Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Burnham, Orwell and Obama, Part One...
Winston Smith, The Managerial Revolution, And Our Current Crisis
Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about George Orwell here. I can’t seem to help myself, and I promise, it’s not because I am obsessed by the man’s writing, though it is hard not to be. I would consider Orwell to be perhaps one of the three best writers of the 20th Century (Winston Churchill and H.G. Wells round out that list, IMO), and without a doubt, the best political writer of the second half of the same era.
It’s not just that books like 1984 and Animal Farm are great reads, telling interesting stories, but that they seem to reflect our own times so much that it’s difficult not to imagine that someone isn’t following his script.
(Incidentally, I would recommend the Everyman's Library collection's "George Orwell Essays" which is an anthology of essays, reportage, book reviews, etc. In effect, it's the Complete Orwell, sans the above named books, Burmese Days and The Road to Wiggan Pier)
We ARE living in Orwell’s Oceania, if you really think about it; the world is dividing into nearly self-contained, economically-viable, militarily-unconquerable super-states (think along these lines: The EU, World Trade organization, NAFTA, CAFTA,the G20, and so forth), and the course of our politics and culture is very much as Orwell predicted they would be. We live in the age of constant propaganda, worshiping a collection of people who would otherwise be non-entities. In Orwell’s world, Big Brother was the visible locus of political power worship. In our own time, we see the fawning adulation given to the likes of Kennedys, Clintons, Obamas, and even (dare I say it?) Reagan. And though the love is not universal, there is little to no variance in it’s intensity regardless of political leaning. We live in a world where everyone is thisclose to being under constant surveillance by the State, where our daily activities are being scrutinized in minute detail by psychiatrists, marketing experts, pollsters, businessmen, etc.
We ARE, in a sense, living in Winston Smith’s Airstrip One: we are always discontented, but the objects or sources of those discontents often become hard to explain, very often difficult to fully understand, and because of that, damned-near impossible to resolve. We are quite capable of getting all riled up at a moment’s notice over this or that piece of news, this or that miscarriage of justice, or this or that piece of legislation, but the anger soon passes; we either become reconciled to it, forget it, or more often than not, there comes a shift in political power, and what One Side did against great resistance or uproar becomes the Other Side’s modus operandi, and all is forgiven because "Our Side Is Right".
The formulation, (and I think Chesterton said this) and it matters not if you base this upon a liberal or conservative point of view, that "My Country/Party/Class, Right or Wrong", simply degenerates into something akin to "My Mother, Drunk or Sober".
This is, after all, how human nature works. Yesterday’s great Crime Against Freedom is Today’s Necessity, and Tomorrow's Necessity becomes Next Week's great Crime Against Freedom. It’s gotten to the point where neither major political party in the United States even bothers to follow it’s own, stated, political platforms, and changes positions more often than most people change their underwear, and the greater mass of bovine examples we call "citizens" simply follows them unconsciously. Yesterday’s Law-and-order-Defend-the-Constitution-The-Individual-is-Sovereign Conservative, for example, becomes indistinguishable from Yesterday’s Totalitarian Leftard when it comes to matters like strip searching grandmothers at airports as an anti-terrorism measure, or refusing to enforce border controls in order to ensure a supply of cheap labor or what they consider to be a built-in family-values voting block that will overturn Roe-v-Wade (despite any evidence that this is actually true).
Meanwhile, the political Left has pretty much operated as it always has: it has crushed the individual’s rights, it has dispossessed people of their property, it has advanced the idea of the State-planned-and-run economy, it has continued to beat the drum of class warfare, and it has largely – despite lip service to the contrary – continued some of the more onerous aspects of the War on Terror because, well, Lefties like jailing people without due process and their only real objection to the Patriot Act wasn’t that it was an assault on Civil Liberties, but rather that such sweeping powers were to be given to the likes of the Bible-Thumping George W. Bush and John Ashcroft.
After all, Lefties always love being given extraordinary, overwhelming police powers. Just like Hitler’s Gestapo, Mussolini’s Brownshirts, or Orwell’s Thought Police.
But, as Barack Obama would say, George Orwell didn’t build this bitch all by himself.
One of Orwell’s influences in the writing of 1984 was a man named James Burnham, who is largely forgotten. Burnham’s successes include having a hand in the founding of National Review (and get this: Burnham was a former Communist!), but more specifically, in the publishing of two books: The Managerial Revolution and The Machiavellians. I was reminded of these books again this week when I read this article by David Gerlernter, writing for PowerLine, which purports to be stunned at how it is that a wounded President Obama still seems set to have something of a puncher’s chance to win re-election.
Apparently, no one reads anymore, and especially not college-professors-cum-political pundits. Because if Gerlenter had read – and remembered – 1984 and the Managerial Revolution – he wouldn’t be so frickin’ puzzled. Obama has an outside chance of keeping power largely because of apathy and stupidity. technically speaking, the people who actually wield the power don’t care if Obama – or whoever eventually replaces him – is much more than a figurehead and a lightning rod, and are largely indifferent to whether he stays or goes, just as long as whoever is there is pliable, dumb, blinded by ambition, or all of the above. In fact, if you asked these people, the ones who really run things (we'll get to them in a moment), if they had a preference, they would, if they were honest, admit that Obama staying in power only makes their self-appointed task a smidgen easier, for Romney is little more than Obama in a different suit, on most issues.
Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other.
More often than not, These People are the ones who generated the Stupidity and the Apathy in the general public because they need the people to be dumb enough to plunk for a new iPhone every six months, or buy Google on IPO day, purchase that super-expensive-but-next-to-useless Chevy Volt, or to vote for Diane Feinstein or Mitch McConnell.
Now, before I go on, it is necessary to summarize just what Burnham postulated in his two books, how they influenced Orwell, and how they describe to a tee the phenomenon of Barack Obama, and for that matter, much of the last 50 years of American political history. To summarize:
Burnham says that since the beginning of civilization, the world has been divided into three categories of people – The High, The Middle, and The Low – and that all three have competing goals which make a truly egalitarian society impossible. The goal of the High is to stay where they are. That of the Middle is to exchange places with the High. That of the Low, when they have a goal, since they usually cannot see beyond their own petty grievances, their gnawing self-pity, and crushing circumstances, is to usher in a world where distinctions based upon class and wealth no longer exist.
Since the Low are typically dumber than dogsqueeze, what this generally means is that the ultimate effect of the Low being given their head is that everyone is made just as miserable as they are. Now you can begin to imagine why Obama enjoys such solid support among people you wouldn't let walk your dog without a police escort; he's achieving their goal.
Burnham also postulated that traditional capitalism was dead. Writing in 1940, he argued that the proof that old-style capitalism was finished was the rise and success of countries like Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. These countries – which had adapted a system which he called Managerialism, with their planned economies and coordinated societies -- had thoroughly defeated and humiliated the champions of laissez-faire capitalism, i.e. Britain and France, and looked set to do the same to the United States. But while Capitalism would go the way of the dodo, Socialism -- the only other widely-advanced political system at the time -- would not replace it. What would come into being would be a society in which the two would be mixed-and-matched in a way which would eliminate the flaws in both systems, and bring into being a new class of manipulative, power-hungry people who would not repeat the mistakes of previous political leaders of either stripe.
Burnham would later walk back much of his previous assertion of Managerial Superiority in The Machiavellians (subtitled: The Defenders of Freedom) by saying, in effect, that Hitler (for example) failed because the Nazis had crushed internal dissent to such an extent that there was no possibility of hearing an alternate point-of-view that would have made the regime even more efficient. This set up the seemingly perverse idea that Managerial Totalitarianism was better suited to a society which retained some semblance of democratic habits – that is to say, relatively-free elections and freedom of speech. The problem with Hitler’s Managerialism, according to this view, was that Hitler was simply the wrong sort of manager.
It is a common refrain heard from die-hard Socialists and Communists to this day: the System Would Work, If Only The Right People Were Running It. This was, in effect, one of the great selling points of Barack Obama – he was portrayed as the “right kind” of Socialist.
Burnham would, eventually, be proven only half-right, for while the Allies did win the war, they had only done so by adopting much of the principles of managerialism. In other words, in order to defeat the managerial war machines of its foes, the United States had to become, itself, a managerial society, complete with a planned economy and a coordinated citizenry, overlorded by a government which stuck it’s fingers in an ever-increasing number of otherwise private pies.
He even admits that the War only sped up a process that was already happening; Burnham often referred to FDR’s New Deal as “Primitive Managerialism”. Once this sort of thing, government interference in many aspects of life and the deliberate "coordination" of the citizenry, became the norm, it would be difficult to turn back the clock. On the one hand, much of this came about because capitalism had ceased to be a personal affair; Capitalists of the 20th Century were no longer the people who actually ran a business – they often simply became owners, or shareholders, distant from the day-to-day operation – and they depended more and more on ever-expansive layers of specialists to do it all for them. The same held true for government; those at the top became isolated and insulated from the real world, particularly as it became more complex, and depended upon ever-increasing numbers of bureaucrats and technical specialists.It's axiomatic in America today that anyone past a certain level on the political ladder is "out of touch with the Mainstream".
Two World Wars and the New Deal had ushered in a new type of apolitical creature, who unlike the political operatives of the past had suddenly become truly aware of their own power. In days past, they would probably have been called The Middle Class, and labored, much like their parents, for rich or powerful men, hoping to one day be just like their taskmasters in terms of manners, tastes, opportunity and wealth. However, they had become aware of the fact that the world -- at least as they believe they know and understand it -- does not operate without them. They figured out that this fact gave them the real power in society, not wealth, nor elected office.
He called these creatures The Managers. Simply put, they are the technicians, scientists, media people, bureaucrats, lawyers, soldiers, and union leaders that make the managerial machine hum efficiently. These are the people -- nameless, faceless, often anonymous -- who really control things in this society. They exist in Politics, Academia, and Big Business, though they never actually meet in smoky back rooms. It is a common mindset more than a vast conspiracy. These people are not so much interested in politics or political theory, as much as they are in the acquisition of personal power and it’s utility in accomplishing three goals:
1. Carving out for themselves, in perpetuity, special privileges in society. These do not need to be wholly economic, but sometimes take the form of legal privileges, the ability to funnel taxpayer funds into a pet project, or to shape public opinion.
2. Using the levers of power to advance their personal agendas, ideas and tastes, and to have others pay the price for it. A typical example of this would be the whole Solyndra boondoggle: a bunch of politically-connected scalawags manage to pinch half-a-billion taxpayer dollars to operate a business that couldn't get private funding. The business fails -- it was never intended to be a success, in any case, more like an opportunity for graft, and as a sop to the Tree-Huggers -- and serves an additional purpose that makes the Left happy; the expenditure of money, labor and materials (or as they see it "excess wealth") in a way that does not improve the general standard of living for the greater mass of the people, and which does so in the guise of semi-capitalism, or as they call it, "A Public-Private Partnership".
3. To make others think, eat, behave, worship, dress, read, spend and screw the way they do, or more accurately, the way they WANT you to. This is the purpose of Diversity Training, Speech Codes, the countless, often counter-productive litmus tests of the Evangelical and Ultra-Conservative Right, Gun Control, and debates over Abortion Rights, Universal health care, The Gender/Race/Class Wars, Social Security, Tax rates, the Role of Religion in Public Life, and a whole lot more. Even when these topics have the appearance of political issues or debate, the real purpose is often NOT to gain a lasting political advantage for one ideology or another, since most ideologies are either transitory, contradictory or continuously evolving.
What makes the Managerial Class especially dangerous though, are the following characteristics:
1. This Class is largely willing to remain anonymous, the better to continue to work the levers of power without calling too much attention to itself. In effect, this means that there is hardly any point in acquiring elective office. You can have just as much power as a lobbyist buying Congressman Douchebag and Senator Dingleberry, and no one knows you did it, and the same can be said for the Think Tanker, the NGO spokestwit, and the "Policy Expert".
2. This class is largely indifferent to, or unconcerned with, the petty details of party politics. It does not matter to them, much, if a Republican or Democrat is in office. What matters is whether or not they can continue to exert influence. Remember: Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries, Senators, Congresscritters, Governors, Mayors, Aldermen and Judges – even Supreme Court Judges – are temporary. Bureaucracy, whether in government, private enterprise, or a non-profit organization, is forever.
3. They are trained in the Universities by a generation of professors who are themselves the spawn of the great Gramscian infiltration of academia and law. (Note: Antonio Gramsci was an Italian communist who preached that Communists could never be democratically elected, when the electorate was given a choice, so it behooved the good little Commie to infiltrate the Institutions (Courts, Universities, Churches, etc) and work from inside the bourgeois system. There is usually no great difference in outlook, tastes, and historical view between say, a Harvard- or Yale- educated Democrat, and a Princeton- or Stanford-educated Republican, Banker, Scientist or Journalist. They all (generally) know the same people, went to the same schools, attend the same parties, play golf in the same clubs, and probably share the same hookers. They had the same teachers, too. If you want to know what the hell has gone wrong with America in the last 30-50 years, now you know. The Majority of our “Leaders” -- in most fields -- are educated in the same places, by the same people, and have the same stupid ideas drilled into their heads at a time when they are most impressionable.
They have also learned the lesson that power does not always come from having wads of cash to burn, or from the barrel of a gun. Sometimes, it’s enough to have access to a big-enough megaphone, or to lead a bunch of sweaty manual labors in a march, or more often than not, to be able to use the appearance of objective science (the infamous “Studies show…”) to prove/disprove an arcane point that sails over the head of Joe Sixpack.
Now, just as we tend to think of people as belonging to different social classes or political parties, so too, are the Managers subdivided, and so too are their aims often diametrically-opposed. It is safe to say that America is not so much run by Republicans or Democrats, Union or Non-Union Workers, Good or Bad bureaucracies, as much as it to say that America is being kept relatively stable by the canceling-out effect of a cyclical routine of opposites: We elect Managerial Socialists (Obama), and then, when they invariably disappoint us, we plunk for Managerial Capitalists (Romney). But in a real sense, it does not matter who gets elected, because the levers of government and big business are still in the hands of people who are unconcerned with politics, only with the accumulation of power; the Bureaucrats, the Lobbyists, the Lawyers, and so forth.
In 1984 we learn what The Inner Party really stands for: it is a collection of largely anonymous zealots whose concern is not the equality of man, the efficient running of an economy, the winning of a war or even peace, but rather the acquisition and maintenance of it's own power and position. It is a class of people totally unconcerned by human feeling, except where it must be controlled and directed, or eliminated, to retain power and orthodoxy. It rewrites history as it sees fit. It demands reflexive obedience in thought and deed, and goes as far as to establish a pervasive police force equipped with the means to read another human being's thoughts and body language, seeking out Political Incorrectness. It punishes its enemies, but makes them sincerely repent before it shoots them by means of physical and psychological torture disguised as education. The Managerial Mindset has divided the world into three great super-states, which continually fight one another for the cheap labor available in the remaining, unconquered parts of the world, not for wealth or markets, but simply to be in a better position to wage the next war. It is a macrocosm in which the once commonly-held belief that no matter what the politics of your world demand, you can still be free inside, can be a deadly false one. It is the graphic illustration of the logical terminus of managerialism.
Which brings us to Burnham’s next major point, which is that power rests, to a large extent, upon the use of force and the perpetration of fraud. These are not new ideas, but they were systematically explored by Burnham, given life by Orwell, and are being demonstrated by our current rogues’ gallery of political bigwigs.
We’ll explore these ideas, and show how they relate to our current circumstances in Part II.
Some suggested reading:
Orwell on Burnham and the Managerial Revolution
A Fascinating discussion on the Managerial Revolution