there has never been in American life anything comparable to the Fabian Society. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt gathered around them an ad hoc team of advisers who included a number of bright lawyers, economists, and political scientists, but neither these nor their journalistic and academic allies created anything like an ethos or a basis for interpreting the relation between specific pragmatic measures and overall social and political change. Moreover, both the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations soon ran dry of ideas for domestic reform, and were, so to speak, rescued by World Wars from the necessity of demonstrating their weakness. Although in part thanks to them Washington, D.C., has become somewhat less of a cultural and intellectual colony, it still remains a city dominated by middle-level civil servants, the military, the lobbyists, and the service trades dependent on all of these, and not a city tied in to avant-garde ideas in American life.
Several of the state govenments have been in this respect somewhat less badly off in recent history. The University of Wisconsin has been a kind of unofficial Fabian Society for the state government, or at least this was the case during the Progressive Era; and the state government and state university of Minnesota have had somewhat analogous relations. But neither locally nor nationally has there been a disinterested intellectual stratum tied in any systematic way to government activity.
In the Congressional elections of the fall of 1958, however, a group of Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives who have banded together as the Liberal Project in an effort to change the state of affairs. Some of them had in fact attended the University of Wisconsin, or fallen under the influence of men trained there. They were frustrated to discover that the Democratic victory in the elections was not to be translated into public policy; but they also realised that, even if they were to have a larger voice in affairs, there was no substantial seedbed of ideas on which they could draw for measures that went beyond what might be regarded as the mopping-up operation of the New Deal: while these men were sensitive to the large residual areas of deprivation in American life, they did not believe that a policy could be based on this alone. For one thing, they had a concern, unusual for members of the House of Representatives who are supposed to leave foreign policy to Senators, with foreign policy; they were, for instance, among the small group of Congressmen who opposed the sending of nuclear information to the Adenauer government (in spite of the fact that some of them came from districts with a heavy German population). Others were concerned with the lack of preparation, either economic or psychological, for possible disarmament. At one discussion the question came up for example as to what redeployment there could be for ex-Air Force generals when they could no longer go into the business of weapons-making, and when they had filled all the posts in the military academies and secondary schools that might still be looking for “tough” headmasters. Plainly, the members of the Liberal Project were out of sympathy with the Truman-Acheson wing of their own party, which has still not given up the effort to prove, over the dead body of Senator McCarthy, that it is even more ferociously anti-Communist than any Republican.
Such dissatisfactions, however, did not constitute a new policy; and for this the Congressmen
Now that these exchanges have been going on for a year or so, we have talked to a number of intellectuals who are astonished to discover how academic in the best sense is the intelligence of the group of Congressmen and with what integrity and dedication they approach their work. Except for James Roosevelt of California (who is in his third term in the House), none of the members of the Liberal Project is well known outside his home state in the United States, let alone abroad; a scattering of people are familiar with Charles Porter of Oregon who has been a notable critic of the Atomic Energy Commission and of American policy vis-à-vis Latin America. (There are a few Congressmen, of whom Chester Bowles is best known, who are close to the Liberal Project, although not active members, and who possess a wider reputation and influence.)footnote1 The majority of the dozen or so Congressmen who make up the Liberal Project, including William Meyer, the first Democratic Congressman from Vermont since the Civil War, hold their seats by the barest majority and face close contests for reelection in the fall of 1960; all of them have been told by sager heads that there is no political “mileage” in what they are doing. Certainly the intellectuals they have recruited to meet with them and to write papers on assigned topics for a volume to be modeled in some measure after Conviction, coming as they very largely do from New York, Boston, and Chicago, cannot help the election campaigns of men scattered over the Congressional districts of the North. And it should be remembered by British readers that American Congressmen are virtually on their own—a better example of “free enterprise” than is to be found in most businesses—dependent on local support rather than on any overall party effort on their behalf, though to be sure they can be greatly helped or hurt by the way the national Presidential campaign goes down in their home districts. Moreover, the inevitably bureaucratic management of this flock of 535 independent entrepreneurs in the House makes it very difficult for any one member to attract attention comparable to that of a Senator. Hence, few Americans realise that the Congressmen of the Liberal Project, as well as a number of others who are potential recruits, are on many specific issues and in general outlook far to the “left” of well-known Democratic senators such as Humphrey. Indeed, the Congressmen would probably feel that the tag, “left”, is one of those dated legacies they hope to surmount.