In 1994, the Bradley Foundation’s then-president described the “Bradley Project on the 90s,” led by Bill Kristol, and its call for a “new citizenship” that helped form the foundation’s grantmaking program.
Last week, The Giving Review published an article by co-editor Daniel P. Schmidt, a decades-long program-staff executive at Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, that likens much of the thinking of Christopher S. Rufo in his new book America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything to that underlying the Bradley Foundation grantmaking program.
In the book, Rufo calls for a counter-revolution against “the de facto rule of managers and social engineers” that “must reanimate the instincts of self-government among the people and mobilize an organic movement of citizens that will reassert its power in the institutions that matter: the school, the municipality, the workplace, the church, the university, the state.” Led by “common citizens,” he writes, “America under counter-revolution” will return to “a patchwork republic” of “local communities” with “the autonomy to pursue their own vision of the good.”
In remarks to the Donors Forum of Wisconsin on March 11, 1994, the Bradley Foundation’s then-president, Michael S. Joyce, described the “Bradley Project on the 90s.” Led by Bill Kristol, the exercise and its call for a “new citizenship” helped form the foundation’s grantmaking program. Joyce’s full remarks are below.
It’s an honor to join all of you here this afternoon. I’m particularly eager to share with you some of the conclusions of the “Bradley Project on the 90s,” because gathered in this room today are precisely the sorts of organizations that will figure centrally in America’s future, according to the Bradley Project’s conclusions—all of you, as well as countless similar private, voluntary associations across this nation that comprise the rich, vibrant fabric of civil society in America.
You know, there was a time in this nation when we relied on the institutions of civil society—the family, church, school, neighborhood, and voluntary association—to grapple with the most significant problems of everyday life. Free, vigorous individuals joined together voluntarily in those groups to build our schools, clinics, and places of worship; to comfort the poor and the afflicted; to explore and reinforce critical moral beliefs, and to pass them on to the next generation.
To be an American citizen meant to be a part of this rich, vital web of civic life, contributing fully to the community every single day through the countless small acts of compassion, commitment, and civic-mindedness that are so familiar to you in this room today.
That America was blessed with a robust, vigorous civil society was once understood to be vital to its health and success. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is, perhaps, the classic expression of wonder and admiration at the incredible energy generated by the vast array of civic institutions spread across the face of our young nation.
Everywhere he looked in America, he noted, our citizens had formed associations, committees, and clubs to tackle one or another of the problems facing them in this undeveloped wilderness. Through such citizenly activity, Tocqueville believed, Americans expressed and sustained their civil freedom, accomplished an enormous range of tasks, and, most important, developed fully as rooted, connected human beings.
But this proud tradition is deeply imperiled today. Many of the guiding elites of this nation—in government, in the culture, in the media, in the academy—do not share Tocqueville’s admiration for American voluntarism. Instead, they believe that the institutions of civil society are retrograde, wasteful, duplicative, meddlesome, and oppressive.
Take the Boy Scouts, for instance. Now to some of us less sophisticated types, the Boy Scouts might seem to be a very useful agency for teaching boys to be decent men and citizens—to be resourceful, thoughtful, courageous, patriotic, and reverent.
But that’s not what our elites say. To them, the Scouts are reactionary bastions of oppression. After all, scoutmasters are expected to exhibit family values. And, of all shocking things, Scouts are expected to profess a willingness to do their duty to God. Some of our highest ranking federal officials have built their reputations on criminalizing the Boy Scout creed. And our President this year found time to visit Boys’ Nation—but not the Boy Scouts.
Let’s take the public business out of the hands of these reactionary and benighted civil institutions, our elites say. Let’s instead turn it over to the state—to centralized, bureaucratic government elites, where enlightened values prevail, and where retrograde notions like right and wrong give way to more sensible ideals like tolerance of all points of view and lifestyles.
And let’s redefine citizenship, so that it no longer means constant, everyday participation in the self-governing activities of civil society, but rather is narrowly confined solely to voting in elections—that is, to casting a ballot every now and then in order to turn public life over to the real experts in our centralized bureaucracies.
Meanwhile, let’s encourage people to think of themselves not as proud, vigorous, personally-responsible self-governors, but rather as passive, helpless victims of menacing social forces—forces that only the elites can comprehend, and whose damage only they can remedy, through various forms of social therapy.
Now, this full-scale assault on civil society—this radical diminution in the understanding of American citizenship—should be of deep concern to all of you here today.
A survey of the landscape
It certainly concerned us at the Bradley Foundation. That’s why, at the end of 1992, we undertook to survey the landscape of American politics, society, and culture, in order to assess the damage that was being done, and to begin to find ways to reverse it—to begin to restore the full, rich tradition of civil society.
We turned this task over to an extraordinarily capable young public servant and scholar by the name of Bill Kristol. No, no, not the comedian, as he is quick to point out. But the real Bill Kristol—chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle and to former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, and a genuinely brilliant student of American public life, who I guarantee will figure prominently in its future. Bill was fortunate to secure the services of Jay Lefkowitz, former director of cabinet affairs in the Bush White House, as deputy director of the project, and enlisted several other promising and thoughtful young people as research staff.
After nine months of study, after travelling to 50 cities and towns across America, after meeting with over 400 academics, businessmen, journalists, and civic leaders, Bill presented his reflections to our board of directors this past September. What he had to say about the state of America was at once deeply sobering, and refreshingly hopeful.
As for the sobering part, Bill pretty much confirmed the picture of America I’ve just presented. Everywhere we look today, in the culture, in the academy, in the media, in government—as of this past November, even in the executive branch—we see the ruling elites working busily to undermine civil institutions, and to transfer their power and authority to the state.
As Bill noted in last year’s keynote address to the Wisconsin Independent Businessmen, that’s what the battle over health care today is really all about—the resolve of our governing elites to bring directly under their supervision an enormous additional percentage of the nation’s GNP. And the effort to “reinvent government” is clearly designed for one purpose only—not to trim government back, but to make it more potent, so that its reach can be expanded to ever more sectors of our public life.
But beneath these conspicuous indications of a resurgent and ever more aggressive state, Bill found something else. He found some important trends that give all of us in this room today cause for hope—cause to believe that the war between the state and civil society is not yet lost.
What he discovered is this: in the very teeth of these aggressive expansions of the state, the American people themselves remain profoundly skeptical about the state’s ability to govern, or to have a net positive impact on national life.
Fed up with being treated as if they were incompetent
Twenty years ago, three-quarters of the American people had at least a “fair amount” of confidence in the federal government. Today, that figure has dropped to 42%. In January of this year, by 69% to 22%—almost three-to-one—Americans agreed that the federal government creates more problems than it solves. And at a time when the push is on at the top for higher taxes and more services, the American people, by a 55%-36% margin, would prefer less taxation and fewer services.
And remember this: in the presidential elections of 1992, the two candidates who were avowed critics of expanded federal power garnered between them an overwhelming 57% of the vote. Only 43% voted for the winner, and only then because he professed to be “different kind of Democrat”—that is, a Democrat who presumably had gotten over his infatuation with big government.
More fundamentally, Bill Kristol concluded that the American people are fed up with being treated as if they were incompetent to run their own affairs.
They’re sick and tired of being regarded as pathetic, helpless victims of social forces that are seemingly beyond their understanding or control.
They’re sick and tired of being treated as passive clients by paternalistic social scientists, therapists, professionals and bureaucrats.
They’re sick and tired of seeing their hard-earned dollars go to support the bloated, corrupt bureaucracies who presume to be able to run the public business better than the average citizen.
Americans, Bill concluded, are clearly willing and eager to seize control of their daily lives again—to make critical life choices for themselves, based on their own common sense and folk wisdom—to assume once again the status of proud, independent, self-governing citizens intended for them by the Founders, and denied them by today’s social service providers and bureaucracies. In short, Americans are ready for what might be called “a new citizenship,” which will liberate and empower them.
This impulse toward a new citizenship is, of course, nothing more—or less—than a return to the older, far more encompassing notion of citizenship that figured so prominently in Tocqueville’s teaching. If properly channeled and directed, this impulse may in fact lead directly to the resuscitation of civil society—a regeneration of that vast network of vibrant, liberty-sustaining, life-affirming institutions that once covered the face of this nation.
Cultivating, despite resistance from elites
And that’s precisely what Bill suggested we be about, at the Bradley Foundation—cultivating this new sense of citizenship, though it will be resisted fiercely, every step of the way, by the elites whose power and prerogatives are directly threatened.
Now, there are a number of specific aspects of this new and heartening trend that Bill suggested we might wish to help along, and I will touch on a few of the ones that might be of most interest to you.
Bill noted, for instance, that the first step in rejuvenating civil society is restoring the two-parent family. The family is, to paraphrase scholar Michael Novak, the first and most important Department of Health, Education and Welfare, as well as the most important teacher of the self-discipline, personal responsibility, moral commitment, and other values critical to our children’s future. And yet families are too often ignored or displaced by our social policy elites today—with the results vividly on display in the violence, drug addiction, mental illness, and twisted values that afflict too many of our children.
But Bill observed that all across the land, parents as parents are beginning to organize themselves, in order to wrest power back from the social providers who have utterly failed to give our children the education, values, and character they so desperately need to flourish.
While we are willing to put up with an enormous amount of abuse from the state in our own, personal lives, it is a different matter when the state “experiments” with the minds and spirits of our children. Then the rallying cry becomes, simply: “Not with my children, you don’t.” The parents uttering that cry desperately need information, inspiration, and ammunition to stand up for their own rights, and we are beginning to support groups that are providing precisely that.
One critical aspect to restoring the two-parent family is, of course, to bring the father back into it. While mothers are without doubt the best nurturers of our children, only fathers can provide the firm hand that results in self-disciplined, responsible children.
But fathers, like families, don’t fare well today at the hands of our cultural and media elites. They’re either the bumbling fools that you see on TV sitcoms, or the rapacious, sexually abusive monsters that you read about in radical feminist tracts. In the gangs of fatherless young men who are terrorizing our neighborhoods today, we are reaping the whirlwind of our elite’s disdain for fatherhood.
At Bill’s suggestion, we are looking carefully at groups who are working to restore the dignity and pride of fatherhood; who are raising questions about the wisdom of so-called “alternative” families; and who are holding up to young men in the inner city models of responsible fatherhood, in contrast to today’s celebration of merely making babies.
Certainly, this new push for parent power is going to play a critical role in education. It’s time that parents—all parents, rich and poor alike—were able to choose freely and without limitation the school they believe best for their own children. And they should be able to count on their own tax dollars to support their own decision.
Bill urged us to continue our support for the parent choice movement through research, through legal defense where that’s needed—we’re proud of the role we played in helping Polly Williams fight off WEAC’s efforts to crush her splendid experiment—and through support of programs like PAVE, or Partners Advancing Values in Education.
PAVE, for those of you who might not be familiar with it, is a privately funded tuition assistance program for low-income parents in Milwaukee County. It offers grants up to $1,000, or one-half of tuition, to parents who can redeem them at any private or parochial school in the county. Almost 2,400 kids are currently receiving assistance, and they are attending some 79 elementary schools and seven high schools—Lutheran, Catholic, Christian, Muslim, and non-sectarian. Bill reported that wherever he went, people asked him about Milwaukee’s PAVE program. It is truly a model for educational reform across the nation.
I’m proud to say that our foundation was an early and significant supporter of PAVE, but more than private programs are going to be necessary. Across the nation today, we see a vast tide of unrest rising against the special interest groups and unions who have a stranglehold on our failing educational system. Across the lake in Michigan, in Arizona, in Jersey City, even in Puerto Rico, the clamor for radical reform and for parent choice in education is growing louder. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most powerful expression of the impulse toward a “new citizenship.”
Taking the battle directly to elites
As the bitter resistance against parent choice makes clear, the new citizenship faces an uphill battle against elites in the media, culture, and the academy who still hold the commanding heights of our society. Some of the things Bill suggested for our consideration involve taking the battle directly to those elites. I mention them in passing, because they’re somewhat more removed from our daily concerns.
In the realm of culture, for instance, Bill recommended that we continue to support the scholars and educational institutions that reflect the finest traditions of Western civilization. Too many of our universities, he noted, now teach that Western civilization is intractably racist, sexist, or exploitative, and have installed draconian speech codes to suppress dissenting points of view. The foundation will do its part to support legal assistance and alternative media outlets for students and professors who are courageously battling the theory and practice of political correctness.
Bill also brought to our attention some outstanding women and members of minority groups who have begun to dissent from the feminist and civil rights orthodoxy, and its insistence that America is hopelessly racist and sexist. As these scholars and public figures begin to organize and speak out, you may be sure that Bradley will do what it can to help them along.
Finally, in the realm of the media, Bill suggested that we might want to consider support for television and radio programming that reinforces, rather than undercuts, the institutions and values of civil society. He also pointed out that the excesses and abuses of the therapeutic state presented many promising opportunities for a new and dramatically revealing variety of investigative journalism.
Churches, civic associations, unions, dissident groups, free presses
Now, after his survey of the national landscape, Bill noted that it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future of civil society and the new citizenship, given the imposing forces arrayed against it. Nonetheless, he was sanguine about the future.
After all, he noted, no movement undertook the eradication of civil society with more zeal and determination than modern Communism. It was determined to destroy or subsume into the state every last vestige of civil society. And yet beneath the seemingly smoothly humming state bureaucracies of the former Soviet bloc nations, there sprouted once again the seeds of civil society—churches, civic associations, unions, dissident groups, free presses.
Even as the resolve of the Free World halted Marxism’s outward thrust, so from within, Marxism began to decay and crumble, as the nascent institutions of civil society flourished and spread. The liberation of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union soon made it apparent that the state’s “final offensive” against civil society had failed utterly.
Just as was the case with Marxism a mere dozen years ago, so today the bureaucratic state seems to be spreading its reach ever further—and so today, it is in fact hollow at its core, utterly bereft of the allegiance of its citizens. Even many of our elites no longer believe their own doctrines, and are clinging to power for power’s sake—so uncertain of themselves that they must resort to speech codes to silence dissent. And just as happened with the Iron Curtain, once hairline cracks in the system begin to develop—perhaps with a victory for school choice here, or for parental rights there—our bureaucratic edifice too might crumble abruptly, to be followed by the full flowering of the new citizenship.
I suggest that this is an end toward which we may all work, with confidence that no task of American citizenship is more urgent, or more deserving of the full measure of our determination and energy.