Commentary Magazine

Non-Rule in America

The first great issue in American history was whether we were to have a federal government at all; its final resolution took about a hundred years. The second great issue of American history—which remains unresolved after another hundred years—is whether the federal government, now that we have it, is ever going to be allowed to govern.

There are two major and two minor exceptions to this formula for our history. To wage war and conduct some of the other foreign relations has always been the function of the national power. Without the pressure proceeding from these imperatives, the national government, once it had completed its second major function—namely, to assist in collecting and disbursing the lands of the continent—would probably have become purely ceremonial. As for the two minor exceptions, the first has been to contribute to the managing of the liberties and welfare of the population, while the second—and potentially most important—has been the role of the national government, inherited from the bankers in the Great Depression, in averting the domestic economic disaster which lies just beyond a conventional slowdown of production.

All other purposes and non-purposes of the federal government have been converging on this last power/purpose, and around it are currently expressed, repressed, distorted, and contained the major dynamisms of our history. We now have a country and an economy neither of which works adequately without somewhat more positive central authority than we have been accustomed to. However, we long ago decided to tolerate central government only or mostly as it dispenses favors and benefits; so that has become its characteristic manner of ruling, when it rules.

I take it as absolutely self-evident that the technological society called the United States is too big and too complex, too dynamic existentially and metaphysically too desperate, to continue to exist—adequately forearmed against disaster—under the jurisdiction of the inherited principles and techniques of non-government. From this self-evident premise, I deduce a crisis. The ideological ground of the crisis is, in essence, our profoundly absurd idea that money is a thing in itself, that there is never enough of it, that it is a private matter, and that the federal government, being public, should therefore have as little to do with it as possible. This is a long subject, and I have discussed it elsewhere1. But what mainly concerns us here is the institutional basis of the crisis, which is located for our day in Congress. For it is here that our refusal or inability to become a coherent nation is most clearly manifested.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the blockading role of Congress has fallen primarily upon the House of Representatives, which was designed constitutionally to exercise the original jurisdiction in fiscal matters. The Senate, which was supposed to decelerate expression of the popular will, has become the more “liberal” chamber, notwithstanding the power of filibuster.2 The design has thus been inverted. (According to Neil MacNeil in Forge of Democracy, since 1939 the Senate has increased House appropriations by close to $3 billion annually—$32 billion in the last ten years.)

But the entire constitutional design—not merely the relation of the House to the upper chamber—is now badly out of whack, because of the profound backwardness of the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court has been dangerously burdened with political initiatives by the necessity of taking up the Congressional slack (the alternative, however, would have been disastrous—to revise the Constitution in favor of Congressional ineptitude). And as for the Executive Branch, I would briefly describe it as alternately benumbed and hysterical. It is becoming nearly impossible to preserve even a meaningful semblance of domestic executive leadership, despite the immense energies being devoted thereto by the current administration. The country simply cannot be run by executive order and publicity—a legislature is required as well. But instead of a legislature prepared to use national power in a positive fashion to deal with existing problems, we have non-rule by Congress. We have come, in short, to a historical dead stop.



A revealing symptom of our condition is the fact that almost every political question in America is argued on metaphysical, not political, grounds—the issue is never how power is to be used, but whether it is to exist at all or its existence acknowledged when it does. Since politics is concerned entirely and exclusively with the uses of power, it is possible to say that we have not yet arrived at politics in this country; we are still carrying on the work of the Founding Fathers—that is, creating an American system in which the uses of power may eventually be discussed and the thing itself, politics, occur.

This negative view of power is perhaps the distinctive aspect of the American character. It subsumes our notorious Puritanism, but is not limited to it. It relates to the Puritanism in that all private power—whether exercised by you in relation to your child or by the management of General Motors with respect to the structure of urban life—is so completely overjustified from a spiritual point of view that in practice it is no longer recognized as “power” at all. (The proof is in trying to use the very word in discussing any of these private relations: people respond as if they had been insulted.) But this Puritan moralism has become so hard-pressed by the challenges of modern complexity that it now requires a kind of paranoid screen on which to project a negative image of the power it fears to acknowledge. And that negative image is the federal government. (Only war, which opens up the perspective of external hostility, is exempt from this classic prescription.) The radical right-wingers are nearly as paranoid about our own government as they are about the Soviet government—and they are simply worse than the rest of us, not all that different at bottom.

The national power which our history has denied us is desperately needed today—it is quite likely a matter of life and death. On two counts, one domestic and the other worldwide. The first has been mentioned: an advancing technological society cannot exist ungoverned; without more coherent government than we have now, we will end up crushing each other—eventually physically, as now psychologically. With more and more people living together in increasingly complicated and interdependent patternings made possible and imperative by the technology and its astounding historical pace, fewer areas of social life can safely remain free of governing. Each time we wait for problems to solve themselves we deny the palpable world around us, thus seeking a disaster we must ultimately find. Health, education, employment, the organization of our living and working areas, along with the development of the scientific technology which is the source of all our blessings and troubles—all these require some decisive support or control by the national government, some positive use of central power.

In the second, worldwide arena, the matter is obviously a daily one of life and death, and with the current primary reliance on military posture, it must remain so. In the absence of further and deeper agreements with the Soviets, the only road forward is that of non-military initiatives; also, the more agreement we achieve, the more such initiatives—based on our domestic power—will dominate the world scene. Here lies the true unilateral path. This is the only way to force the Soviets to agree, or to deal with the abiding conflict after they agree. If we were to adapt the army, say, to the purposes of massive developmental aid, or build a new technical organization to dispense and utilize $10 or $20 billion annually in this kind of “war,” the Soviets would have to respond in kind. This would certainly make them more amenable to arms reduction, since they are not nearly equal to us in over-all capacity and would be hard put to find the necessary resources. We would in effect be “spending them into submission”—or, at least, reasonableness. The idea of spending them into submission is regularly advanced in support of all new or redundant armament. To spend them into submission by means of developmental aid would be infinitely more effective and desirable from all points of view. But this alternative is not available to us, we are told, because the need is not recognized, or because the power does not exist, or because it would be improper to use the power for that purpose. Or, when the argument gets hot, all three at the same time.

Note the horribly bloated role of the military motif in overcoming, for what one might call subsistance purposes, the negative view of federal power. There is hardly a problem-area where the military umbrella has not at last been raised. From the hospital system of the Veterans Administration through the maze of general spending-support to the fostering of technological advance itself, the force of the military excuse and distortion is omnipresent. Defense needs have been the keystone of effective national policy, both domestic and foreign, since the New Deal ended in the recession of 1937—8. In its proportionate relation to population and GNP, the non-military role of the federal government has actually declined since that time.

To this juncture has our history brought us. The issue: to be not merely a geographical federation of constituencies, but a nation—and that for more than military reasons or by military means. Reading American history with hindsight, our deepest difficulty has been the sustained positive use of national power—to an extent that nations with more duration and less land can hardly imagine.

It seems that the whole conscious segment of the country is now being shocked into awareness of the role of Congress as the torch-bearer of American power-negativism. All of a sudden—perhaps because the initial verve and top-flight press releases of the Kennedy administration cruelly revived memories of the New Deal—everyone has realized that domestic amelioration and reform have been almost entirely blocked, tabled, dribbled out, and distorted for a full quarter-century. The military umbrella had previously obscured this major fact. Yet I would suggest that the fact which has been obscured is a cultural, even spiritual one, and not a matter of how the seniority system works. For Congress expresses the profounder contradictory meanings in our history. It dominates the Judiciary as statute is superior to decision; and the Executive can initiate for the most part only ideologically when it does not carry the Congress. It is easy for the Executive or the Judiciary to make believe we are a nation, but it is impossible for Congress to do so. Where Congress acts, there a nation acted. There is no distortion and no backwardness in, around, and under our nationhood which is not represented and overrepresented in Congress. Therefore Congress cannot possibly be viewed as an unfortunate collection of technical details. Congress is, indeed, the major structural problem in our history, and never more so than today. But structural means spiritual, not technical—although this is the hardest proposition for an American to understand, with his traditional confounding of the two categories. What is wrong with Congress is wrong with us. The crisis of this institution is a crisis of American character and personality. Congressional non-rule perfectly expresses our personal unwillingness to abandon our adored image of infinite individualism, and enter gracefully, or at least energetically, into a generous age of technological abundance.



In a practical way, the indictment of Congress reads as follows: in the first place, not every citizen has an equal chance to achieve representation; and in the second place, even if he did, Congress is not adequately organized to create or effectuate the majority will of such properly selected representatives. The first is an ancient but worsening scandal; we soften the point of it by imagining ourselves to be more homogeneous than we are—but the Negroes have lately been making our heterogeneity harder to deny. So far as the second consideration is concerned, it may be a decade or more before we mature to a cultural-political level at which it could frustrate us in its own right.

The unrepresentative quality of our system of representation derives from direct and total, as well as partial and indirect, disenfranchisement. Briefly, the de facto system favors whites over Negroes, rural over urban, permanent residents over mobile types (especially permanent residents of sparsely populated areas), and, of course, the wealthy over the poor. Clearly, it favors the more conservative groups. So much so that, with their vested attachment to the present imbalance, the belief and willingness of conservatives to participate in the formal democratic system are being or have been undermined. That is most obviously the tragedy of the South—but it is not limited to that area. Southerners are not the only Americans to have become so accustomed to unfair advantages that they can no longer bear to contemplate the possibility of fair disadvantages—which is, of course, an essential of a democratic order.

The worst of the whole matter is the coerced denial of the right of Negroes to vote in the South. This aspect of the de facto system does not exist even under an excuse of law. White voting registrars simply refuse to register Negroes: when the point needs to be driven home, the lawlessness of the white community—working through the police or through volunteers—accomplishes whatever may be needed. Jobs are lost, loans are called, arrests are made, shots are fired. Whatever may be needed. The result is an ad hoc apartheid shaped in a deadly social battle by the Southern activists against both the conscience of the nation and the legal/police power of the federal government. In a way, it is worse than South Africa—worse for the whites, I mean. Because the black-and-white spiritual triumph of the white, which is the whole point of the absurd effort, is ever-beckoning, ever-denied. The entire purpose of racialism is to simplify life, but the white Southerners have in fact complicated everything almost beyond bearing. After a while, all that is left to them in this impossible situation is to wallow in the process of losing—and, by their own unspeakable definition, losing everything, not merely the pleasures of racialism. (Meanwhile, the Negroes go to pieces in the process of winning, because they also foolishly defined their victory as “everything.”)

The struggle of the Negroes is the most exhilarating since the labor push of the 30′s. It is also much more extensive than many of us have realized. For example, the issue of poverty—the deeply disgusting issue of poverty in this wealthy nation—is a live one politically almost only as it is a subsumed part of the general Negro movement. Likewise, the massive and mounting issue of technological unemployment. Moreover, the positive bid of one-tenth of the population to overcome deprivation which ranges from the most brutal material factors to the spiritual heights of mis-identity with a white God, must inevitably affect the whole white culture.

The Negroes, with their black skin as a battle-flag, may save this nation yet (I say “nation” because they insist on it). It is they who suffer most from the American dream—they are the only true believers left. The Negro movement is a religious movement, and it seems almost powerful enough to sweep the country along with it to a new spiritual level. It is religious because it requires for its own fulfillment that the whites become better people—the Negroes are not really interested in greasy hamburgers, white toilets, and another Ralph Bunche. This is the persuasive underlying truth that the Black Muslims (by denying the possibility) rely on, and that so agitates the immense talent of James Baldwin, who was and remains a greatly gifted preacher exquisitely poised above the emotional eddies of black and white. The Negroes are a small part of the population, however, and I feel their gift will always be primarily a cultural one. Their skin makes them spiritual witnesses to the current state of the white man’s belief and practice. Their skin can change only in the white man’s eye, just as it was created in the white man’s eye. Being thus doomed, and carrying an incommensurate historical hatred, they can allow us peace only when we allow them to escape into middle-class comfort. Before that happens, the nation will have been transformed. The poor will have been raised, the unemployed hired, and practical justice of a kind proffered to many city and country victims.

The Negroes can be expected to provide a radical leavening for some time, until new comfort joins with old discouragement, and a generation settles. But if before they burn out they manage to register enough voters in the South, with federal assistance, they may well have given us a decisive turn in our political life. No matter how badly gerrymandered against them Congressional districts may be, and therefore how few Congressmen they actually elect, the time will come when state-wide candidates will have to deal with Negro blocs in Southern states. The cities are even more deeply at odds with rural districts in the South than elsewhere in the country; eventually, then, the urban and Negro blocs will together elect governors and senators. Moreover, as the Southern diehards are isolated by the continued application of federal pressure, the ordinary Southern whites will be freed from their extremist political tyranny, and will then have an opportunity to develop more normal brokerage-politics on the regular American model. It will be important at that time for the Negroes to have something to trade—namely registered, deliverable voters. Remember, it was Negro voting in the North, following the war migrations, which prepared the basis for the present movement.

However, the disenfranchisement which supports non-rule by Congress goes far beyond the parochial apartheid of the South. Most significantly, it concerns malapportionment of Congressional districts selectively across the land, which makes one man’s vote worth a great deal more than the vote of another. The man with the more worthwhile vote always lives in a rural area. The apportionment patterns give full representation to our vanished farm population and the culture once sustained by it. They give power to place rather than persons—and “place” means the remnant ideology of a way of life that very few people any longer live. The facts are truly amazing. In fifteen states, the difference between the smallest and largest district is approximately equal to the apportionment factor itself—410,000 persons for each Representative. The difference between the smallest and largest in the whole country in the 87th Congress—1,015,460 for an urban district in California and 177,431 for a rural one in Michigan—was more than twice the factor. (In New York this difference came to 645,952.)



The most dramatic characterization of the related situation in the state legislatures came from Professor Charles L. Black, Jr. of the Yale Law School in a recent discussion of the proposed Constitutional amendment which has already been sneaked through in twelve states and whose purpose is to return plenary power over voting to the states. (The campaign is almost as clever as it is disgusting: being based on the obvious community of interest of rural-dominated state legislatures and the traditional states-righters of the South, the amendment is being pushed through outside the South to escape the racist stigmata, while the Southern states are mostly holding their fire.) Professor Black has estimated that this amendment, if passed, would allow amendment of the Constitution with the support of only 15 per cent of the total American population (under the present provision, two-thirds of Congress must approve or provide for amendments). The figuring goes like this: the Constitution can be amended by thirty-eight states; the thirty-eight least populous states have 40 per cent of the population; on the average, 38 per cent of the voters—because of intrastate malapportionment—can select a majority of a state legislature; 38 per cent of 40 per cent is 15 per cent of the whole.3

This despicable campaign is a last-ditch counter-attack against the great decision of the Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr, the Tennessee reapportionment case, handed down March 26, 1962. Since that date, suits have been filed in thirty-six states, apportionment provisions determined to be invalid in nineteen states, and some reapportionment already carried out in fifteen states. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The New York Times calls it a revolution, and the New York Times is right. Pretty clearly, a house of cards is tumbling. As with the segregation decision, the Court has commanded a direction rather than having set down a prescription. It did not say, “One man, one vote,” and it did not say either/or on federal reapportionment in Congressional elections. (Future-directed vagueness is not merely a judicial habit: it is an element of judicial power.) But since state legislatures malapportion Congressional districts in their own image, the tide has turned decisively (even if the Court refuses jurisdiction of a particular case, or decides adversely4).

Beyond malapportionment lies gerrymandering; beyond gerrymandering lies the character of campaign financing; beyond that and election there is the encounter with the seniority system, the Rules Committee in the House, and the filibuster in the Senate, and much more of that sort of negative power. And beyond all this is the capstone of structural issues: the business discipline and ideological coherence of the party system; for the sloppy characterlessness of our national parties derives from the underlying structural mess. Then the final issue—the relation between elected governmental power and the power of business, finance, and other private institutions. In confronting these issues and controlling the military, we can become a coherent democratic nation. And not until then.



Quite a program. It will not be pursued, if at all, in an orderly fashion: a little here, a little there, occasionally an awareness that something really significant has happened while everybody was milling around in a discouraged way; then, with the big-city breakthrough, an accelerating momentum. On the basic existential level, the cities have already “broken through,” and quite dynamically—the problem being to bring these new life-conditions to political expression. It will happen. Not without further (and accelerating) degeneration and crisis—but that is already well under way.

Take, as an example of breakthrough, the big-city Reform movement in the Democratic party. It is huffing and puffing and blowing down the burned-out structures of the old neighborhood organizations based on immigrant illiteracy. It is doing this, so far, with little more than the impetuous hostility of disgruntled arrivés: the movement was so little prepared for its success, in an emotional or ideological or organizational sense, that it may only fly up the flue—a new version of the fate of the old municipal do-gooders and mugwumps. In New York City, for instance, the Reformers suffer from a hilarious form of purism whereby they are rent from end-to-end on issues like the support of electable candidates and the ten-foot-pole approach to patronage. They don’t yet want to win; in a distorted fashion, they have their own version of the traditional American power-negativism. But the point not to be missed is that their impetuous victories came so easily. In California they were an essential influence in the re-shaping of that volatile state (including a professionally executed Democratic gerrymander). Understandably, their efforts did not result in the desired dictatorship of the educated consumer—but these efforts did make a great deal of difference. They are very important leavening: if the Reformers understood their role, they would be even more important. Being halfway people culturally, understanding dampens their enthusiasm, which is all the fun).

Despite the adolescent militancy of the Democratic Reformers, I want to suggest, again speculatively, that the right-wingers are providing the more substantial impetus toward party realignment or other political advance. In Congress, where it really counts, the parties have already been realigned de facto, thanks to the right-wingers. Even more important, they have the money—as limitless as Texas oil and local real estate. They are smarter than one might think in spending it, too: it is reported that the Birchers are concentrating on sparsely populated Western states where a dollar goes further in buying a new Senator. Also, the pressure of events—once more, with the Negro as catalyst—has been forcing the right-wingers together irrespective of formal party affiliation. They are mostly isolating themselves, however, which is the beginning of political death; for while such isolation concentrates and purifies ideologically, it exposes practical weakness at the same time. Once the country learns they are weak. . . . And remember, it happened with McCarthy. The bulwark against formal realignment is that it’s more trouble than it’s worth, since a formal party is meaningful and useful only nationally, and the right-wingers hardly think about that (outside of the “national” Congress, where party discipline is sufficiently ineffective to leave them all the scope they need). But Senator Strom Thurmond is officially for a realignment, and so, it appears, is Senator Karl Mundt. It would happen very quickly once the troglodytes lost their major party seniority in Congress; it may happen, even if slowly, by the attrition of history.

The idea that the country doesn’t want the so-called “liberal” legislation which since 1938 it has been the function of Congress to frustrate, is nicely and regularly disproved by the fact that no one (apparently not even Barry Goldwater) dares to run for President—and indeed many statewide offices—without substantially endorsing such legislation. And if the Republicans ever try, it will be the last time. It is culturally distressing to have to call this a “liberal” program in the first place. Each generation, it would seem, must fight its battles on terrain selected by the previous generation—there is no hope for it. But this is no reason not to recognize the embarrassing fact that major elements of the American Frustrated Program are being administered today by conservatives throughout Europe.



Because of our system of non-rule, we have in one bundle the old and new problems of Europe—many of the social-welfare issues and industry-articulation matters that Europe dealt with some time ago, plus the deeper and more difficult questions of long-term redistribution of income with which Europe is having at least as much trouble as we are. In America, all of these have come together under the primary non-rule issue of federal deficit financing, also known by the fighting slogans of a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, and that final metaphor for the backside of the moon, a stable dollar. The cultured pearls which make up Congressional wisdom concerning deficit financing are the open-mouthed despair of the majority of economists in the country. But I want to make the heretical suggestion that this organized, purposeful stupidity is founded on genuine cunning. Reasonable fiscal policy and planning, in the conservative style of Europe, would mostly miss the American point. The owners and rulers abroad are “protected” by a lack of resources, and on the other hand, must get the most out of the system to forestall serious redistribution. Here, there is too much abundance to allow the redistribution problem to be brought clearly forward, and any increase in efficiency would create so much additional abundance that the problem would become so clear it would not have to be brought forward. To put the case another way: we have and can have so much here that simple distribution of physical product without the difficulties of redistribution of wealth would nearly suffice. Given federal deficit financing, enough additional product can be created so that none need be diverted from present recipients. Eventually, however, we will have to redistribute principal or capital paper in America, but mainly to account for the federal deficit which otherwise would grow endlessly and finally defeat its own purpose. The main thing about the deficit is that it takes unused money and spends it; but in the payment of interest it recreates more unused money. It is this latter effect which must be controlled, otherwise the point will be reached where the deficit reverses its intended effect. But a $20 billion annual deficit for a decade would hardly begin the process (it would hardly do the necessary spending job, either).

The acceptance of deficit financing by the Federal government for non-military purposes is, in fact, the beginning of a liquidation of our traditional system—or at least of the traditional view of our system. More precisely, it would be a major step forward in a process of liquidation which is already well under way. But it is that one step which convinces you that you are really now on the road. Deficit financing goes beyond what taxes and the corporations have done to alter the property system: it confronts the major historical matter of the rentiers. That is why it is being fought so frantically throughout our society. Also, it is the issue par excellence for the non-rulers. They lead the fight with such desperate effectiveness because non-rulers must non-rule—they lose power decisively by joining in genuine rule. The blockade against federal spending is the common denominator of the non-rulers’ frustration of the whole “liberal” program. Abhorrence of a deficit is the always available reason for saying “No!”

The largest and most enduring political/cultural question in the United States, however, is the relation between the backwardness enthroned in Congress and the basic industrial-financial power in the country. The relation of Congressmen to local business interests seems painfully clear. But what about the managers of big business? Is Congressional backwardness a social/political camouflage for big business? Or is the corporate power culturally incapable of confronting the social base of Congress? Or is it both—in that business may utilize the camouflage because it cannot overcome the backwardness? Take General Electric, and you have one answer: with IBM and Ford, perhaps another. The model may be the relation of big business to smaller firms in the NAM, where the screaming of the free enterprisers is clearly a screen of noise to obscure the bigger, surer managerial power in the background.

It is the ingrained irresponsibility of big national business that complicates the matter. They may have done nothing about what Congress is doing to the country for the simple and absurd reason that it has not occurred to enough of them that it is anything but the other fellow’s problem. Irresponsibility of this high order, however, creates irrelevance, so that their dominant power ends up immobilized.

The deepest “malapportionment” of all, then, is this profound structural irresponsibility of corporate power. Power is quantitatively limited: if they have it, whether or not they use it, it means that we don’t have it even if we would use it. The big corporations are exaggeratedly frightened of federal power in the abstract, but deal with it easily and well enough for their own limited purposes (vide, military procurement). Perhaps they are so preoccupied with their cat-and-mouse maneuvering vis-à-vis the Executive that they have not gotten around to noticing Congress as a separate problem (also, things went so “smoothly” there in the past). More likely, they are so unreasonably fearful of the potential power of the Executive in relation to their own that they have not felt able to dispense institutionally with the native troops supplied by Congressional suzerains, just as they have not been bold enough ideologically to dispense with NAM balderdash.

If we assume that big corporate power is by and large unwilling or unable to assist in breaking the Congressional blockade, we still want to know how active they would become in support of it, should an attack from other quarters approach success. I don’t think they would fight too hard to protect the Thurmonds and the Mundts. If for no other reason, they just don’t think big enough. That may indeed turn out to be their historical epitaph. Which would be too bad: for what else is there that can serve as a ready, rational counterweight to an inevitably oversized federal power?



I do not want to be taken as suggesting that politics is all structural-spiritual. By no means. My point is that we are at a peculiar and particular juncture, whereby certain rotten structural-spiritual timbers not only endanger the stability of the edifice, but also constitute an inviting pushover. The change I am talking about, moreover, is a big one only because it has been frustrated so long. A few billion dollars’ worth a year of federal aid to education is not going to make all that much difference in the cultural quality of our lives; and a couple of billion a year well spent on medical training and facilities will still not cure cancer and heart disease. I am talking about a fairly pallid majoritarianism—just the minimal adjustment to the effects of a technological society, and particularly the urban and other quality-of-population problems created thereby. A truly intelligent and dynamic use of our abundant opportunities—the opportunities of technological abundance—is, I fear, quite beyond us. That will require a wait of at least one generation.

As Neil MacNeil advises us, the New Deal ended with the passage of the Wage and Hour Bill in 1938. That Congress also marks the beginning of the conservative coalition which has effectively non-ruled the country on domestic issues since then. In 1938, Sam Rayburn became majority leader, thus beginning his dominant historical role as the Great Broker of the Democratic party—which ended factually with his death, but even more importantly with his devoted leadership of the 1961 Rules Committee fight against “Judge” Smith. I am guessing that the brokerage system Rayburn presided over for nearly a quarter of a century was approaching its end, regardless of his personal fate, and wizard that he was. For two paramount reasons: the Negroes would not stand still for it much longer; and it was not good enough in the first place.

My point comes down to this: a shift of twenty to forty Representatives could in some degree re-determine American, and thus world, history. This is not a proposition that can be “proved” abstractly. It will have to be tested. Not that history is determined or redetermined by mechanical means; it is simply that the House of Representatives is currently the front-line of the political problem, and the problem is there susceptible to solution by a small shift. Now, “counting the House” for general purposes is a complex and perhaps hopeless task (on specific bills it is counted regularly and with great accuracy). Social forces do not express themselves neatly in the ideology and voting records of individual Representatives: I assume that there will always be a swing-group in the House, and the House will always be a brokerage agency. But again, the present structural situation is so out of whack that these obvious facts of political life do not obtrude at the threshold of the immediate problem. The House has passed or rejected President Kennedy’s domestic measures with notably close margins. In the Rules Committee fight in the 87th Congress, the final vote was 217—212, the official or formal bloc membership being 174 Republicans, 162 Northern and Western Democrats, and 99 Democrats from the Southern states. When the President counted the House after his election (according to MacNeil), he found 180 for him and 180 against on his general domestic program, with seventy-odd “negotiable.” The “negotiables” are mostly urban Republicans and some populist-minded rural types, both South and West.

The underlying problem, I have suggested, is that we have a negative view of power and we have not yet succeeded to our nationhood. But we may be closer than we realize to achieving a grossly realized national power capable of dealing with the Frustrated American Program. (That achievement is also the basis of a serious national culture, incidentally, as well as of serious legitimation of national corporate power.) The Negroes, the courts, and the new activity of the educated masses are enough, I hope and I believe, shortly to overcome the narrow margin remaining between us and our nationhood. The alternative would be a deadly drama indeed.




1 See The Paper Economy, selections from which were published in COMMENTARY for September, October, and November 1962.

2 The Senate is more “liberal,” because the characteristic county-type malapportionment in the House is avoided; but less “liberal” basically because New York and Nevada both have two representatives in the chamber.

3 Being forced to choose, for the length of one essay, between factual demonstration and speculative elaboration, I have naturally gone along with the latter. The argument as to the significance of numerical malapportionment can, I am sure, become quite complicated. Let it. When the conservatives defend it (and the accompanying gerrymander) with less ferocity in practice, I will listen with more interest to their arguments in theory that fair numerical apportionment would not make any real difference anyway. As for theoretical arguments justifying malapportionment, they are beneath contempt.

4 It has accepted two for argument at the fall term in 1963.

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