Alfred North Whitehead and Process Politics
The restless generation of the sixties took the Western democracies to a plane of more openness and diversity. It attempted not only greater personal freedoms, but had less tolerance of the racist and fascist mentalities of colonial-like empires. It also emphasized a shift from equal opportunity to equality of results. The growth of values of human rights and defacto democratic inclusiveness of minorities was not detracted by a parallel development. That is the swelling of cumbersome bureaucracy throughout the industrialized world. Yet such bloating of the state was in many ways, alarming, ominous and dangerous to democratic values.
Elective societies through their chosen governments have every right to expand even though equalitarianism is often at odds with liberty; just as individuals have a right to be stupid so government has a right to be inept. As ‘equality of results’ increases, real liberty is diminished; affected not only by the collection of labor through taxes but by regulation itself as a form of general restriction on freedom of choice. Individual discernment was reduced by civil authority, ipso facto, the larger the governance, the greater amount of laws.
While a compromise position potentially exists between the conceptions of liberty and equality, admission of the tension between them should be thoroughly investigated before we throw our whole lot in with one side or the other. I think it’s conspicuous that thoughtful people have rejected libertarianism at least as expressed as all elements of the culture and market being left unregulated by the state. On the other hand, it’s equally obvious that we’ve rejected formal socialism, or the belief that the government always outperforms the market in supplying essential needs. The trouble with creeping government (i.e., Mission Creep) is that you end up with socialism without meaning to, while libertarianism is never ever anything more than an illusive, perhaps unsafe philosophy skirting close to its inbred cousin, anarchy. So with the struggle for equality, even without choosing it, comes socialism.
The compromise that can be made is that government can manage or mismanage all the equality for which its citizens vote. However, only if the electorate straightaway pays for it through their labor, via unmediated income tax. In other words, nothing goes on the tab, no hidden consumer taxes and no economic excuses. If you want government to do X, you pay for X up front and honest, the hard way with direct taxation. Leave no means for the elected official to fool the voting public or wiggle out of this necessary adjunct. This is the concession the Right and Left must make to honest government.
The lethargic superstate has schlepped into the 21th Century and offers a commonwealth of humanity with all sorts of ancillary benefits in health, old age care, public insurance programs, etcetera. Nonetheless, a drawback increases with every quadrennial flowering of political promises to increase welfare.
Why is that?
Bureaucracy itself doesn’t efficiently respond to direct feedback. Feedback is defined here as an activity and process of continuous patterns responding to changes in the environment so we can live effectively within that environment.
Many adults after their first marriage fails, change their ongoing behavior as a spouse inside their second one. That’s feedback for human behavior and we often use it to our direct benefit so that we don’t make the same mistakes twice. Bureaucracy does receive valued and honest feedback, yet for special reasons it doesn’t have the innate ability to ever adjust downwards, to declare failure in any of its fields of operation and to transcend in times of crisis except in one direction even if the solution might be found in simplification or reduction. Reducing government goes against bureaucracy’s prime objective: civil collective society is more important than the individual. In government, failing at a job only serves to prepare an individual or agency for an even bigger post in the years to come.
Whitehead’s process philosophy describes this succinctly about all actuality. Life itself is an organic evolving ever-changing event in duration. The universe itself is a thing in process and is always becoming, never in a static state of being. Or to put it in academic terms, reality itself is dynamic. Human-made organizations acquire a life of their own and adjust to the ongoing event or risk ossification. This is why the market place in times of economic crises must be left to its own harsh devices of liquidation to allow a healthy correction. In a certain flip of logic: bankruptcies are good and bailouts are bad. Bailouts are selling short term gain for long term pain.
The trouble with the modern bureaucratic state and its concomitant problems is that it disregards negative feedback in favor of government solutions. It suffers from the delusion that ‘Doing nothing is never an option.’ Whereas in fact, inaction by the state is quite often a viable alternative.
“The community of actual things is an organism,” to quote Whitehead, “but it is not static. It is an incompletion in the process of production.”
Expanding the state’s role in civil society is self-serving. Streamlining its functions is difficult. The bureaucracy is reluctant to serve the open economy and eager to regulate. Reversing its imperial right to expand is nearly impossible. It has an inherent disposition to the inevitability of socialism.
This process often has no ideological component: process politics designs effective democratic governance and by its inclusiveness, it invariably, relentlessly, expands. The dismaying growth in global governance has generated large bureaucratic webs. Vast increases of tax rates and national indebtedness in the percentage of GDP has been noted in articles, The Planned Economy, The Separation of Market and State, Welfare Democracy and others. The state has metamorphosed from practically 0 to 40 percent of GDP in 40 years . . . do the math . . . eventually bureaucracies develop what can be coined as an unhealthy lifestyle which leads to bureausclerosis. It’s the tendency of bureaucracy to standardize over time. The state experiences a hardening of rules and the inability to change. It becomes impassive to people’s needs and generally melds with those industries they are suppose to monitor. Bureausclerosis produces high taxes, uncompetitive labor costs, an anticapitalist mentality among the populace, a burdensome, even bellicose public labor force and bureaucratic clog where everything in government takes and costs too much to effect any worthwhile results. It causes stagnation, dissolution and eventually death of the open societies.
© 2019 - E. A. St. Amant