Missing the Point on LBJ

Missing the Point on LBJ

There is a positivist school of political science that devotes itself to the analysis of power. It is value-free about things like justice or commonwealth; and it pays as little mind as possible to causes like class interests or historical conditions. The tone of such writing is technical, superficially like Machiavelli in The Prince—but of course in Machiavelli, who was a lover of pristine Rome and the commune of Florence, this tone is a cry of passion for his suffering country, whereas in our technologists it is cool and hip, as if they were not patriots of anything.

In Lyndon Johnson, Evans and Novak have surprisingly given us a kind of monument of the positivist method. As they say, “We have attempted to show how the Public Person achieved and dispensed power. This is a study of political power and a political biography.” I do not think their own purpose is methodological but rather that, as journalists, they find that techniques of power—jockeying for position, horse trading, mending fences, occasional knifing in the back (it is astonishing how many metaphors we have) —provide good daily columns. Nevertheless, until the last chapters of their book, they preserve their method quite pure. There is some mention of LBJ’s “populist background,” and rarer mention of his tie-ins with Texas millionaires and his making his own million, but such things are not allowed to become important to the analysis. Astonishingly his relations with armament industries, inevitable to a man whose specialty throughout most of his public career was in the Armed Forces committees and in aerospace, are not mentioned at all. (This is so astounding that I wonder whether the authors are devious on this point.) There are, of course, many jolly paragraphs on the hero’s personal manners, but these are rigorously devalued as untechnical; LBJ and his advisers are praised when they concentrate on the Public Person; and best of all, if they can use some personal trait to enhance the Image.


Lima