ApPlication of Peter Berger
Key Principles of Peter L. Berger: Vis a Vis Sociology of and the Sociology of Knowledge as they Relate to Social Roles, Social Stratification, Social Inequality, and Justice, Peter J. Jessen, Reader, 1993
From “The Valley of the Fallen” To The “Mountain of the Risen
FROM: Solution Paper #44, posted May 21, 2011, Guidelines for Including Justice in Planning Meetings to Calculate a Better Future for Minneapolis in terms of education, jobs, housing and public safety, by engaging in a “ contestation” between competing public policy idea sets.
Excerpt: Calculating A Better Future For All, p. 297-299 of Interlude 16, of The Minneapolis Story
From “The Valley of the Fallen” To The “Mountain of the Risen:”
A Parable of Calculating Actions and Laws
For Their Attendant Pain and Meaning,
To Better Envision A World Integrating All People
into the Mainstream of Equal Access and Equal Opportunity
I believe our new, smaller government must work in an old-fashioned American way, together with all of our citizens through state and local governments, in the workplace, in religious, charitable and civic associations. Our goal must be to enable all our people to make the most of their own lives -- with stronger families, more educational opportunity, economic security , safer streets, a cleaner environment in a safer world.
President Bill Clinton, State of the Union Message, 1996
The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves. We must go forward as one America, one nation working together to meet the challenges together. Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues; we must have both.
From Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change (Basic Books, NY, NY, 1974), Peter L. Berger:
Thesis #11: We must seek solutions to our problems that accept neither hunger nor terror.
Thesis #15: Those who are the objects of policy should have the
opportunity to participate not only in specific decisions but in the definitions of the situation on which these decisions are based.
Thesis #22: A key area for such institutional innovation will be in the
creation of intermediate structures—intermediate, that is, between the modern state and the undifferentiated mass of uprooted individuals typical of modern societies. This policy imperative cuts across the capitalist/socialist dichotomy.
Peter Berger ends his 1972 book Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change with the story of the Spanish Civil War. It was filled with moral ambiguity and unspeakable brutality on both sides, with the Nationalists, the Falange, attempting to “hold at bay the forces of modernity, to turn Spain back to the virtues of an earlier age,” as they fought against the Republican ideals of modern democracy and revolutionary salvation. Both were “historically specific conservatives.”
Spain’s monument to this conflict, near the Valley of the Fallen, was dug out of a mountain, where thousands from both sides are buried, with the inscription: “to die for God and Spain.” Berger’s chilling statement is: And the Spain that is now emerging has nothing to do with what either side fought and died for. This can be said also about the Civil Rights movement as it applies to Blacks in the inner city.
Few historical actions lead to intended consequences, whereas many lead to unintended consequences. So good intentions are not enough. We need a way to evaluate both our policies and our deeds. I have suggested one approach with my YESes and NOs of Chapters 5 that are repeated in Chapter 17.
Since then, Berger has developed another way of helping us understand social dynamics by casting aside the model of Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative. He notes how we are all conservative, in that once we get our way, we want to keep it that way. In other words, the basic difference between political Left and Right is in what they want to conserve. For those on the political far Left, the ideal is an imagined utopian future that they want to put in place, often through revolutionary means, and once established, conserve it by freezing it in place, and accept no more change. The model usually includes some component of socialism. This, in my view, is the essence of the 20th-century’s socialist totalitarian societies. For those on the political Right, the ideal is an imagined golden age that they wish to resurrect from the past, often through armed means, and once established, conserve it and freeze it in place, and accept no more change. Both are “historically specific conservatives.” An alternative is what Berger calls “historically nonspecific conservatives,” those who recognize that no matter what one tries to freeze in place, there will still be change, both unpredicted and unintended, and therefore one need “make haste slowly.” He discusses this in his 1991 essay “Capitalism and the Disorders of Modernity,” in the journal First Things. One way to tell the difference is to ask if anyone is being asked to be saddled or assumed to be naturally saddled, and are others saying they were born to ride them?
If we agree that no solution should be accepted that accepts hunger or terror, and that those who must live under policies should have the opportunity to participate in the policy decisions, especially in intermediate institutions of community, neighborhoods, churches, and voluntary organizations, then we must include an acceptance of the phrase “preferential option for the poor,” especially in terms of education, jobs, and housing.
To integrate everyone into the social and political mainstream means they have to have equal access and opportunity in the economic mainstream. Many theories have been proposed for how to do so. Only one system has proven to bring more people out of poverty than any other: capitalism, a market economy, and only one system has proven to offer more freedom and liberty than any other: democracy, with its emphasis on equal law and private property. Some might call it democratic capitalism (because dictatorships also use capitalism). In other words, you can have capitalism without democracy, but you cannot have democracy without capitalism. Many think the Scandinavian countries are socialist. They are not. Their socialist-style welfare programs have been supported by economies that are capitalist.
Throughout, I have held that “equal opportunity” does not mean “equal results. That is foolish. Many think Lyndon Johnson’s worst deed was the Vietnam War. Certainly I was no fan of the war. It may not have been necessary. It surely wasn’t executed right. But as Gorbachev later said it helped bankrupt the Soviet Union, we may have to begrudgingly admit it helped end the Cold War. And his Great Society was well intended (we were all in favor of ending poverty even as we disagreed on the means to do so). His worst deed was how he defined the goal of the Great Society. The reason the Republicans were so horrified by the Great Society is because they correctly interpreted his Left, Socialist goal as being unintentionally totalitarian. The goal, as LBJ stated it, was:
not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and as a result.
To achieve “equality of result” in terms of equal access and equal opportunity is one thing. To expect, as many on the Left pushed for, equal results and the redistribution of property and wealth, would require absolute state coercion at every level, including the redistribution of private property, and telling everyone what they could become in society, as if they were potted plants to place in a socially engineered garden, which is the opposite of what most of us mean by freedom and liberty.
Here is where the Democrats really went wrong, set an impossible goal, and caused many needless debates, not to mention programs doomed before they started. It is a beautiful, poetic statement albeit a wrong and deadly one. I still wonder today if Johnson really understood it or if it was just another of the many speeches he saw for the first time when he read it. We all know that human beings are, by nature, unequal, whether we are playing in the Super Bowl or on Jeopardy. What I have been talking about is that Blacks haven’t been allowed to participate in the game.
Equality of result is decidedly not what I mean. And I don’t think LBJ did either. But many programs since then have been run as if they can have equal results. To me, equal results can only be understood in terms of equal access and equal opportunity in education, jobs, affordable housing, and the option to participate in the social, political and economic opportunities of our society.