Saturday, October 29, 2011

Progressivism and the origins of the tyrannical administrative state

I recently came across this article by Robert J Pestritto on the origins of the administrative state, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Some excerpts:
Relying heavily on European models of administrative power, Wilson laid out a vision for administrative discretion in 1891 that directly rejected the rule-of-law model:
The functions of government are in a very real sense independent of legislation, and even constitutions, because [they are] as old as government and inherent in its very nature. The bulk and complex minuteness of our positive law, which covers almost every case that can arise in Administration, obscures for us the fact that Administration cannot wait upon legislation, but must be given leave, or take it, to proceed without specific warrant in giving effect to the characteristic life of the State

I have seen fit to quote from his article due to the fact that he quotes and footnotes from many things that are still in copyright, so I can't even see them unless I go out an buy them for myself. At the current time, that's not an option.

As Wilson memorably put it in "The Study of Administration":
It is the distinction, already drawn, between administration and politics which makes the comparative method so safe in the field of administration. When we study the administrative systems of France and Germany, knowing that we are not in search of political principles, we need not care a peppercorn for the constitutional or political reasons which Frenchmen or Germans give for their practices when explaining them to us. If I see a murderous fellow sharpening a knife cleverly, I can borrow his way of sharpening the knife without borrowing his probable intention to commit murder with it; and so, if I see a monarchist dyed in the wool managing a public bureau well, I can learn his business methods without changing one of my republican spots

Wilson readily admits that he is importing foreign statist ideals from European nations.

In fact, when he later taught administration in the 1890s, he said that there was only one author other than himself who understood administration as a separate discipline: Frank Goodnow.

As the author notes, Wilson is a critical figure to focus in on with regards to the understanding of the administrative state and the true danger of progressivism. And Wilson's recommendation of Goodnow makes him a critical figure to understand as well. As quoted by the author:(and found directly in public domain writings)

In a word, man is regarded now throughout Europe, contrary to the view expressed by Rousseau, as primarily a member of society and secondarily as an individual. The rights which he possesses are, it is believed, conferred upon him, not by his Creator, but rather by the society to which he belongs. What they are is to be determined by the legislative authority in view of the needs of that society. Social expediency, rather than natural right, is thus to determine the sphere of individual freedom of action.
- Frank Goodnow, The American Conception of Liberty and Government (Page 11, paragraph 3)

But rather by the society. He means, of course, government. Government is where you get your rights. Government is supreme in your life. Government is where you should turn to all that you need. Government should have the freedom to do whatever it wants, and you shouldn't be able to stop them:

The fact is, then, that there is a large part of administration which is unconnected with politics, which should therefore be relieved very largely, if not altogether, from the control of political bodies. It is unconnected with politics because it embraces fields of semi-scientific, quasi-judicial and quasi-business or commercial activity work which has little if any influence on the expression of the true state will. For the most advantageous discharge of this branch of the function of administration there should be organized a force of governmental agents absolutely free from the influence of politics. Such a force should be free from the influence of politics because of the fact that their mission is the exercise of foresight and discretion, the pursuit of truth, the gathering of information, the maintenance of a strictly impartial attitude toward the individuals with whom they have dealings, and the provision of the most efficient possible administrative organization.
- Frank Goodnow, Politics and Administration (Page 85)

And isn't this very thing, administrative bodies shielded from the voters, the exact thing that we see today? The EPA isn't accountable to the people. The IRS is a rogue institution, the Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Justice - the judiciary has long since breached the protections that the constitution has in place with the intent of defending the people against the state. And on and on and on! At all levels and in nearly any agency you can name the government is out of control, the administrators are making a ruin of the republic, the civil society, and yours and your children's futures.

It's almost as if the names of "Woodrow Wilson" and "Frank Goodnow"(among many others) are names that you should be just as familiar with as names like Karl Marx. Perhaps even moreso. These are after all, American tyrants I'm posting about in their own writings. Not some far off theoretician from a distant land.

1 comment:

  1. I do wish it to be noted, that I don't consider Marx to be an irrelevant figure. But we have our own tyrants to consider in history, and for the most part they're unknown figures in history. To the best of my ability, I seek to change that.

    Tyranny never sleeps. It only morphs and changes it's colors.