Daniel DiSalvo, Associate Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York, has written a fine essay that gives an overview of Edward C. Banfield’s views of politics and governance.
Central to the piece is the notion that the public increasingly expects far to much of politicians and far too much from government, and that we harm ourselves in the process.
“…Americans have come to firmly believe that we should have social policies — that government should do something to improve material and moral conditions. The problem is that such expectations lead to demands that government do what cannot be done, which threatens democratic institutions. Obama worship and Trump’s demagoguery are the most visible signs of such corrosive attitudes.
“In such an overheated situation, it is useful to revisit the work of Edward Banfield. On nearly all of the issues that comprise the contemporary policy debate — social class, race, employment, the minimum wage, education, crime, immigration, and housing — Banfield’s work still illuminates a great deal.
“Reflection on Banfield’s insights into human nature and the importance of culture provides one with an appreciation of the limits and pitfalls of political and policy reform. It also affords us the opportunity to gain insight into contemporary expectations of and dissatisfaction with American government. In particular, his thought offers a powerful case for why we should moderate our hopes and our fears about the trajectory of American politics and society.
A refresher course is therefore useful; however, such a course is unlikely to please liberals and may please only a few conservatives. Banfield delighted in debunking others’ arguments and assumptions. As James Q. Wilson said at the memorial of his mentor and frequent collaborator, “[G]etting a fuzzy thought past Ed was like throwing a lamb chop past a wolf.” This applied to liberal and conservative ideas alike. Rereading Banfield is a little like taking a cold shower — not something you want to do every day, but it’s periodically good for you….”