Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The Department of Justice Inspector General’s Report released last week didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know, but merely added more damning evidence for the corruption of the FBI and its investigations over the last few years. More worthy of comment, as Andy McCarthy writes, is its refusal to use common sense and note the obvious interconnections among the various bad actors, and the bond of political bias, seasoned with careerism and arrogance, that united them.
But the problems we are confronting reflect deeper dangers than the professional corruption of some functionaries of corrupt executive agencies armed with the coercive power of the state. The true moral of the story is the dangers to freedom of centralized and concentrated power––the very dangers consensual governments, including our own, were created to minimize.
The issue of political bias, which the IG report scanted, has to be understood in the larger nature of the large-scale bureaucratic public institutions that comprise the Deep State. In other words, the structure and functioning of the institution itself creates a bias that selects progressive employees. The bias insidiously becomes a second nature of which they often are no more conscious than a fish is that it’s wet.
Leftist ideology from Marxism to Progressivism is particularly useful for creating such self-serving agencies. American progressivism was founded on the conceit that “technopolitics,” the notion that modernity requires specialists and experts in the “human sciences” who can most efficiently manage the state. Progressives rejected the old democratic and republican notion that virtue, practical experience, and common sense, none of which is dependent on university credentials, are adequate for citizens to govern no matter their wealth, lineage, or education.
This debate about whether men in general are capable of self-government runs throughout the whole history of political philosophy. The antidemocrats denied that the masses are capable of acquiring the knowledge required for participating in government. The champions of democracy, like the Greek philosopher Protagoras, countered that for social life itself to exist, all men must be capable of acquiring the skills of managing relationships with other people. That task always necessarily involves hierarchies of power, common sense borne of experience, and notions of fairness and justice that form the heart of politics.
Two thousand years later, James Madison in 1792 defined the nascent political parties, the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans, in the same terms. The former, Madison argues, hide their aggrandizement of power to an elite behind the ancient charge “that mankind are incapable of governing themselves,” even as the elites use government to further their own interests. The latter believe people “are capable of governing themselves” and can recognize that the opposite view is “an insult to the reason and an outrage to the rights of man.” Thus they oppose any measure “that does not appeal to the understanding of the general interest of the community” or “is not strictly conformable to the principles, and conducive to the preservation of republican government.” All men are capable of thought, and recognize the principles of political equality and freedom, the “rights of man” that government is created to protect and preserve.
Progressives, of course, for all their talk of “equal rights” and “equality” and “democracy,” in fact have more in common with the antidemocratic tradition. Rejecting the permanence of human nature and its vulnerability to the temptations of power and its corrupting influence, they argued that the new technologies and economic institutions had created problems beyond the understanding of the average man, but also created new understandings of how to improve human nature. Now power must be centralized and concentrated, and the federal government expanded with new agencies and offices staffed with credentialed technocrats who understand the “new sciences” of human nature and society, and so can create policies and rules that better serve the citizens now shrunk into wards of government agencies.
Having pursued these aims for over a century, progressives have midwifed the bloated Leviathan that now encroaches into our lives, communities, and businesses. The costs to our freedom and autonomy, as well as the weakening of the Constitutional order, are obvious. But the bureaucratic structure of government agencies leaves them vulnerable to the long-documented pathologies of bureaucracies equally malign to the common good.
The most critical danger is what the French call “professional deformation,” the way institutions filter and shape information, principles, and their actions to fit institutional orthodoxy, interests, and ideology. Professional knowledge and paradigms then become a stencil applied to reality, hiding information and facts that don’t fit the institution’s received wisdom, and leaving a neat pattern that is then taken for the whole of reality. This tendency is reinforced by the way careers and advancement are dependent on fealty to the professional paradigm rather than to principle or the greater good. The result is an institution closed on itself, impervious to those who “think outside the box,” devoted to the institutional received wisdom, and dedicated not to the function of its creation, but to the perpetuation of its own power and influence.
This danger exists in all large-scale bureaucracies, including private ones. But a bureaucratic corporation is in the end accountable to the market and its customers and shareholders. Government bureaucracies, however, are largely unaccountable to the sovereign people who give them power. Agency employees find that their careers and power are best nurtured by the party of big government that multiplies the regulations, laws, and rules that grow more and larger bureaucratic fiefdoms. That’s why the salaries and benefits of government workers are higher than in the private sector. And why they have both union and civil-service protections, which make firing them difficult. And why the Department of Justice charged with investigating Hillary Clinton’s various scandals gave 92% of its political donations in 2016 to Clinton. The lowest percentage of gifts to Democrats across all government agencies was 64%.
More important is the lack of accountability. The catalogue of Obama-era federal agency scandals reveals that the only accountability agency malefactors face is retirement on a fat government pension: The Office of Personnel Management, the Veterans Health Administration, the IRS, the ATF, the National Labor Relations Board, the General Services Administration, and just recently the FBI and DOJ, both of which have ongoing investigations that have already led to firings and resignations––all with pensions and, in the case of James Comey, hefty book contracts and speaking fees. That’s not accountability, but rather moral hazard, the removal of incentives to protect one’s actions against the risk of suffering their consequences.
This link between political ideology and the nature of large, unaccountable government agencies has been especially obvious the last two years. The security and investigative agencies have used obstruction, stone-walling, ignoring subpoenas, evasion, using heavy-handed redactions and elastic definitions of “national security” to thwart the efforts of Congressional committees staffed with elected representatives of the people, and thus are the instruments of accountability to the people. But the citizens’ interests and the agencies’ Constitutional duty to observe the division of power among the three branches are not as important as the agencies’ own power and survival. And their survival and power, even if their workers don’t consciously recognize it, requires the survival and power of the Democrat Party’s program of increasing the size and scope of the federal government.
Finally, this state of affairs is laying down the predicates of tyranny. When government agents swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, they are pledging fealty to its foundational principles, particularly the equality of all before the law. And when these agents are housed in multiplying bureaucracies intruding into our private lives and civil societies, they erode our autonomy at the same time they increase their own authority. They turn from servants of the people to their masters, and like most elites throughout history begin to see themselves as above the law, possessing an exalted status based on their perception that they are wiser and more virtuous than their fellow citizens, and so are exempt from the accountability that is the bedrock of constitutional government.
We have had now years of “investigations” into the various scandals of our government agencies and their appointed leaders. The worst occurred during the tenure of Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, the highest office of foreign policy beside the president. Her crimes are obvious from the public record. Her lies and abuses of her office, all directed toward her own political advancement, were indifferent to the dangers she put the republic in when she willfully set up a non-secure, easily hacked server through which classified information was passed–– including from Barack Obama, who lied about his knowledge of this extra-legal arrangement. And still Hillary has not been held accountable, has not been made to suffer the consequences of her betrayal of her oath and indifference to the security of her fellow citizens.
She and others her like her may think that the “deplorables” who do not enjoy such exemption are not smart enough to see through her lies and the machinations of government agencies bent on protecting her and their own minions. But they do see, and they are angry at such a gross injustice, the lack of punishments for crimes for which they would have suffered swift justice. They see the hypocrisy of the Mueller investigation, the absurdity of the “collusion” charge, and the blatant attempts of agencies to undo the legal election of a U.S. president. And their anger is righteous, for it is responding to a violation of one of our most sacred foundational principles: the equality of all before the law.
The cry for justice from “we the people” needs to be heeded. The behavior we are witnessing is more characteristic of a tyranny rather than a democratic republic. Aristotle defined tyranny more than two-thousand years ago as “arbitrary power … which is responsible to no one, and governs all alike, whether equals or betters, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and therefore against their will. No freeman willingly endures such a government.” Sound familiar?
But we need to stop enduring it. Enough with the endless investigations that lead nowhere and leave the guilty unpunished. Enough with absurdity of agencies investigating themselves in order to protect the institution they serve rather than the people. We need to see indictments and trials to restore the foundations of our political order. The president and his Attorney General need to give more support to the Congressional oversight committees trying to do their jobs of holding accountable the abusers of the public trust. As free men and women we can do no less than demand action.