A Reviewer's Notebook - 1967/3
MARCH 01, 1967 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
Governmental Grievance Procedures
When Bertrand Russell was a younger and more philosophical philosopher than he has since become, he asked a Chinese peasant woman why she was so careful to avoid state officials. The woman’s answer was that "government is more terrible than tigers."
We still can’t believe that government might become tigerish in America, where the Madisonian tradition of checks and balances lives on. And so, while governmental behemoths take on more and more responsibilities for the young, the sick, the aged, the slum dwellers, the farmers, the unemployed, the inhabitants of depressed areas, et cetera, et cetera, men hopefully rack their brains in the effort to make all the new interferences bearable by adapting the check-and-balance system to new situations. The idea of "review boards" spreads; a Nassau County executive on Long Island in New York State (Eugene Nickerson) appoints an Ombudsman (the word is Swedish) to investigate citizens’ complaints against public officials; and committees of Congress keep up a steady running fire of investigations. And still the criticism swells; government, if not more terrible than tigers, seems to provoke an adversary for every advocate.
To document the situation, Professor Walter Gellhorn of the Columbia Law School has written a small book called When Americans Complain: Governmental Grievance Procedures (Harvard, $3.95). My trouble with reading the book is that I kept bristling all through its 232 pages at the author’s assumption that the march of government to a million and-one social service goals cannot be halted.
"Organized power," says Gellhorn, "makes the wheels of life go round, makes modernity feasible. Restraint and coercion can destroy citizens’ freedoms, but can also enlarge them — as they do when government acts affirmatively to protect physical well-being, to maintain social services that diminish life’s pains and pressures, to ensure against the devastations of unemployment, illness, and old age, to provide educational facilities and cultural amenities."
The entirely valid complaint that, when a government tries to become "affirmative" about practically everything, it must end by provoking a universal destruction of values (with the currency being one of the important things to go), is not the sort of grievance that Professor Gellhorn has in mind. He assumes that we must have an ever-increasing tribe of public servants, and that voluntary organizations aren’t capable of supplying enough hospitals, or art centers, or medical insurance, to take care of our needs. But it is probably churlish to mention the matter of Professor Gellhorn’s basic political philosophy, for it amounts to criticizing him for not having written an entirely different book.
For the Sake of Argument
Granting for the sake of argument the assumption that "modernity" is only "feasible" with a vast multiplication of government-directed energy, Professor Gellhorn makes out a good case for developing "external" critics of public administration. When citizens complain, the complaints all too often wind up on the desks of those who are being complained against. Legislatures try to define the exact scope of administrative agencies, but it is impossible to detail in advance the application of law. Moreover, by following the absolute letter of the law, an obnoxious public servant can sometimes defeat the intention of it. Complaints can get lost in a run-around, and appeals outside the system to the courts can take forever and cost entirely too much.
Since it is impossible to get administrators to give adequate satisfaction in meeting criticisms of malfeasance and misfeasance in their own agencies, the American people have tended to treat their legislative representatives as their defenders against bureaucratic wrong-doing. Professor Gellhorn says that it is a good guess that well over 200,000 complaints about administration reach Congressional offices in the course of a year. Since congressmen are convinced that the way to win elections is to handle grievances themselves, they and their staffs get involved in never-ending casework. Very often the complaining citizen establishes his point. But tiny victories rarely lead to generic improvement over a broad front. The patterns of administrative policies or behavior do not change. Constituents’ cases are disposed of episodically in individual congressmen’s offices and, since neither the Congress as a whole nor its standing committees are aware of what has happened, nothing is done to keep it from happening all over again with different principals being involved.
A "Citizen’s Protector"
Professor Gellhorn is enamored of the Scandinavian concept of the Ombudsman. In Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand, the idea of a "citizen’s protector" has taken firm root. It is even being tried in Japan and in the Soviet Union. But no single "citizen’s protector" could possibly take 200,000 cases off the hands of 536 congressmen.
Admitting the difficulties which derive from the size and complexity of the United States, Professor Gellhorn sees great merit in the national adaptation of the ombudsman system that has been proposed by Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin. What Reuss suggests is that an "Administrative Counsel of the Congress" be appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate to review citizens’ complaint cases. The Administrative Counsel would undertake reviews only when members of Congress requested them. And the outcome of each case would be reported to the constituent by the congressman himself. Thus Senators and Representatives would continue to get credit for casework. But the workload on Congressional offices would be reduced, and there would be a better overall focus on defects in statutes or administrative methods that generated the complaints in the first place.
Police Review Board
In U. S. county and municipal areas the idea of single ombudsmen, or citizens’ protectors, might be counted on to succeed. But an ombudsman must be impartial as between complainants and city or county officials. When New York City made a partial gesture towards accepting the ombudsman idea by setting up a civilian police review board, the police felt they were being singled out among public servants for discrimination. Gossip soon had it that they were dragging their heels. The taxi drivers began saying that police in Harlem or in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn tended to look the other way when help was needed to deal with unruly cab fares. The police, so the taximen insisted, wanted to stay out of trouble lest the citizens’ review board might second-guess them.
Professor Gellhorn steps rather gingerly around the subject of the citizens’ review board as it is limited to the performance of single bureaus. But it would seem obvious that if New York City had had an Ombudsman to listen to any and all complaints about any office or department from that of the Mayor on down, the police would have accepted surveillance from him without murmur. And the taxicab drivers might have gone to the Ombudsman instead of cynically talking to themselves. Professor Gellhorn’s prose suffers from the constant staccato interruption of innumerable and frequently turgid footnotes. Of course, the reader is free to skip them, but some of them are essential to the unfolding of the argument. The book would have been a better artistic unit if the necessary material had been incorporated into the text and the rest segregated in an appendix.
CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL by Ayn Rand with Alan Greenspan, economist; Nathaniel Branden, psychologist; and Robert Hessen, economic historian. (New York; New American Library, 1966, 309 pp., $6.50)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Gillett
In her novels as well as in two recent nonfiction books, Miss Rand has slashed through many cherished clichés with radical new ideas. Here, she and her fellow authors focus on the phenomenon that besets both antagonists and supporters of capitalism, including businessmen: the fact that almost no one understands it. This book devastates the anticapitalists and forcefully expands the arsenal of pro-free-enterprisers by consistent, sophisticated deployment of novel idea weapons — especially the concept of laissez-faire.
Many of capitalism’s professed defenders have partly or fully swallowed the smear spread by its avowed enemies: that capitalism absolutely requires governmental regulation to assure any measure of justice to all concerned—and the more controls the better.
Miss Rand and company show what a perversion of basic facts this widely held estimate is. They argue further that only laissez-faire capitalism, with state and economics totally separated, can naturally assure the greatest possible justice by providing an objective standard in a free market, determined by the voluntary choices of participants from among goods and services produced for profit to meet people’s needs and desires. Force and fraud do get punished — when they occur; they are not paranoically anticipated by imposed regulations. The book covers many crucial economic and governmental institutions, myths, and labels. Among these, in that order, are: antitrust laws, regulatory agencies, foreign aid, patents and copyrights, and the gold standard; the alleged inevitability of monopolies and depressions and the presumed accomplishments of labor unions and public schools; "self-determination," "extremism," "consensus," and "conservatism."
Especially memorable, besides "The Nature of Government" and "The Roots of War," both of which appeared in THE FREEMAN, is Miss Rand’s "Notes on the History of American Free Enterprise." In it she argues that the villains of transcontinental railroads were power-hungry legislators and their greedy parasites, not independent entrepreneurs. The old leftist bromide about how cruelly women and children were exploited under early capitalism is exploded in an essay by Robert Hessen.
The two final essays make an impressive climax. Miss Rand’s "The Cashing In: The Student Rebellion" identifies the Berkeley riots, point by point, as a cultural abscess fed by several fallacious trends calculated to distort or discredit free enterprise. Nathaniel Branden’s piece on "Alienation" brilliantly traces the psychological premises that must operate in a collectivist’s mind.
At the core of the book’s theme rest the Objectivist views of man and morality. Among their revolutionary aspects are: reason as an absolute, an objective standard of value, and the rejection of altruism for rational self-interest.
The book also offers a precise index of topics, individuals, and publications, and a "Recommended Bibliography" of many works that contain relevant material.
Readers may or may not agree with all the book’s basic premises. Yet anyone who believes he favors capitalism owes himself the experience of becoming acquainted with the unique arguments presented in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Whether or not he accepts them all, he will come away better armed than ever before.
THE CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE TO SOCIALISM by Irving E. Howard (Arlington, Virginia: Better Books, 1966. 153 pp., $2.50)
Reviewed by Norman S. Ream
There are two separate but related arguments supporting a free enterprise, limited government economic system. One is the pragmatic argument; the other the moral argument. Both arrive at the same conclusion. Considering the ends which the majority of men have considered most worthy, capitalism is always in the long run more effective than socialism.
The present volume by the well-qualified assistant editor of Christian Economics presents the moral argument from a strictly Christian point of view. "It is not by accident that communism assumes an atheistic view of the universe and a materialistic view of man. It is no accident that the American system grew out of a strong faith in God and a spiritual view of the nature of man."
Christianity insists on certain basic moral principles. Each individual is of supreme worth. Every normal man has and ought to have freedom of the will. Every man has a responsibility to help his less fortunate neighbor. The use of force and violence by one man against another is immoral. Stealing is wrong.
Irving Howard documents the socialist’s denial of each of these moral principles. In reality, the socialist scorns the common man and talks only about "lower classes." He denies that man, using his free will, can make wise decisions, and therefore the socialist planners must make decisions for him. If men will not do voluntarily what the planners think wise, then they must be forced to do so even though this means the plunder of private property in the form of taxes and the coerced redistribution of wealth. Socialism thus becomes the complete antithesis of Christianity.
The author defends the idea of "Christian economics" by insisting that what one believes determines how he acts, and only the fundamental principles of Christianity can give an adequate moral foundation to capitalism, while they invalidate the fundamental principles of socialism. Such factors as land, labor, money, and government are all discussed from this basic point of view.
Running through the whole book is a strong passion for freedom coupled with a strongly orthodox religious philosophy. "Freedom is not primarily a political concern, it is a religious one. Freedom is a quality of life that has its roots in the worship of God, a worship which produces a man with a high sense of moral responsibility, who does not need external restraints and who will, therefore, make a society in which external restraints are reduced to a minimum and freedom enlarged to a maximum."
OUR WESTERN HERITAGE and THE SCRIPTURAL STANDARD IN ECONOMICS AND GOVERNMENT. Both by Edward P. Coleson, Ph.D. (Privately printed and available from the author, Spring Arbor College, Spring Arbor, Michigan, 49283. $1.25 each, postpaid)
Reviewed by George Charles Roche III
As a college teacher of history and philosophy, this reviewer repeatedly found himself confronted with a problem which many teachers of "Western Civilization" courses have faced: most of the introductory texts and readings available for undergraduate survey courses in the heritage of Western Man fail to present a complete and meaningful picture of their subject. The Judeo-Christian roots of our past, founded upon faith in God, belief in an objective standard of right and wrong, and an affirmation of the dignity of the individual, often are submerged in a sea of "modern" cultural relativism, behaviorism, moral subjectivism, and the rest of the ideology which dominates the textbooks of our superscientistic age.
Professor Coleson’s books are encouragingly different. Clearly and simply written, well-documented, and containing a helpful list of suggested readings, these paperback volumes offer, within the compass of approximately 200 pages each, a straightforward and sound introduction to many aspects of the religious, historic, and moral heritage of Western Man. Throughout, the author relates that heritage to the problems we face today and lays a foundation for the reader to do some fundamental thinking of his own in contemporary economic, political, and ethical questions.
Either or both books would make a genuine addition to many courses in introductory "social science" on the college level. They would be especially valuable as supplementary readings for courses already established, but would also make good reading for anyone interested in the restoration of the values of Western Civilization.
The Greatest Evil
I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters