January 21, 2013
Walter Russell Mead on the Future of the New England Tradition Everywhere
The New England tradition, rooted in Puritan experience and theology, wants a strong state run by the great and the good to serve as the moral agent of the conscience of the community. It is the duty of the state to make the people better, and without a strong and moral state to guide development and regulate behavior, the rich will become greedy and the poor will get lazy and fat....Professor Mead also mentions some other American regional traditions in his essay, but hints that the future of America will pivot on the New England one...
Ultimately even the doughtiest New Englanders are going to accept the need for deep governmental reform. The American public is much better educated than it used to be and knowledge is much more widely available. It is simply no longer possible for an elite of technocrats in appointive offices and regulatory bureaus to issue decrees and have them obeyed. Prussian bureaucratic civil service models from the 19th century are too cumbersome, too slow and too expensive to handle much of the business of a 21st century information society. It is not possible to reconcile the desire of individuals to control their own fate if authority is centralized at the federal level; we will have to find ways to decentralize authority so that states and local jurisdictions can make more of the decisions that directly affect peoples’ lives.
At the moment, the deep emotional commitment of the New England school to blue model governance and social ideas — and the visceral hopes among some anti-New England types that the death of blue is the death of New England — gives a strange and ultimately not very useful cast to many of our national debates. We are trapped into debates between the advocates of spendthrift compassion (maintain Medicare and add new entitlements whether or not we can pay for them because they are needed) or cut budgets even though some of the services lost are, in fact, necessary for millions of people.