Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Indictment

For the last century and a half everyone has been whaling on the middle class--the bourgeoisie, the factory owners, the booboisie--and tremendous fun it has been. As with most calumnies there was a grain of truth in the indictment of the middle class and everything it stood for. The bourgeoisie, dignified and free, had in the industrial revolution transformed society from an agricultural age to an industrial age. Millions of lives had been transformed; completely new ideas and practices had sprung out of the ground; untold wealth had been created. But there was a terrible cost. Millions of people found themselves toiling and working in satanic mills in squalid slums on the edge of want and starvation; if that was the bottom line of the industrial age, it needed radical surgery.

That was the judgment of a new class that emerged out of the revolutions of 1848, the educated middle class radicalized by the turmoil and the suffering of the high industrial revolution in Europe. These people were young, they were educated, and they were idealistic. They saw that the toiling masses that wove the textiles, mined the coal, forged the steel, and drove the railroad locomotives worked and lived on the edge of poverty in conditions little short of hellish. What was the point of the new age of rights and liberties, of inventions and manufactures, if they could not lead to concrete improvement in the lives of the masses? They decided that political revolution, or at least radical reform, was needed to create a better society.

A century before, educated young men like John Wesley and George Whitefield had chosen a different path. They had led farm laborers and mechanics into a social movement of aspiration and responsibility. They believed that the lower orders had the ability and the virtue in them to rise and to prosper even without political transformation. But the 1848 generation of educated youth believed that it was the system that prevented the workers from rising. To the youthful Karl Marx, the old agricultural order, in which the feudal lords had exploited the serfs, had given way to more of the same, a new system of oppression in which the bourgeoisie exploited the industrial proletariat. In response to this perceived injustice, the 1848ers constructed a political vision that would raise them, the educated class, to political hegemony as permanent guardians of the proletariat. Practical activists, they adapted the political structure of the absolute monarchs of the 17th century for their own use. These monarchs had needed expensive standing armies to maintain their power, and that required a revolution in the organization of the state. It needed discipline, loyalty, a rational organization, and money. The monarchs found they had to cut through or circumvent the web of institutions separating them from their subjects and tax them direcly. To do that they needed a state bureaucracy staffed by professional administrators. Just like its parallel military organization, the state bureaucracy came to control the individual citizen as the military bureaucracy controlled the individual soldier.

Sounds familiar? Yet that is exactly what the generation of 1848 decided, as they worked to build a system that could deliver rights, benefits and programs to the helpless workers. They needed a system of administrative centralism to control society and extract the resources they needed to right the injustices of an unjust age.

Of course, the 1848ers were wrong. The workers were not condemned to everlasting poverty. They began to prosper steadily in the second half of the 19th century, perhaps assisted by legislation. Maybe we never needed the 1848ers and the educated political class.

Too late: now we are stuck with them and their system unless we rise up and change it. Because their system of of administrative centralism is unjust.

The modern central administrative state is just as unjust as the state bureaucracies of the absolute monarchs, and for the same reason. A society in which the major activities of life have been brought under the direct administration of a political ruling class is necessarily unjust, for it collapses political society into an administrative organ that is nothing more than the instrument of its ruler.

Thus we can say that the administrative welfare state that the post-1848 educated class, now out liberal friends, have imposed upon the American people is an abomination. It is deluded, for it attempts to solve a problem that never existed. It is unjust, for it puts a thumb on the scales of justice to advantage politically favored groups over others. It is cruel, for it substitutes government compulsion for voluntary cooperation and responsibility. It is wasteful, for it rejects the efficiencies of the market for the rigidities of government. It is corrupt, for it favors its well-connected supporters and politically powerful interests over the unconnected and the unorganized.

The administrative welfare state, the regime of administrative centralism invented by the absolute monarchs and perfected by the post-1848 educated class, is the rule of injustice. Once it was royal injustice; now it is liberal injustice.

It is an abomination, and it shall not stand.

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