The Rise of the Managers

Simple          -            Complex

The aspiration to value-neutrality often hides a claim to manipulative power. Beneath bureaucratic forms and lofty idealism are often to be found Nietzschean premises.

As “good determinists,” liberals knew that history always marches forward. “The human race never turns back to an old order.” 

The best hope lay in an orderly “transition to that which Dewey and Beard have called a ‘technological-rationalist society.’” even if the “more valid equality” it promised meant the “inevitable sacrifice” of individual liberties.

“There is something ponderously fatal about such a transition,” Josephson mused, “but if it results in order, enthusiasm, harmony, we will be content with our sacrifice.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.363

"The public interest in a problem," Lippmann argued, "is limited to this: that there shall be rules. ...The public is interested in law, not in the laws; in the method of law, not in the substance." Questions of substance should be left to experts, whose access to scientific knowledge immunized them against the emotional "symbols" and "stereotypes" that dominated public debate.

Lippmann […] rejected the "mystical fallacy of democracy" and the "usual appeal to education as the remedy for the incompetence of democracy." Democratic theory presupposed an "omnicompetent citizen," a "jack of all trades" who could be found only in a "simple self-contained community." In the "wide and unpredictable environment" of the modern world, the old ideal of citizenship was obsolete.

In a complex industrial society, government had to be carried on by officials who were expected to "conceive a common interest." In their attempt to stretch their minds beyond the limits of immediate experience," these officials would be guided either by public opinion or by expert knowledge. There was no escape from this choice.

Public opinion was unreliable, according to Lippmann, because it could be united only by an appeal to slogans and “symbolic pictures.” In a society ruled by public opinion, government became the art of "manipulation" - the "manufacture of consent." "Where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. ... Everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda."

At best, public debate was a disagreeable necessity - not the very essence of democracy, as Brownson or Bourne would have argued, but its "primary defect," which arose only because "exact knowledge," unfortunately, was in limited supply. Ideally public debate would not take place at all; decisions would be based on scientific "standards of measurement" alone. Science cut through "entangling stereotypes and slogans," the "threads of memory and emotion" that kept the "responsible administrator" tied up in knots.

Like Edmund Burke, Lippmann distrusted memory as an important source of conflict and disagreement. He proposed to counter its influence, however, not with custom but with “organized intelligence."

An earlier theory of democracy had considered ordinary citizens at least competent to manage their own affairs, if not consistently capable of self-denial and sacrifice. Their opinions were held to command respect, as Lippman saw it, because the business of government did not greatly exceed their experience. But it was “not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions in the whole population.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.366

The "practical comfort of the moment" outweighed the "great moral issues of the future.” The question of how to provide practical comfort" was a technical question, not something that could be settled by an appeal to first principles. It was a question for "experts," not for "orators.”

As a lawyer, Arnold might have been expected to recognize the intractability of conflicting interests and to doubt the possibility of making politics an exact science. His faith in expertise, however, exceeded even that of many social scientists.

He measured intellectual progress precisely by the absence of debate. 

Doctors, he argued, no longer engaged in pointless controversies about the rival claims of homeopathic and allopathic schools of medicine. The medical profession had been "taken over by men of skill rather than men of principle," with the result that there was "little left in medicine for thinking men to debate.”

Whereas medical learning had become "technical rather than philosophical,” however, economic and legal learning remained “predominantly philosophical” - a sure sign of cultural lag.

He too dismissed as "irrational" the notion that "the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy." "Public argument never convinces the other side," he wrote; its only function was to rally the true believers. The "noise of competing theories" drowned out the voice of the expert. To submit social questions to the "feeble judgment of the common herd" was the height of folly.

Arnold did not have to engage in this kind of self-deception, since he held no brief for democracy in the first place. Insofar as the idea of democracy had any substance, it was simply another name for “humanitarian imperialism,” in his view. It meant the universalisation of material well-being, engineered by “fact-minded persons” and “competent diagnosticians.”

A democratic regime, to be sure, had to “carry its people along with it emotionally”; but that did not imply that the people should take an active part in governing themselves. As long as the governing classes grasped the nature and importance of political symbolism, they could satisfy the public demand for inspiring slogans and “ceremonials” without allowing public “ritual” to interfere with production and distribution.

When the public came to value “practical results” more highly than “preconceived principles,” a “competent, practical, opportunistic governing class” would find it possible to get on with the serious work of making people comfortable, without having to inspire and amuse them as well.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.432, 434-6

[…] from ancient Rome to medieval England, there were bureaucracies also in the pre-modern world.

With industrialisation and the emergence of mass society, however, the bureaucratic apparatus has expanded to the point that a quantitative difference has become a qualitative one. In their scale, complexity, and their power, modern bureaucracies are like nothing the world has ever seen before, and they cause states to behave in new and incomprehensible ways.

Above all, power has been steadily diffused downwards, through the ranks of countless even mid-level functionaries, and government policies are subject to enormous inertia.

Those who doubt this, should look at the military. This is one sector of the bureaucracy, which for operational reasons has tried to avoid the unmanageable diffusion of powers and prerogatives. They have gone to extreme lengths to establish clear lines of command, ensure obedience to orders, and avoid excessive consensus-based decision making.

Without this overt command discipline, it is impossible for any single person to direct bureaucratic structures, or for the bureaucrats themselves to shift strategies, absorb new information, or take up fresh initiatives quickly.

The one thing I want to convey here, more than anything else, is the complexity and extent of modern western governments. These are unbelievably elaborate systems, and they are not easily controlled or understood by individuals or confined groups.

‘Stupid and Evil in Equal Measure: II - Mass containment as conspiracy and as emergent phenomenon’ and 'Spontaneous Order in Complex Systems', eugyppius: a plague chronicle

The civil servant has as his nineteenth-century counterpart and opposite the social reformer: Saint Simonians, Comtians, utilitarians, English ameliorists such as Charles Booth, the early Fabian socialists. Their characteristic lament is: if only government could learn to be scientific!

[...] in his insistence that the rationality of adjusting means to ends in the most economical and efficient way is the central task of the bureaucrat and that therefore the appropriate mode of justification of his activity by the bureaucrat lies in the appeal to his (or later her) ability to deploy a body of scientific and above all social scientific knowledge, organized in terms of and understood as comprising a set of universal lawlike generalizations, Weber provided the key to much of the modern age.

The manager's claim to moral neutrality, which is itself an important part of the way the manager presents himself and functions in the social and moral world, is thus parallel to the claims to moral neutrality made by many physical scientists.

So we can now see in bare skeletal outline a progress first from the Enlightenment's ideal for a social science to the aspirations of social reformers, next from the aspirations of social reformers to the ideals of practice and justification of civil servants and managers, then from the practices of management to the theoretical codification of these practices and of the norms governing them by sociologists and organization theorists and finally from the employment of the textbooks written by those theorists in schools of management and business schools to the theoretically informed managerial practice of the contemporary technocratic expert.

But in every case the rise of managerial expertise would have to be the same central theme, and such expertise, as we have already seen, has two sides to it: there is the aspiration to value neutrality and the claim to manipulative power.

Both of these, we can now perceive, derive from the history of the way in which the realm of fact and the realm of value were distinguished by the philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Twentieth-century social life turns out in key part to be the concrete and dramatic re-enactment of eighteenth-century philosophy.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.92, 100-1

[...] Nietzsche's prophetic irrationalism - irrationalism because Nietzsche's problems remain unsolved and his solutions defy reason - remains immanent in the Weberian managerial forms of our culture.

Whenever those immersed in the bureaucratic culture of the age try to think their way through to the moral foundations of what they are and what they do, they will discover suppressed Nietzschean premises.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.133

RAND’s rational choice is an argument that denies the obvious - cooperation, self-sacrifice, and abnegation do exist, people do love each other and don’t always think of themselves first, elections are won fairly and agreed to by all contestants, elected officials do act on the public interest, marriages and institutions do last.

Rational choice has given birth to a world shaped by decisions made in the dark, outside the realm of public debate - justified by false objectivity (change the parameters if you don’t like the results) and biased scientific bases that denigrate collective responsibility (much like the corporate battle cry of “it’s all for the shareholders,” discarding as demote previous social commitments of companies to employees, government, and community).

Moreover, deliberately or not, rational choice theory has become a handy rhetorical weapon for groups whose political and financial aims are to reconstruct the social system of the United States - returning the country to pre-New Deal days, while making billions in the process. These changes have resulted in a society where, for instance, the top 5 percent of the population controls 60 percent of the wealth and where corporate executive pay is 400 times greater than that of the average worker.

The final irony of rational choice theory is that it is not rational. It fails to comprehend the world as it is (in academic terms, it is normative but not empirical), positing a make-believe structure where only one kind of rationality is extant.

[Alex Abella]
Soldiers of Reason, p.308-9

The real essence of industrialism was to be found in the application of nonhuman energy, such as that from coal, oil, or waterpower, to production. This process increased man’s ability to make goods, and did so to an amazing degree.

But mass production could exist only if it were followed by mass consumption and rising standards of living. Moreover, it must lead, in the long run, to a decreasing demand for hand labor and an increasing demand for highly trained technicians who are managers rather than laborers.

And, in the longer run, this process would give rise to a productive system of such a high level of technical complexity that it could no longer be run by the owners but would have to be run by technically trained managers.

[...] The ultimate nature of that new system of economic and social life is not yet clear, but we might call it the “pluralist economy,” and characterize its social structure as one which provides prestige, rewards, and power to managerial groups of experts whose contributions to the system are derived from their expertise and “know-how.”

These managers and experts, who clearly are a minority in any society, are recruited from the society as a whole, can be selected only by a process of “careers open to talent” on a trial-and-error basis, and require freedom of assembly, discussion, and decision in order to produce the innovations needed for the future success, or even the survival, of the system in which they function.

Thus the pluralist economy and the managerial society, from the early 1940’s, have forced the growth of a new kind of economic organization which will be totally unlike the four types of pre-1939 (American laissez faire, Stalinist Communism, authoritarian Fascism, and underdeveloped areas).

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.241, 348

Regardless of the outcome of the situation, it is increasingly clear that, in the twentieth century, the expert will replace the industrial tycoon in control of the democratic voter in control of the political system.

This is because planning will inevitably replace laissez faire in the relationships between the two systems. This planning may not be single or unified, but it will be planning, in which the main framework and operational forces of the system will be established and limited by the experts on the economic system even as he will replace the governmental side; then the experts within the big units on the economic side will do their planning within these established limitations.

Hopefully, the elements of choice and freedom may survive for the ordinary individual in that he may be free to make a choice between two opposing political groups (even if these groups have little policy choice within the parameters of policy established by the experts) and he may have the choice to switch his economic support from one large unit to another.

But, in general, his freedom and choice will be controlled within very narrow alternatives by the fact that he will be numbered from birth and followed, as a number, through his educational training, his required military or other public service, his tax contributions, his health and medical requirements, and his final retirement and death benefits.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The New Age,’ p.548

Both the Soviet system and the free market are experiments in economic rationalism.

Free marketeers tell us that the unprecedented productivity of a rational economic system will remove the causes of social conflict and war. Soviet Marxists used to assure us that socialist planning would make scarcity a thing of the past. Both tell us that rising productivity will of itself solve most social problems, both exalt economic growth over all other goals and values.

Like the Bolsheviks, the shock troops of the free market are resolutely hostile to any tradition that stands in the way of what they view as economic progress. If their goals demand the sacrifice of a few cultures on the way, it is a price which free marketeers do not shrink from paying.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.141

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