The NYT reported today that James McGregor Burns has died at the age of 95. Civic Decisions owes its existence in part to Professor Burns, who influenced your humble blogger with his teaching and his 1978 book, Leadership.
Burns liked power. He was a fan of powerful people running big government because he believed that big government in the right hands produces big benefits. He saw our American system in many respects as an impediment to good people trying to exercise power.
Burns reveled in party politics. He saw parties as necessary institutions in a democratic republic; a means to add more heft to popular interests otherwise held in check by republican constraints. And he saw leadership as potentially able to redefine popular interests rather than simply serve them.
At least one student, yours truly, had more confidence in the utility of republican constraints on government power and less faith in the positive outcomes of popular participation or strong leadership and certainly less faith in the (big D) Democratic Party than did the Professor.
The essential lessons about parties and leadership, however, stuck with me. Parties are indispensable institutions in a democracy. The structure of parties can and will evolve but they will remain key to healthy politics. And people who dare to believe that they can move a society in good directions make a huge difference in political outcomes.
Inspired by the insight imparted many years ago by James McGregor Burns, I founded Civic Decisions in part to contribute to the development of parties. Turning good information into good politics is the mission of Civic Decisions.
Whether your party is a cause, a single campaign or something bigger, you have an opportunity to make it better, using new understanding about and new means of transmitting information.