The political philosopher James Burnham is usually credited with coining the phrase managerial state. In his seminal work, The Managerial Revolution, he theorized about the future of world capitalism. He was a former communist, like a lot of intellectuals of the period, so he thought about social organization from that perspective. He was mostly wrong about the evolution of capitalism, but he did describe an emerging phenomenon that is with us today. That is the semi-permanent managerial class that runs American society.
Paleocons would later pick up on the phrase and the concept to critique both the conventional Right, as well as Progressives. Sam Francis, Joe Sobran, Paul Gottfried and others would describe the managerial elite as an amorphous collection of bureaucrats, politicians and academics that occupies the important institutions. This class maintains power by not only controlling the institutions, but also public morality. Gottfried described it as a theocratic religion, that uses accusations of impiety as a shield against challenges.
Like most theorists of his age, Burnham had an understanding of capitalism shaped by the materialist philosophy of Marx. Therefore, he could not conceive of an economic model evolving as a weapon used by a new class that formed out of the bourgeoisie. The paleocons understood this as they lived it. Their friends and family were often members of this new class. Paul Gottfried was a college professor, for example. They could see how a hybrid form of capitalism was used by this new class to maintain power in America.
Even the paleocons missed an important aspect of this new class. It’s something rooted in the nature of man and that is the extreme provincialism in the managerial elites. Despite their claims to worldliness and cosmopolitan affectations, these are people with the worldview of burghers. They may pronounce foreign words with a foreign accent, but their knowledge of anything outside their tiny bureaucratic universe is limited. With few exceptions, theirs is a world of small cliques conspiring against others for bits of turf.
We see this in the unfolding conspiracy within the FBI and the DOJ to subvert the last election. Taken in total, the FBI portion of the conspiracy looks like something you would see in high school, where the nerds plotted some caper against the jocks. Like teenagers, they did most of their plotting via text message. This is not the work of sophisticated actors operating on the world stage. This is the work of a small collection of clerks and functionaries. It’s petty provincialism directed at an outsider viewed as a threat.
This last week, this pettiness was underscored by the revelation that Rod Rosenstein was plotting against Trump. It could be a caper run by the neocon loons that are now infiltrating the New York Times and Washington Post. More likely, given the source is FBI memos about meetings with Rosenstein, this is the small group of FBI plotters stabbing at a former ally for personal reasons. Andrew McCabe was more concerned with someone he viewed as a rival in his little world, than he was with the over all plot to subvert Trump.
This is the nature of the managerial revolt we see going on, as well as the resistance to the Trump agenda within Washington. It is not a collection of policy professionals with deep philosophical differences with the White House. It’s pods of overgrown college students throwing tantrums about petty turf disputes and hurt feelings. Look at the nature of the push back against declassifying documents. It’s cliques of coevals operating from purely personal motives. For most of these people, this is just another playground dispute.
That’s the nature of the managerial class now. When you start to look at the people in these various cliques, you see that they often share more than just a cultural and class background. They grew up with one another, went to the same prep schools and worked with one another for years. Once one member of the clique lands an important position in the bureaucracy, he sets about recruiting his friends, classmates and neighbors to join his team. It turns out that the Dunbar number applies to the managerial class too.
The crisis we see in Western liberal democracy may be rooted in this feature of the managerial class. The bureaucratic government of Diocletian was like a super tanker plodding along through the sea. It was hard to steer, but even harder to stop. It’s strength was in the sheer force of its size. The modern bureaucracy has evolved not to defend the secular leadership through sheer force. Rather, it has evolved to serve the narrow interests of the bourgeoisie class who populate it, as a way to defend their interests.
Like all things that evolve within a democratic framework, the time preference of this class is very high. The plotters within the FBI, for example, were more concerned about jostling for status within their clique, than what could happen after the election. Judging by the text exchanges between Strzok and Page, it appears these two had the time preference of the typical ghetto dweller. None of these people thought much about what would come next or what could happen if their emotional needs were not properly satisfied.
Since the dawn of human settlement, the point of the state has been to maintain the power and position of the people in charge by protecting the interests of the people. The king gets to be king, and all that comes with it, by defending his people from threats. This requires a low time preference as the king expects to be king tomorrow and maybe even have his heirs sit on the throne when he is gone. Even a republican form of governance is designed to serve the interests of the property holders, who obviously have long term interests.
The managerial class that has subsumed western public institutions, exists to expand and protect the interest of these petty cliques, at the expense of the public. It’s not just parasitic, in terms of undermining the middle and working classes. It is parasitic within its own institutions. Since what matters is status within the clique, which has a transactional relationship within the institution it occupies. No one within the clique can think long term about the good of the institution. All they can do is borrow the language of the institution.