The Managerial State of America

It’s often suggested that America, and maybe the entire West, is undergoing a great realignment culturally and politically. The managerial class has matured to the point where it controls the high ground in Western societies and most important, it has become class aware. What we used to think of “leftist” ideology has evolved into an elaborate defense of the prerogatives and interests of the managerial elite.

The rise of the managerial elite dates back to the 19th century with the full flowering of the Industrial Revolution and the credit economy. It’s often forgotten that Herbert Hoover, the guy “responsible for the Great Depression” because of his “laissez-faire” economic policies, was president of the Efficiency Society. Hoover, like many educated men of his age, believed modern engineering techniques could be applied to the organization of human society.

The story of the 20th century in America was the retreat of the traditional middle class in the face of a technological revolution that extended far beyond the material goods of life. This managerial revolution allowed the new ruling elite to consolidate economic, cultural and political power through corporate and governmental bureaucratic power. By the end of the 20th century, the loop had been closed. Politics, finance and the culture would be controlled by the managerial elite.

What we are seeing today is the public waking up to the reality in which they find themselves. Both political parties in America are now immune to the will of the voters. Across Europe, the main parties work together to thwart challenges from populist parties. At every turn the public is faced with a unified ruling class, from proselytizing by the cultural organs to financial chicanery greenlighted by the political class. Of course, no one in power is ever held accountable.

This last part is a good example. Forty years ago, Richard Nixon was run out of town because Liberals hated him. The America of the 1970’s was a country in which members of the elite fought one another for power and influence. There were competing interests in politics. Today, Barak Obama has done all of the things critics suspected Nixon wanted to do. The result is a shrug from both political parties. Hillary Clinton most likely sold national security information for cash to her slush fund and no one in power dares mention it. The shield wall remains intact.

The thing to understand is that the managerial class is not a self-conscious conspiracy or “deep state.” It’s a cohort that shares educational, class and cultural perspectives. They are bound together by an egalitarian ethic and a preference for technocratic solutions. Those solutions are to be carried out by the bureaucratic institutions in which they swim like microbes in a Petri dish. The shared interests and shared worldview results in a natural, unconscious cooperation, like ants whose queen is the bureaucracy. The interests of one are the interest of all.

It’s why there’s no mechanism to self-police. Holding Obama to account for his crimes means expulsion from the managerial class. To these people, such a thing is up there with crucifixion or stoning. Ultimately, the only punishments that can plausibly be handed out within the elite are those that lower one’s status within the elite. Anything that threatens one’s membership in the elite is therefore off limits. Hillary Clinton can auction off state secrets and not fear prosecution. The worst that she can expect is losing to Bernie Sanders.

This natural cooperation looks like coordination because it is so natural. The decision by the Supreme Court to take up Obama’s amnesty action is a good example. The court has decided to expedite the review this case and decide whether Obama, or any future President, can issue citizenship to random people at his discretion. Lower courts have put the brakes on the program for various administrative reasons and now the high court will decide the matter.

Of course, expediting this case is unusual. The reason for the rush is Obama is leaving office in a year. There we see one element of the managerial class helping the other without thinking too much about it. This would not have happened, of course, if Paul Ryan and the Republicans had not gone along with the scheme by funding it in the last budget. So, we have one side of the class pushing open borders, another element signing off on it, despite claiming to be mortal enemies of the former. Then another side comes in to help expedite it.

Again, that looks a lot like coordination and one would be forgiven for thinking it is a conspiracy. But wait, there’s more! The court now has the opportunity to remove this issue from public consideration. They will most likely rule that the executive can issue citizenship to whoever he likes whenever he likes. This removes the issue from Congress. From there, it just takes one president to issue green cards to South America for the circle to be complete. Citizenship, as a practical matter, ceases to exist.

Across the managerial class, the concept of citizenship is seen as antiquated. They all believe that the world is headed to a world without borders and countries. A vast administrative apparatus working through local bureaucracies will handle the issues of governance formerly done by nation states. While not always articulated in this level of detail, anything that moves us toward the general vision of a borderless world is supported by the elites, be they on the court, at the banks or in the legislatures.

The court did not take up the case because they intend to block the administration. They took up the case for fear it could languish until after Obama was gone and the public had become fully aware of what’s happening. Once the court rules in Obama’s favor in a few months, the game is lost. It’s just a matter of time before the ruling elite is completely decoupled from the people over whom they rule. They will have their managerial state, if they can keep it.

24 thoughts on “The Managerial State of America

  1. There may be another reason that the managerial elite are so eager to diminish, if not eliminate citizens and the idea of citizenship. Becoming a citizen – meaning an adult informed and engaged in the public issues of the day – remains a matter largely of self-selection and personal interest, in that just about anyone can still inform themselves on public matters and engage in those matters in forums open to them. Hence citizenship remains within the grasp of anyone who wishes to seize it, and does not require the endless, mostly meaningless, and expensive credentialing by which the managerial elite selects its own members; an elite that has come increasingly to believe in its own credentialed status as the necessary perquisite for political participation.

    You only need to see how Sarah Palin – a provincial, community college-educated rube with a funny accent – enrages our betters to see this insidious dynamic in action.

  2. Supreme court action on immigration is not necessarily the endgame. They have lost their moral authority. I think President Trump can let the air out of these gasbags. However, only three justices are necessary to obtain a review so there was no real way to avoid it.

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  4. I agree with Orwell’s critique of the managerial state: regardless of the stated goal of such a state, it will end up a totalitarian state (restated succinctly).

    So we are in the rather unique situation of a managerial elite pursuing totalitarian ends via Gramscian ways and capitalistic means. Orwell, I think, would be amused and Burnham appalled. However, Burnham would be vindicated seeing that business is trending towards cartelism and perhaps ultimately state ownership as he predicted.

    I am also of the opinion that the managerial class seized power by leveraging two fears. First, that we in th US were facing a protracted urban insurgency and that unless we urgently abrogated certain features of constitutional government, there was no way to prevent a generational war in the cities. Second, that we were facing Malthusian collapse, so that unless certain other provisions of constitutional government were abrogated, we faced systemic collapse in one or two generations.

    I think that my first assertion is well supported by the panicky actions of the Warren Court and Congress in the 60’s as well as the popular press. My second can be deduced from the record of the Warren Court; however there is far less support for it in the magazines and newspapers of the time.

    In other words the managerial class used the threat of violence and societal breakdown to con the old Establishment and seize power.

    One wonders what it will take to get them to move aside and return to constitutional government?

    NB: I don’t believe that conspiracy was involved in any of this. The debates over the civil rights acts are out there in the open. The Warren Court’s ahistorical reinterpretation of the 14th amendment is a bit shadier, but the justices read the same papers and went to the same clubs as the Establishment, so they knew which way the wind was blowing. Regarding Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut, well sometimes you have to go with your gut.

    • I believe Orwell was a Burnham fan. I think Orwell got one big thing wrong and that is the nature of the managerial class. He imagined a soulless misanthropic class of people, indifferent to the suffering of the masses. I think we are seeing something quite the opposite. The managerial elite defines itself by how much it cares. It’s a very feminine outlook.

      • To be fair to Orwell (and Burnham), they were writing in the midst of WWII. Orwell accused Burnham of admiring Nazi methods — and it’s hard to see how Burnham wouldn’t have admired them, given the Reich’s spectacular accomplishments. It’s funny, though — Orwell was dead on about the Nazis’ weird emotionalism (the concentration camp commandant weeping over Schubert after a hard day’s genocide), but he didn’t see how chick-y that was.

        But to be fair to him again, female suffrage was still pretty new back then. He didn’t have the histrionic antics of three generations of soccer-moms-in-politics to compare it to.

      • Orwell was reacting to Stalinism, but it was Huxley who picked up on the vision of Tocqueville– how the subjects in a democracy would entrap themselves into the delusion that they were, at least, choosing their masters. This requires a far more sophisticated form of tyranny (and possibly more sustainable),. but not if our masters fail to figure out that their no borders scheme will take it all down.

        • That “more sophisticated form of tyranny” is what Oswald Spengler called “caesarism” — power concentrated in a few hands, but maintained by the illusion of the old constitutional forms. Every so often, Caesar would go through the rigamarole of being “reappointed” to his powers during the “ongoing emergency.” The Senatorial elite played along, because they could retain (some of) their powers and (a shred of) self-respect… and, of course, share in the spoils.

        • …that they were, at least, choosing their masters

          It could be said, that the last American that successfully ‘choose’ his master was Lee Harvey Oswald. Of course he was insane, wasn’t he? And was Jack Ruby ‘canceling’ his vote or doubling down?

      • Orwell was rather frightened by Burnham. He doesn’t want to believe that Burnham was right (see his WW2 BBC editorials contra Managerial Revolution) but fears that he is (hence 1984).

        The insight about the feminization of the managerial class is very good. I had a very smart guy working for me who was complaining to me about the decline of heroic values, manly virtues, etc. I responded, “After nearly 100 years of female suffrage and empowerment what did everyone think was going to happen?” To get all Hegelian and stuff, if tragic male culture is the thesis and therapeutic female culture is the antithesis, I’m not sure I want to be around to see the abortion of a synthesis that results.

  5. “If they can keep it.”

    Doesn’t it seem like the whole political class is daring us to revolt? As if GW Bush, John Kerry, and the rest of the Old School Ties got to drinking down at Skull and Bones one night and decided to play the world’s most epic game of Chicken? Will iPhone x.x keep The People from knocking together a few guillotines?

    As I’ve written elsewhere, I suspect we’re about to find out very shortly. At some point here soon, a Western European army is going to be ordered to open fire on its fellow citizens, in defense of foreigners. I don’t see the entire professional officer class obeying that order. (In fact, I’d guess that the only reason a few disgruntled junior officers aren’t already talking coup is the miniscule size of European militaries).

    Not every Western general is a PC-whipped, pencil-pushing fool. As tiny as the German and French armies are, one has to really want to be in the army to make a career of it. The Elite, in other words, seems to think they’re only playing Chicken with the rubes in flyover country. That is very likely a horrible, terrifying mistake.

    • I fear that the wealthy have lost interest in getting more wealth, and are focusing on quality of life issues – like population reduction, and enserfening the proletariat in a neofeudal system.

      -notice the enabling of Iran’s nukes
      -notice the saber rattling at china and russia
      – the destabilization of the ME
      – disarm the worlds cop (US) ,destruction of industrial base

      At some point you already have nearly all the money, and may as well think about improving the world and increasing your security.

      Seems like the (D)irtbag party was talking alot about the benefits of war a few years back (eliminate dissent, boost economy) and then went silent on it – followed by a lot of the first 3 items on my list.

  6. Brother John- Roosevelt ran on the notion that Hoover was bankrupting the country. He’d balance the budget and get everything back to normal. HA! That’s what FDR did, right? One could say that Hoover was the John the Baptist of the managerial state. Coolidge did not like him much- referred to him as “The Wonder Boy.” And Z- nice mention of the “shield wall”. Utred son of Utred would be pleased.

    • So, I read shield wall and thought of Arakis. Not sure which he intended, but I like the Dune reference better, since that shield wall eventually got nuked.

    • James Burnham discussed this stuff in The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening In the Real World, as did Milovan Djlas in The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System.

      The trends noted by Zman started in pretty much the same form and roughly at the same time in “free” and totalitarian societies.

  7. A well thought out summary of the situation and a likely scenario for its future, the key words being “if they can keep it”. I for one hope they cannot.

  8. “Across the managerial class, the concept of citizenship is seen as antiquated. They all believe that the world is headed to a world without borders and countries. A vast administrative apparatus working through local bureaucracies will handle the issues of governance formerly done by nation states.”

    We see this here in the UK. There was a time being top dog in the United Kingdom was the goal, but the great prize has moved on. The old Welsh Windbag, Neil Kinnock, might have once been British PM but after his failed bid he soon understood that he could be something bigger in Europe, and without the bother of being voted in by peasants. He became Transport Commissioner with power across a large swathe of land that not only has no internal borders but seeks to remove them around the edges, and then had another well-paid, unelected job in the EU before being eventually being given seat in the UK’s (unelected) House of Lords.

    But the message is clear: you could be a middling politician dependent on votes or you can be a top manager with none of the bother. That’s why all our UK politicians are so eager we stay in the EU. Everyone in politics here wants a cushy job, with good pay and generous expenses, without any need to appeal to the serf class.

    Self-serving or serf-serving? Hmmm…

  9. “It’s often forgotten that Herbert Hoover, the guy “responsible for the Great Depression” because of his “laissez-faire” economic policies, was president of the Efficiency Society.”

    We’ve forgotten that because we were taught the opposite. In 1930, Hoover sprang into vigorous action, demanding Congress issue enormous tariffs, erecting bureaucracies, and doing anything he thought necessary to put an end to the panic. Everything Mellon, Coolidge, and Harding had done in 1921 he studiously ignored.

    FDR campaigned against Hoover as inactive, laissez-faire, a free-market type in order to seize power. FDR was even then a seasoned liar.

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