Salvo 09.16.2022 10 minutes

Managed Dehumanization


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In 1941 James Burnham published The Managerial Revolution to explain the fundamental transformation of society around the world. While it appeared that communism, fascism, and liberal democracy were competing for supremacy on the world stage, Burnham noted that these systems shared a common trait of empowering highly-specialized managers who operate a network of large bureaucracies with the goal of standardizing and planning their societies from the top down. This dynamic was easier to observe in the hard totalitarian states where official state organs dictated social and economic behavior. The tight grip of the managers in those societies drove them to collapse, but in the liberal West managers used a gradual approach that proved more resilient.

The lighter touch of the managerial class in the liberal democracies allowed their citizens to believe they had escaped the fate of nations that had grown too top-heavy. Comforting notions of the free market and social tolerance made American citizens feel victorious as the last remnants of the Soviet Union collapsed under the rot of hard totalitarianism, and the soft managerial elite that dominated the West was thus able to bring more aspects of society under its control. Government agencies, corporations, media outlets, and educational institutions increasingly seemed to act with one voice and one agenda, instead of behaving as the separate self-interested actors described by classical liberalism. With an incredible degree of coordination, our elite institutions demonstrated their ability to impose widespread pandemic lockdowns, vaccination protocols, and to rewrite election law on the fly with scarcely any significant protest.

Having caught a glimpse of how power operates in America, conservatives have struggled to come to grips with the nature and structure of the extra-constitutional behemoth that guides the actions of their country. Many have settled on the name “the deep state” which is rhetorically valuable but obscures the totality of the problem, which extends far beyond the official boundaries of the state to include organizations like multinational corporations and media outlets. Luckily, there is already a great body of work analyzing the soft managerial class that has come to power in America from the political right, though many mainstream conservatives are completely unfamiliar with the tradition.

Every ruling class needs a way to secure power and justify that power to the masses, or a “political formula,” in the words of Gaetano Mosca. The political formula of the managerial class is based on its expertise in the operation of large organizations and the efficiency they produce. In order to reliably deliver efficiency through massive bureaucratic institutions managers must impose uniformity. Small businesses, regional governments, and community organizations can mold themselves to the character of the people they serve and cater to the individual needs and tastes of their culture. Mass organizations, in contrast, generate their power due to scale, and to achieve that scale they require mass production and mass consumption. The cultural and moral particularities of a specific community, region, or even nation are a hindrance to the goal of maximizing the efficiency of mass production and consumption. Because those regional particularities represent a hindrance to the applications of managerial techniques, cultural homogenization is a key aspect of the managerial political formula.

People from a particular place have a connection to a specific land with a specific culture. They prefer different foods, consume different products, prioritize different goals, and may even want their children taught specific values that are incompatible with those of other cultures. All of this is terrible news for the managerial class which gains power when the landscape is dominated by McDonalds, Walmart, and standardized public education. Many have watched in shocked disbelief as the radical social agenda of universities has merged with the marketing and human resource departments of large corporations, but the goals of these two groups align more closely than one might assume. The radical left is a nexus of ideologies designed to break down the traditional structures of society. Structures like family and religion are the institutions through which troublesome regional particularities tend to be expressed and perpetuated. The deracinated individual stripped of all connection to faith, family, culture, or even gender serves as the perfect employee and consumer. Woke ideology may pay lip service to diversity but it dissolves the particularities that generate actual diversity. Total cultural homogenization is the logical consequence of progressivism and serves as the perfect medium for the fungible worker and consumer that larger managerial corporations crave.

This destruction could be justified by the political formula of the managerial elite if the large bureaucratic organizations they operated were able to deliver on the promise of ever-increasing material abundance. As long as the standard of living increased and new luxuries were made available the majority of Americans seemed content to ignore the civilizational erosion that was occurring in the background. For the last few decades, the managerial class has failed to produce the miracle of perpetual abundance. Collapsing supply chains, skyrocketing inflation, stagnant wages, and commodity and housing shortages have made that failure obvious. Grafting woke ideology into the political formula has been advantageous because it added a moral dimension to distract from the failed promise of affluence, but in the end it is also insufficient to address the system’s mounting problems.

Though the homogenization of culture is designed to give everyone a uniform experience in order to make them easier to manage, it is also a very alienating and isolating process. Humans are not interchangeable. People derive meaning by being part of a particular tradition and community. The managerial elite seek to strip away connections to things like family or faith because they create inconvenient bonds that interfere with worker productivity or create particular moral tastes that could disrupt the predictable pattern of mass homogenized consumption. The stripping away of those bonds may streamline the economic process and generate more efficiency in the short term, but in the long term it is devastating to the health of society.

The toll that this process has taken on our civilization is undeniable. The individual was told that relieving himself or herself of the duties and obligations that traditional bonds demanded would bring liberation, but instead it has created deeply unhappy people who struggle to find meaning. The liberal managerial state has attempted to fill the void with cheap substitutes for the cultural infrastructure they have demolished, but these surrogates have failed. Wokeness can never replace the meaning and identity granted to a community by religion or even communal bonds. Corporate culture and fashionable activism can never hope to replace the resilient social tie created by family.

This calamitous failure can perhaps be most easily seen in the managerial state’s current obsession with transgender ideology. Instead of understanding the shortcomings of their political formula and attempting to adapt new solutions, the managerial elite have chosen to accelerate the very aspects of their ideology that have led to social disintegration. Transgenderism is the ultimate expression of deracination, stripping the individual of all innate identity down to even the biological level, and encouraging them to remake themselves in their own image. But no one actually constructs their own identity a priori. Instead this process simply makes the individual more easy to shape into the perfect cog. A person with an identity tied to nothing, not even their own biology, can be led to believe almost anything. While solutions like transgender ideology accelerate the spiritual and social crisis caused by managerialism, they are the only ones the system can offer. Any truly meaningful solutions would endanger their political formula.

The task of opposing the managerial regime may seem overwhelming, and with good reason, but those who do so have a massive advantage on their side: the truth of human nature. Managerialism is doomed to fail because humans cannot be successfully separated from the very institutions, traditions, and connections that give their lives meaning. Any attempts to do so will slowly but inevitably lead to social collapse. Our elites are incapable of recognizing, much less addressing, this fatal flaw, because to do so would threaten the very foundation of their power.

Some on the more populist right have already intuited the nature of the problem. They speak with increasing openness and confidence about the need for faith and seek to abandon the mainstream GOP obsession with big business in favor of policies that will bolster family formation. Reconnecting our society to the roots that give individuals purpose and meaning is a daunting task, but only one side is even capable of recognizing the nature and urgency of the problem. Many conservatives will find it difficult to challenge the political narrative that has kept them constrained for so long, but if they are able to do so they will be the only ones offering civilization something it desperately needs: a positive vision grounded in what makes us human.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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