Front Page Titles (by Subject) V: Social Control - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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V: Social Control - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Governments and those in power have wielded a panoply of manipulative techniques to control and mold citizens. The aim of such social control has been masterfully diagnosed by La Boétie as “voluntary servitude,” eliciting from the governed proper deference and conformity to the governors' prescriptions for social good.
Whatever the form of manipulation, all social control limits personal choice and autonomy. Sometimes control takes the form of such overt displays of state power as armies and court systems that serve vested interests. However, as both La Boétie and his classical model Tacitus suggested, more subtle and lasting control can be exercised by the molding of minds. In the modern era, this subtle control may be insinuated through compulsory public education which instills a politicized ideology. However, by limiting our analysis and devising scapegoats (such as the truant officer, teacher, bureaucrat, or judge), we confuse the personnel and symbols of control with the wider sociological and political nature of social control.
Power and Servility
“Tacitus: On Power.” In Empire Without End. Translated by Joan McConnell and Mario Pei. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976, pp. 143–208.
The tragedies and corrupting social controls wrought by political power were the melancholy themes in the works of the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 55–120 A.D.): Annals, Histories, Germania, Agricola, and Dialogue Concerning Oratory. His Dialogue, for example, attributed the decline in rhetoric and the arts under the empire to the inhibiting self-censorship which power imposed on culture and the individual conscience.
In all his works Tacitus chronicled how power and autocratic emperors led to ever-degenerating stages of individual and national subjection: patientia, adulatio, and servitium. “Patience” meant enduring the vicious aspects of autocracy to enjoy peace and order. “Flattery” to power encouraged hypocritical worship of matricidal, incestuous, and mad rulers. “Servitude” harnessed the free man's spirit to acquiescence and pusillanimity. The Tacitean drama of power portrays somber tableaux of individual consciences making choices when confronted by force. In lurid colors, Tacitus paints the Roman imperial system as successive scenes of violence, intrigue, corruption, greed, and sycophancy.
In his Agricola (a digest of his major themes) Tacitus outlines the choices open to nations and individuals under a regime of total power. Rebel nations, such as Britain, had the cruel alternatives of open war or slavery. Individuals could choose withdrawal, a vainglorious martyr's death for twitting power, or an ambitious servility. Tacitus's father-in-law, and pacifier of Britain, the Roman general Agricola, endeavored to escape the emperor's displeasure by a moderate and deferential attitude. His moderation failed to assuage the dissimulating Domitian. Agricola's untimely death, Tacitus insinuates, was brought about by the tyrant's poison. In this sorrowful meditation on absent liberty, Tacitus sought vestiges of liberty among the noble savages of Germany and Britain. He opposed Roman colonialism for importing Roman luxury and vice to the simple, virtuous peoples of the conquered lands. Through the rebel British chieftain Calgacus, Tacitus projected his own protest to the evils perpetrated against both truth and humanity by Roman imperialism: “Auferre, trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant” (Agricola 30: “They misname plundering, butchery, stealing as empire: they create a wilderness and they label it peace.”) Even the imported cultural refinements of Roman imperialism (e.g., the baths and cuisine) could control and debilitate the colonized Britons: “The unsophisticated natives called it ‘culture’, whereas it was a part of their servility.” (Agricola 21).
State vs. Education
“Education and the Political Community.” Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies, Center for Independent Education paper, 1977.
Since the early republic, America's educational ideology has been politicized: public schools have served government, molding citizens to conform with the social good as leaders define it. State-controlled education, however, contradicts America's tradition of freedom, pluralism, individualism, and self-rule. Despite its shifting goals (cultural homogeneity or social betterment), the state has used public education to condition individuals to live and work for its interests.
Exposés of American public schooling have proliferated during the past decade:
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (1970);
William Rickenbacker, ed., The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Education (1974);
Joel Spring, Education and the Rise of the Corporate State (1972); and A Primer of Libertarian Education (1975); and
E.G. West, Education and the State (1970).
Besides attacking rising costs and inferior instruction, the current critics have studied public education as a sociopolitical institution. They have historically traced the role of the public school as a political tool of social, cultural, and moral conformity. This educational brainwashing originated with Plato and appeared in the Prussian state schools and in the inconsistent position of the utilitarian classical economists.
Politicized education was promulgated by such influential Founding Fathers as Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Jefferson. Influenced by Rousseau, the French Encyclopedists, and the Physiocrats, all three desired the unifying cultural force of state education. They distrusted non-English immigrants and anticipated the nineteenth-century nativist hysteria over aliens who might pollute the approved moral and political values. A strong republic needed an “educated” citizenry who would surrender their diversity in the “melting pot” of state education.
Three approaches summarize the role of the state in education: (1) to use public education as a tool of social, political, and cultural control; (2) to limit public education to a minimum standard of literacy; and (3) to achieve a total separation of state and education. This last position was endorsed, among others, by William Godwin in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin disparaged authority and centralism as a threat to truth, virtue, and diversity. The classical liberals and classical economists (including Smith, Say, J.S. Mill, and Humbolt) allowed their utilitarian concern for social uplift of the poor to erode their opposition to state intervention in schooling. The result has been a gradual decline of private education.
Public vs. Private Education
The Political Economy of Public School Legislation. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies (1977) 38 pp.
Was public schooling needed or rationally justified? The case study of “universal” and “free” public education in New York state undermines the arguments for a government monopoly through compulsory schooling.
Was there any need for “universal” public education? The rationalizations behind public schooling—to supply poor and rural students with education, to prevent crime, and to alleviate the community need for informed citizens through schooling's positive “neighborhood effects”—ignored whether the private sector was already providing such services. Shying away from empirical cost-benefit comparisons between private vs. public provision of education, public school proponents avoided a rigorous investigation of the need for public education. Teachers, administrators, and legislators cloaked behind the rhetoric of “optimal welfare criteria” their less public-spirited motives of self-interest.
Of course, public education was never “free” since it was originally free-funded and later funded from compulsory tax levies. The recently developed economic theory of politics exposes how politicizing education (e.g., in the drive for public school legislation in New York state) served the vested interests of privileged state groups and in turn led to social conflict.
New York state's march toward universal public education never seriously grappled with the alternative of private, voluntary education. Two laws required, in turn, compulsory payment and compulsory consumption that strengthened the monopoly of public schooling at the expense of parental choice and private education. The Free School Act of 1867 replaced parental fee-payments for public schooling with general and compulsory tax levies. Next, the 1874 Compulsory Education Act guaranteed a stable student market for public educators.
Before such political interventions, private education was providing adequate education for most students in New York state. Rather than set up its own schools, the state could have restricted its interventions to only subsidizing the truly needy and allowing them to freely choose which schools to attend. The more efficient and choice-maximizing course would have been to avoid public education in toto.
Public Schools vs. Privacy
“Values Education and the Right to Privacy.” Journal of Moral Education (UK), 7 (October 1977): 9–26.
Public schools have increasingly introduced formal moral education courses into the compulsory curriculum. Such courses, which require the student to disclose sensitive information, strongly disturb parents and civil libertarians. They contend that such disclosures violate the right to privacy of the student and his family. Is such opposition well grounded?
The right of privacy rests on the underlying values of personal autonomy, liberty, and fairness. This right, it is argued, is not absolute since the pragmatic needs of the state may require mandatory violation of privacy (e.g., to compel witnesses to testify in courts). In the school setting, three areas of information-gathering do not seem to violate privacy (understood as the right to withhold personal information): data on family demographics, on career choice, and on the ideas that are normally discussed in teaching literature and the sciences. These types of elicited information are legitimate because of an implicit contract between the school and the students which necessitates exchange of data for administrative or instructional purposes.
Four other areas of information-gathering in school, however, would violate the right to privacy: data on personal relationships within the family, and within peer groups, data on personal behavior and emotions, and beliefs on general philosophic or religious views.
On the basis of these different kinds of information-gathering we can distinguish between two methods of teaching values. The “values clarification” method violates a student's right to privacy by intrusively seeking information in the four banned areas. To overcome a student's tendency toward apathy or “overdissension” this first and illegitimate method demands disclosing personal values to clarify the content of the student's value choices. Such personal information should be sacrosanct. The second method of moral education, Lawrence Kohlberg's “moral development” technique neither violates privacy nor intrudes into the four areas of privileged information. Through discussing moral dilemmas and difficult choices moral reasoning is emphasized rather than content or conclusions. The aim of this licit technique is to ascend toward the upper levels of Kohlberg's six stages of moral reasoning.
Truant Officers as Scapegoats
“The Man Nobody Liked: Toward A Social History of the Truant Officer, 1840–1940.” American Quarterly 29 (Spring 1977): 31–58.
Never able to shed his “hooky-cop stereotype,” the truant officer has perennially served as a scapegoat for the injustices of the existing social order whose authority he supported. Over the years the truant officer's image has varied from policeman to minister, salesman, psychologist, social worker, and executive of “child accounting.” He has, nonetheless, never escaped the ignominy of subjecting to compulsory education harmless Huck Finns who generally preferred gainful jobs to the dull routine of classrooms. Although he came into daily contact with family poverty, social decay, and dispirited children, his remedy was stabilizing social order through obligatory schooling rather than major social changes.
In pre-nineteenth century America, “truant” was synonymous with “rogue.” Victorian America continued these connotations. Even before compulsory education, “truant officers” were charged with removing “dirty, ragged” children from mischievous idleness to school (often a reform school).
Truant officers were caught in the middle of complex social forces and became scapegoats: to parents who scorned compulsory education, to employers who disliked meddlers curtailing their labor force, and to teachers who resented incorrigible students being thrust into their classroom. Furthermore, they were ridiculed as the butt of jokes and cartoons. To euphemize their connection with compulsory education, truancy departments in Pennsylvania changed their name from “compulsory attendance” to “child helping and child accounting.”
Truant officers strove to upgrade the image of their discredited group. During the Victorian era, truant officers were viewed as quasi-policemen who dealt with quasi-delinquents and disorderly youth. Truancy was a moral flaw of character, and punishment was the appropriate remedy. Beginning with the Progressive era, the truancy rhetoric shifted to include environmental factors such as poverty and cultural differences. By the 1940s, bureaucratic experts appeared who institutionalized the new ideology of child accounting. In all eras, however, truant officers were “street-level bureaucrats” who were “empowered to regulate the poor” to accommodate them to the prevailing social order.
Were Professionals Technocrats?
“Professionals, Progressives and Bureaucratization: A Reassessment.” Historian 39 (August 1977): 639–658.
The “organizational synthesis” model —advanced by Samuel Hays and Robert Wiebe as well as by Jerry Israel's Building the Organizational Society (1972)—seeks to explain the motivations behind the middle class political reforms of the Progressive era. The Hays-Wiebe approach views professionals in the progressive period as “elitist technocrats” who automatically identified with their occupational, professional role rather than with nonoccupational affiliations (status, ethnic, or political roles). Supposedly, this professional orientation in the rise of middle class experts led to emphasizing efficiency and bureaucratization. In fact, however, professionals were more selective and less determined in judging between bureaucratic or nonbureaucratic solutions.
The weakness of this organizational synthesis (and its equation of professionalism with bureaucratic reforms) is its technological determinism. It also ignores such factors as various cultural backgrounds and social roles. Professions differed from one another in the extent to which “the power of businessmen or bureaucrats impinged on the autonomous exercise of the professional role.” For analysis, it is better to break up the motivating ideologies of professionals in the Progressive era into three orientations: a purely professional, a bureaucratic, and a business orientation.
To begin with the business orientation, debates within the business community over progressive political reforms divided big business from small businessmen. But besides the corporate or business divisions over reform, the influences of the bureaucratic ideal and the professional ideal fragmented the unity within “professional” ranks. Bureaucrats generally desired centralization, while professionals tended toward individual autonomy. Among professionals, some had more leverage to press for autonomy (e.g., doctors, service-professionals), while engineers and lawyers often became mouthpieces for the businessmen they represented.
These degrees of autonomy create different-sounding responses from “professionals.” Engineers will stress efficiency, while social workers will speak out for their clients. At other times, professionals from different fields may incidentally converge in their political goals and interests to form shifting coalitions.
A key question is provoked by those professionals who supported Progressive era bureaucratic and social reforms. Did professionals support these political policies because of class consciousness (as espoused by Kolko, Weinstein, and Domhoff) or because of their technocratic infatuation with bureaucratic means in themselves (as urged by proponents of the organizational synthesis). This question of motivation cannot be simply answered because the professionals responded to different motives. However, most early twentieth century professionals, enjoying its taste, allied themselves with political power for their share in social control.
The Courts and Social Control
“Labor and the Courts: The Common-Law Doctrine of Criminal Conspiracy and Its Application in the Buck's Stove Case.” Labor History 18 (Winter 1977): 91–114.
American courts exploited the common law doctrine of criminal conspiracy to cripple labor unions. Despite the decision of Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842) which ruled that trade unions were not criminal conspiracies, the common-law doctrine of conspiracy continued to haunt unions in cases after the Civil War. In the 1880s, the courts combined the conspiracy doctrine with the injunction and varying interpretations of the legality of boycotts to forge effective weapons against unions.
The Buck's Stove Case (1908) pitted The Buck's Stove and Range Company president James W. Van Cleave (also president of the National Association of Manufacturers) against Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor. This and other conspiracy cases turned on the doctrine that “conspiracy depends upon the lawfulness of object or means used to attain it.” This case involved public policy interpretations of union boycotts and the demise of the AFL's “We Don't Patronize” boycott list.
The Buck's Stove Case showed that the courts were biased against labor activity in the matter of boycotts, and that the judiciary shared a common socioeconomic philosophy with business about the rights of labor unions. Gompers and two other labor leaders narrowly escaped imprisonment in this affair.
In order to protect their boycott, the AFL pleaded their case on the basis of constitutional first amendment rights to free press and speech. The courts, however, brushed aside the Constitution and accepted the common law doctrine of conspiracy. They held that the union was involved in a criminal conspiracy to destroy a firm through the use of boycotting, which was interpreted as a threat to the civil rights of the firm.
It appears that the boycott has been unfairly condemned, since it involves only peaceful social ostracism. The boycott displayed no coercive violence nor libel. The state showed itself partial to aiding one side in the litigation.
The Army and Social Control
“The Army As Strikebreaker—The Railroad Strikes of 1877 and 1894.” Labor History 18 (1977): 179–190.
Was the United States Army merely a nonpartisan force to restore order or was it, in effect, a strikebreaker siding with management against organized labor in the late nineteenth century?
This question is difficult to answer since the army's actions during the two periods of greatest labor disorder (the railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894) point in both directions. For example, in the Pullman strike organized by Eugene Debs's American Railway Union in 1894, it could be argued that the army was merely following the lawful orders of President Cleveland, but a great deal of partisan communication also occurred between army officers and the railway officials. Military leaders were more deferential to railroad managers, even to the point of maintaining intimidating troops in strike areas after civil order was restored. Also, Cleveland's Attorney General Richard Olney's background as a railroad attorney may have prejudiced his treatment of labor.
The army's job was to restore order, but in restoring order it often decisively favored the corporate side. It thus became unwittingly enmeshed in larger economic, political, and social issues that it did not comprehend. Labor's perception of army partiality is significant: “Army officers openly and frequently collaborating with railroad officials could hardly appear as disinterested restorers of order....”
The attitude of the army officer class was also highly partial to management. Imbued with middle class respect for the sanctity of property, it tended both to identify social order with the hegemony of men of property and to fear social decay from the “radical” ideas of the labor unions.
Overall, the men in the army, even the officers, interpreted their functions as following the orders of the President, and if that included strikebreaking, so be it. As Lieutenant William Wallace phrased this sentiment in 1895: “... the army is on the side of constituted authority, and is in all things merely a reflection of that power, which is essential to its existence....” It seems the men who held greater sway with constituted authorities in 1877 and 1894 were corporate interests.
Land Use and Control
Other People's Property. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Health and Co., 1976.
A major problem for organized society is how best to resolve controversies between competing interests. Over the past decades, government's share in the control and decision-making of land use has substantially increased, and with disastrous results. For greater social harmony we should minimize government regulation of land use. We should instead rely upon the restraints inherent in individual competition and freedom to control the use of land. Private market forces offer superior remedies to the question of land use than do government zoning and planning.
Behind the push for national land use legislation is the dubious belief that new urban planning can solve some of the major problems. Government planning, however, presents a false panacea. We witness the counterproductiveness of such planning in urban sprawl, land misuse, high rents, curtailed competition, bribery, and corruption.
Zoning, in particular, must be judged a “colossal flop” because it is incapable of solving its assigned problems. Zoning encourages moral and legal corruption. Less governmental control would mean less corruption. In effect, zoning helps only a favored few, while it harms many.
Public officials are engaged in the contradictory enterprise of wishing to assist the poor while also curbing growth. All public land use regulations—rent controls, building codes, minimum housing laws, density restrictions, housing quotas, and exclusionary zoning—throttle economic growth and sufficient housing for the poor.
The author fuels his earlier indictment against zoning (Land Use Without Zoning, 1972) with further evidence. Zoning creates both social and economic problems by restricting housing and excluding people, by artificially raising the price of property, by curtailing development, and by damping competition. Zoning restrictions favor the rich and penalize the poor.
Private market forces insure a more promising remedy for the evils that government planning both addresses and creates. The conflict of zoning vs. market development raises the intertwined issues of individual freedom, housing, employment, business, taxes, environmental protection, growth, energy, food, and conservation. A telling case can be made against the efficacy of government land use planning. Consumer sovereignty in the marketplace and the individual right to property can secure orderly land development and avoid the potential for dictatorial social control inherent in government regulation of property.