The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution – Part 2

In John Marini’s review of The Bureaucrat Kings: The Origins and Underpinnings of America’s Bureaucratic State by Paul Moreno, Marini picks up where Guelzo, in “The Historical Origins Behind the Subversion of the Constitution – Part 1,” left off. Marini also identifies a thinker who predicted the administrative state’s inevitability and cites an obvious historical source of our predicament that we often neglect.

Marini observes that Moreno “judges historical and political changes in light of an unchanging standard of the public good, or justice, an idea inherent in the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

Summarizing one of our recent posts, Moreno says, “The United States is ruled by an establishment nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution… Once a federal republic, we have become a centralized bureaucracy run by an unelected administrative class [that] combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions that the Constitution separated.” This transformation into a bureaucratic state has undercut federalism and the separation of powers. He also says that the congress, executive, and judicial branches are complicit with the states in the destruction of our constitutional republic.

Marini describes Moreno’s short account of the “four waves of the administrative state” this way,

The first (1900–1930), on behalf of an expansive national public sector, was spearheaded by activist presidential leadership within both parties. In the second (1930–1945), the New Deal established “the state as an entitlement-provider rather than a rights-protector.” The third wave (1945–1975), the “Great Society and the New Social Regulation” led “by a resurgent judiciary,” centralized administrative power on behalf of civil rights and the national regulation of social and economic problems. Finally, the fourth wave (1975–2010) revealed that the constitutional branches and political parties were unable to limit administrative rule…

The almost unbroken ascendancy of the administrative state in the last half of the 20th century undermined the political dynamic that made the separation of powers work… [and] it had become clear by the end of the century that administration had become the heart of modern government, almost impervious to political control.

It is undeniable that government requires administration. However, centralized bureaucracy consolidates legislative, executive, and judicial power counter to our constitution and establishes prerogative, absolute power. As Marini recounts, this bureaucracy is a manifestation of Hegel’s “rational state,” and Max Weber’s “final form of rule, an expression of the last Western value, ‘rationality.’

Max Weber argued that, “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, the ‘disenchantment of the world.’” Disenchantment is the shift from authority based on reason and revelation to a rationalized, rules-based authority which, in Weber’s words, leads to “the polar night of icy darkness and hardness”   resulting in an “iron cage” of rational control.

Weber believed that, “Joined to the dead machine, [bureaucratic organization] is at work to erect the shell of that future bondage to which one day men will perhaps be forced to submit in impotence… Rational bureaucratic administration and maintenance is the last and only value which is to decide on the manner in which their affairs are directedbecause the bureaucracy does this incomparably much better than any other structure of domination.”

In the Introduction to the book, Weber: Political Writings, the editor suggests that Weber believed that not only would we be subject to a bureaucratic “benevolent feudalism,” but to a stagnant ‘socialist’ society led by an elite interested only in rent seeking.

According to Marini, Weber wondered in despair, “what have we to set against this machinery, in order to preserve a remnant of humanity from this parceling-out of the soul, from this exclusive rule of bureaucratic life ideals?”

Progressivism champions centralized bureaucracy. From a previous post, Guelzo, quoting Watson, says,

The progressive idea, simply put, is that the principled American constitutionalism of fixed natural rights and limited and dispersed powers must be overturned and replaced by an organic, evolutionary model of the Constitution that facilitates the authority of experts dedicated to the expansion of the public sphere and political control, especially at the national level.

The notion of organic change derives from Darwin. However, why are fixed principles overturned in the first place?

It was Machiavelli who established innovation (i.e., introducing change to laws and institutions) as a rule for governance.

In a 2013 Wall Street Journal review, Harvey C. Mansfield said,

The prince, [Machiavelli] said, must act “according to the times,” but in such a way as to change those times. To be successful a prince must be a new prince, one who doesn’t accept the status quo.

Even an established prince must take account of his rivals and enemies and not wait for them to displace him but move ahead of them “proactively,” as we would say, virtuously, as [Machiavelli] said. The new prince must strive to set the trend and make everyone else depend on him, so that he doesn’t merely follow the trend.

Is this piece of Machiavelli’s mind beginning to feel familiar to our modern eye and ear? Here, in the constant need for novelty and acquisition—our freedom in combat with our necessity—we have the germ of our modern politics, our business, our intellectuals, our arts, our morals.

Marini then observes, “If it has become impossible to preserve tradition of any kind, “rational” rule is modern man’s fate…It would appear that bureaucracy is the inevitable but also the inhuman result of revolutionary modernity.”

What set apart the American revolution from all others, but especially the French revolution, was its maintenance of continuity with England’s moral, religious, and intellectual heritage. The American revolution was a renewal of proven institutions, a re-constitution of government. The Constitution’s authors, our nation’s Founders, enshrined principles derived from reason, nature, and revelation in our founding documents.

These documents acknowledge that the people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. These same people entrusted government with a portion of their rights in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.

Abandonment of these principles for a leveling idée fixe which reduces all Americans to servants of a self-elect class of leaders, is, unfortunately, what is in-process now. To this situation, Marini says, “the long-term political success of administrative rule would require delegitimizing the founding’s principles in order to establish the legitimacy of the administrative, née rational, state. That has yet to occur.”

Finally, John Marini concludes his review with this concern,

The verdict on America is not yet in, but as long as democracy includes the capacity to choose new leaders and transform political institutions, the rule by bureaucrat kings, however well organized and intended, remains precarious. If, on the other hand, the path of least resistance is to enjoy the benefits of rational rule rather than reestablish political rule, then only “the pitiless crowbar of events,” in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words, can reawaken the desire for freedom and self-government.

Echoing Marini’s concern, consider whether we will succumb to “bread and circuses” or obey the commandment:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV

and restore representative government through our ballot. You decide.

The Constitution vs. The Administrative State: John Marini on The American Mind, February 13, 2020, YouTube, The American Mind