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by Christopher Chantrill
April 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm
THE TAX Day tea parties were a start. Taxes are too high, we all agree. You can see how high at usgovernmentrevenue.com. But taxes arent the problem. Nor indeed is government spending the problem, although you can take a look at the century of steadily increasing government spending at usgovernmentspending.com. Worried about debt? Here. Deficits? Click here.
Taxes and spending and debts and deficits are just symptoms of the problem. The real problem is the philosophy and culture of our governing class.
We know that the administrative state is necessarily oppressive. Bureaucracy is designed to make people conform to the rules. Thats why armies use it. Thats why the absolute monarchs used it. Thats why the communist and fascist dictators used it.
Never mind about that. And never mind about the people like you and me that the administrative state tries to crunch into nice conformable Kates. We can take care of ourselves.
Let us worry instead about the harm that the modern administrative state does to the people within its administrative, bureaucratic culture.
I mean the type of person that it encourages, and the moral squalor it spreads.
William Deresiewicz went to West Point in the fall of 2009 to warn the plebe class against the corruption of the bureaucratic culture.
He warned the future officers of the US Army about the manager of the Central Station in Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness.
In Conrads book and the movie Apocalypse Now, the plot revolves around the Kurtz character and his insanity. Its a favorite liberal meme: the crazed Pentagon general who could blow up the world.
But Deresiewicz is more interested in Kurtzs boss, the bureaucratic company manager.
Hes a man of no particular talent, except the ability to make people feel uncomfortable, rather like Deresiewiczs department head at Yale.
According to Deresiewicz, our education system is creating, particularly at the highest level Ivy League colleges, exactly the kind of bureaucratic personality that Conrad found so distasteful. Deresiewicz worries about the superintelligent sucker-uppers competing ferociously for the glittering prizes on their climb up the greasy pole of administrative success in the governing establishment of the United States.
Youd think that the military would be at the very center of this spiders web, but you would be wrong. The military, condemned to administrative bureaucracy, home of the word regiment, understands that an army must somehow transcend bureaucratic routine if it can hope to win a war.
That is why, back in the 1921, the German General von Seeckt wrote that the German Army needed soldiers who were self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility. That was the lesson learned after World War I. The US Army now pushes responsibility as far down the chain of command as possible. And it allows troublemakers like Gen. Petraeus to challenge the system and lead it to victory. That was the lesson learned after Vietnam.
Back in the days of Vietnam our liberal friends thought that Francis Ford Coppola had utterly captured the nihilism at the center of the warrior culture with his anti-war movie Apocalypse Now, even though that had already persuaded themselves of the same thing with Dr. Strangelove years before.
Deresiewicz is telling us that the liberals have got it wrong. The problem is not the Col. Kurtzes and the Gen. Turdgisons of the Pentagon.
The problem is that bureaucracies teach people the culture of hierarchy. They turn out nasty manipulators that know just how to apply the tourniquet of administrative rules to cut off the pulsing artery of freedom. The problem is the liberals own liberal administrative culture.
Our president is, of course, almost completely a creature of this culture, and it is telling that he hugs and bows to thug dictators but treats his partisan opposition in the United States with sneers and scorn.
So the challenge before the Tea Partiers and the American people is not primarily an arithmetic one of doing something about debts and deficits. It goes deeper than that. Londons Economist showed a glimmer of understanding when it admitted that the British Labour Partys statism has failed to crack the countrys toughest social problems, such as its pockets of entrenched worklessness and educational inequalities.
Failed to crack? Oh really. I thought that the whole point of the welfare state was that it would solve the problem of worklessness and educational inequality as nothing else could. Yet the Brits spend every year 5.2 percent of GDP on welfare and 5.8 percent of GDP on education, as reported by ukpublicspending.co.uk. Youd think that with all those billions they would be seeing light at the end of the tunnel by now.
The problem is not taxes, its not the deficit. Its not even the $100 trillion unfunded shortfall in Social Security and Medicare.
The problem is the whole culture of the administrative state and the corrupted people that manage it.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America