”The Death of Commonsense” by Philip Howard Essay Sample
Philip Howard in his book The Death of Commonsense tried to find out why the Republicans triumphed in elections and why current government is hype-active. The findings presented in the book prove that historians, analysts and common people are rather concerned with politics, governments and their policies. The author is persuasive in his writing, because he uses logical arguments, facts, viewpoints of different critiques to defend his positions and ideas. It is necessary to admit that the book is a systematic, coherent and comprehensive study of a subject the author interested in. the book provides detailed overview of government bureaucracy, decisions taken by Supreme Court and other procedures. The book is full of criticism and proper recommendations how to improve the situation. (Howard, 45)
Philip Howard argued in his book that the government appeared hyper-activist at local, national and international levels and, thus many people were suffocated. Hyper-activist government assaulted people’s dignity and drained their spirit. Howard assumed that the problem with active and too progressive government was a matter of technique rather than substance. Therefore, he stated that the policies aimed at aiding the poor and environmental protection provided certain benefits. The only con of it was that fact that policies were pursued through the methods of law and constitution. Howard defined that method as legalism driving American society and government in wrong direction. (Howard, 34)
Speaking about American government, the author claimed that following absurdities of bureaucratic legalism would hardly improve the situation. It is necessary to admit that the book is provided with lots of illustrations on every page. For example, Howard classified sand as hazard and brick as killing poison. He sentenced “grids”, because they increased the feeling of guilt in case if drugs were sold in sugar cubes instead of tissue papers. The author spoke about affirmative action regulations stating that every, even informal conversation, could be converted into potential lawsuit. The same was with rights of all kinds, for example, students in public schools were obliged to follow order. The author defined the rights that made ordinary civic improvements “handicapped”. (Howard, 56)
According to Philip, “Like printing money distributing more and more rights has cheapened the underlying idal; rights are now seen as special group benefits instead of protections for core liberties”. (Howard, 45) In such a way the author strongly criticized government bureaucracy. Though his criticism isn’t original, it appears more vivid, expressive, concrete and coherent than that of other writers’. The author outlined two under-appreciated points in the book:
- Firstly, the author linked mentality of lawyers with the excess of modern government. He claimed that legal training tended to provide modern governments with intellectual impulses. Therefore, the governments aimed at certainty, uniformity, precision, neutrality, and comprehensiveness. According to Howard, they tended to avoid official discretion and raw politics, court-like procedures and centralized decision making, abstract doctrines and rights. In such a way it was possible for governments to ensure certain transparency and to simplify certain procedures. Howard admitted that bureaucratism was offshoot of legalism supporting the idea that decision-making should depend on the substantive outcomes, though this fcat was purposefully concealed. The government said, “We are only ensuring a fair trial”. (Howard, 56)
- Secondly, the author asserted that legalism and bureaucracy weren’t merely a set of errors. Reliance on legalism ensured more significant cultural mistakes. Law techniques were similar became civic religion. Therefore, the author claimed that American society became obsessed with defending their rights in courts and, therefore, he strongly criticized the fact that they tended to discuses even the slightest problem or disagreement in courts. (Howard, 89)
The tone of the book is optimistic, because the author supported the neoliberal tradition arguing that “humane and activist policies can be separated from ossified bureaucratic techniques”. (Howard, 35) Howard claimed that New Deal was associated with governmental creativity and flexibility and, thus, they had to develop further i.e. to rely on general principles avoiding detailed rules. It would be better to support individual initiative instead of coping with boring procedures. The auhtor recommended American government to balance interest for the common welfare instaed of protecting individual rights.
Howard recognized that side effects of legalism and bureaucracy were completely initiated and fueled by people who supported progressive government. As the example the auhtor admitted homeless people stating that homelessness resulted from de-institutionalization movement. Advocates defending rights of mentalli instable people noticed that from the beginnibgn their clinets “should be allowed an unconventional life on the streets if they so wished”. (Howard, 57)
Howard also objected to procedural rights appled for school students. He claimed that the problem wasn’t rooted merely in fact that rights ensured protection even to disruptive students and it was rather difficult to expel them. Actually, the problem was that students were allowed to challenge the authority and judgment of teachers and, thus, the attitude of students had been dramatically changed. Students realized they had equal status with teachers and, what was more important, they considered themeselves invulnerable. Howard argued that students were too encouraged to defend their rights. Previously students were considered powerless victims of bureaucracy. There was and idea they lacked independence and opportunities to respond authorities. Shortly, progressive government wanted what they had now. The author wanted people to re-think that every specie should be protected at all costs. He said nature was harsher than humans. Therefore, he advised to return to different principle. (Howard, 145)
According to Howard, “Balancing interest will allow room to accommodate many groups and to pursue the welfare of society as a whole. But whether balancing will result in useful compromises depends on how competing goals are valued”. (Howard 76) The author also criticized the Supreme Court stating that their constitutional decision proved that balancing interest might lead to unexpected results and outcomes. For example, little was known about the case of Phyler v Doe. It was stated that children had to pay for schooling if they were illegal aliens. The plight of innocent children was balanced and they were denied to be provided with free education. The interests of states were defended as well as fiscal resources and free education for legal residents. After the balancing was over, free education was provided by the state. Finally, illegal immigrants had swelling bitterness as they were treated as second sort. (Howard, 165)
Howard admitted that the problem was not with decision rather with rigid mandate. Earlier it was normal to allows children of illegal immigrant to attend schools, though nowadays the situation was another. It was noted that the budgets had dried up and the governments were unable to dictate courts what to do. In the result, “luxury of protecting a class of children was ensured while willfully ignoring the fiscal and political realities by which democratically elected legislatures must govern”. (Howard, 87) The ground beneath balancing interest was shifted considerably.
Summing up, it is necessary to outline that Howard showed in his book the flaws of legalism and bureaucracy stating that they were improper for modern governing. He considered legalism corrosive. America suffocating under the principles of legalism would finally loose its optimism, energy and compassion. The author assumed that new ideas were needed to change the mindset of American society and government. Otherwise, the influence of legalism would be inflicting society and it would solve all disagreements only in terms of courts without paying attention to other possible methods. (Howard, 180)
Howard, Philip K. (1996). The Death of Commonsense: How Law is Suffocating America. USA: Warner Books.