Administrative Power

I’m often conflicted, because while I fundamentally believe popular sovereignty, I don’t view the concept as particularly good at preserving individual rights. So we have a republican government with lots of checks on its power. At least in theory. In practice it’s never really lived up to the ideal, but it probably worked better than many alternatives. But one thing I’ve always loathed is the Administrative State. Some people are now calling it the “Deep State” while others argue such a concept is a figment of right-wing nut jobs imaginations. The Administrative State is very real, and this strikes me as an excellent critique of it:

My scholarship (past and forthcoming) argues that administrative power undermines equal voting rights by shifting much lawmaking power out of Congress into the hands of unelected administrators. My work shows, moreover, that this shift occurred when the knowledge class regretted the boisterous sort of politics that came with equal voting rights. Woodrow Wilson candidly explained that “the reformer is bewildered” by the need to persuade “a voting majority of several million heads”—especially when the reformer needed to influence “the mind, not of Americans of the older stocks only, but also of Irishmen, of Germans, of Negroes.” One could go on at length with such quotes, and certainly administrative power has been dominated by whites of a certain class, but the point is not narrowly about racism. Instead, it is about how a class that expected deference to its knowledge was disappointed with the results of equal suffrage in a diverse society. It therefore welcomed a transfer of lawmaking power out of the elected legislature and into the hands of the right sort of people.

The argument, in other words, is not against an elite, but against the administrative dilution of representative government and equal voting rights. There will always be elites, and this is part of the valuable differentiation that can occur within a free society. Rather than oppose such differentiation, my scholarship suggests that all Americans, even elites, should confine themselves to working through the Constitution’s representative framework of government.

Hat tip Instapundit.

9 thoughts on “Administrative Power”

  1. ‘Woodrow Wilson candidly explained that “the reformer is bewildered” by the need to persuade “a voting majority of several million heads”—especially when the reformer needed to influence “the mind, not of Americans of the older stocks only, but also of Irishmen, of Germans, of Negroes.”’

    Wilson failed to acknowledge (though I’m sure he recognized it) that most “persuasion” is done by the thousands of interests that expect to make money from the idea; and that any politician who believes it was his/her eloquence that made the sale is deluding themselves. Which of course is why there has always been so little actual “reform.”

    In Wilson’s day the American population (and arguably Wilson himself) was persuaded to commit us to a World War in which our national interests lay with neither side. Americans were persuaded to such an extent that they would put their neighbors in prison just for speaking out against the idea. But it was a lot of industrialists on both sides of the Atlantic who persuaded them of How Things Ought to Be.

    With the Vietnam War, initially even the threat of getting one’s own ass (or their kids’ asses) shot off, wasn’t enough to overcome the persuasion. The personal danger had to become a good deal more tangible before self-interest could hold a candle to military-industrial flag waving and marching bands.

    The Administrative State is just like the Administrative Corporation. I’ve known lots of S-type corporations that consisted of one man with family members nominally on the “board,” but who did no “administering” whatsoever. But, grow to the size of a General Motors and bureaucracies necessarily set in. The Administrative State was established before 1790, when the national population was not much more than 3,000,000. It was the Administrative State that went after the Whiskey Rebels in 1794, when they declined to be administered. Decrying an Administrative State when there is a population of 320 million that more than spans a continent sort of becomes decrying the existence of the nation itself. Which is OK, but we just need to be clear about it!

  2. Administrative state, and Deep state are subsets of the Bureaucratic state, or BS. <– no pun intended. BS encompasses both appointed / approved bureaucrats, career bureaucrats as well as the mechanisms they employ to obfuscate and frustrate freedom, liberty and individual rights. Bureaucratic state seeks to consolidate, and hold power to the exclusivity of our rights.

    In a democratically led regime, BS focuses on guns, environmental regs, and growing both the base and periphery of government. Under Republican control, BS sometimes contracts the growth of controlling entities as it concerns guns, environmental regs, etc, but focuses on expanding the professional law enforcement state, as well as consolidating and growing both the base and periphery of controlling entities.

    Bureaucratic State is always growing, consolidating and wielding power, even when its sub-components may not be growing, consolidating or wielding at as high a rate.

  3. There is no doubt that the “Civil Servants” at every level of government do not reflect the “diversity” of the people they serve.
    At every level, our civil servants are more accepting of abortion, gun control, high taxes, greater regulation, restrictions on personal freedom, etc than the general public. In short they are 80%+ Democrats. And they are there for 30+ years on average.
    They are the primary reason that pro-freedom politicians make so little headway. The bureaucrats hunker down, resist and wait for the next Democrat.
    Bring back the Spoils System!

  4. “In short they are 80%+ Democrats.”

    Unless you live in a Republican controlled county, in which case the majority are Republicans — or they wouldn’t be working. For that matter, even private entities like building contractors and law firms have to pony up a certain amount of political donations annually for the controlling party if they hope to do business with local government, or, just not be harassed.

    I’m sorry, but I grew up in a milieu where my parents were ordered to change their registration to Republican, if they wanted a property tax appeal to be considered — in which case, a favorable outcome could be guaranteed and delivered. They did, and it was. Later, control moved over to the Democrats, and again a change of registration was necessary if you wanted government to work the way our civics books said it did.

    Anyone who believes anything, but especially political corruption, aligns by ideology or political party has been drinking too much Kool-Aid. The only question is whether it was Red or Blue.

    But without it, the Great Game couldn’t continue, could it?

    1. So your parents were ordered to change their registration. So what? That happens in both D & R controlled areas. How did that change what they did when they went into the voting booth? Not a bit.
      Regardless of whether they live in a Republican controlled area or what their “registration” is, when civil servants vote, the majority of them, by a not insignificant margin, chose a Democrat. And they do their best to advance the policies of the liberal party and resist the policies of the opposing party when it is in power.
      Bring back the spoils system!

      1. “That happens in both D & R controlled areas.”

        Uh. . .I thought that was what I said.

        Would you have liked it better if I had reversed my story, and cited the Democrats first? I just thought it most convenient to report the historical fact, first.

        Feel free to rewrite it that way, and make the Democrats the first Bad Guys encountered, because it wouldn’t have made any difference to my point.

        I’m thinking of a metaphor involving beer goggles coming in Red or Blue. Maybe make that Kool-Aid goggles?

        1. Nope. That’s not what you said. You implied that civil servants vote with the majority of their county.

          “Unless you live in a Republican controlled county, in which case the majority [of civil servants] are Republicans”

          I say they are not Republicans even they serve in a Republican controlled area. They might be registered as Republican, but they vote Democrat.

          1. i just like how it shifted from “the majority of them, by a not insignificant margin” to “they vote Democrat”

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