscape, mobilize professional expertise, and discern the political climate in order to forge such alliances. Nevertheless, successful bureaucrats got their hands dirty. In the words of Carpenter, "they engage in coalition politics. They assemble broadbased alliances behind their new programs, coalitions wrought from the multiple networks in which these unique bureaucrats travel." Autonomous, in the sense that they ultimately pulled the policy strings, these officials hardly did it alone. Indeed, it was their ability to draw upon and mobilize resources in civil society, especially opinion leaders and interest groups, that connected policy makers to broader constituencies, sustaining bureaucratic autonomy.
Although "state capacity" dominated the APD literature in its early years, social scientists soon broadened their questions. Two powerful initiatives cut against the fortified border that separated state and civil society constructed by the original APD generation. Citizenship studies, or, more specifically, studies of those who were excluded from citizenship and their struggle to procure full citizenship, drew upon social history that took seriously race, class, and gender, and recognized that the political aspirations of many of the nation's historically marginalized residents were often better served outside of the kind of formal politics that many APD leaned towards. Rogers Smith, for instance, illuminated the constellation of practices, legal and extralegal, that hedged in citizenship based upon the values ascribed to Americans with racial, ethnic, and gendered identities. These ascriptive rights and restrictions formed a powerful order of their own that often trumped liberal ideals and constitutional protections. Smith connected this important world of social identity to the more formal array of rights and privileges allocated by the state, pulling APD outwards towards practices deeply rooted in civil society. Along the way, the APD citizenship scholarship exposed the vast realm of politics that existed beyond the confines of the state and chronicled how historical patterns of exclusion and bias were inscribed into state-society relations.
Somewhere between scholars who brought the state back in and those who examined Americans that the state left out, a third group of APD scholars deployed the concept of governing "regimes" to explore the connections between ideology, state capacity, and voter demands. Scholars such as David Plotke and Steven Skowronek, in The Politics That Presidents Make, searched for patterns of policy making that crossed functional boundaries and defied simple partisan explanations. For Samuel Kernell, or historians Paul Milazzo and Julian Zelizer, Congress was ground zero—at least as the lens that provided the best perspective on the ways in which these factors came together. It was also an institution, they noted, that left its own distinctive imprint on the patterns that emerged.
Scholarship that explored the relationship between the state and private- sector corporations also eroded conceptions of state autonomy. Cathie Jo Martin documented that in the early twentieth century, the powerful National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) sought a charter establishing NAM as the formal intermediary between the federal government and a large section of the business community—an ideal similar to corporatist models established in European industrialized democracies. Partisan opposition, federalism, and the local nature of business-government relations thwarted these plans, however. As NAM's quest for a federal charter suggests, it was no advocate of free market ideology in its early years. Rather, it was the nature of the political regime that NAM encountered that forced its leaders to reconsider their strategy, including their attitude towards the state. While Although limited state capacity surely explained part of this story, NAM's experience navigating uncharted shoals between industrial clients and a political regime that was sensitive to partisan competition explained far more. Citizenship studies, regime studies, and historical analysis of business-government relations demanded that APD scholars engage with key institutions and behaviors that were deeply embedded in civil society and the market in order to account for political outcomes. Ideology alone did not suffice.
Long-standing assumptions regarding the nineteenth- century American political economy were also challenged. Recent APD scholarship has recovered the state's active role in that economy, challenging assumptions about a "stateless" past. For Richard Bensel, regional and partisan agendas combined to propel active state intervention in the political economy, including the management of the currency, crucial tariff decisions, and in the North, active state—private sector collaboration during the Civil War. The Confederate States of America, Bensel argued, was forced to rely more heavily on naked state power because the institutions of its civil society were less developed than those of the Union. Richard John mapped the extensive reach of state-subsidized and -directed communications systems. Robin Einhorn demonstrated both the power of local governments and the way in which tax policy reinforced crucial social predispositions in early America. Bill Novak documented the extensive reach of both social and economic regulation at the state and local level as well as the ways in which the law shaped the very institutions that comprised civil society.
I drew on their work to synthesize a narrative of nineteenth-century political development that stressed the persistent demand for governance, even governance orchestrated by the distant national state. That authority, however, had to be exercised in ways that diminished its visibility. This entailed mobilizing compatible resources in the private and voluntary sectors, which often proved more effective than applying unilateral state power. While my insights were gleaned from the theoretical perspective of scholars like Michael Mann, historically, this is exactly what Americans preferred. Where no intermediate institutions stood between citizen and national government, Americans consistently advocated energetic governance when it came to trade, security, and economic development. Where local and state government was up to the task, or where voluntary and private groups might fulfill public purposes, Americans preferred that the national government enable rather than command.
If some APD scholars who focused on the state were pushing outwards into civil society to explain enduring patterns of governance, others worked the opposite end of the block and met the state builders half way. More often than not, that ground was occupied by professional organizations, trade associations, voluntary organizations, and, on occasion, corporate headquarters. Rather than simply discussing how the groups that inhabited civil society warded off the state, wary of its encroachment, or how the state replaced or brought to heel these key institutions of civil society, APD scholars were increasingly inclined to consider the possibility that the state could govern through these institutions. Associational relationships enhanced state authority without provoking charges of "big government," and, on occasion, even made public spending more palatable, or at least politically acceptable.
Once again Theda Skocpol took the lead. Examining the public policy that has consistently drawn resistance from a majority of Americans—welfare—and noting the welfare-like expansion of benefits that occurred in the case of Civil War pensions, Skocpol grounded American support for benefits in a maternalist perspective that was deeply rooted in the federated structure of women's organizations, just as Ccivil War pensions were part and parcel of the federated nexus of veterans' organizations and the Republican Party. Identifying the key causal relationships as reciprocal, Skocpol noted the ways in which the American polity encouraged groups to organize. These patterns mirrored the structural outlines of federalism embodied in the Constitution.
As she subsequently argued in Diminished Democracy, "Civil society and government thus worked hand in hand to fashion and sustain America's version of the modern welfare state." Signaling what would soon become a frontal assault on notions that civil society constituted a demilitarized zone safely removed from the impulses of the meddling hand of government, Skocpol moved beyond the structural influences on the shape of voluntary groups to argue that such groups both pressed for and were the beneficiaries of government largesse.
With the advent of federal payroll deductions for social security and income tax (begun during World War II), even charitable organizations that feared competition from the government, such as local community chests, were pleased to take advantage of this technique to fund their operations. As historian Andy Morris has noted, this "not only demonstrates the voluntary sector's entrepreneurial ability to take advantage of the shift in governance, but it also suggests the ways in which the public and private aspects of the welfare state became increasingly blurred in the postwar era." In her current project, titled Civic Gifts: Benevolence and the Making of the American Nation-State, Elisabeth Clemens argues that American governance and politics were largely based on associationalism and sustained by practices of "charitable citizenship." "As federal spending programs increasingly recognized nonprofit organizations—whether social welfare agencies, community hospitals, or research universities—as legitimate recipients of public funds," she suggests, "the ingredients were in place for the distinctive brew of public and private efforts that has come to characterize American governance in the second half of the twentieth century.
In his 2001 article, "The American Law of Association: The Legal-Political Construction of Civil Society," Bill Novak challenged the tendency to romanticize the civil sphere. He noted that many strains of the revived interest in civil society shared one trait in common——a belief in the autonomy of the social sphere of civil society and its insulation from the political economy. This distorted emphasis, Novak argued, often led directly to utopian assumptions, not unlike those held by advocates who insisted that the hidden hand of the market could most equitably resolve conflicts. In this case, it was civil society that was artificially removed from the contestations of power and control. For Novak and several other APD scholars, exposing the legal and political battles that shaped civil society was the foremost challenge facing students of political history.
Eldon Eisenach also explored the boundary between state and civil society. While Skocpol and Novak underscored the way in which the state shaped civil society, Eisenach reminded us that associations, ranging from loosely organized movements for women's rights during the Progressive Era to professional organizations and the universities, were essential partners in virtually every effort to extend national authority for much of the twentieth century. He labeled such intermediaries "parastates." As Eisenach put it, "agents of . . . liberal nationalism are national 'establishments' in the form of universities, professional associations, charitable foundations, the national media, the public school establishment, and the hosts of national reform movements, support groups, and think tanks that have waxed and waned throughout our history. National 'liberalism' in this positive sense of reform projects has always been an alliance of national institutions." The analytical key to understanding governance and reform in the American setting lay at the intersection of state and society rather than exclusively in either one.
It is in the realm of political economy that a heuristic approach that weighs the reciprocal relationship between the state and society has produced the most dramatic revision to the Progressive synthesis. The foil was an oversimplified dichotomy that separated state and market into discrete spheres. State "intervention" into the market was only notable when the state "interfered" in what was presumed to be an organically functioning market. As Marc Eisner has noted, this construction diverted attention from "the role of public policy in constituting (italics added) markets and shaping economic activity more generally." A rigid approach to state-market relations limited our thinking about the mutually constitutive nature of markets and the state. Charles Lindbloom argued that this perspective prevented consideration of the market as a variable, rather than a "fixed element around which policy must be fashioned."
Law was the key mechanism by which the state constituted the market and other elements of the economy. It was crucial to the components of the market—corporations, unions, and trade associations, for instance—and to the rules and expectations of the market itself. "Rather than existing as a self-constituting and self-regulating realm of human action," Eisner insisted, "markets are in a real sense an expression—both intended and unintended—of public policies and institutions." From this perspective, the market was simply another sphere in which the state organized social transactions, rather than a safe haven from the state. For scholars like Eisner, "[a]ny references to state intervention in the market ignore the basic fact that the market itself is constituted by public policy." Dan Carpenter not only agreed; he noted that approval of new regulation often created new and superior markets. Such was the case in the pharmaceutical industry. To argue otherwise assumed that societies could generate markets in the absence of supporting institutions. Regulation did not interfere with or disrupt the market. Rather, it constituted the market.
The professional arena provided equally fertile ground for exploring the ways in which the state laundered its authority through non-state actors. Gerald Berk documented a "third way" that directed the course of industrialization over the first third of the twentieth century. Eschewing calls to break up large corporations or regulate them, Berk chronicled the ways in which Louis Brandeis and Herbert Hoover embraced the techniques crafted by professions like cost accountants and engineers. This "regulated competition" was guided by agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, which sanctioned the techniques of these professionals and cooperated with the business community to create "developmental associations" in industries like printing. Their objective was to tame ruinous competition without creating monopoly control. The technique and the professional autonomy to ensure that these practices were effectively carried out loomed large in Berk's story. But the creation and maintenance of the larger economic and political environment in which these professionals operated would not have been possible without state supervision.
Policy entrepreneurs "reached across historical, institutional, and cultural boundaries," Berk argued, "to find resources, which they creatively recombined in experiments in business regulation, public administration, accounting, and trade associations." The administrative epicenter of this experiment was the often discredited Federal Trade Commission. There, "creative commissioners," Berk suggested, "recomposed resources from civil society to create a network of business and professional associations devoted to upgrading competition through deliberation and cost accounting." They formed a network of deliberative forums that merged experience with technique to create a "usable model of developmental association." While NAM may have altered its vision of formal corporatist arrangements in the first decade of the twentieth century, by the 1920s, business interests and professionals had forged relationships with state agencies that managed competition through key professional intermediaries rather than formally chartered trade associations.
Why the Associational Turn?
Why has it taken so long for APD scholarship to catch up with Ellis Hawley? Because Hawley wrote The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly at the height of the administrative state's power, his clear-sighted vision of the past crashed head-on into powerful contemporary evidence that announced the triumph of an autonomous state. One only had to read the headlines proclaiming the unprecedented domestic reach of the Great Society or a warfare state that flexed its muscles in Vietnam to glean the national government's intrusion into civil society and market relations (not to mention Cambodia). And if this was not enough evidence of an autonomous state, these extensions were pursued against the larger contours of a seemingly unending Cold War that continued to demand the ultimate sacrifice by citizens.
APD scholarship belatedly embraced Hawley's fundamental insight as both the domestic and global context in which the state operated shifted dramatically. The ideological roots of this reorientation, for instance, reached back to the 1970s and the rise of "neoliberal" thought, which redirected the spotlight away from government action towards the market. That intellectual movement, in turn, was energized by the economic shocks of the 1970s and the political demands articulated by the "Reagan Revolution." Bill Novak has noted the ways in which the velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe focused attention on the yawning gap between union-based, society-centered organizations like Solidarity, on the one hand, and one-party states that leaders like Lech Walesa sought to reform. With the consolidation of conservative political gains, the unprecedented terrorist attacks on America's "homeland," and the prosecution of two wars, scholars and public intellectuals began to notice that conservative governance often produced big government and bigger deficits. They examined more closely the state's contractual relationships with private corporations like Blackwater and public intervention into areas of life that previously were considered to be private, family, or religious preserves.
Further from the headlines, a robust challenge to the long-reigning conception of the American political economy forged by Alfred Chandler also altered scholars' perception of the relationship between key industries and the state. Chandler famously eschewed a place for public affairs in his vision of the core sector of the economy. Galambos and Pratt challenged the notion that these "core industries" could operate without regard to their political environment. More recently, Phil Scranton questioned the very shape of the American political economy in the first half of the twentieth century.
In Endless Novelty Scranton argued for the significance of specialty manufacturing such as jewelry or decentralized clusters of manufacturers who produced machines and tools for the mass production sector of the economy. These specialty industries often shared information and techniques across company lines. They were linked to each other through contracts and geographically centered institutions that promoted technical education, like the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The economy that Scranton described was far more diverse than the one chronicled by Chandler, and more open to inter-firm collaboration. The significance of these kinds of industries to the economy in the second half of the nineteenth century and the cooperative fashion in which they shared information challenged Chandler's "throughput"-oriented model of industrial efficiency. It also resonated with twenty-first- century headlines about the power of networks in the new economic juggernaut of the economy—the dot.com "revolution."
The new business history paints a portrait of private- sector organizations that are far more amenable to state intervention than once thought, but it also stresses the collaborative, cooperative networks that cut across firms. While zero-sum efforts by state bureaucrats to dictate to the private sector in the first third of the twentieth century—through trust busting or rigid regulation—still drew strong resistance, less intrusive initiatives that emphasized data collection, professionally sanctioned standards, reinforcing compliance, and collaborative learning—in short, the core qualities of an associational approach—fit neatly with this revised conception of business.
Gerald Berk's Louis D. Brandeis and the Making of Regulated Competition, 1900-1932 encapsulates many of the recent insights of the APD literature and applies them to a political economy that resembles the one characterized by Scranton. It serves as a useful guide to scholars who seek to revise our understanding of the relationship between state and society in the twentieth century. Berk is explicit about the implications of his study, stating that the search for bureaucratic hierarchy and autonomy led many scholars to overlook the "cultivational" approach to administration pursued at the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC, he argues, valued a different set of features from those epitomized by state autonomy. Cultivational administrators valued deliberation among industries and between the private sector and the FTC; they sought to build up the "scientific and evaluative capacity in peak business, professional and trade associations through public/private collaboration." Rather than commanding industry, FTC commissioners and bureaucrats sought to reconfigure existing resources in civil society in order to create networks of professional and business associations. They tried to make competition more productive and creative, without dictating the outcome of that competition.
This regulated competition included professionals who standardized information. It capitalized on the mutual desire by business and government to collaborate in stabilizing markets. Professionals devised classification schemes, measurements, and reporting mechanisms that allowed specialty manufacturers to standardize information rather than products. Regulated Competition criticized the older APD literature for missing the innovative relationship between the FTC and many elements of civil society. Those scholars, Berk argued, were looking for bureaucratic autonomy—agencies able to impose their will on the private sector, or corporatist counterparts in the private sector, able to discipline members and speak on behalf of an entire industry, sanctioned by the government. Berk offered an alternative template—one that relied heavily on professionals to systematize accounting for products that were not mass produced and industries that shared information across sectors.
While professionals designed and staffed these systems, FTC commissioners and business leaders provided the institutional support, ensuring that this scientific learning was nurtured and disseminated through conferences, government reports, and trade associations. Most significantly, they promoted the kind of "reflection, deliberation and experimentation" that economists' models and judicial adherence to strict divisions between competitive and anticompetitive practices often precluded. From Berk's perspective, the law, reinforced by leading economists, used rigid classification schemes that divided the world into opposing camps:—competition versus monopoly; public versus private. These classifications schemes failed to allow for the ways in which deliberation and private/public collaboration took place. While key judicial decisions limited the FTC's ability to command businesses and trade groups, it left open the path that the FTC ultimately took, one that cultivated the very collaborative practices that had taken place informally, offering a "third way" that defied the rigid boundaries established by the law.
With growing consensus among APD scholars about the reciprocal relationship between state and society, and heightened interest by historians of all stripes in the state, the time is propitious to forge a perspective that can be translated into the nation's vernacular. That perspective can be summed up as follows. American political history has been a contest for access to resources that are often controlled or shaped by the state. Yet Americans have historically been ambivalent about the role of the state. For too long, liberals and conservatives, aided and abetted by a once powerful interpretation of political history, have eagerly embraced the notion that some Americans like the state, while others detest it. This bifurcation distorts the nation's history and is one of the sources of frustration with politics today.
Recent historical scholarship overwhelmingly supports a very different history of politics in the United States. The vast majority of Americans, not merely those advocating progressive reform, have demanded a great deal from their state. Yet that same majority of Americans has distrusted the state to deliver these benefits directly. The result of this backhanded support for public intervention is that groups that have organized most effectively and engineered a politically acceptable alliance of institutions and professionals in civil society and the private sector to deliver these public benefits often prevail. While money, gender, race, and education have historically given some groups great advantages in effecting successful associations built around government resources, changing material conditions faced by the nation, the nation's role in international affairs, the prevailing modes of mass communication, changes in the political culture, demographic shifts, the relationship between society and the environment, and historically contingent events offer a never-ending opportunity for individuals previously excluded from successful associations that link citizens to the state to intervene in this dynamic contest and tilt the current beneficiaries of public largesse towards a different set of clients. It is precisely that kind of intervention, not an ideological predisposition against public benefits per se, that has empowered the Tea Party Patriots.
Even during times of crisis, and stretching back to the origins of the United States, citizens have benefited individually and collectively through strategic combinations of the state and intermediate institutions. Cutting through the false charges of statist overreach or neglect and assessing whether or not the allocation of resources and the manner in which they are delivered are just, fair, and benefit the nation as a whole should be the basis for determining whether any given associational settlement should be embraced or not. The United States is fortunate to have spawned a rich associational life. It squanders that advantage when it fails to recognize that this landscape is the product of an energetic state and active polity.