Populism as Bogey-Man

Populism as Bogey-Man

THE TORMENT OF SECRECY, by Edward A. Shils. Free Press, Glencoe, Ill. $3.50.

Edward A. Shils, a prominent sociologist who teaches at the University of Chicago, has written a skillful and provocative book which investigates “the background and consequences of American security policies.”

According to Shils, these policies result from the populist tradition in American politics. Because it denies the “autonomy of institutions” and automatically “identifies the will of the people with justice and morality,” populism ignores the legitimate boundaries between the public and the private, thus subverting the foundations of a “pluralist society.” The populist tradition has scant respect for the rights of privacy because it is obsessed by privacy’s idiot twin, secrecy. Privacy is the voluntary withholding of information about “one’s own business” supported by an indifference of others to this information. This indifference implies a willingness to accept wide diversities in thought and behavior. But when there is a denial of the legitimacy of diversity; when a need is felt for social uniformity because diversity in thought and behavior creates anxiety ...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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