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  • The Leviathan and Its Detractors
  • Edward D. Berkowitz

Former House Speaker John Boehner, one of the leading lights of the Ohio Republican delegation in the period between 1991 and 2015, has often spoken out against Obamacare. For him and for many other conservatives, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 represents an unwanted federal intrusion into the American health care system that threatens to undermine the high quality of American medical care. It is big government at its worst. What is striking about Representative Boehner’s critique is how misinformed it is about the content of the Act itself. One would not know, for example, that the Affordable Care Act favors Medicaid, a state program largely devoted to managed care handled by the private sector, over Medicare, a federal program preferred by liberals. Indeed, the states and America’s largely private health care financers and providers play the most important roles in Obamacare.

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Brian Balogh. The Associational State: American Governance in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 288 pp. ISBN: 9780812247213 (cloth), $49.95.

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Anne M. Kornhauser. Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, 1930-1970. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 336 pp. ISBN: 9780812246872 (cloth), $59.95.

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For Brian Balogh, one of America’s leading political historians whose work has influenced a generation of graduate students at the University of Virginia, Boehner’s misconnect on Obamacare is business as usual. The Tea Party opponents of Obama, with whom John Boehner needed to contend in his Republican caucus, are the “latest in a long line of Americans who have erased the crucial role that the federal government has played in securing their well-being” (218). Despite all of the rhetoric about the nanny state and its discontents, Obamacare might best be understood as a manifestation of the “associational order” that was “shaped, in part, by the state and that parceled out public authority to the state and even the private sector” (139). Nor should we necessarily disparage the results. Rather we should accept the way in which “Americans have braided public and private actions, state and voluntary organizations, to achieve collective goals without undermining citizens’ essential belief in individual freedom” (3).

Balogh manages to weave this general theme through what is essentially a book of essays, many of which have been previously published. Some of the footnotes refer back to the original articles, despite the fact that those publications form the basis for subsequent chapters in the book at hand. The danger is that this sort of book can too easily be read as a series of casually picked up pieces or the author’s greatest hits. The book does contain several instances in which background facts tend to blot out the main line of argument in the foreground. An essay on Gifford Pinchot, the famous forester who figured in the politics of the Theodore Roosevelt-William Howard Taft era, makes some sharp observations about the nature of the associational state, but it also gets bogged down in the details of Pinchot’s life. A keenly observed piece on electoral politics in the twenties—which for believers in the associational order turns out to be a crucial decade, with Hoover as a major exemplar of someone who interwove the public and private sectors—leads to a longer than necessary discussion of the 1928 election.

For all of that, the book coheres well enough to sustain a cogent narrative about twentieth century political history. At base Balogh wants to push an updated version of the organizational synthesis that was created by a group of distinguished practitioners whom older readers may remember. Its members include Robert Wiebe (deceased but well remembered as the author of The Search for Order), Louis Galambos (Balogh’s thesis director at Johns Hopkins), Ellis Hawley (whose work on the New Deal and Herbert Hoover supplies an impetus for much of Balogh’s work), and Samuel Hays (who like Balogh writes on the conservation movement). Balogh extends the work of these pioneers both in a chronological sense, taking the story up to the present day...


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pp. 74-78
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