A great article from last year that bears re-reading, especially in light of the election a few days ago.


The Special Interest State that has shaped American life for 70 years is dying. What comes next is uncertain, but there are grounds for optimism.

The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

Whole departments are dedicated to special interests--Labor, Education, Energy. Money is important, but regulation is every bit as useful, especially because regulations can shift property rights from third parties without going through the budget process. For example, environmentalists successfully combined a vaguely worded Endangered Species Act with control of the Fish and Wildlife Service to shift the costs of their no-development ethic onto random land-owners, regardless of costs, benefits, or fairness.

In Washington, the debate has atrophied, and few lawyers and lobbyists even know that it was once questioned whether the Special Interest State is an appropriate form of organization for a polity. The theory that government is and should be a contest among alliances of special interests has swept the day. Of course groups struggle to grab and exploit levers of power for selfish ends and then use these to the maximum, and of course agency and congressional staff ally with one or another of these mercenary armies while in government, and of course they then go to work for the interests they used to “govern” (wink, wink), and so what? Do you have a point here?

Public employees have become perhaps the largest and most powerful interest group--20 million strong, politically active, and dedicated to the ideals of no cuts in employment, absolute pension safety no matter what happens to everyone else’s retirement accounts, and little accountability.

Ever since the New Deal, however, the Court has managed to erect a jurisprudence that is blind to the fundamental nature of the polity of which it is an important part. For example, under “the Chevron doctrine,” each special-interest-captured federal agency gets to decide the scope of its own power if Congress leaves any ambiguity. So Congress leaves the limits ambiguous and allows the agency to press to the utmost.

In the United States, legitimacy is conferred by elections, but it is not total. Through the ages, the basic question mark about democracy as a form of government has been that 51 percent of the electorate can band together to oppress the minority--“the tyranny of the majority” is a valid concern. To address it, the United States has a formal written Constitution to guarantee basic rights, but it also has an unwritten constitution that sets limits on how far the winners can push their victories. Exceed the amorphous bounds, and not only does the minority no longer accept the legitimacy of the government, many members of the majority coalition will have a guilty conscience as well, knowing that their acquiescence to the demands of one of their allies was a bad deed. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”

So all patriots would be well advised to pick up a copy of Crane Brinton’s classic The Anatomy of Revolution, and figure out how we can achieve the necessary segue to the Fourth Republic without becoming a chapter in the next edition.