Thursday, 10 November 2016

The era of scientific government

This year has been compelling not for all its changes, but for exposing how much has already changed. Although it is difficult to get hard numbers, many are noticing government is different to what they were told, but they can’t put their finger on what’s going on.

Citizens of the UK note with increasing alarm the concerted attempt to find a disqualifying law to reverse or undermine the sacred vote of Brexit. The US election displayed the interchangeability of the two candidates, while all the energy was frustratingly funnelled into useless elections.

Not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds something much worse. The question is if nothing can be done about these creeping changes, why bother? Why think about government?

When describing modern government across the world most will say “democracy” or perhaps “representative democracy” is best. But if this is interpreted as a system in which power is held by representatives chosen in democratic elections, then countries are representative democracies the same way the Roman Empire was a republic, the UK is a kingdom and the Chinese Communist Party is communist. So, not the same at all.

If one considers themselves fashionable they will loathe and fear not democracy but politics. A “political” person is always a terrible person. Alternatively, an apolitical or bipartisan person fills the heart with warmth and affection.

Yet “apolitical democracy” doesn’t sound right. How is it possible to have representative democracy without politics? Wouldn’t it be a strange world if citizens tolerated two parties, hated single party states but think having no parties at all is perfection itself? In that world, politics is the problem but democracy is desired, so can this contradiction be reconciled?

Of course, it can, but a great many people will need to be convinced, and that will take time. Who, in the ideal apolitical, nonpartisan, or post-partisan state, calls the shots? The answer is: public policy. Public policy is the belief that government, when conducted properly in the public interest, is an objective discipline. We can call this scientific government. But it must be always and everywhere be called democracy – at least for the time being.

The 20th century is the century of scientific public policy. There is only public policy. There is no "who." There is no rule. There is only governance. It is, therefore, inappropriate for UK officials to politicise the “debate” about membership in the supranational European Union or to drag the climate change debate into the mud of politics. When politics intrudes on the realm of science, it's more than just a violation.

In classic Machiavellian style, the word democracy has been redefined. It no longer means elected representation controls the government. It means the government implements scientific public policy in the public interest. US constitutional scholar Philip Bobbitt says this “market state” promises to maximise the opportunity of the people by privatising many state activities including public policy.

The gradual, creeping rebranding of democracy was discussed throughout the 20th Century (all the fighting can be understood as a 100-year battle between three ways of organising modern democracy). Consider here the words of Teddy Roosevelt’s close friend, the muckracker Lincoln Steffens. He wrote in 1930 while visiting Russia:

“In Russia the ultimate purpose of this conscious process of merging politics and business is to abolish the political state as soon as its sole uses are served: to make defensive war abroad and at home and to teach the people by propaganda and by enforced conditions to substitute new for old ideas and habits. The political establishment is a sort of protective scaffolding within which the temporary dictatorship is building all agriculture, all industries, and all businesses into one huge centralised organisation. 
“They will point out to you from over there that our businesses, too, are and long have been coming together, merging trusts into combines, which in turn unite into greater and greater monopolies. They think that when we Western reformers and liberals resist this tendency we are standing in the way of a natural, inevitable economic compulsion to form "one big union" of business…Aren't we wrong to oppose it?”

A “protective scaffolding” indeed. As the last century shuffled on, politics was side-lined into nominal power while scientific public policy came to occupy formal power. Policies emerged from universities, which in turn consecrated persons for positions in the civil service complex, through which the machinery for organising actual power in the modern state is located.

To the extent that democratic politics still exist in the Western world, it is in the form of the two-party system. The parties have inherited various names. But there are only two parties: the Centre Party, and the Outer Party. It is never hard to tell which is which. The function of the Centre Party is to delegate all policies and decisions to the civil service complex. The function of the Outer Party is to pretend to oppose the Centre Party, while posing no danger at all.

Sometimes Outer Party officials are elected, and they may even succeed in pursuing policy. The entire complex will unite in ensuring those policies either fail or are perceived by the public to fail. Since journalism is part of the civil service complex and pipes directly into everyone's brain, this is not difficult.

What people feel, but can’t quite pin down, is that power in our modern society is not held by democratic politicians. The intelligentsia is in a minority and in theory their entire way of life hangs by a thread. But looking at history over any significant period, they only seem to get stronger. It is their beliefs that spread to the rest of the world, not the other direction.

And when Outer Party supporters embrace stupid ideas, no one has any reason to worry, because the Outer Party will never win. In the new system, when the Centre Party goes mad, that’s when you should worry. Has it gone mad? You be the judge.

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