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Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan, 1930–1970, Anne M. Kornhauser

Reviewed by Joseph Postell



In this book, Anne M. Kornhauser chronicles how sympathetic, liberal critics of the modern administrative state confronted tensions they saw in the “statist liberal project” of the mid-twentieth century (p. 2). The book focuses on the liberals who were most concerned not with the size and scope of modern administrative government but with how its new functions would be carried out. Kornhauser alleges that they, not conservatives who rejected the very premise of a more robust state, were the most insightful thinkers regarding the problem of modern administrative power.

After sketching the ongoing controversy over the administrative state’s legitimacy, Debating the American State thoroughly and somewhat laboriously describes three attempts to grapple with the problem. The first, undertaken by scholars of law and social science during the New Deal, sought to preserve the rule of law and democracy in the face of the administrative state’s appeal to efficiency, emergency politics, and technocratic expertise. Through procedural safeguards and participation in administrative government, they sought to make the administrative state democratic and accountable. The second encounter came when critical liberals, particularly German émigrés, confronted the tension between administrative governance and the rule of law in light o

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