I first knowingly encountered the Administrative State in 1972 when I went to City Hall in Boston to get a peddler’s license so that I might sell books and magazines on the street. I was under the delusion (illusion is too kind) that the First Amendment to the Constitution afforded me the right to sell almost any printed matter except pornography, and this being 1972, even that indecency would be overlooked. But the first week out on the street with my yellow pushcart (wittily named De Cart) got me a warning from the constabulary (i.e., the cops) who were charged with enforcement of the laws of the Administrative State, and I was told to get a proper license or I’d get a fifty-dollar fine.
I still have that small blue badge, number 34443C, and though not as meaningful as Jean Valjean’s 24601, it has meant a great deal to me. I was outraged at the time, and still am. My delusions die hard. My already raging libertarian sensibilities were offended, true enough, but this went deeper. I was twenty-four years old and I’d previously encountered many instances of authoritarian power, most importantly the dictates of the Selective Service Administration and the forcible conscription known euphemistically as ‘the draft,’ (akin at the time to a fickle zephyr from hell) but this small plastic thing pestered me daily as I clipped it to my shirt. The difference was subtle—which is the point. Unlike a law passed by the duly elected Congress to provide cannon fodder for the exercise of American military might and their projection of political willfulness overseas, here I was being ruled by a subdivision of an unelected City bureaucracy intent on managing my life as they saw fit. As I say, this was 1972, and things have gotten exponentially worse since.
Rome did not die in a day. The death of that Republic occurred over several generations before Caesar declared himself Emperor. It can be argued, from my own reading of Gibbon, that this metastasizing began with the final victory over Carthage in 146 BC, and their sensibility of being the sole superpower of that past age, which brought with it the idea that the known world must be ruled lest it again threaten.
In my lifetime since, I have watched the growth of the Administrative State on every level. The semblance of the Old Republic has faded with nearly every headline. The first amendment is now ruled not only by bureaucrats buried in the bowels of City Hall, or even in that largening tent-city known as Washington D. C., but by every petty arbiter of the politically correct from Lubec to Chula Vista. Simply being offended is now sufficient cause for correction. Laws are not passed by the democratically elected assemblies but by councils and committees appointed by the duly lobbied appointees. Constituencies are obeyed, their affiliations paid for by patrons and concerned institutions, supporters, clientele and organizations. Taxes taken from citizens are used to construct the offices of these burgeoning bureaucracies (distinctively undistinctive by design), as well as to pay for the salaries of the bureaucrats, and their health insurance, and their retirement benefits. They have a union and cannot be fired except for failing to fulfill their mandate, which is to preserve or enlarge their domain.
Socialism has been taught in our schools since I was a lad. All historical evidence to the contrary, socialism was preached then as the future. (At Mamaroneck Senior High, I was considered something of a joke, when I was considered at all, for disagreeing.) It is a perfect political philosophy for the Administrative State, allowing as it does for the economic puppetry of every citizen, managed by the bureaucratic authority of unelected government. This level of welfare for all was aggressively tested in the cities during the 1970’s and failed, even as the socialist empires of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China collapsed. But the administrative state does not relinquish power. It abides. With several generations now properly taught to obey the social will and weal, government growth since the 1990’s is astonishing.
Every solution to every problem of society is now delegated to yet another committee and the solution thereby authorized to a new authority or added to an old one. The laws of the nation that are now administered everyday fill millions of electronic pages and the courts no longer even attempt to keep holy the sixth amendment—they settle, plea bargain, or ignore. The socialist government is already here, never mind the campaign rhetoric. What aspect of your life is not now organized or administered by the State? What do you produce or distribute that is not allowed by the collective wish of your government? What do you do that is not planned and controlled? If you can think of something, keep it to yourself. They are listening.
Unfortunately for my children and grandchildren, and their children to come, the technocracy has now joined with these mavens of social control and their lives will likely be far more restricted than my own has been. Facebook and Google and all the others have gladly attached themselves to the teat of this growing market. I cannot actually see the future from these precincts in New Hampshire. The trees here are green and full. So, I imagined an aftermath instead. What comes after the apocalypse? My novel, The knight’s tale, is a part of that. But the downtowns of New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the many other cities long controlled by Progressive governments and Socialist politics are a close projection for the nearer future. Those made temporarily rich from fulfilling the needs of this cancerous growth can pay for their high-rise dachas while the underclass fester in the streets below. This does not end well.
As a whole, we are presently a prosperous nation. The production of wealth created through hard work and imagination makes our lives good. The infections of the cities can be ignored. But this too shall pass.