Less than ten years ago, the Sun Belt states were the focus of the kind of excessive attention we have come to associate with our propensity to assign cause, time, place, and date to account for little-understood social phenomena. The decline of the Northeast was virtually irreversible, according to the new wisdom, the rise of the West and Southwest obviously inevitable. Change had more to do with "the mysterious hand of Providence" or the caprice of oil sheiks than with policy — we prefer being comforted, it seems, to being informed.
Explanations of our condition that reinforce our perceived beliefs satisfy our need for appearing to be in control: the supercilious and the arcane are easily interchanged; the calculus of change held to be discrete rather than continuous; and the affirming myths of the past, whether they refer to the seemingly doomed legacy of the Red Sox or the genesis of the social order, are paid their due homage, as if homage will somehow dissipate the impact of their anticipated consequences. In short, culture, rather than policy, is seen as the handmaiden of social change.
This issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy argues otherwise. It examines how change, despite its uneven impact and uncertain direction, can be planned for and managed. Thus, the conclusion that Irving H. Bartlett draws from Daniel Webster's attempt, in 1850, to articulate a view of the Union that was reassuring is especially germane to public-policy issues in which so-called imperatives of culture are held to take precedence over considerations of community and equity: "There are times when the culture changes, when traditional values and institutions are no longer adequate to the moral and political demands of the present, when something new is demanded to save the culture from itself." Webster's message in 1850, that the Union was sound, and that the people's role in a rapidly changing democratic society was consistent with their historical legacy, was comforting but wrong.
New England Journal of Public Policy: Vol. 3
, Article 2.
Available at: http://scholarworks.umb.edu/nejpp/vol3/iss1/2