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Post Deep State and Hidden Bureaucracies: Bagehot, Glennon
Created by John Eipper on 09/23/21 9:12 AM

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Deep State and Hidden Bureaucracies: Bagehot, Glennon (David A. Westbrook, USA, 09/23/21 9:12 am)

With regard to the Deep State discussion, one might also mention the 19th-century political economist (and editor of the Economist) Walter Bagehot, who wrote of the development of a hidden bureaucratic apparatus for doing the actual business of government that was (re)presented by the more visible organs, such as Parliament.

One should be careful, though. I think it is too "loose" to equate the idea of the Deep State with elites writ large--you lose all analytic rigor. Even confining the concept to government, ordinarily understood, the idea is ancient. Surely Machiavelli was comfortable with the idea that the visible/obscured parts of government are in tension with one another. Governments, and especially militaries, have always required administration, coordination, counting, taxes, and so forth. The first thing William the Conqueror did was have everything in England counted.

The idea that even our putatively enlightened, democratic, transparent, etc., government really is not what it appears to be was updated, with regard to US security and the Forever War in particular, by Michael Glennon, in "National Security and Double Government." I posted an appreciative review on WAIS way back in 2014 (wow).

https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&o=81760

That was during the Obama administration. Rereading today, and with Clinton/Trump in mind, I was struck by this:

"Instead, Glennon shows how bureaucracy constrains and ultimately vitiates democratic possibility. In doing so, the security state not only disenfranchises, but discourages, 'Joe Sixpack.' We watch football, and elections as football, but we cease to be democratic actors--we the people are not overthrown, but dissolved, and each make our separate ways....

"At some point, democracy is dependent on the virtues of the people, the demos. And maybe this nation of so many millions is losing its capacity to instill civic virtue--which is after all a paternalistic, and in that sense illiberal, task--in a sufficient number of its people to produce 'a people' capable of self-governance.

"Glennon, in short, is discussing how the American project may end."

JE comments:  Bert, I re-read your post from seven years ago, and it reads more true now than then.  Glennon stresses that it's not the case of the elite lording over the ignorant masses for their own good (Frederick the Great?), but an elite that is entangled in its own web of ambitions and rivalries.  All this begs the (unanswerable?) question:  what is to be done?  Glennon described the conditions for the rise of Trumpism, but more so he explained why Hillary Clinton would not prevail.  Trump's "draining the swamp" was one solution, albeit an incoherent and ultimately failed one.


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