March 17, 2017

PHIL HAMBURGER responds to a critic.

There is nothing “anti-elite” in explaining the U.S. Constitution’s representative form of government and its guarantees of rights. Nor is there anything anti-elite in studying the role of class in the development of administrative power.

My scholarship (past and forthcoming) argues that administrative power undermines equal voting rights by shifting much lawmaking power out of Congress into the hands of unelected administrators. My work shows, moreover, that this shift occurred when the knowledge class regretted the boisterous sort of politics that came with equal voting rights. Woodrow Wilson candidly explained that “the reformer is bewildered” by the need to persuade “a voting majority of several million heads”—especially when the reformer needed to influence “the mind, not of Americans of the older stocks only, but also of Irishmen, of Germans, of Negroes.” One could go on at length with such quotes, and certainly administrative power has been dominated by whites of a certain class, but the point is not narrowly about racism. Instead, it is about how a class that expected deference to its knowledge was disappointed with the results of equal suffrage in a diverse society. It therefore welcomed a transfer of lawmaking power out of the elected legislature and into the hands of the right sort of people.

The argument, in other words, is not against an elite, but against the administrative dilution of representative government and equal voting rights.

It seems to me indisputable that things took place as he describes, and that change also seems rather difficult to defend. And, frankly, given the sorry performance of our “elites” in recent decades, I don’t think that “anti-elite” should be regarded as a term of opprobrium. . . .

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