Governing the American State

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In the second half of the book, Johnson considers specific examples, tracing the legislative and institutional development of varying laws and the agencies set up to enforce them. Finally, she briefly continues her story through the New Deal and even up to the Great Society, which is when much of the foundation of the New Federalism was finally replaced by a more truly centralized federal government infrastructure--the Great Society "firmly upended the balancing act between the national government and the states that had been created during the first New Federalism and solidified in the New Deal." (page 163)
In the second half of the book, Johnson considers specific examples, tracing the legislative and institutional development of varying laws and the agencies set up to enforce them. Finally, she briefly continues her story through the New Deal and even up to the Great Society, which is when much of the foundation of the New Federalism was finally replaced by a more truly centralized federal government infrastructure--the Great Society "firmly upended the balancing act between the national government and the states that had been created during the first New Federalism and solidified in the New Deal." (page 163)
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Johnson's book is a provocative challenge to the reigning orthodoxy regarding the roots of New Deal liberalism and its relation to American political and ideological tradition.

Revision as of 04:14, 30 January 2013

Kimberley S. Johnson Governing the American State: Congress and the New Federalism, 1877-1929. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press. 2007. pp. 242. $49.95. Cloth: ISBN 9780691119748.

Summary

Political scientist Kimberley S. Johnson believes the conventional wisdom about the New Deal is wrong. Rather than a sudden outburst of cooperative federalism abruptly creating the modern, centralized American state, she argues that much of the framework of the New Deal state was actually created through a long period of improvisation, political negotiation, and trial and error. The period covered by this book encompasses the Gilded Age and the Progressive Age, during which time the political structure was, in her words, "precariously balanced between a continued dual federal system and a centralized modern state." (page 4). She calls this period the "first New Federalism."

Key to her understanding of how federalism worked during this period is the concept of the "intergovernmental policy", which she defines as "laws, policies, or administrative arrangements that alter the relationship between the national government and the states." (page 4) The creation of intergovernmental policy instruments ("IPI") for specific laws and institutions was developed over this period as a way to negotiate politically viable legislation and regulation within a national polity in which political power was diffuse and decentralized, and there was a strong ideological resistance to unilateral, centralized government activity.

The book is thematically split--the first three chapters explore and develop the conceptual basis of her argument. Chapter 1 establishes the political and ideological climate in which this period of innovation occurred. The states were regarded as the proper venues for regulation and state activity, yet the resulting patchwork of conflicting legislation and interests proved unworkable; at the same time the judiciary loomed as an impediment to proactive action by the national government. The next two chapters explore the evolution of intergovernmental policy instruments and use statistical analysis to test how clearly Johnson's theory explains actual legislative action.

In the second half of the book, Johnson considers specific examples, tracing the legislative and institutional development of varying laws and the agencies set up to enforce them. Finally, she briefly continues her story through the New Deal and even up to the Great Society, which is when much of the foundation of the New Federalism was finally replaced by a more truly centralized federal government infrastructure--the Great Society "firmly upended the balancing act between the national government and the states that had been created during the first New Federalism and solidified in the New Deal." (page 163)

Johnson's book is a provocative challenge to the reigning orthodoxy regarding the roots of New Deal liberalism and its relation to American political and ideological tradition.

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