On Alfred de Grazia and the Presidency

In a recent book by Raymond Tatalovich (Loyola University Chicago) and Steven Schier (Carleton College)
The Presidency and Political Science: Paradigms of Presidential Power from the Founding to the Present , Taylor & Francis (2014), Routledge (2015)
there is a segment on Alfred, in a chapter entitled: The anti-Aggrandizement Scholars.
Here is the text:

The thesis developed by Alfred de Grazia, coming in 1965 at the high-water mark of the Great Society, is that “the executive of the national government represents and leads the national movement towards a society of order. Congress… expresses the national urge to liberty. The Executive Force is winning and… the congressional or Republican Force… is weakening.” What he calls the “dogmas of the responsible political party” have “sparked the movement of the Executive Force in this century,” dating back to Wilson. De Grazia is a dissenter, because he “considers the great danger that the [responsible] political party will be the means by which the government is converted from a republic into an executive bureaucracy.”


The “myth” of the president as “a single heroic leader” defies the “collectivity of his behavior” (meaning the institutionalized presidency), insofar as the Constitution provided for a President, not “explicitly for the presidency” and surely not “for an all-seeing all-doing executive.” The president is “‘liberal’ by the nature of his office and the character of his constituency” and “is alleged to have a pipeline to the great people that he in fact does not have.” Challenging the liberalism of academia, de Grazia doubts that the president can be the tribune of the people, and to call him the “custodian of the public interest or of the national interest is presumptuous,” because he is custodian of a public interest, his own, and that may be popular or not, shared by Congress or not. When de Grazia speaks of the “problem of dictatorship,” he is citing the growth of the executive apparatus. That is to say, “there is a dictator only because the bureaucratic state must have a face.”

The civil service is viewed by de Grazia as “the great engine of the Executive Force,” not Congress, because “Congress… is an institution deeply imbedded in federalism, the free enterprise system, and decentralization of society and politics. It represents basically these values.” Congress becomes an accomplice, however, to the degree that, when “the Executive Force does triumph” and presidential partisans take control, eventually “the Republican Force in Congress will wither away and be replaced by a weak but ‘satisfactory’ representation of the Executive Force.”

Concerning both the “ends” and the “means” of government, Alfred de Grazia is a conservative. His values concerning what government should and should not be doing are explicit, and he much prefers congressional policymaking. He is not troubled … about “oligarchy and seniority” wielding disproportionate influence within the legislative process, because Congress operates principally through the decision system of successive majorities.” By that, de Grazia means that different majorities rule in subcommittees, committees, and the floor of each house of Congress. And here de Grazia echoes Wilmore Kendall …: “A rich variety of representational forces filters through the system of successive majorities. Neither the presidency, nor the civil service, nor the pressure groups, nor the courts, nor the political party, nor the press could individually or all together duplicate the process and provide the same ‘product mix.’”

Much of this refers to his books Congress: First Branch of Government; Republic in Crisis: Congress against the Executive Force; Congress and the Presidency: Their Role in Modern Times (with A. Schlesinger).


Republic in Crisis (review)

Cornelius P. Cotter (1966). Review of Alfred de Grazia ‘Republic in Crisis: Congress Against the Executive Force’ American Political Science Review, vol 60, pp 723-724.


This is a political assessment of the present and prospective distribution of power between the Executive and Congress. It expresses a frank bias in favour of legislative hegemony, and contains recommendations for institutional changes aimed at strengthening the Congress with attendant (although necessary?) weakening of the Executive power and that of the Courts.


De Grazia is sometimes irreverent but always forthright and consistent in his effort to twist the ideological tail of the political science profession. Outraged reviews of the book, and its treatment in future works on “responsible party government” probably will proclaim the success of his effort. Certainly, the book is an effective means of calling attention to the possibility of constructing a “Republican” or legislative-strength model of government, as an alternative to the popularly accepted “Executive Force” model (the author’s term for the arguments and proposals of the “responsible party government” advocates).

Ideas, documents, institutions – indeed an entire intellectual paraphernalia – regarded as hallowed by many, if not most, American political scientists are questioned, even ridiculed, in the book. The 1950 A.P.S.A. -sponsored report, Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System, provides a convenient (if not unusual) point of initial onslaught. He regards it as a naïve compendium of myths and expressions of preference, disguised in the language of scholarship then in vogue. “The people” and “program” – as used in the report, and as favorite words in the lexicon of the discipline – are “mysterious” entities (P.54). And this is true whether they are employed in the advocacy of legislative or executive dominance: “…the executive and congressional populist theories are equally myths. Both rely upon a fictitious ‘people,’ which… does not exist; nor can it exist” (pp.21-22).

While the New York Times Magazine Section features articles extolling Chief Justice Warren (by Fred Rodell, March 13, 1966), and political scientists generally congratulate our society upon having such a bastion of protection for civil rights, De Grazia finds the Supreme Court a threat to legislative strength. “The Supreme Court has no longer any shame about reading the Constitution as if its words meant nothing” (p.254). Political parties, among their chief functions, help to rationalize “ignorant behavior.” “The people are diverted by the party into accepting the disappearance of direct democracy, with its attractive but impossible promises, while keeping the myth” (p222).

In effect, the responsible party government advocates, consciously in some cases, without understanding their motives in others, are working towards a monarchical kind of Executive control of government and policy-making in the United States (pp.20-21). Ironically, much of the force for enlarging and intensifying executive control over the legislature is expended upon professional-sounding appeals for the reform and strengthening of Congress. These appeals find much support within the Congress, as Senators such as Case and Clark who cannot “be accused of wishing to bring the house down upon their heads,” vehemently advocate kinds of congressional reform that would strengthen Executive control of that body (pp.15, 194-196). Invariably, however, such recommendations would have the effect of strengthening Executive control of Congress.

“The mass media do not see the issue” of legislative control vs. executive control, “and if some aspect of it strikes them occasionally they do not dwell upon it” (p.254). The people generally are President-oriented, rather than Congress-oriented. The tendency towards a larger presidential than congressional constituency stems not merely from his superior opportunities for being singled out from the herd, but from the kind of a monarchical psychology on the part of the people. “That there is a primitive attractiveness to rule by a single man appears to be a fairly well established anthropological principle” (p.37).

This reviewer has emphasized the polemical aspects of Professor De Grazia’s work with the frank purpose of titillating reader interest in the book. What may seem to some egregious statements, and to others, way-out proposals for change, are consciously contrived efforts on the author’s part to stimulate and lay the foundations for a re-examination of the balance of power within our national structure of government today. It is also his purpose to cause the reader to probe his own underlying value system and its possible influence upon his performance in his role as student of that balance of power.

De Grazia argues that the Chief Executive is more influenced by the bureaucracy than a force for control and direction of it; that the very pluralist values which so many advocates of responsible party government argue for are more likely to be preserved in a political system having a strong and independent national legislature; and in forthright neo-Calhounian fashion, for the value of legislating by “successive majorities” (why not “concurrent majorities”?) in the Congress.
His is not an apocalyptic analysis. Congress retains much power today. The Republican Cause force is far from lost. De Grazia proposed specific institutional changes for strengthening the Congress (these include an omnibus bill removing all delegations of emergency powers from the President). The hard pill for many to swallow will not be the proposals for institutional reform, but the general call for curbing the executive and judicial powers, and the hostility to strengthened and centralized parties which the author associates with any effort to retain a Legislative Force in the United States. – 


Cornelius P. Cotter, Wichita State University.