GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

June 26, 2015

What kind of government?

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:43 am

The King v. Burwell decision affirming the constitutional and legal rectitude of the federal government’s application of Obamacare provides official confirmation of what some of us have known for a while: we no longer live in a constitutional republic, or under popular government, or in accord with the rule of law. The contempt for common sense and the demands of serious legal reasoning in John Robert’s majority opinion speaks volumes: Congress was trying to do a good thing, the executive branch and federal bureaucracy tried to do that good thing in a goodly way, and so let’s get rid of any language in the actual law that gets in the way of providing the goodies. According to the logic of this decision, it’s impossible to see why Congress would have to do anything more than pass laws that say things like “make America safer,” or “overcome racial divisions,” with the executive and bureaucracy then free to “interpret” these mandates in the “spirit” in which they were intended. If you object to a particular use of power to advance these good intentions, the Supreme Court can simply direct your attention to the good intentions specified in the law—can’t you read—what part of “make America safer” don’t you understand?!

For a while now, Congress has been passing not so much laws as grants of power to unaccountable federal bureaucracies. Charles Murray, in a recent essay in The New Criterion and, presumably, his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, explains very clearly and irrefutably how deeply rooted and longstanding this development is, and why it’s impossible to reverse or even slow it within the normal political channels. This is really the original meaning of “bureaucracy”—rule by anonymous “bureaus.” What we can add to this analysis is the natural convergence between the bureaucracy and the victimocracy. De Tocqueville already noted, in his prevision of the administration state, the relation between that kind of “soft tyranny” and the centrality of meeting “needs” (as opposed to protecting property) to governance. Once the job of government is to meet needs, it tilts toward the needier. Even more, since most of the bureaucracies rely either on a clientele or an activist constituency, enhancing the power of that clientele or constituency enhances the power of the bureaucracy. The neediest, the clients, the activists=the victim base. The growing role that civil rights law is playing in this development further detaches the state apparatuses from anything resembling popular governance or legislative intent or accountability, essentially identifying “the people” with the victims of “the people”—in a case that got less attention (Texas Dept of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.) the Court ruled that racism is completely separate from racist deeds or intentions: “racism” is what the government uses to micro-manage communities as it sees fit. That regulators also get “captured” by the industries they regulate, and those industries in turn use the regulatory apparatus to build monopolies for themselves binds the big business community to the victimocracy and bureaucracy alike.

Bureaucracy works through inertia, gradually accumulating power by finding new “problems” that only it can “solve,” but victimocracy works as an accelerant, which simply means an Argus-like attentiveness to previously unseen problems. It makes sense that the bureaucracy would eventually realize that it need not depend upon its own tiny militia of investigators, but could, rather, draw upon a vast army of victimocrats to widen the scope of its power. The role of the media is to turn all the new problems turned up by the victimocrats into moral panics that must be addressed yesterday, because that’s who we are as a people. There’s no way of stopping or slowing this process within the system, and there is no evident way of getting outside of the system. Murray’s proposal for mass civil disobedience that would overload the system is intriguing, but that assumes the government won’t simply start killing dissenters or rounding them up into concentration camps. A very problematic assumption, since there is no political ethic intrinsic to either bureaucracy or victimocracy that would interfere with such solutions. Both forms of government are remorseless and voracious, driven only by political appetites.

I, of course, have nothing in particular to propose by way of resistance. In a way, the destruction of liberal, popular government is liberating, though, because as long as you feel yourself to be part of a democracy you feel bound by the rhetoric of democracy—a rhetoric of conciliation, compromise, and appeasement, which gets even worse the more popular government becomes a pretense. If we are confronted by the equivalent of a political eating machine and nothing more, well, we need to be careful about what kind of bait we might be throwing out, even inadvertently, and we don’t want to simulate the movements or coloration of the beast’s favored prey, but we can carve out a space where we can start to develop a more truthful, which is to say less democratic, kind of language. Here’s a thought experiment: how would an intelligent alien, who just looked at the interactions between state and society in the US, without any familiarity with liberal democratic pieties, describe things? Keeping that thought experiment in mind might help us to a new political language, one to be advanced between the lines. I remember, a few years ago, thinking that, regardless of the virtue, courage and ingenuity shown by Soviet and East bloc dissidents, their example had lost its relevance with the fall of European Communism—that their revolutionary politics was sui generis. I was completely wrong: the notion, in particular, of “living in truth” in a world not just of lies, but lies that deliberately insult one’s intelligence and therefore one’s dignity, might very well become the most important political concept in the near future.

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