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By saying that we live in an activist state, I mean to mark a special feature of our self-consciousness: an awareness that our society's existence depends upon a continuing flow of decisions made by politically accountable state officials. The sources of this activist consciousness are several. Most obvious is the general recognition that our society's continued existence depends upon the military sanity of its political leadership. Second, and only slightly less pervasive, is the belief that the nation's economic welfare depends upon steering decisions made in Washington, D.C.-both at the macroeconomic level and through the regulation of particular sectors of economic life.' Finally, there is the widespread acknowledgment that the distribution of wealth and status is a central issue for political debate determination. Poverty, racism, and sexism are not inexorable givens; they are the consequences of systematic practices in which state officials are self-consciously involved, from the moment at which they grant or deny an impoverished mother a free abortion to the moment at which Medicare sustains, or fails to sustain, the last efforts to prolong life.
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