The Public Interest

The roots of the American public philosophy

William A. Schambra

Spring 1982

Is the New Deal public philosophy dead? Has a new public philosophy arisen to take its place since the 1980 election? We may not be able to answer these questions for many years, of course, but there is no denying that a major shift in the terms of political discourse has occurred in Washington, whether temporarily or permanently. We no longer ask ourselves the question that dominated domestic national politics for fifty years, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike: What major new programs should the federal government undertake in order to bring about a more equitable distribution of resources in America? Beneath this change, there seems to be a general disenchantment with the image of America as a great national community-a “Great Society”-bound together by a powerful central government. Instead, we ask ourselves today how we can shore up the “small societies”-state and local governments, and private associations-and how they can be brought to assume many of the burdens heretofore borne by the federal government. And today we ask ourselves how we may re-stimulate the production of resources in America, rather than how we may insure that resources are equally distributed.

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