Bureaucracy and Power

In my previous post discussing the tension between Bureaucracy and Aristocracy, I was not actually describing two forms of government, but three.

The ‘tension’ is between bureaucratic centralism, where a central authority rules through appointed officials, and aristocracy, where offices belong to a noble class who have some guaranteed degree of independence from the central power.

What we actually have today is neither one nor the other, but a self-perpetuating and largely unaccountable bureaucracy. It is not quite yet a true aristocracy, though it is well on the way, but it is nearly immune from “political influence”, to the degree it is sometimes openly demanding such immunity.

So when Spandrell comments that there is no alternative to rule by bureaucracy, I am not quite sure what he means. Certainly we have had no aristocratic rule in a modern country for a couple of centuries; the dominant ideology has been set against it. However, it does not seem impossible to have a bureaucracy under genuine central control. I get the impression that prior to World War II, the governments of Britain and the USA were mostly in control of their bureaucracies: they could fire officials and dictate policy.

Moldbug’s interpretation of US history is that the FDR Government was entirely in sympathy with the bureaucracy, and effectively did not end as later governments were not able to divert the Civil Service from the path that FDR set it on.

In Britain, the Civil Service seems to have gained power over approximately the same period, due to a combination of the destruction of the old ruling class in the Great War, and the arrival of Labour politicians, outsiders to the government system, who the Civil Servants were both willing and able to defy.

My answer, therefore, is that it is possible for a government to rule through a bureaucracy, rather than being ruled by it, and that this was the normal situation prior to 1918, and to a lesser degree even up to 1945. If the government were no longer subject to elections and media opinion, it would be in a much stronger position to impose its will on the bureaucrats.

As for aristocratic rule: if the existing civil servants were to mainly hire their own children, we would be there — it is conceivable that we could have a de facto aristocracy within a decade or two. Replacing the existing bureaucracy with a different aristocracy, such as the old titled families of Britain, is more far-fetched; but given (somehow) the total ideological sea change that it would require, there are no practical obstacles to it functioning.

Democracy affects the tension between the centre and the bureaucracy in two major ways: as above, the precarious position of elected politicians weakens them vis-a-vis their permanent officials (Moldbug’s “rotor/stator” point). Second, the employment of very large numbers of low-ranking officials becomes one of the main forms of vote-buying. The junior officials do not have direct power over policy in the sense that senior civil servants do, but they have democratic power over questions relating to their continued employment and working conditions. In Britain particularly, the Labour party is now overwhelmingly the party of state employees. Without votes, the block power of junior state employees would be vastly diminished.

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