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Overload, Ungovernability and Delegitimation: The Theories and the British Case

  • Anthony H. Birch
Extract

The concept of ‘overload’ was introduced into the vocabulary of political science in 1975, in two publications which appeared almost simultaneously in the United States and Britain. One was by Michel Crozier in a ‘report on the governability of democracies’ entitled The Crisis of Democracy; the other by Anthony King in Political Studies. Both authors took the same general line: that there had been a rapid growth in public expectations about what benefits could be provided by government in Western democracies, that many of these expectations had inevitably been disappointed, and that the result was a serious decline of public confidence in government. King summarized the development in an aphorism so striking that it deserves quotation once again: ‘Once upon a time man looked to God to order the world. Then he looked to the market. Now he looks to government’. And when things go wrong people blame ‘not “Him” or “it” but “them”.’ It was suggested by King that this development had made Britain more difficult to govern and by Crozier, more generally, that Western democracies might be moving towards a condition of ungovernability.

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1 Crozier, Michel, Huntington, Samuel and Watanuki, Joji, The Crisis of Democracy (New York: New York University Press, 1975).

2 King, Anthony, ‘Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970s’, Political Studies, XXIII (1975), 284–96.

3 King, , ‘Overload’, p. 288.

4 Horowitz, I. L. and Lipset, S. M., Dialogues on American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 46.

5 Bell, Daniel, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1976).

6 Bell, , The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, p. 43 and pp. 8990.

7 Bell, , The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, p. 21. See also pp. 6970.

8 Novak, Michael, The American Vision (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1978).

9 Kristol, Irving, Two Cheers for Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1978), pp. 2730.

10 Huntington, S. P., ‘The Democratic Distemper’, The Public Interest, XLI (1975), 938.

11 Kristol, , Two Cheers for Capitalism, pp. 47–9 and 62–3.

12 Kristol, , Two Cheers for Capitalism, p. 46.

13 Usher, Dan, The Economic Prerequisite to Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), p. 78.

14 Brittan, Samuel, ‘The Economic Contradictions of Democracy’, British Journal of Political Science, V (1975), 129–59, p. 129.

15 Schumpeter, Joseph, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper, 1942).

16 Schumpeter, , Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, p. 291.

17 Schumpeter, , Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, p. 294.

18 Brittan, , ‘The Economic Contradictions of Democracy’, p. 145.

19 Brittan, , ‘The Economic Contradictions of Democracy’, p. 140.

20 Brittan, , ‘The Economic Contradictions of Democracy’, p. 157.

21 Jay, Peter, ‘Englanditis’ in Tyrrell, R. E., ed., The Future that Doesn't Work (New York: Doubleday, 1977), particularly pp. 176–82.

22 Usher, , The Economic Prerequisite to Democracy, Chaps. 2, 3 and 6.

23 Jay, , ‘Englanditis’, p. 181.

24 For the thesis that craft unions of the British kind are always more likely to be short-sighted than ‘encompassing’ unions of the German kind, see Olson, Mancur, The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), Chaps. 3 and 4.

25 Brittan, Samuel, ‘The Economic Tensions of British Democracy’, in Tyrrell, , ed., The Future that Doesn't Work, p. 143.

26 Offe, Claus, ‘The Theory of the Capitalist State and the Problem of Policy Formation’, in Lindberg, L. N., Alford, R., Crouch, C. and Offe, C., eds, Stress and Contradiction in Modern Capitalism (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1975), p. 127.

27 Poulantzas, Nicos, Political Power and Social Classes (first published in Paris, 1968; London: New Left Books and Speed and Ward, 1973), p. 223.

28 Offe, Claus, ‘Political Authority and Class Structures – an Analysis of Late Capitalist Societies’, International Journal of Sociology, II (1972), 73108, p. 81.

29 Schumpeter, Joseph, ‘The Crisis of the Tax State’, reprinted in International Economic Papers, No. 4 (1954).

30 Offe, Claus, ‘The Separation of Form and Content in Liberal Democratic Polities’, Studies in Political Economy, III (1980), 516, p. 7.

31 See Offe, , ‘Political Authority and Class Structures’, particularly pp. 94105.

32 See Offe, , ‘The Separation of Form and Content in Liberal Democratic Polities’, pp. 811.

33 See Habermas, Jurgen, ‘What Does a Crisis Mean Today? Legitimation Problems in Late Capitalism’, Social Research, XL (1973), 643–67, p. 658, and Legitimation Crisis (first pub. Frankfurt, 1973; Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), pp. 71–2.

34 Habermas, , ‘What Does a Crisis Mean Today?’, pp. 661–2, and Legitimation Crisis, pp. 71–2.

35 Habermas, , ‘What Does a Crisis Mean Today?’, p. 660.

36 Habermas, , Legitimation Crisis, p. 74.

37 See, for instance, Barnes, S. H., Kaase, M. and Allerbeck, K. R., Political Action (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1979).

38 See Sanders, David and Tanenbaum, Eric, ‘Direct Action and Political Culture: The Changing Political Consciousness of the British Public’, European Journal of Political Research, XI (1983), 4561.

39 See Habermas, , Legitimation Crisis, p. 20.

40 Habermas, , ‘What Does a Crisis Mean Today?’, p. 667.

41 On this question, see Deth, J. W. Van, ‘The Persistence of Materialist and Post-Materialist Value Orientations’, European Journal of Political Research, XI (1983), 6379, and Inglehart's reply on pp. 8191.

42 Rose, Richard and Peters, Guy, The Juggernaut of Incrementalism (Glasgow: University of Strathclyde Studies in Public Policy, No. 24, 1978), p. 33.

43 Rose, Richard and Peters, Guy, Can Government Go Bankrupt? (New York: Basic Books, 1978), p. 258.

44 Rose, and Peters, , The Juggernaut of Incrementalism, p. 19.

45 Rose, and Peters, , The Juggernaut of Incrementalism, p. 14.

46 Rose, and Peters, , Can Government Go Bankrupt?, p. 247 and Rose, Richard, ed., Challenge to Governance (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1980), p. 162.

47 Rose, Richard, Ungovernability: Is There Fire Behind the Smoke? (Glasgow: University of Strathclyde Studies in Public Policy, No. 16, 1978), p. 1.

48 Kavanagh, Dennis, ‘Political Culture in Britain: The Decline of the Civic Culture’, in Almond, Gabriel and Verba, Sidney, eds, The Civic Culture Revisited (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980).

49 See Alt, James, The Politics of Economic Decline (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Chaps. 8 and 9.

50 For some valuable analyses of direct action, in both political and theoretical terms, see Benewick, Robert and Smith, Trevor, eds, Direct Action and Democratic Politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1972).

51 Marsh, Alan, Protest and Political Consciousness (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1977), p. 53.

52 For earlier examples, see Clutterbuck, Richard, Britain in Agony (London: Faber & Faber, 1978) and The Media and Political Violence (London: Macmillan, 1981).

53 For a very careful and interesting examination of the non-economic (as well as the economic) factors bearing on economic performance, see Olson, , The Rise and Decline of Nations. For comments on the effects of the war on post-war economic growth in France, see Ardagh, John, France in the 1980s (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 30.

54 See Banting, Keith, Poverty, Politics and Policy (London: Macmillan, 1979).

55 See Transport Policy: A Consultation Document (London: HMSO, 1976).

56 Habermas, , Legitimation Crisis, p. 73.

57 House of Commons Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. 826, col. 36.

58 See House of Commons Debates, Fifth Series, Vols. 826 and 836 for these and similar comments.

59 House of Commons Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. 826, col. 45.

60 See Inglehart, Ronald, The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977).

61 For a study which reveals the weakness of other British environmental groups, see Lowe, Philip, Environmental Groups in Politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983).

62 MORI national poll for Granada Television, reported in Sunday Times, 6 09 1981.

63 See Rose, and Peters, , Can Government Go Bankrupt? p. 247, and Rose, , The Challenge to Governance, p. 162.

64 Crozier, et al. , The Crisis of Democracy, p. 39.

65 See Popper, Karl, Conjectures and Refutations (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963).

66 Brian Barry has suggested that the golden age (now taken by some to be the norm) extended only from 1950 to the mid-1960s. See ‘Is Democracy Special?’ in Laslett, Peter and Fishkin, James, eds, Philosophy, Politics and Society: Fifth Series (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). p. 194.

* Department of Political Science, University of Victoria, British Columbia. 1 am greatly indebted to my colleagues, Warren Magnusson and Robert Walker, for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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