Back in 1948, Dwight Waldo coined the expression “administrative state” to refer to the concentration of authority, including effectively both legislative and judicial powers, in the executive in the form of bureaucratic agencies, as occurred widely under the New Deal. In the US in recent years, the proliferation of executive regulations has far outstripped that of laws enacted by Congress, and unsurprisingly the two houses of Congress, in principle the repository of the popular will, enjoy the lowest favorability ratings of any part of the government.
Despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders’ “socialism,” the administrative state is the effective governing mode of the Western Left. Rather than administering directly the “means of production,” the state prefers to regulate them, increasingly assimilating the corporations of the private sector to the status of public utilities. This offers an inexhaustible source of power that can reach to the lowest levels of daily activity over which the Constitution originally guaranteed the jurisdiction of the states and their legislatures. An illustrative example is the series of “Dear Colleague” letters to schools and universities issued by the Department of Education concerning such things as the evidence required for sexual harassment and lately, bathroom policies for transgender students.
Because these regulations are promulgated by “experts” rather than elected officials, they lend the politicians in charge of the administrative state a veneer of rationality that allows them to deny the resentment that is the basis for victimary politics. To give a recent example, the New York Times on Sunday June 26, in an article discussing the impact of “Brexit” on the presidential election, blithely and non-editorially states: “[Hillary Clinton] offers reasonableness instead of resentment.” This opposition is later elaborated as that between Clinton as a “pragmatic internationalist” and the “nationalist anger” of the other side. Clearly no true argument is possible between “reasonableness” and “resentment.” The location of resentment exclusively on the Right is the obverse side of the promotion of victimary activism against “white privilege” and the like, a propos of which the word resentment is never to be found in the media.
The question of how this “reasonable” approach based on “expert knowledge” is somehow associated with the rabid forms of political resentment illustrated in Chronicle 514 (where the jihadist Orlando shootings were blamed on the NRA and Christian “homophobia”) may be the key to understanding the current political evolution of liberal democracy. One would think that the very notion of expertise implies meritocracy and the careful determination of qualifications, as opposed to the “disparate impact” approach indispensable to victimary thinking, where the inferior standing of any minority group by any criterion is considered prima facie proof of its victimization by the “privileged.”
No doubt victimary triumphs in themselves are largely symbolic—although this symbolism sometimes has serious consequences, as when the pressure on banks to issue loans to minority home-owners catalyzed the recent recession. It is because the victimary is largely symbolic that it is most rampant on the quads of college campuses. But the ideological symbolism is crucial, particularly under Obama, who gets 95+% of the black vote out of ethnic pride rather than any help he has given to black people, and more generally, critical to maintaining contempt for the enemy. The executive-administrative state is thereby given a justification to bypass Congress and, when caught with its pants down, simply walk away from its problems, either blaming the first available Republican, as in the Flint scandal, or simply forgetting about the matter, as with the Lois Lerner IRS (non-)scandal or the VA hospital scandal (which still remains largely unresolved), not to speak of the various depredations of the EPA or CPSC, or of Hillary’s own peccadilloes.
Thus does “reasonable” progressive politics seamlessly blend with the most extreme victimary positions. One can imagine the kind of work these agencies would perform under a President Sanders. I am glad to admit that Hillary’s instincts are not really “progressive” to this extent, but her focus-group approach to politics and simply the red-hot passions of the Left that she must rely on to be elected make it difficult to imagine that her “reasonableness” will not be fully in thrall to the political.
It is all too easy to counter resentment with resentment, and I wish there were a more Christian or even rabbinical way to make these points. The victimary inverts the Christian promotion of humility; “the last shall be the first” is in the future tense rather than meant to apply to our worldly lives, providing the “victims” with a license to act with shameless arrogance—as real Christian victims, like those exemplary black churchgoers in Charleston, know they should never do. Arrogance is never a virtue, although at times violence is unavoidable.
But it would be foolish to limit ourselves merely to the moral dimension of the problem. The cultivation of victimary arrogance was, for good and for evil, the mechanism that drove the French and other revolutions. Was the French, the Russian, the Chinese Revolution a Good Thing? History doesn’t answer such questions unambiguously.
I believe that the victimary arrogance of the Left at the present moment is dependent on a factor that I have discussed several times without pretending to be able to calculate its quantitative effect: that of modern, intelligent automation, which as I have claimed is in the process of effecting the first essential separation within humanity by severing the common symbolic link (as expressed in religious and civil ritual) among the social classes. For the first time, a whole segment of the population, more or less the “Belmont” of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, has been detached from the “common folk,” not simply by privilege as in the past, but by the ability to use symbols. GA takes this more seriously than the workaday anthropologies we live with because GA takes seriously the definition of humans as users of language. In particular the split occurs most sharply in language’s least “humanistic,” most narrowly symbolic function: the pure empty tokens of mathematics, the ability to manipulate which becomes increasingly a qualification for the higher forms of work (“STEM”). Perhaps (true) affirmative action can work to bring the two sides together, but as Murray’s book, which deliberately excludes racial minorities from consideration, suggests, this is certainly not to be solved by attacking “white privilege” or putting (often black) policemen on trial for “racist” brutality.
The point is to understand that the heat of all these resentful thoughts is meant to make us forget the “cold light of reason,” which tells us that only some as yet undiscovered form of human engineering will make those currently in the (former) “working class” capable of handling the symbolic activities of tomorrow’s industrial society. Without falling into economic determinism, I think one can say that the world’s current ills, from radical Islam to the sclerosis of the administrative state in Europe and increasingly, the US, all in one way or another reflect the persistent inequalities that depend more and more not on “privilege” but on qualifications, and ultimately, on native abilities, albeit enhanced by the more nourishing childhoods characteristic of the Belmont class. Huxley’s Brave New alpha-epsilon categories, contemporaries of the word robot invented for Capek’s RUR, seem to be proving eerily prophetic. Save, of course, that as bearers of the moral model of reciprocal human equality, we cannot condone a hierarchy of this sort, so that when it manifests itself in some domain of the social order, it must be denied by all means at our disposal.
Perhaps the unexpected Brexit success will mark a turning point in what has appeared up to now to be the uninterrupted triumphant progress of the victimocracy together with the administrative state. Brexit is the rejection not only of the rigidity of the economic restrictions imposed by Brussels but of the fecklessness of Europe’s immigration policy, its increasing favoring of the Palestinians over Israel (including the European Parliament giving a standing ovation to Abbas’ recent speech accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian wells) simply because Israel is a successful nation whose existence the Palestinians have learned that they need only deny to maintain a hereditary victimary classification, and its deathly fear of “Islamophobia,” ultimately far more paralyzing than even the American fear of “racism,” which permitted for example the horrible Rotherham scandal to go on for years—how many times have you seen this linked to the Brexit vote?
Yet one implies the other; the bureaucratic rigidity of Brussels is not simply techo- but victimocratic, because Western technocracy can only define itself against all forms of Western political hegemony. The more its functions depend on symbolic intelligence, the more the West bends over backward to deny the national-ethnic-“racial” basis of its culture, whether it be in the Cologne mayor’s abjurgation to local women to dress in fashions more acceptable to Muslims or Western corporations and universities’ concern with “diversity.” The scurrilous language generated by the Brexit vote among Remain partisans—this diatribe by Bernard-Henri Lévy, “BHL” to the French, is a particularly juicy specimen—proves the voters’ point better than anything I can say. If Britain’s vote moved a presumably decent humanitarian to this kind of prose, the West’s conscience must be in the process of a genuine sea-change.
Is this enough to justify a vote for Trump in November? Time will tell; but I for one would be willing to take some risks, as the British public has done, in the service of rolling back a bit of the administrative victimocracy we increasingly live under. This is surely among other things one more proof that, however right Francis Fukuyama may have been about the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy, this triumph by no means constitutes the “end of history.” Within the framework of liberal democracy there is clearly plenty of history left to be worked out, perhaps as much and more than we have already lived through. Provided we don’t blow ourselves up first, of course.