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Patricia Marx interviews journalist and historian Walter Karp, who has just co-founded a new journal of new politics called "The Public Life." Mr. Karp explains that he started the journal to express his beliefs in the republic and how his ideas differ from the mainstream. He also expresses his strong and heartfelt belief that everyone is entitled to political rights.
WNYC archives id: 56207
Title: Patricia Marx Interviews: Walter Karp
Last Updated: 2016-06-16 7:17PM
This transcript was generated by Open Transcript Editor Pilot and may contain errors.
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There's been a great deal of talk about the need for a new politics. I'm delighted to have is
my guest today because founder and editor of The New Journal of new politics
called the Public Life. He is Mr Walter Karp who's a
writer biographer and also a contributing editor to horizon magazine.
Mr Carr There are literally hundreds of small magazines and journals. What did you find
it important to start a new one.
Because I think we have something to say and. We have a principle to stand for
which I'm afraid isn't buried under a great deal of
content and that doesn't the press was not offended anyway. You know on the left
or the right on the liberal slant or would you define your
principles or simply were radical Democrats. We believe
in the Republic which is that which is the body politic
of self-governing citizens which is in fact what the Republicans meant to
the principle of those owners of the great simply that and then are
political beings and that if they are ruled by have no
Sharon rule they are barbarians or yahoos
say well you know this sounds almost like a political given I mean
I can't imagine that it isn't if you ask Humphrey your mixes
with both running for president both would agree with you know how do you differ
from the mainstream of the Democratic or Republican Party.
Well there's not a name there in the mainstream of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or I might add on the left is a
belief that the self-governing citizen is the highest good. I mean where for example the Democratic
had stated I want to highest purposes of the country is to increase the economic
growth rate and to solve problems of special interest groups. Namely part of
Education for the people various
people but this is not just state that the citizen is the highest
good himself but the act of citizen governing himself. Now the Democrats and
as a matter of fact would like to keep as many functions as possible at the
federal level on a narrow supposition is that.
The local groups are reactionary.
But isn't there a great deal of historical present present in
the local control means reactionary control particularly
could take examples in the south.
I guess I'm glad you mention the South because whenever we say Jeffersonian isn't a
local democracy somebody turns around and says to us that that sounds like George Wallace and states' rights.
Well the fact is and it's a fact you can find any government textbook.
Is that the South has gone further than the strong local democracy of any state in the country they
have no township government there are no district schools. Everything is done at the county level which
is manipulated by the State House and the state house is a one party
oligarchies in fact a real description of a southern state is a banana republic.
Now when you set the state's rights means they don't want to federal government interfering with their happy
little oligarchies Yeah we had an interesting fact in the recent issue of
the public life.
Namely that Minnesota there are nine thousand local governing bodies government governmental bodies
of some kind in Virginia there are only four
hundred you know that's a startling difference. Another reason for that difference is
not economic and it's not social and it's not due to his forces of history. It's not due to any number
of things that a good many sophisticated
people think controls what happens in this world was due simply to a one
party oligarchies run by Harry Byrd very efficiently to undercut
local democracy. What he did was something usurp local local powers for the same reason everyone or
every usurping does to increase his own.
Well how would. I knew but also
very good going back to this sounding princes of the country but how would this
change the existing structure what kind of new bodies would you see would you
want to have come into power.
You know Jefferson used to say that he wanted to end every speech he ever made by
saying divide the counties in towards what he meant as you want
to multiply the number of small units of government local councils
local representative bodies.
Presently the present system we have is one in which the federal government and the one party
state houses rule below the state level there's an
increasing just really dismantling of democracy over another one hundred
hundred years or more.
It's never ever never I mean then for every number of kinds of Rufus I give you one example the
last governor's withering away of the country township government is whether it way. Why does it wither away
like it turns out the only reason is not that the word modern world has gotten too complex for
a village. It's simply that it's very
expensive for a village to carry out certain functions. They don't make they own
the only kind of revenues there are a lot of raise our incomes real
estimates now the decision by the state house to start to take away a village political function and
put it at the county level or to put it into a state of
ministration is a political decision they could easily have given the village
money simply so you ask what kind of structural change would be involved what we
call it just the extension of the federal principle in the federal government. You
know constituted federal government of state house the states for below
that and the village level the district level and within
the city cities which are themselves an out of home rule by the way. Within the cities there
are neighborhoods wards precincts none of which have any representative bodies. So you see
below the State House level is a vacuum.
How are you going to. Fill this vacuum. I mean doesn't this have to come as a spontaneous desire on the
part of the people who are going to be doing the governing themselves and if they've been
living their way isn't this an indication that this is not what people want or
are willing to spend time doing.
Well as an awful lot of cancer and an awful lot of cover stories which
have hidden the fact of the usurpation of local
rights most important of wine which I mentioned several times already is simply
the notion that the modern world is very complicated and that therefore local the local local
concerned are incapable of governing when you look and this cover where local governments have
been had their political powers removed you'll find that it was a decision a
political decision quite freely
made no pressure upon it by people
who at a higher level of government to do what people to higher levels of government of done since the time they
were government simply take as much power as they can.
So you have to at least as a start in the public life you try to do
this it's on the strip for a certain amount of cover stories for example people will tell
you that in Nassau County in New York.
The local groups are so reactionary that they don't want any public housing built in
Nassau and whether it's true or not there are not very much public housing you know out of the poor housing for
people and the other the other week in The New York Times. There was an article saying that
housing was a proposal had been made to put housing on the county
level but. There's a liberal solution you take things away from
reactionary local groups and you put it at a county level or this or at the state level or at the
federal level where good natured benign federal officials will do the
Liberal good thing. Now the real fact about Nassau
County and this I got from Eugene like a certain self who is
the county executive is that this political structure in Nassau County is
rigged in favor of the Republicans. There are three large townships one.
Hands that one of those debates you want to
Freeport they are all Republican townships and they control a large number of
unincorporated villages. None of which have any political power.
He's not interested in pushing up local powers to the county level.
He's interested in recreating real two party fights in
Nassau he wants incorporated or unincorporated villages. He wants
to break the up because the township holding companies which are a
Republican and so that whatever liberality of spirit there isn't
Nassau have a chance to come out. Now that's all we ask but we are I would like to see
people say that at least the first principle of democratic polity is a two party system.
And that does not exist in very many places.
What success is because in having
now only cousin said it all and his proposal is a pious hope. Quite frankly.
And the reason it's a pious hope is not because the Republicans won't give an inch of course they won't give an age the reason is
that the Democrats do not contest outside New York
City and they want to go into that story it's a very interesting story in a very long story.
It's the story of the division of the state of New York. Into two small
one party. Satrapi
as you know the woods is a two party system but in each each area one party is working
That's right. That's exactly the case and this happened one hundred years ago and happen not
only often happen in Massachusetts. I mean it's going to put Kate in
Illinois somewhat later on but it was a kitten situation simply because the Republicans who run the
State House in those days.
Gave the Democratic political machines a franchise to run the
city pocket the urban vote. You know or as Alan Evans said manage the
vote. And keep everything keep the urban mobs down
simply down and in turn. That beautiful franchise because let's face it what does a politician
want life more than to have no other than to have a second party
disappear in return for that franchise they do not contest the Republicans outside.
New York State is marvelous because there's really no reason for fin York to be a
Republican you know in terms of the usual socio economic factors.
I thought would be more rural that it would
be if it isn't very rural the total rural
vote in a gubernatorial election upstate is twelve percent.
Now there are seventy percent of the upstate voters
urbanized a New York city dweller when he thinks about upstate it all
closes eyes and imagines a hayseed but in fact there's very few of them.
Mr Kopp when you speak of a more citizen participation and of citizens being so this
is primarily are you talking in terms of a new party. Or are you talking tunes
of working within the the existing party structure how you are going to
see this take
shape in the first place let me make clear I don't mean just participation in
participation it should exist as a right.
It's not as a free will act like like wrapping Red
Cross bandages it's not giving a damn about the urban coalitions of it's the right of a
community to to govern
itself at least to be given as many public functions as it can reasonably
handle without stepping on some other part of other local group.
So I don't suddenly say participation we don't mean just getting involved. That's a kind of
vague phrase which people always use against
you and you have to be very clear and keep your principles political and strictly
political the citizen the community election. Representative
bodies and right to run things. Now I'm not interested of Iraq with the
giving as a favor to a local group the right to elect a couple of people to take
positions in the bureaucracy because that's us. That's their liking people for salaried jobs.
I was going to taken
away. What they given him such a case is a privilege and we talk about
rights within you really not talking about parties at all you're talking about restructuring of the whole the
whole system the fabric of government
But I hope not I hope that's not the case entirely the Republicans
I if you look at some of their statements
with what appeared of the more promising of the two parties.
They do speak a local and local government and they do complain about federal
usurpations local rights but the fact is when you come down to it their definition of
the republic is capitalist country. In other
words that we inherited a political
order free political order based on the self-governing citizen and they tell you that it's a
it's really an economic system. No more no less an economic system with
certain political institutions which help free the economy now though in truth
I confess the Democrats think the same thing only they think the capitalism has to be
somewhat alleviated or merely rated by certain federal
government functions. You know take care of welfare people or social security cases a lot of
health care or holes in the private enterprise system.
So that strictly speaking neither party would be suitable
I hope that all of the Democrats. Françoise hard to say why. We
had written a book in the public life that since the Democratic Party's coalition
really depends on blacks and lower class whites
working like working people.
The other party most to suffer from a real sharp break between the
races and since I
think that the only solution to the racial question is indeed local
democracy leave a proper
democratic party up you know it's in. Move it in some direction I mean it right now it's it is know
is deep in its bones the Paladino but. The old bread and butter issues are
dead but they are looking for something the Republicans are not looking for anything at the moment so I say.
Perhaps foolishly that the Democratic Party is a better hope for returning to what in fact are its own.
roots salute when you see the bread and butter issues are dead. What is your
attitude towards them. There is a great lack of adequate
housing schools are inadequate. There are not enough
jobs for blacks particularly but
unemployment is still high and in any event id's problems that you
feel are irrelevant already solved or would they be solved differently if there was
no local control.
Well I think if you felt very differently if if the powers that the
as a potent faction recognize the
Republic and created recreating the Republic as its primary goal to take for example
poverty it's not a simple case of want of
money and side effects not a complicated one definition of poverty is
entirely relative everyone understands that
it's in the lowest one third or one quarter of the
consumption scale those in other words if the middle class and
Hollywood movies sort of lays down what the visitor Autumn of the good life
is that year in consumer goods and those below it up poor and I think
the point every many
times sure but I mean still there though want better housing in the matter. You can
say participate but the fact is that there's not adequate housing for that person who
is in the lower third of the
economy and you're saying that people want that housing more than they want their
rights no what I'm really asking is do you see these as a conflict or parallel or
no I don't think. For the phrase housing or the phrase
poverty the media. Cation a vast
federal funds and the federal government action. I'm not so
sure about that I was mentioning about
poverty. The relativity of poverty is not a small point it's a very important point
because if poverty means the lowest third of the consumption scale
and they will be never a cure for part of it. Yes I mean understand that I
mean that there is this is not to belittle absolute poverty or the degradation of
poor but you are a society in which has no avenues
of achievement except consumption and indeed if you are the lowest third in the consumer scale
you are degraded and dispossessed and feel
it now as far as absolute poverty is
concerned the cure for absolute poverty is a guaranteed annual wage. There's no question
about that but the resistance to it come from it comes precisely from
a society of people who have no rights who don't govern
themselves who are the subjects of government only the subjects of government who are
told every day that their dignity and their respect and their self-respect comes from nothing
else than holding down a job that those people do not want to see anybody anything for nothing.
They want to want to get anything something for nothing
themselves. So you see the way out of this is to give everyone
a say in their in their own political future
and then the whole idea I mean they would have begin the. Not to a job through some
kind of power as this is this
is right I mean for example there is we get richer and richer and richer
and yet we're told that we have no time for as well no time for
self-government and the something must be wrong with that formula. What are we getting richer
for me through the history of the world with wealth meant
only one thing and meant time to be the
citizen in the ancient world very small percentage of people have the time for it
now we have time for it and we are told that the most important thing on earth is
the employer's employment. Now tells us that the Democratic Party in fact told us that.
Now why I mean I mean every king would like to have all the citizens busy little
hardworking subjects' who never pick their nose up from the grindstone have to speak in the general terms about the case.
I look I'd say I'm very skeptical about some aspect of the notion that full employment is the
most serious goal in this country. I wonder if we should have less employment and the fear
that people have about unemployment is really the fear
that. Idle hands do the devils work.
But given a structure of political democracy. Given
the opportunity to be citizens I mean literally to work as a citizen.
And they will have something else to do.
Now then you look at it then you look at the full employment from the point of view from the front of
the possibility that our wealth gives us gives us to allow men to participate in
local representative bodies and then you look rather suspiciously. On the insistence
that men want nothing except jobs.
like a lovely theory do you have knowledge.
Evidence that people really do want to participate and you're saying
they do is there indication that people really want to take the time really care of the very
people you're talking about those that are owned. Well for those that
are unemployed underemployed in the poverty section of the economy.
Well I think the power of the big think they will know that well that's my most direct proof because as
soon as black men ask for local
self-government incomes. On Russia promises to give them jobs.
I mean is this the perfect response. Somebody wants a man wants to be a
citizen and suddenly the Republican Party in the hands of Richard Nixon says Ah what everybody
wants to be a capitalist every black man should be given the opportunity to run his own grocery
store and you say no we want to run our own. Institutions run
a grocery store you know if a grocery man you know you know can you have no connection with a community you're just doing the
same act function in the community as a white man and I community did.
The Democrat respond I'm a classic response as well as well as hardcore unemployment all these black people are honorable
men what they need is jobs and better jobs and that's in the
is the strongest indication
that when black people say they want to govern themselves
they frighten the powers that be so I say the policy the is the politics
and here's a point we consciously make our public life. Politics has motives of its own and then
our economic motives their political motives and they're a man and
men in power
will give you all the money you want if you make sufficient trouble but he will
not give you and I were a power without him and I should make a lot of trouble.
Mr Carter you've been talking about the need for citizens to
govern themselves. You know what about the mechanics. I do have to set up a whole
new mechanism for this process to take place.
Well eventually you would but I called to hire professor the government to help you do that figure out the
of the number of times the election should be held in a given
two year period of once or twice the size of districts for
whatever function political function is you return to local
citizens but that's really not the first and important point to the first point is simply
to convince people that a republic of self-governing citizens is not simply
a nice thing to have like. Clean
air and better highways. But that is the
highest good and that the dignity of man and and the role of a citizen
are intimately connected. When you say a man is a free man you don't mean that people are
not knocking him on the head and locking into jail arbitrarily there's a civil rights.
You mean that he has that he is neither a rule or no rule. He's both.
And that his dignity and his freedom consists in being able should he
wish to join with us fellows to initiate something
new for him to be free is to be politically for it and be politically free is to
be a citizen.
Physically deal talk recently about the new politics about new coalition.
Do you see hope in these movements in terms of
what you would like to see take
place but I see hope in the
fairly frantic wish to find something new for the
Democratic Party which is what some of the new politics is about. I don't so far
nothing in the standard new politics. The
supporters. As I think got down to the root of the issue. Now
the radical issue of the Republican self which is which isn't buried under much too much content for
people to usually.
In mass numbers restore right
now the new left and the real New Left S.T.'s and so forth I mean they're
the enemies of local democracy quite frankly. Yes yes started six years ago. One good
idea namely local democracy and a large mass of Marxist cliches and six years
they forgot that one good idea only a left with Marxist cliches.
And there is a thing about it all this is the Marxists. Now understand that
they cannot talk in materialistic language so well another too many people who
are prosperous and too many of the poor a poor only in relation to mere
prosperity. To really speak about the paradox of poverty in this the plant
don't they're looking for and they're looking for a spiritual.
Sort of food our
economic goal for the young people to seek namely love
the concept of alienation somehow in the post revolution well minimal I.P.L. you
need it from their liberal elevation as one of the owners were like love on guard. Has a knife or
The reason they're in this impasse is that they have contempt for political democracy and so they
are stuck now trying to conceive of something attractive for the modern
age something which seem to be more spiritual is more rooted in the people except
the dignity of man. So they throw out alienation and pray that no one will notice what
means it's really amazing a principle that seems almost
a refuge but when you say it is a citizen's right to govern
themselves is really one of the most radical statements
well and then died for a public that's forgotten. I mean women went to
the scaffold for breeding the world system at one time.
Now you re professor of American fans of history will tell you that all about the economic.
Forces that determine the Constitution. You know I mean really. Denigrating their
own foundation because you could not walk out in the street then the shores
are not going to be
killed literally killed. Not that we were founded as a
republic the strength of the man for a restored public life professionally in
the fact that it exists and so when you stand for local democracy.
You're standing for some that cannot be easily side stepped the question is to
convince them of goodwill. Well I think I've been dupes for a very very long time.
Of the importance of making That's
stand in for the wiping out of the mine air pollution and highways. You know
as primary goals and say once more that a Republican self-governing citizens
is the highest good. I will fight for that
first and when they do there is no one no one who can gainsay you because
the man the political leader gets up and says we are not for local democracy has the find himself I need
to find myself as a usurper and attack.
But this is really the role of your journal the public life.
And yes we simply our policy is very simple whatever enfranchise of
the citizen with for what this enfranchise of them are against but whenever
some. Formula set up which seems to help people but
while disenfranchising them. We try to expose that first expose of the
different franchise one element and then quite frankly. You will discover that the help isn't a hell of a lot of help either.
I mean the history of Europe your chronic failure is enormous in this country you know.
And there's more to it than that I mean there are people who. If who will state the principle of the Republic in
a kind of soft headed mealy mouth way they'll say we want
more participation. We want people to give a damn we want more involvement. We don't talk that way.
We say political rights.
And then our citizens. When are you called as citizens and what that share of citizens is
equality or political rights we don't talk about being helping out the black
oppressed the black are oppressed because they're not citizens and the only way to help
a Black says blacks is to is to restore the power of the Philippines to ship to everybody.
does a citizen. How do citizens this new this program get a right to get a copy of the public
life after twenty I haven't you.
And if they write the beautiful Mary well taken care of personally
attended Mr Carter thank you for this interview. My guest has
been Walter Karp coeditor of the new biweekly Journal of politics. The
public life. If you care to subscribe or want to find out more about it. Write to
the public life.
Twenty nine two thousand you. Thank you and goodbye for now.