Page 2 – The Creative Society – Louis Galambos
Galambos helpfully identifies the role professionals play in addressing societal crises in terms of an “American Solution” where we willingly “sacrifice security and equity to achieve the efficiency and innovation needed to remain the world’s most competitive society.” (255) In implementing this solution, the author sees the benefits of the rising expert classes, but he is not blind to the costs as he sees “how the social process of professionalization tended to breed particular forms of hubris.” (201). Noting the preference of experts for “loosely controlled environments” (221), as they tend to prefer self-regulation, Galambos believes that this public and private expertise has enabled economic recovery more than once. Further, he clearly identifies the tension between experts who possess a professional gnosis and democratic ideals.
At times this engaging book reads like it is two books. In one book, the university professor tells of the rise of professional classes in U.S. domestic life as that rise was enabled by higher education. The second book narrates the rise of an American empire in terms of the conflict between realpolitick and democratic ideals. In this brief history of an empire, references to professionals become more an illustrative theme rather than a means to carry his argument forward.
Galambos tells a story of the rise technical experts who work for an innovative society with a sprinkling of equity added. Commendably recognizing society’s failure to fairly include women and African Americans in this rise, he writes of organizations without a real sense of social bonds. Even though his own family story illustrates the role of familial ties and a passionate faith in the almost salvific power of education, he does not attend to the role of community. Professionals manage cities, economies and empires with varying degrees of success with little accountability beyond prevailing in economic competition with a modicum of equity. Can technocratic professionals bring our citizens all along together or are we left with a vision of a few individuals, or a few more, climbing up the ladder to bring the nation an aggregate economic, if not democratic, success? I suspect that the kingdom, or the promised land, or even the common good, binds us to the poor, the working classes, as well as to women and minority and ethnic groups, in addition to professionals and their elites. Perhaps professionals need a sense of calling to shape their exercise of expertise with an eye to the common good.
The Creative Society paints an informative, engaging and moderately optimistic portrait of the experts produced by U.S. society who creatively innovated in the face of daunting challenges. That picture is one worth attending to in earnest. Looking back, perhaps with an eye to the future, Galambos believes “that America needed leaders who could manage the experts and do so in ways that served our national interests and were still consistent with American democratic values.” (219). While he found that “in business, as in government and the nonprofit sector, it took a combination of good leaders and professional expertise to keep an organization efficient as well as innovative” (238), in the end that is not enough. A society does need good leadership, but Galambos would do well to pay more attention to the issue of the character that a society’s narratives produce. The problem and the challenge is not leaders to manage the experts, but the ethos out of which the leaders and their experts operate. The innovative efficiency of experts needs more than a sprinkling of equity, it needs to be shaped by a story that attends to the top and the bottom as well as the middle–it needs community.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com