Before the storm of steel that was World War I, Robert Nisbet wrote that the federal government, for most Americans, was a stranger—something they mainly encountered only on visits to the post office. This may be hard for us to fathom now, we who have been born and raised long after the chains of industrial and technological conglomeration crushed the social, cultural, and political independence middle America knew just a few generations ago.
Different thinkers gave different names to this revolution of mass and scale in virtually all areas of organized human activity. James Burnham heralded its rise, as a system that would replace capitalism not with socialism but “managerialism.”
Burnham defined managerialism as the centralization of society in which the distinction between the state and the economy is eliminated, the separation of ownership and control is effected, and, most importantly, power—real power—rests in the hands of “managers.”
If it seems there is little room for republicanism or constitutionalism in this scheme, that’s because there isn’t. “America still has a written constitution, but it is nearly impossible, theoretically or politically, to comprehend the distinction between the government and the Constitution,” John Marini writes. “The theoretical foundations of social compact theory have been so undermined as to make constitutionalism obsolete as a political theory.”
Demystified, the “managers” of our post-constitutional cruise through the truculent waters at the end of history are business executives, technicians, bureaucrats, journalists, administrators; the whole host of technically trained experts who constitute the credentialed class which produces nothing and owns little but without whom mass society would not function.
“Agricultural and industrial societies always had their unhappy intellectuals—lawyers, clerks, teachers, radical journalists—men whose profits lay in ideas rather than things, and who were thus in the vanguard of upheavals and demands for reform,” Kevin P. Phillips wrote in Mediacracy. “But the intelligentsia was always a small subclass, influential at times when it could channel public unrest, otherwise subordinate.” Now the managers throttle their enemies with the levers of power and, to a large extent, manage unrest while overseeing the managed deconstruction of the civilization they did not build but inherited.
Though they did, at times, work with and advocate state intervention and conglomeration, the old entrepreneurial elites sought primarily to limit the size and scope of government and maintain traditional institutions, the bulwarks of particularism—family, church, nation-state. The managerial elite, by contrast, view these institutions with hostility, considering them provincialist holdovers in need of liberation and assimilation into the managerial regime by force or fraud.
It is imperative for the managerial elite, Samuel T. Francis wrote, “to challenge, discredit, and erode the moral, intellectual, and institutional fabric of traditional society that sustains the older elites and the systems of beliefs, or ideologies, on which their rule is based.” The universalist ethic is their liberation theology. Borders, a national language, attachments to particular communities, and other bulwarks of traditional America pose obstacles to managerial growth and consolidation. So they are portrayed not only as antiquated, but repressive.
The imposition of managerial ideologies that reflect managerial interests and rationalize their dominance, functions, and growth necessitate that Butler, Pennsylvania, gives way to the rootless, universal community of “peoplekind.”
Powerless Against the Bureaucrats
To many Americans, the above description of our political situation may sound too theoretical, or even conspiratorial. These aren’t the kinds of things that might cause them to sharpen their pitchforks. But now the managers, out of sheer hubris, are saying plainly and loudly that they’re in charge. That sort of talk is more challenging and irritating to most Americans. The hubris of the managers grows stronger.
“President Harry S. Truman famously said, ‘I thought I was the president, but when it comes to these bureaucrats I can’t do a damn thing,’” an unnamed female federal employee quipped approvingly on a conference call. The topic under discussion on that call was the staging of a bureaucratic “coup” against President Trump, and generally anyone with whom they disagree. “So the bottom line with this,” she said, “is that we all, as ordinary people, and as federal workers, have power.”
If masses of people engage in noncooperation no ruler can stay in power. Bureaucracy is a really powerful pillar, and federal workers have unparalleled familiarity with the bureaucratic process. They know how to speed things up, they know how to slow them down, they have access to critical information about policies that are being considered and implemented, they can participate in internal decision making, they can provide or deny knowledge and expertise that those at top of the bureaucratic totem pole need.
Among the strategies discussed to throw a wrench in the gears of government are leaking to allied journalists in the media, as well as coordinating with outside “grassroots groups” from within bureaucratic apparatuses for “sustained organizing action” in the event “red lines” are crossed and the “election goes sideways”—that is, not to their liking.
During the discussion of tactics, one woman identifies herself as “an attorney in the federal government” and offers her insight. Another woman clarifies for listeners that “Black Lives Matter is a non-partisan political statement,” which is to say it is one of the managerial regime’s approved ideologies. One woman on the call pulls up a map of D.C. that shows police stations, “key government buildings,” media outlets, and “the Trump boosters.”
She concludes: “We’re talking about what it would take to surround the White House and have people do stuff. . . We have to be willing to put our bodies on the line in order to change things. . . We didn’t cause the war, we didn’t ask for this war, many of us are here because we want to fight it . . . . ” She discusses the possibility of bullets and bloodshed but assures the other participants that it is all necessary in the grand scheme of things.
Whether you call it Burnham’s “managerial regime,” Francis’ “leviathan,” Marini’s (and others’) “administrative state,” or the more common “deep state,” this is, as these managers in the federal government know, the source of real power in this country. But now the manifest problem is that far from a disinterested technocratic elite, these managers are hyperpartisan—ideological neutrality is an illusion, and entry into the managerial elite increasingly is dependent on affirmation of managerial ideologies.
Recent data show 60 percent of $1.8 million in campaign donations by federal employees went to Joe Biden. According to Government Executive, Labor Department workers donated overwhelmingly to Biden, with 91 percent of their money going to the Democrat, followed by the Justice Department at 85 percent, and the Education Department at 84 percent and the State Department. Like their corporate counterparts, federal employees in general overwhelmingly support Democrats and progressive causes.
Likewise, 96 percent of donations in 2016 by people identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors—as well as other donors known to be working in journalism went to Hillary Clinton. The same appears to be true for Joe Biden in this election. When the majority of managers in the federal government, verbalist professions, and corporate sectors think the same way and want the same things and work together to achieve the same ends, you have something like a not-so-benevolent administrative despotism.
Therefore, if Americans opposed to the opinions, desires, and will of the managers score electoral victories, it is not because of the system they oversee but in spite of it. President Trump’s road to reelection highlights this problem. No president in modern memory has faced the kind of uniform opposition to his candidacy as Trump has, no constituents have cast their votes into a machine that despises them more than Trump’s supporters.
Embrace and Exercise Power
Regardless of the outcome of the election, the mask is off the managerial elite, either because they’ve grown so complacent in their power or because they are too confident about the durability of the control they have over our lives.
Barring some catastrophic event, however, the shimmering superstructure of 21st-century government will and must remain in place. So the problem for a right-wing that historically sees itself as the “small” or “limited” government movement emerges: the only way to bend, break, and thus free ourselves from the managerial regime, is to pursue, seize, and consolidate power for ourselves. In other words, complete civil service reform and changing of the guard is essential.
That, however, will be possible only through the embrace and exercise of power in the fashion of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And this means there needs to be a new paradigm of thinking about these matters. There is no task more important than this if we are to take back control of our national destiny.