Narrative roots of public policy

Ricardo Hausmann has a great piece. Behind any policy the re is some narrative which shapes the policy intent. What is behind the narrative? Ideology and history:

According to President Barack Obama’s narrative, the United States has always been about a steady march toward freedom and equality, from the War of Independence to the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women, minorities, and other previously marginalized groups, such as gays and those with handicaps. To the extent that this narrative is inaccurate, it is aspirational.

It is the role of politics to create, sustain, and reshape this shared sense of self, of us (and hence of them). It is an illusion, but a socially created illusion. It is how Bavarians and Venetians in the 1860s, for example, became convinced that they were and had always been Germans or Italians. Likewise, only a new narrative – a new Geist – can persuade the British today that they are really Europeans.

Liberals, as the political scientist Drew Westen has explained, often refrain from the narrative of shared identity, perhaps owing to awareness that great crimes are often committed in its name. Hitler redefined the German Volk as the collective victim of an internal enemy that was tainting its blood – a type of narrative that, whether framed in terms of race, religion, or class, underlies genocide wherever it occurs.

But it was also a national “person” that Abraham Lincoln invoked in his Gettysburg Address. In just 272 words, Lincoln synthesized America as an ideal based on the proposition that all men are created equal. In this narrative, the Civil War was fought to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argued in After Virtue, narratives frame individuals’ moral choices. Likewise, narratives frame the choices that governments make. After his brush with Communists in Spain, George Orwell captured the essence of the narrative’s importance in his novel 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past.

Superb. This is what sums policies most of the time- what is the narrative?

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