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Remaking Government Institutions in the 1970s: Participatory Democracy and the Triumph of Administrative Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2011

Sidney M. Milkis
Brandeis University


Interpreting the 1970s is a difficult business. On the one hand, reformers struggled earnestly and effectively to codify the exalted vision of a good society that was celebrated during the 1960s. And yet in doing so, they appeared to routinize rather than resolve the virulent conflicts of the previous decade. Scholars tend to agree that the reforms of the 1960s and 1970s marked a transformation of political life no less important than the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Unlike these earlier reform periods, however, the 1960s and 1970s did not embrace national administrative power as an agent of social and economic justice. Instead, reformers of the 1960s and 1970s championed “participatory democracy” and viewed the very concept of national governmental authority with deep suspicion. Indeed, Hugh Heclo characterizes the reform legacy of the 1960s and 1970s as one of intractable fractiousness, as a “postmodern” assault on the modern state forged on the anvil of reforms carried out during the Progressive and New Deal eras. “In the end, it appears that a great deal of postmodern policymaking is not really concerned with ‘making policy’ in the sense of finding a settled course of public action that people can live with,” he writes. “It is aimed at crusading for a cause by confronting power with power.”

Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 1998

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