National distractions: Does draconian democracy deconstruct the administrative state

By ann summers


Like Caliguila’s horse, Draco (not the Harry Potter one) ordered death penalties for cabbage theft, but had no cure for a leader who also had the mind of one. The Trump Cabinet continues to surprise us with its classist ignorance of worker misery, as the federal worker lock-out ended Friday, timed primarily to take attention from the #TrumpRussia arrest of Roger Stone.

Draco, 7th Century BCE, was the first recorded legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece. He replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court of law. Draco was the first democratic legislator, he was requested by the Athenian citizens to be a lawgiver for the city-state, but the citizens were fully unaware that Draco would establish harsh laws.[1] Draco’s written law was characterized by its harshness. To this day, the adjective draconian refers to similarly unforgiving rules or laws, in English[2] and other European languages.[3]The laws were particularly harsh. For example, any debtor whose status was lower than that of his creditor was forced into slavery.[9] The punishment was more lenient for those owing a debt to a member of a lower class. The death penalty was the punishment for even minor offences, such as stealing a cabbage.[10] Concerning the liberal use of the death penalty in the Draconic code, Plutarch states: “It is said that Drakon himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones”.[11]All his laws were repealed by Solon in the early 6th century BCE, with the exception of the homicide law.[12]

There is now in the US, a continuing pattern of WH disruption produced with little attention to the consequences, which for some is a form of what Tim Snyder calls sadopopulism.

One example of this is the recent impasse holding federal workers in a lockout that functioned as a criminal shakedown of legislative governance to achieve a vanity item called a southern border wall.

So much media chaff was being thrown up as countermeasures against what seems to be a clearer path to prosecution in #TrumpRussia.

Obstruction of justice will be tied to the #TrumpRussia “collusion”, but it is also draconian in being the reason to make Trumpian cruelty ubiquitous and synonymous with GOP republicanism. The worker lockout was not only a tactical diversion.

This worker lockout also was a prime example of a systematic attack on the American administrative state.

It’s been argued elsewhere that the current government shutdown was the epitome of a “deconstruction of the administrative state” promoted by Steve Bannon. However, Bannon never really is invested in any real deconstruction as he is in amassing RW power using capital. Manipulating racial divisions is only one means to that end, much like other RW catholicism has always exploited race, class, and gender.

The current situation is primarily about chaos and not about anarchism, a concept of a “free” market that libertarians often privilege, made worse by the ubiquity of cyber-space, as though it could facilitate the creation of a minimal state. This resembles the misreading of Schumpeter’s creative destruction as an ex-ante prescription.

Trump is listening to those who believe that government is all waste, fraud, and abuse, and that shutting down part of it will somehow reveal how great a libertarian paradise would be. For such people, the border wall is irrelevant; it’s just an excuse to maneuver a bunch of agencies to close. Ed Kilgore had a good item about that kind of delusion. It’s simply not true that modern U.S. society can get by on a tiny, 19th-century-style government, and certainly not one imposed willy-nilly through a sudden extended government shutdown.…

The GOP is all about this degree of 19th Century cruelty, whether it’s the poor who might not afford to travel long distances for an abortion, brown people trying to apply for asylum, or general classist-dickishness. There is no deconstruction of an administrative state when disrupting binary distinctions only fosters the totalizing of a unitary executive with absolute power over a critical constituency, or in the case of 45*, absolute ignorance in the service of cruelty.

On April 3rd, 2018, Timothy Snyder released the book The Road to Unfreedom. In the book, he further explores the concept of Sadopopulism in relation to the world’s geopolitical climate.[2]

The following month, on May 9th, Snyder spoke to Salon[3] about the concept. In the interview, he says:

“‘Sadopopulism’ is the notion that you’re doing half of populism. You promise people things, but then when you get power you have no intention of even trying to implement any policy on behalf of the people. Instead, you deliberately make the suffering worse for your critical constituency. The people who got Trump into office, for example, are traditional Republican voters plus people in counties who are doing badly in terms of health care and other measures, and who need help.”…

Though the phrase “the Administrative State” was coined by Dwight Waldo in 1948, the concept of administrative powers and responsibilities has been the subject of debate for as long as the structure of democratic government has been implemented. Where the current debate begins is with the United States Constitution, and argues over the powers to govern under the presets of said constitution. Basically, the debate is over whether or not nonelected agencies of the government have the power to legislate as well as enforce. The book posits that an “administrative state” contains a tension between democracy and bureaucracy that should oblige career public servants to protect democratic principles. The political administration dichotomy is false. Public servants hold political positions that require more than merely implementing policy set by elected officials. Public servants must negotiate efficiencies demanded by the scientific management movement with due process and public access to government. Government cannot be run like a business. Honoring the Constitution and other democratic imperatives makes managing a unit of the government far more challenging than a comparable private-sector organization (Lowery).[3]Waldo introduces the concept of The Great Society which he argues is based upon the private sector. He (Waldo) also points out that in the U.S., business supports the state, while it should be the other way around. In addition, Waldo states that with the evolution of social trends in the U.S., fundamental laws were eroded by modern ideas thus changing the entire concept of government and public…

It is the fantasy of some libertarians that technology could mobilize a more friction-free, minimized, administrative state, even while some of the same characters fantasize the existence of a maximal, yet ubiquitously opaque “Deep State”. It remains an insurgent fantasy that such a state could be realistically resisted.

The real instrument of power becomes the regulatory effects of administrative laws especially in the post WWII period, which we see mocked in the stupidity of the Trump regime.

At a more prosaic level, Gamergate teaches us that claims of protecting individual rights was only about the sexist privilege of white male speech rights, especially when incel-challenged. The terms of conflict were over intellectual property, and mediated within a technocracy with implications for social justice.

Robert Nozick, who publicized the idea of a minimal state in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, argued that a night-watchman state provides a framework that allows for any political system that respects fundamental individual rights, and therefore morally justifies the existence of a state.[13][14]…

Some pundits have asserted such a cyber-libertarianism against those who advocate digital networks as democratizing, (particularly those in tech hubs like Silicon Valley). A technolibertarian state philosophy would facilitate the formation of a minimal state against a notion that “digital networks cannot stand in for the genuine arts of government and democracy”.

The 2016 election suggests that digital networks and their manipulation did replace democracy at the swing-state margins, giving us our current state of governance deconstruction. That antidemocratic illusion has been fostered by neoliberal capitalism’s latest chaos agents as outlined by Shoshana Zuboff.

Shoshana Zuboff’s fierce indictment of the big internet firms goes beyond the usual condemnations of privacy violations and monopolistic practices. To her, such criticisms are sideshows, distractions that blind us to a graver danger: By reengineering the economy and society to their own benefit, Google and Facebook are perverting capitalism in a way that undermines personal freedom and corrodes democracy.

Capitalism has always been a fraught system. Capable of both tempering and magnifying human flaws, particularly the lust for power, it can expand human possibility or constrain it, liberate people or oppress them. (The same can be said of technology.) Under the Fordist model of mass production and consumption that prevailed for much of the 20th century, industrial capitalism achieved a relatively benign balance among the contending interests of business owners, workers, and consumers. Enlightened executives understood that good pay and decent working conditions would ensure a prosperous middle class eager to buy the goods and services their companies produced. It was the product itself — made by workers, sold by companies, bought by consumers — that tied the interests of capitalism’s participants together. Economic and social equilibrium was negotiated through the product.

By removing the tangible product from the center of commerce, surveillance capitalism upsets the equilibrium. Whenever we use free apps and online services, it’s often said, we become the products, our attention harvested and sold to advertisers. But, as Zuboff makes clear, this truism gets it wrong. Surveillance capitalism’s real products, vaporous but immensely valuable, are predictions about our future behavior — what we’ll look at, where we’ll go, what we’ll buy, what opinions we’ll hold — that internet companies derive from our personal data and sell to businesses, political operatives, and other bidders. Unlike financial derivatives, which they in some ways resemble, these new data derivatives draw their value, parasite-like, from human experience.…

The chaos of capital is like the anonymity of gamergaters, and discussions of what Bannon called “economic nationalism”, were excuses for the same racism evident in a Founder’s republic that could rationalize slavery.

Likewise, Rosa Luxemberg was not commenting on anarchism as an ideology as much as the chaos of what some might privilege as the “creative destruction” of capitalist chaos.

To recognize and to acknowledge that anarchy is the vital motive force of the rule of capital is to pronounce its death sentence in the same breath, to assert that its days are numbered. It becomes clear why the official scientific defenders of capital’s rule attempt to obscure the entire matter with all kinds of semantic artifices, try to direct the investigation away from the core of the subject, take up mere external appearances and discuss “national economy” instead of the world economy.

Today, we know no masters, no slaves, no feudal lords, no bondsmen. Liberty and equality before the law have removed all despotic relations, at least in the older bourgeois states; in the colonies – as is commonly known – slavery and bondage are introduced, frequently enough for the first time, by these same states. But where the bourgeoisie is at home, free competition rules as the sole law of economic relations and any plan, any organization has disappeared from the economy. Of course, if we look into separate private enterprises, into a modern factory or a large complex of factories and workshops, like Krupp or a large-scale capitalist farm enterprise in North America, then we shall find the strictest organization, the most detailed division of labor, the most cunning planfulness based on the latest scientific information. Here, everything flows smoothly, as if arranged by magic, managed by one will, by one consciousness. But no sooner do we leave the factory or the large farm behind, when chaos surrounds us. While the innumerable units – and today a private enterprise, even the most gigantic, is only a fragment of the great economic structure which embraces the entire globe – while these units are disciplined to the utmost, the entity of all the so-called national economies, i.e., world economy, is completely unorganized. In the entity which embraces oceans and continents, there is no planning, no consciousness, no regulation, only the blind clash of unknown, unrestrained forces playing a capricious game with the economic destiny of man. Of course, even today, an all-powerful ruler dominates all working men, and women: capital. But the form which this sovereignty of capital takes is not despotism but anarchy.

And it is precisely this anarchy which is responsible for the fact that the economy of human society produces results which are mysterious and unpredictable to the people involved. Its anarchy is what makes the economic life of mankind something unknown, alien, uncontrollable – the laws of which we must find in the same manner in which we analyze the phenomena of external nature – the same manner in which we have to attempt to comprehend the laws governing the life of the plant and animal kingdom, the geologic formations on the earth’s surface, and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Scientific analysis must discover ex post facto that purposefulness and those rules governing human economic life which conscious planfulness did not impose on it beforehand.…

Another way of looking at it comes from McKenzie Wark, however fanciful and recoding, he still identifies some basic elemental and dialectic conflicts that are still about “planfulness” and the means, relations, and forces of production, even if “we are all hackers”.

In 2004 Wark published his best known work, A Hacker Manifesto . Here Wark argues that the rise of intellectual property creates a new class division, between those who produce it, whom he calls the hacker class, and those who come to own it, the vectoralist class. Wark argues that these vectoralists have imposed the concept of property on all physical fields (thus having scarcity), but now the new vectoralists lay claim to intellectual property, a field that is not bound by scarcity. [20] By the concept of intellectual property these vectoralists attempt to institute an imposed scarcity in an immaterial field. Wark argues that the vectoral class cannot control the intellectual (property) world itself, but only in its commodified form—not its overall application or use. [21]


In Gamer Theory Wark argues that in a world that is increasingly competitive and game-like, computer games are a utopian version of the world (itself an imperfect game), because they actually realise the principles of the level playing field and reward based on merit that is elsewhere promised but not actually delivered.…

Yet Individual-1 is more of a hacker than “vectoralist”, however technocratically ignorant, and albeit with far too much executive power in an administrative state, projecting stupidity via Twitter. He is that primate in a troop trapped in a room of typewriters.

Destructive rather than deconstructive, the decentering of Liberalism with Capital can only thrust democracy back into the asymmetry of absolutist tyranny.

This is now manifested when a fictive increase in domestic crime is posited as requiring racist policies masquerading as a national security emergency. All in the service of obstructing justice.


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