The Limits of Government Power
by DANIEL GREENFIELD
October 16, 2012
A country and a people can be measured in its breadth and its depth. A government can either choose breadth of control or depth of control-but it cannot have both.
Breadth of control allows for governing a large area, but with only limited control and influence over those who live there. Depth of control allows for extensive control over the lives of a population, but such control requires government infrastructure of equal depth that is difficult to sustain or project over a large territory. One is a mile wide and an inch deep. The other is a mile deep and an inch wide.
Governments that choose breadth of control are able to govern a large territory with a light touch, but breadth of control depends on a population that governs itself through a national identity rooted in an ethical, religious or tribal code. When a government attempts to replace this code with its own control, then it trades breadth of control for depth of control.
Depth of control can only be extended over a limited area. When governments invest in depth of control, then they tighten control over a handful of urban centers clotted with massive bureaucracies that carefully regulate the lives of its middle class while the rest of the country begins going its own way unknown to the ruling class. These decadent systems lose touch with the outskirts and with their own lower classes and remain unaware even as their empire crumbles.
Modern government is fixated on depth of control over people. It plots to control every aspect of their lives with the goal of creating a completely harmonious whole. Technology has fed the illusion that such control has become more feasible than ever allowing for the rise of truly scientific government. This illusion is destroying the nation-states of modern civilization by overburdening them with massive governments flailing for control and destroying their economies in order to achieve that control.
Bureaucracy is the sticking point of depth of control. Each level of control requires more staff to implement that control. The more aspects of private life that government seeks to make public, the more men and women sitting behind desks are needed to formulate the rules, promulgate them, process them and enforce them.
The nationalization of private life runs into the same problem of all nationalization and collectivization. Large operations tend toward greater degrees of inefficiency due to the diffusion of responsibility and accountability. Large systems respond to inefficiency by creating more redundant structures which only increase the inefficiency.
Bureaucracies cope with all problems by adding new layers of paperwork without recognizing that paperwork is itself the problem. The world outside comes to be modeled through paper so that rather than interacting with problems, the system interacts with a paperwork model of the real world that is detached from the real world and requires ever increasing resource of paperwork handlers to maintain.
Governments begin by seeking depth of control and end by losing control over the depths of their own bureaucracy which not only becomes incapable of managing an entire control, but develops its own agenda and becomes a political rival of the politicians who serve as the conduit of their rulership and also the void into which all their ideas, both good and bad, fall into and vanish without a trace.
Depth of control is implemented through the proliferation of laws, regulations, mandates and codes, but the proliferation of laws is also the proliferation of lawlessness. The more laws exist, the more they are broken and the more the system must struggle to restore credibility with constant crackdowns or sink into a state of complete lawlessness.
A system that strives for depth of control is always running the Red Queen's Race, passing more laws and declaring more wars on obstructive social problems just to stay in place without ever solving anything. The problems become institutionalized and unsolvable because the institutionalization of a problem creates a bureaucratic mandate for the survival of the institutions dedicated to solving the problem and the institutions dedicated to solving the problem seek to survive by not solving the problem.
Like a war, depth of control takes on its own momentum and comes to exist for the sake of existing. Even though the various social wars can never be won, the ruling class and the middle class are obligated to believe that victory is at hand. The working class and the lower class, as well as the lower middle class, who are usually the targets of government problem solving, are usually well aware that the problems are unsolvable. Their obstinacy acts as a kind of passive aggressive insurgency against the problem solvers.
Like most wars, especially unwinnable wars, depth of control is also very expensive and there is no end to the expense. But once depth of control has become the default mode of government, the system loses the ability to disengage from its own obsession with control. Every new measure and program appears to be the genius idea that will finally turn the tide. And after a while no one in power can accept the idea that the alternative to depth of control will be anything but anarchy. This contention even has a basis as once a system switches from breadth of control to depth of control; it tears apart the codes that made the old way of life possible.
When enough people become used to dumping their responsibilities to their parents and children onto the government, the moral and social codes of responsibility wither so that the alternative to the system really does become the ice floe and the beggar boy. And when marriage falls into sufficient disuse and few people believe in a higher power and even fewer in the power of personal achievement, then the people have become unfit for any system but that of the nanny state.
Breadth of control depends on moral and social capital that the planners who implement their depth of control mousetraps do their best to subvert and destroy as backward and outmoded. And once they have accomplished that then the society is broken and the only thing keeping it together in a limited way is an equally broken government.
Technology is not the dealbreaker that scientific government advocates believe it to because technocratic government does not solve problems or make decisions, it only harvests and collects masses of information, virtual paperwork that still has to be fed into a flesh and blood bureaucracy. Rather than streamlining bureaucracy, technology adds another layer to the information management staffs of the bureaucracy and holds out the promise of solutions without ever offering any.
The problems of government have never really changed in thousands of years and the obstacle to depth of control is still the human factor. And the human factor does not change. Technology appears to make human data more accessible, but it does not make human beings more amenable.
Governments strive for depth of control because they distrust breadth of control. Breadth of control is based on organic social codes and not easily amenable to changes by politicians who seek to remake the society they rule over into one that is more responsive to their control. Their campaigns for control lead not to more control, but to more illusory control, and their control is limited to the centers of bureaucracy.
While breadth of control effectively holds together large rural territories, depth of control works best within the urban model. Breadth of control allows a people to develop their own identity, while depth of control fragments identities. Depth of control is unable to hold the same breadth of territories because it innately fragments societies and its aspirations to total control lead to multiple centers of authority.
Depth of control governments actively or passively disrupt the codes of the old society, Modern systems in the West even deliberately import large numbers of exotic and foreign cultures and religions to make any of the old social or ethnic codes outdated and unworkable. These actions are meant to unglue the old horizontal peer-to-peer bonds of a society and recreate them in a vertical puppet-master-to-puppet system that controls behavior from the top down. However the new populations are much less amenable to control than the old populations were because of their essential foreignness.
Diversity attempts to overcome this problem by creating multiple ruling centers which fragments the system and leads to a tribal system with tribal representation that fragments any central directives. Multiculturalism is meant to be the acid test of the superiority of scientific government by showing that a system can define a people, rather than the people defining the system. Thus its planners imagine that the high business of government will be lifted out of the muck of tribalism; instead however it sinks down into the muck of rival tribes squabbling for power and selectively altering the law to benefit themselves.
Hubris is the essential human fallacy and the one that brings down empires. Depth of control is the ultimate expression of hubris in the modern age. Past the age of kings, the new folly is not the building of great pyramids or model castles, but the construction of edifices of unlimited political authority that are meant to enforce complete control over the people. Like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the marble edifices of modern authority that bury a government and its people within their depths for the greater glorification of its rulers.
Only by escaping the tombs of government, can a nation and a people come alive again.
Daniel Greenfield is a blogger, columnist and freelance photographer born in Israel, who maintains his own blog, Sultan Knish.