My favorite political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, seems to have a blind spot about the character of bureaucrats and public employees, failing to see that they are just as ‘patrimonial’, a word he uses a lot, as any other interest group.
The other day I picked up the Wall Street Journal Weekend section [which is about the only hard copy newsprint publication I still read] and was shocked to find an essay by Francis Fukuyama defending the Deep State. I’ve relied a lot on his two books on social order and on his diagrams in the book The Great Disruption. But I must say that in his praise of the bureaucratic class, he has forgotten his own principles. I’m not sure what a ‘deep state’ is, but I suppose any organization has something like it.
I’ve had to deal with a ‘deep office’ in my own family office from time to time. As C. Northcote Parkinson and Peter Drucker tell us, an organization is an organization and they all have similar issues, regardless of whether they are State, Business, or Religious/Nonprofit [of my ‘five kingdoms’, only two—the family and manners/customs/languages—are not dominated by Organizations].
I understand that an absolute ‘Rule of Law and not of humans’ [to phrase it in a PC way] is impossible. But it does seem to me that the administrative level of government is to be submitted to the statutory level [the elected portions, executive and legislative, plus the actual courts with judges and constitutional process as opposed to administrative hearings]. And the statutory level is to be submitted to the constitutional level—including some institution overseeing that laws enacted are in keeping with the constitutional framework of the nation. If we as people can’t do any damn thing we please, [and we can’t and shouldn’t], those who make laws and rules shouldn’t be allowed to make any damn law or rule they please.
Of course, there are always flaws. What happens when those who are authorized to interpret the Constitution come up with purely bizarre notions? For example, what about declaring that a constitutional amendment enacted in 1868 requires the state to recognize marriages of men to men, and women to women, on an equal basis with the marriage of a man and a woman? Or more broadly, what about determining that the Constitution forbids governments from restricting the sexual activity of ‘consenting adults’, while at the same time allowing them to regulate tightly the economic relations of those same ‘consenting adults’? Apparently, they can’t tell you what you can do in your bedroom but can say a lot about whether you are permitted to build that bedroom in the first place! In fact, these conditions are not the fault of the bureaucracy. These conditions were provided by statutory and ‘constitutional’ law.
Fukuyama, however, seems to think that the lower level bureaucracy functions as kind of an alternative Supreme Court to keep the elected state within constitutional bounds. In fact, this is indeed a situation we might be forced to in an extremity. It could happen. Andrew Jackson got away with defying the Supreme Court in the matter of the removal of the Cherokees. Abraham Lincoln got away with it in the matter of habeas corpus during the Civil War.
Since the Reconstruction Amendments, including the one of 1868 I mentioned, no President or Congress has dared to defy the Supreme Court, no matter how bizarre the Supreme Court’s rulings may be. And though it’s a remote possibility in our political culture, it is common in other governments that a president would try to set aside the Constitution to stay in office or exercise his will against the legislature. Should a situation like this ever arise, let us pray that our military—the bureaucracy that matters in a real crisis, because they’ve got the guns—would put its first loyalty to the Constitution, not to the Commander in Chief.
But that is not the point. Fukuyama has a blind spot in failing to see that the bureaucracy has a ‘patrimonial’ interest of its own. Walter Russell Mead points out that government workers are the last workers in the country to possess the privileges of the ‘blue social model’ of the Great Compression era; strong unions and defined benefits [as opposed to the defined contribution model that most private employees now have] and pensions. And did not China, which had the earliest ‘mandarin’ class, have to periodically clean up its act? [There is a reason why the most studied and used of the Chinese languages is called Mandarin Chinese].
In the United States, we are fortunate that this class relatively rarely takes bribes. I have made the rather Swiftian suggestion that they ought to be allowed to, in order to put them on the same playing field with elected officials, and so that they will not be trusted more than the elected officials! But as a class they have their obsessions with ‘health and safety’ and ‘political correctness’.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has done a good job dissecting the thought of James Poulos on the Pink Police State. The ‘Pink Police State’ is where sexual freedom is the major civil right but other violations of ‘health and safety’, including free speech that is critical of this order [thereby violating ‘safe space’] are not rights at all.
I had an acquaintance who, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, traveled the country testifying on behalf of religious liberty for religious private schools; there were a number of related cases at the time. He did not spend most of his time in what we now call ‘blue states’; the mandarinate has the same views pretty much everywhere in the country. I have been quoted by Rod Dreher regarding Aldous Huxley’s declaration that sexual freedom seems to increase just as all other freedoms decrease. I called sexual freedom the ‘Last Freedom’. These days it seems to be extended beyond sexual activity, to the right to ‘death with dignity’ (i.e., assisted suicide, to amputate one’s limbs or ears if one desires to be crippled or deaf, or to choose one’s gender regardless of one’s body parts).
Large parts of the laws under which we live are in fact not made by the officials we elect. I am working on a campaign to keep Personal Flotation Devices, PFDs [as far as I’m concerned that stands for Police Frustration Devices] from being required for stand up paddle boarders in most situations. But it is noteworthy that very little of our efforts have anything to do with elected officials. This issue reflects, instead, the public’s ‘health and safety’ obsession.
In short, Fukuyama seems to have a blind spot about the true character of the bureaucracy. If he understood Public Choice Theory, he would understand that bureaucrats, as well as the voting public, both operate under the same ‘enlightened’ self-interest as do actors in the economic marketplace. I am very disappointed in Fukuyama about this.