Political feasibility is understood both in its general sense and more particularly, as shaped by the interests of individuals within a society and the distribution of power among them. All individuals have interests, but not all interest have a significant impact on politics. In polities interests must be organized to be effective. And once organized groups in the aggregate achieve a certain density in the relevant political space, they have significant impact on the domain of political feasibility.
There is a subtle tension between an idealized commitment to goals of “doing good” and an idealized goal of “being responsible.” Max Weber creatively transformed this into an important insight about policy and practice, when he articulated a very useful distinction between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility. There are clear differences, but what matter, and I think you can guess, is course. The complex interplay of factors that influence the “cours” demands a coordinated responses across a number of different levels and different sectors in both social and political development. The crucial point is that one must do the right thing regardless of its consequences.
As the history of the 20th century demonstrated, there are limits to human malleability. The effort to produce the new Soviet man ran aground, as did Maoist cultural revolutions in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere (for reference). Political feasibility analyses take many forms, as can be seen in the following examples. American Robert Charles Winthrop who said “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.” told “Lift up your heads”, the crowd many years ago at the unveiling of a statue of that great hero of American independence Benjaming Franklin, and look at the image of a man who rose from nothing, who owed nothing to parentage or patronage, who enjoyed no advantages of early education which are not open, a hundredfold open, to yourselves, who performed the most menial services in the businesses in which his early life was employed, but who lived to stand before Kings, and died to leave a name which the world will never forget”.
Amongst the pantheon of American heroes who led the young 13 colonies into nationhood during the latter part of the 1700s, few stand taller than Benjamin Franklin. George Washington led the Continental Army and served as the first president, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and John Adams fought for Independence in Congress and as a diplomat abroad. Yet, Benjamin Franklin perhaps best embodied the soul of the American Revolution.
The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves, but in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard to make sense of the world in a ways others cannot. People don´t rise from nothing. Our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and we do owe something to parentage and patronage. Washington enjoyed nearly universal respect, not least for spurning all offers of political power at the moment of his military triumph.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama, was asked why he was not wearing a flag pin, he answered that it represented “a substitute” for “true patriotism.” Months later, Obama quietly beat a retreat and began wearing the flag on his lapel. He does so still. This is an accidental, but it illustrates what would become a primary campaingn issue. Today, the issue is the Constitution. It’s a healthier debate because flags are pure symbolism and therefore more likely to evoke pure emotion and ad hominem argument.
The Constitution, on the other hand, is a document that speaks. It defines concretely the nature of our social contract. Nothing in public life is more substantive and nothing less would suffice than for Americans to defend constitutionalism with the same tenacity as they took up arms against their British rulers when nothing less would preserve their historic rights under the English constitution.
“The common law of England,” explained the seventeenth century common lawyer John Davies, “is nothing else but the common law and custom of the realm. (Joseph Baldacchino National Humanities Institute).
A custom take the beginning and groweth to perfection in this manner; when a reasonable act once done is found to be good and beneficial to the people, and agreeable to their nature and disposition, then they do use and practice it again and again, and so by often iteration and multiplication of the act it becometh a custom . . . customary law is the most perfect and most excellent, and without question the best, to make and preserve a commonwealth.
Toward that end it is useful to remember that in France, Spain, and other absolute monarchies of continental Europe the law typically was considered to be whatever the ruler said it was. Not so in England. There, as an outgrowth of the medieval Christian teaching that all men, including rulers, are morally flawed, hence in need of restraints, the tradition took hold that even kings were “under God, and under the Law, because the Law makes the king.”
American constitutionalism: George Washington is generally viewed as a demigod for what he was and did, not what he thought. That he played a key role in securing the adoption of the Constitution is well known, but few credit him with a political philosophy that actively shaped the constitutional tradition. In this revisionist study, Glenn Phelps argues that Washington’s political thought did influence the principles informing the federal government then and now.
Phelps examines Washington’s political ideas and he demonstrates that the first president developed–long before Madison, Hamilton, and other nationalists–a coherent and consistent view of a republican government on a continental scale, a view grounded in classically conservative republicanism and continentally minded commercialism.
Phelps shows that Washington’s political values remained consistent over time, regardless of who his counselors or “ghost writers” were.
The commander-in-chief was the “indispensable man” in the revolutionary struggle for independence, but other figures loom much larger in the history of state making and constitution writing. Glenn A. Phelps’ new study is a welcome corrective to these conventional accounts. The conservative Washington’s commitment to constitutional government and the rule of law had a powerful impact on his conduct as a soldier and statesmen. As a “law-and-order constitutionalist,” Washington helped define the premises and parameters of political debate and constitutional development in republican America.
Statesmanship, is “the capacity to do what is good in the circumstances”, a capacity in which men, as individuals, are variously accomplished (Mansfield’s first definition of statesmanship). Since they are variously accomplished in this, they are unequal; and statesmanship is essentially an unequal capacity. As such, it must be defined by its best example, not by an average sample; for we cannot know what a statesman can do unless we know the limit of human capacity, that is, what a great man would do. The study of statesmanship is therefore chiefly the study of great men, and reliance on statesmanship is a reliance on the performance and example of great statesmen. [Burke’s] replacement of statesmanship by party is an attempt to avoid dependence on great men.
When controversies arise about the exercise of power by the Congress, the President, or the courts, U.S.A. citizens turn to the Constitution for guidance.
Human nature as expressed through motives for action provides core constraint on political feasibility. While many individuals are capable of devotion to their fellow citizens and to the common good some of the time, and a few are capable of that behavior most of the time, any political program predicated on the belief that most citizens are capable of it most of the time is bound to run aground.
The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.
The refusal to assume pervasive altruism or civic devotion is the hallmark of American constitutionalism. In the words of George Washington:
“A small knowledge of human nature will convince us that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle; and that almost every man is more or less, under its influence. Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular circumstances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested, but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce persevering conformity to the refined dictates and obligations of social duty”
Celebrated Independence Day July 4 – the day the Congress issued the Declaration of Independence — a document justifying that break with an eye toward “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” In truth, that decision was made on July 2.
A government’s failure to take account of the fact that “all men are created equal” and a failure to secure men’s individual rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means that a people, any people, has justifiable grounds for “abolishing” its ties, its allegiance, to that government. In that respect, the Declaration was as much a foreign-policy document as a simple statement of the governing principles.
The primary objects of government are the peace, order, and prosperity of society. . . . To the promotion of these objects, particularly in a republican government, good morals are essential.
The American Founders wisely realized they could not trust mere “parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power,” Federalist No. 48, and thus, to keep officials within those limits, used “ambition … to counteract ambition,” aligning the “interest of the man … with the constitutional rights of the place.” Federalist No. 51. The Founders thus created a system in which not only does no single official possess plenary power, but officials must also battle each other to exercise power. In that constitutional system, “the private interest of every individual” runs counter to the private interest of every other individual.
It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? While government is the greatest, it is anything but unique. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced though the whole system of human affairs, private or public as well as religious with the politics of the interests.
If anything, the focus on the omnipresence of self-interest understates the motivational difficulty. Albert Hirschman (1997) has traced the effort of social motivational difficulty and reconstructs the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to illuminate the intricate ideological transformation that occurred. Commercial society, it was hoped, would mute aggression and reduce violence. Hirschman here offers a new interpretation for the rise of capitalism, one that emphasizes the continuities between old and new, in contrast to the assumption of a sharp break that is a common feature of both Marxian and Weberian thinking.
Lincoln, among the statesmen Mansfield cites, warns of the danger in his Lyceum speech, an address that was, incidentally, statesmanlike. The temptation of a statesmanship conceived solely in terms of change rather than prudence is that historical circumstances do not always warrant, indeed they sometimes punish, dramatic change. Conversely, as Lincoln said, the pursuit of glory in times that do not require it conduces to tyranny. Change is not inherently good; change that conduces to the public good is. Thus if, as Mansfield suggests, statesmanship were tied to change, statesmanship could not be an inherent good. Certainly it would not be a conservative one. To be sure, Mansfield’s great man is beholden to the common good.
Power influence the political feasibility Political power is located somewhere between economic exchange and military obedience. It may be the case, yet through all conflict of the core ideals, carried in the hearts and minds of the American and British people and transmitted through their common tongue and traditions, survived. And they created the “shared values” of today´s Anglosphere: parliamentary supremacy, the role of law, property rights, free trade, religious toleration, open inquiry, meritocratic appointments, representative government, control of executive by the legislature, individual liberty.
Churchill did not suddenly become a statesman on his ascension to 10 Downing; his eloquent warnings in the darkness about the rise of Nazism made him one. In Churchill’s conception, Britain should be the historical centre of the old Empire or Commonwealth; Britain should be an active and engaged and creative European power (though not necessarily subsumed into a federated system); and Britain should preserve the closest and most intricate relationship with Washington and the American people. An idea to create a gigantic free-trade zone between the EU and the US. In all the decades since 1950s, that view of Britain’s geopolitical destiny is one that has been persuasive to almost every prime minister and government.
The concept of political feasibility is embedded rather than free standing. The question is almost always, feasible where? And feasible when?
Americans have always formed groups to express their views and promote their interests. Since the seminal arguments of James Madison in Federalist 10, it has been clear that the basic structure of the U.S. constitution was designed to encourage the multiplication of interest groups. Not only institutions, but also public policies effect interest groups. Public culture varies from palace to palace, as do political institutions; policies that are feasible in parliamentary democracies with statist beliefs may well prove impractical in regimes, such as the United States, with divided powers.
The people who wrote and adopted American Constitution believed that the essential function of any legitimate government was the protection of natural rights—rights that people possess in virtue of being born. For the Framers, the need to secure natural, “unalienable” rights both justified government and limited the scope of its “just powers.” As James Wilson, arguably the leading political theorist among the Framers, put it, government “should be formed to secure and enlarge the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.”
Madison saw direct democracy as a danger to individual rights and advocated a representative democracy in order to protect what he viewed as individual liberty from majority rule, or from the effects of such inequality within society. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, invoked Federalist No. 10 in a dissent against a ruling supporting limits on campaign contributions,
“The Framers preferred a political system that harnessed such faction for good, preserving liberty while also ensuring good government. Rather than adopting the repressive ‘cure’ for faction that the majority today endorses, the Framers armed individual citizens with a remedy”.
No. 10 is regarded as a seminal work of American democracy.
Justice Thomas is generally viewed as the most conservative member of the Court. He has often approached federalism issues in a way that limits the power of the federal government and expands power of state and local governments. At the same time, Thomas’ opinions have generally supported a strong executive branch within the federal government.
The modern origin of thinking power is Max Weber´(1947) definition of power as the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rest”.
It is common to associate power over with coercion, but as Max Weber´s definition makes clear, the scope of concept is much wider. In contrast to pluralist and structural power views of public policy, an alternative approach looked to features of government and the polity to explain both the enactment and implementation of public policies. In part inspired by neo Marxist theories of the capitalist state, the “state-centered” approach took its main guidance from the works of Weber.
Bargaining situations illustrate, as well, that power relations can be reciprocal: B can have power over A at the same time that A has power over B. While society involves power-based transactions among unequal agents (sociopolitical relations), the economics was considered to be the “sphere of free exchange” among symmetrically situated agents. Since the 1960s, however, theorists have argued for a more integrated view of power and exchange. The reason is this; to the extent that A´s resistance to B´s will is a function of incentives for compliance, B can reasonably hope to gain A´s cooperation by changing the balance between gains (or losses) from compliance as opposed to continued resistance. To recognize this is to narrow the gap between the activity of exchange and the employment of power.
For democratic choices, institutional research provide guidelines for drafting policy procedures, involving not just making laws but the administrative decision making that inevitably follows. Implementation is worth studying precisely because it is a struggle over the realization of ideas. Implementation has long been recognized as a distinct stage in the policy process, unique for representing the transformation of a policy idea or expectation to action aimed at remedying social problems.
Classic policy study may serve as illustration. Pressman and Wildavsky’s classic case study of the implementation of an economic development agency (EDA) policy in Oakland, California, illustrated the extensive interagency interactions and political bargaining involved in that process. Pressman and Wildavsky (1984) came to the conclusion that implementation requires agreement at many points in a chain of decision making.
The policy process represents a heuristic for policy studies and has generally been conceptualized as including the following steps:
- agenda setting,
- issue definition,
- policy formulation,
- policy decision,
- policy implementation,
- evaluation, and
- maintenance, succession, or termination.
The history of theory development begins with the landmark case studies of the early 1970s (Derthick, 1972; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973), which documented the challenges and complexities of bringing a policy to fruition in real-world circumstances.
The types of decision points that caused problems in Oakland were things like negotiation with interest group and community leaders about plans to build a new airport to create jobs and the criteria for distributing small business loans. The explanation advanced by Pressman and Wodavsky is typical of an organization theory approach, the procedures for decision making, (not political disagreement or differences in political power) are responsible for the policy outcomes. Their own evidence however, points to the importance of more political factors.
Policy implementation (the process of carrying out a government decision) is grounded in the disciplines of public administration and the policy sciences. Implementation and evaluation, characterized as two separate stages in this process, have been called two sides of the same coin with “implementation providing the experience that evaluation interrogates and evaluation providing the intelligence to make sense out of what is happening.”
Politics affects all aspects of public policy- what gets on the agenda, who supports an issue, who opposes an issue, whether an issue receives official approval, and whether the official policy is implemented. While Americans have always formed groups to express their views and promote their interests, the pace of interest group formation has dramatically accelerated in recent decades.
Since 1972, the number of Washington lawyers, many of whom lobby on behalf of interest groups, has surged 12,000 to 76,000 (Berry´s information for 1995-2004 provided by the Washington DC Bar Association). Berry´s characterization of these trends as the “advocacy explosion”. Whatever the cause of the interest group explosion may be, its effects are clear. first, it becomes harder to pass broad legislation in the public interest, both because more centers of power must be brought together into a winning coalition and because more groups can exercise an effective veto.
The method helps decision-makers improve the political feasibility of their policy.
Similarly, policies that are not feasible now may be feasible later, or might have been feasible before earlier decisions closed of options. This is one of the implications of path dependency in human affairs.
Political realists take pride in seeing the world as it is, not as some might wish it to be, undistorted by hope, fear, credulity, or abstract theory. Pragmatism rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality.
“Pragmatism” in the context of politics (refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions) and with a non- technical use of “pragmatism” in ordinary contexts referring to dealing with matters in one’s life realistically and in a way that is based on practical rather than abstract considerations.
If any, Scientific concept or theory should be evaluated by how effectively it explains and predicts phenomena, as opposed to how accurately it describes objective reality. This is not a simple matter, however, because any clear-sighted view of the world must take into account the effects of human.
There are many examples of the effect of human imagination and creativity, often characteristic of great leaders, as well as the element of plasticity in our collective life.
An example of the former: after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. Theodore Herzl remarked that he had just reestablished the Jewish state and that while no one could see that today, in fifty years the matter would be clear to all.
His famous slogan, “If you will it, its no fairy-tale” turned out to be more realistic in the long run than the sensible but blinkered doubts of the skeptics.
Political feasibility analyses take many forms,
Bismarck’s famous line “Politics is the art of the possible. The attainable – The art of the nest best” –Otto Von Bismarck
A thin line separates the visionary form the crank, and no algorithm defines the location of that line. To begin: this concept is nested within some broader ideas of possibility, some of which are outside the domain of politics. For example, if a policy proposal is logically or mathematically impossible, as many covertly are, then it cannot be politically feasible. Similarly infeasble are policies that contradict well-established natural scientific laws. Nor can an option pass the test of political feasibility if it violates key findings from other social sciences such as economics or psychology. Why? Because if something becomes too hard to achieve politically, it casually gets dismissed under this Bismarckian axiom as “impossible,” and therefore impolitic.
Questions of political feasibility? are often translated into language of power (Read Winston Churchill’s speech: during the second world war uses the technique of repetition to very good effect), that form the ensemble power/knowledge, a concept that theorists and researchers have debated for centuries.
In ordinary political discourse, the concept of feasibility plays three distinct roles:
- forward looking, as a guide to action
- present regarding, as excuse and
- backward looking, as explanation.
- The concept of political feasibility.
If you are in politics or public life, you probably had some moment of spine-tingling transcendence. Maybe you read the Declaration of Independence or watched the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mountaintop sermon, or read Nelson Mandela’s 1964 speech from the dock.The people who issue these statements brought their lives to a glorious point, pledging their sacred honor, offering to sacrifice their lives for some public mission.
The concept of feasibility is also seen in ideal speech situations in our time. An example of forward looking speech: Emphasizing the support and friendship from the Swedish nation and Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt’s personal contribution to the restoration of the Baltic countries’ freedom, reads…
There were days of drama. Even days of despair: But what at the end won the day was the determination of courageous individuals – in Riga, in Tallinn, in Vilnius and – let us never forget – in Moscow too. These days it is sometimes said that the idea of Europe no longer inspires in the ways it used to.
There was a past: And our task together is to build a better future. For our own countries. For Ukraine. But also for Belarus. And definitely for Russia. A world where the values of Europe should stand even stronger than today.
But it is only by truly seeing the lessons of the past, and by working together, that we as Europe can grasp all of these possibilities. I am convinced that one day this will happen. Looking forward is
Europe coming together and be a true partner to the rest of the world for both peace and prosperity
In sum, the field of political action, while bounded, is not fixed, but rather includes arange of possibilities. The passage of time and the mutability of belief, along with the variety of institutions and leadership, expand the range of feasible outcomes. The ideas of Europe and many success story of Europe also shows that individual interests in Europe are better protected by acting together through common institutions.
Political leadership matters.
Feasibility, finally, can be used to explain why a political initiative did not succeed. This was the case for example the collapse of President Clinton´s proposal for universal health care (this lead to the the power to – to power). Critics will often say that if you had played your hand differently, the result would have been different. Unfortunately, history is not a laboratory experiment, you cannot replay it, changing the variable whose impact your with to assess.
The lesson seems to be that President Clinton had taken office with the backing of only 43 percent of the American people. He had also inherited a huge budget deficit, which he and his advisers regarded as an obstacle to sustained economic growth. His first budget featured an austere spending plan as well as controversial tax increases on energy and upper-income Americans. In the context, he lacked a crucial form of power, namely, tradeable political resources and the president´s ability to wheel and deal by offering members traditional inducements was very limited.
We have so far ignored the dynamics of policy mix. Sometimes, the right mix means using, sometimes, two policies in opposite direction for example combining a fiscal contraction with a monetary expansion.
Seventeen years later, Mr. Greenspan is once again spotting bubbles,
How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy?”
The Challenge of Central Banking in a Democratic Society.” He said that low inflation reduces investor uncertainty, lowers risk premiums and implies higher stock market returns.
Greenspan gave this speech near the beginning of the 1990s dotcom bubble, a textbook example of irrational exuberance. “Irrational Exuberance” is also the name of a 2000 book by economist Robert Shiller.
This was also the case in early 1990s in United ‘states, when Bill Clinton was elected as President in 1992. One of Clintons priorities was to reduce the budget deficit using a combination of cuts in spending and increases in taxes. President Clinton was worried, however, that by itself, such a fiscal contraction would lead to a decrease in demand and trigger another recession.
The right strategy was to combine a fiscal contraction so as to get rid of the deficit, with a monetary expansion to make sure that demand and output remained high. What triggered the recession was not, as in 1990-1991, a decrease in consumption demand but a sharp decline in investment demand.
The cause was the end of what former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had dubbed a period of “irrational exuberance.” During the second part of the 1990s, firms had been extremely optimistic about thefuture, and the rate of investment had been very high.
This was the strategy adopted and carried out by Bill Clinton, who was in charge of fiscal policy, and Alan Greespan who was in charge of monetary policy. The result of this strategy and a bit of economic luck was a stready reduction of the budget deficit, which turned into a budget surplus at the end of the 1990s and a stread increase in output throughout the rest of the decade.