The Fiction of Managerial Effectiveness
Alasdair MacIntyre makes the observation that in the west we have replaced the idea of "morality" with that of "effectiveness" in governance. But can our managerial society be effective?
Many of those who express concern for the current condition of our society, as well as the trajectory it is on, tend to pour a lot of their energy into examining political ideology, political parties, the role that social and economic class play, but do not often look into the interconnected web of culture defining myths and how these play out in “the current situation.” One of the values of a thinker like Jacques Ellul is that he makes the connection between the administrative state and the fundamental myths of our culture. It is one thing to rail against the administrative state, against big government; it is another to peer into the problem and understand that the administrative state is a cultural necessity in the west. It is encouraging to see people reading Ellul, Burnham, Francis and others on this subject. The more the better. It is important that we explore all the connections between enlightenment liberalism, personal autonomy, the idea of human rights, the idea of human progress, scientific thinking, technology, and the administrative state.
The administrative state is not something that is ruining a good thing, that is, a free society. Rather, the administrative state is its logical conclusion, at least when liberty is conceived of in enlightenment terms. It is imperative we see that managerialism is the logical expression of western rationalism. To talk of wielding power to control and direct the bureaucracy for the aims of the right or for conservatism is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of the administrative state. Left wing politics is the natural expression of enlightenment liberalism. And the administrative state is the instantiation of both. Although people will try, there really can be no “right wing managerialism.” To proffer “solutions” which will be enacted and realized through policy or management is essentially to embrace the rules of the game as set up by our liberal culture following the enlightenment. The core myths of our society are essentially liberal. The implication of this is that any attempt to fix the problems generated by the managerial state using the managerial state can never arrest the trajectory of our society. They are built into managerialism itself.
As I will soon be discussing in an upcoming piece on Ellul’s “The Political Illusion,” we do not really have a choice at this point but to harness the power of the technical approach to societal management. It is of a piece with mechanized forms of production and manufacturing. As a nation we are no longer free to reject technology in spite of its ills, because that would make us vulnerable to our neighbors. Thus we must be rolling tanks off our assembly lines because other countries have assembly lines producing tanks. We must be a technical society because all other sufficiently powerful states are also technical societies. This means that technical management will be with us for some time yet, likely until some form of global collapse renders it dead. At that point, real political choice will return. Until then, we must learn to deal with a system that is designed to realize liberal ideology. We on the right, when we deal with the administrative state, must understand that we are playing inside someone else’s game where all the rules are designed to produce outcomes in line with liberal ideology. If you try to instantiate conservative ideas by means of the administrative state, they will end up becoming liberalized in their realization. Knowing this, though, it is imperative we understand as fully and deeply as possible what managerialism is, how it works, what are its strengths and, most importantly, its flaws. In aid of this goal, we turn today to a portion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.”
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