A blupete Essay

The Legislative Process: Piecemeal v. Holistic, Part 4 to blupete's Essay
"Legislation: Robbers' Rules"

If the elected representatives were to do their job properly then they would pass far fewer laws and be much the busier for it. I do not question that part of the legislator's job is to pass rules (legislation) that they and the rest of us are bound to obey; but, the actual enactment of legislation, is a ceremonial proceeding which takes place at the very end, of, what should be, a very painstaking process. It is not the legislator's job, nor is it possible, to come up with a grand social design. The approach to the serious business of law making has long since been established: there are rules.3 These rules are to govern those charged with the task; and they must, during the entire process, constantly keep the object of the exercise in mind. The rules first call for a careful defining of the terms. Then the rules allow for a change in the law only where it can be demonstrated that the change would not only effectively deal with the social evils to be got at, but shown to be free from greater evils. Further, in addition, any new legislation proposed should be consistent with existing law.

This business of passing laws can only be done on a "piecemeal" basis, it is, as I have already pointed out, not possible to come up with a grand social design. Sir Karl Popper, (1902-92) in his work, The Poverty of Historicism (1957), deals with the point:

"The piecemeal engineer [as opposed to the 'holistic' or 'Utopian engineer'] knows like Socrates, how little he knows. He knows that we can learn only from our mistakes. Accordingly, he will make his way, step by step, carefully comparing the results expected with the results achieved, and always on the look-out for the unavoidable unwanted consequences of any reform; and he will avoid undertaking reforms of a complexity and scope which make it impossible for him to disentangle causes and effects, and to know what he is really doing. ...
The holists reject the piecemeal approach as being too modest. Their rejection of it, however, does not quite square with their practice; for in practice they always fall back on a somewhat haphazard and clumsy although ambitious and ruthless application of what is essentially a piecemeal method without its cautious and self-critical character. The reason is that, in practice, the holistic method turns out to be impossible; the greater the holistic changes attempted, the greater are their unintended and largely unexpected repercussions, forcing upon the holistic engineer the expedient of piecemeal improvization. In fact, this expedient is more characteristic of centralized or collectivistic planning than of the more modest and careful piecemeal intervention; and it continually leads the Utopian engineer to do things which he did not intend to do; that is to say, it leads the notorious phenomenon of unplanned planning. ...
It seems to escape the well-meaning Utopianist that this programme implies an admission of failure, even before he launches it. For it substitutes for his demand that we build a new society, fit for men and women to live in, the demand that we 'mould' these men and women to fit into his new society. This, clearly, removes any possibility of testing the success or failure of the new society. For those who do not like living in it only admit thereby that they are not yet fit to live in it; that their 'human impulses' need further 'organizing'. But without the possibility of tests, any claim that a 'scientific' method is being employed evaporates. The holistic approach is incompatible with a truly scientific attitude." [(Routledge, 1969), p. 67, pp. 68-9 & p. 70.]
The socialists4 of the age saw legislation as a way of re-making society; a way of curing social ills; a way to balance things; a way to dispense and bring into force "the pure word of Liberalism." With the conclusion of the Second World War, the bureaucracies as a result thereof being well in place, the politicians got down to serious business and legislative schemes of all varieties were hatched and put in place.5


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[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]
[Subject Index]
Peter Landry

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