Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Technocracy vs tradition?

Why are the elites so hostile to traditional ways of life? One common answer is that the elites are committed to running society along technocratic, rather than traditional, lines. I don't believe that this is the only factor involved, but it does seem to be part of the problem.

The independent journalist Auron MacIntyre has written a piece for The American Mind on this issue. He begins by summarising the ideas of the writer James Burnham:

In 1941 James Burnham published The Managerial Revolution to explain the fundamental transformation of society around the world. While it appeared that communism, fascism, and liberal democracy were competing for supremacy on the world stage, Burnham noted that these systems shared a common trait of empowering highly-specialized managers who operate a network of large bureaucracies with the goal of standardizing and planning their societies from the top down. This dynamic was easier to observe in the hard totalitarian states where official state organs dictated social and economic behavior. The tight grip of the managers in those societies drove them to collapse, but in the liberal West managers used a gradual approach that proved more resilient.

James Burnham

I think Burnham is right to note the similarities between different kinds of modernist political movements. I'll give examples later of technocratic attitudes in both communist Russia and liberal democratic Australia. First, though, it's helpful to continue with MacIntyre's account of technocracy and why it is so at odds with traditional ways of life:

The political formula of the managerial class is based on its expertise in the operation of large organizations and the efficiency they produce. In order to reliably deliver efficiency through massive bureaucratic institutions managers must impose uniformity. Small businesses, regional governments, and community organizations can mold themselves to the character of the people they serve and cater to the individual needs and tastes of their culture. Mass organizations, in contrast, generate their power due to scale, and to achieve that scale they require mass production and mass consumption. The cultural and moral particularities of a specific community, region, or even nation are a hindrance to the goal of maximizing the efficiency of mass production and consumption. Because those regional particularities represent a hindrance to the applications of managerial techniques, cultural homogenization is a key aspect of the managerial political formula.
I'd like to hone in here on just two characteristics of technocracy identified by MacIntyre: size and expertise. As we will soon see, those who wish to manage society along technocratic lines have a contempt for smaller-scale social institutions run by amateurs. Technocrats prefer to operate on a mass scale but with authority invested in a small class of experts (so the vision, despite being oriented to a mass scale, is nonetheless elitist).

I'll include just one more quote from MacIntyre explaining why the ideologies of the left have been so readily adopted by large economic corporations:
The radical left is a nexus of ideologies designed to break down the traditional structures of society. Structures like family and religion are the institutions through which troublesome regional particularities tend to be expressed and perpetuated. The deracinated individual stripped of all connection to faith, family, culture, or even gender serves as the perfect employee and consumer. Woke ideology may pay lip service to diversity but it dissolves the particularities that generate actual diversity. Total cultural homogenization is the logical consequence of progressivism and serves as the perfect medium for the fungible worker and consumer that larger managerial corporations crave.

The rest of MacIntyre's piece is very good and I encourage you to read it. For now, though, I am going to focus on reinforcing some of the points he has already made.

If we go back to the year 1932, we find the communist leader Leon Trotsky defending the attempt to abolish the family in the years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution:

The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called “family hearth” - that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution...The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organizations, moving-picture theaters, etc.

Note some of the key features of the technocratic mindset here. Trotsky doesn't like the scale of the family ("petty enterprise"). And he wants it to be replaced entirely by professional organisations ("a finished system of social care"). Trotsky, then, was as much a technocrat as the managerial class we have in the West today - despite the difference in political ideologies. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that the modern West has adopted much of the Bolshevik revolutionary programme, albeit in a more reformist way.

Fast forward to Australia, 1942, just a year after Burnham's book on the managerial revolution was published. This was the year that the decision was made to end the Anglo-Australian identity and to replace it with a more heterogeneous population (but still European). What is noteworthy is that the decision was made, in part, by a group of technocrats, such as economists and planners, in an "Inter-Departmental Committee". They had growth targets they wanted to meet and they believed that the fertility rates (depressed in the 1920s and 30s at the end of the long first wave of feminism) in Australia were too low to meet these targets. 

It is also noteworthy that the politician most in favour of the change, Arthur Calwell, believed that maintaining the status quo would leave Australia as "a dull inbred country of predominantly British stock" - which expresses a similar mentality to Trotsky in his complaint that the traditional family was archaic, stuffy and stagnant. The technocrats want a more open or "opened-up" social field to work on - not "inbred" or in Trotsky's words "shut in". 

Let's move forward to 1993. An American secular humanist by the name of Thomas Flynn, just like Trotsky, wished to see the end of the family. Why? 

We expect specialists to build our cars, raise our buildings, make our clothing, write our software - the list is endless. Perversely, only society's most precious products - us - are still entrusted to cottage industry. If society is falling apart as conservatives charge, perhaps the blame lies not with "alternative family structures" (more accurately, non-familial households) but simply with parents, single or married, rich or poor, for whom parenting could never be more than a hobby - pursued in naive isolation, abandoned just when one threatens to get good at it. While procreation and parenting remain yoked, most children are doomed to be raised by amateurs...

The family, our last cottage industry, must go!

Looking Backwards - Issuing A Challenge

In 1888 Edward Bellamy published the utopian novel Looking Backwards, 2000-1887. Bellamy predicted that by the 21st Century capitalism, home, and family would be forgotten. Generations of reformers imbibed Bellamy's vivid images of happy workers who lived in dorms and ate in refectories, of children raised in large cohorts by gifted mentors, and dreamt that this was the shape of things to come. Science-fiction masters like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and others portrayed futures in which the family had been eclipsed by licensed, professionalized alternatives. Many progressives simply assumed that one day, if not too soon, parenting would be a career like any other. Those most capable of it would be trained to mentor armies of children not their own.

Flynn has gone all out here to put things on a technocratic footing. He wants the small-scale unit of the family to be replaced by "children raised in large cohorts" and by happy workers who lived not in homes of their own but in dorms. And who would be in charge? Not a loving father and mother but "licensed, professionalized alternatives".

(I can't help but note here that Flynn's dream is being increasingly adopted in our education system. There is a gradually increasing expectation that teachers will not just teach a specialist academic subject but will take on an ever more ambitious mentoring role, i.e. teachers are being "trained to mentor armies of children not their own".) 

So what are we to do? Some thoughts.

1. Rejecting a technocratic mindset doesn't mean going completely the opposite way. There are some things that have to be done to a certain scale, and expertise is necessary in some domains of human life.

2. There are, most likely, deeper beliefs underlying the technocratic mindset. For instance, if you believe in equality of outcomes in a radical way, then it will be difficult to accept the lack of uniform outcomes that occur in more traditional social settings. If people are raised mostly in a family setting, then some children will experience a better childhood than others and it will be difficult to "fix" this via bureaucratic interventions. Similarly, if you have a faith that science can be applied in all contexts to create desired social outcomes, you will most likely think in technocratic terms. 

3. Perhaps even more important is the issue of our telos (our ends) as men and women. If you think, along more traditional lines, that these are realised significantly within a family and national setting, then this places limits on the value of technocratic organisation. Technocracy in some senses presupposes a radically individualistic view of human purposes. To adopt a technocratic mindset you need to see the core purposes of human life as being based not on the roles, identities and loves that arise within the family or nation, but on individual purposes within a mass setting (or, alternatively, you need to abstract the mass institution and pursue its measurable external goods - wealth or power - as an aim in itself).

What I am suggesting is that you cannot maintain the larger metaphysics of modernity and hope to permanently curb the worst aspects of technocracy. You can only defend the role of family and nation if it makes sense to do so within your larger world picture. 

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.


Auron MacIntyre on social media

Articles on the changes to Australian policy in the 1940s (here and here)


  1. Some thoughts of my own:
    1. Going off your thought #2, it’s interesting that so many of these deleterious ideologies or vogue philosophies dovetail so neatly into each other. Besides the equalitarians you noted, it harmonizes only too well with people who want to destroy (particularly) Western cultures and peoples.
    2. An observation I and others have made (hardly new) is that there exists an inclination amongst many people that, bereft of (the right) human control, things will spiral into chaos. This I would say is most often manifested in a “The government has to do something!” attitude. Having read this article, I would be inclined to call this a managerial attitude: not merely a disdain for “amateurs” but an actual fear of leaving people to their own devices. I imagine the only too obvious analogy in their mind is letting a speeding car drive without a driver (a better one would probably be a horse, since horses will look after themselves without a rider).
    3. Managerial attitudes at first blush would seem to extend far further than even the reorganization of the family. It’s certainly not hard to interpret the efforts of 19th century Germany and the US to take in “particularized” raw materials (Swabians, Bavarians, Prussians, Hessians, Hanoverians, etc. on the German side, Irish, German, Italian, and various other immigrant groups on the US side) and process them into a more useful (and more deracinated) form (Germans or what we now call “white Americans”) through a managerial lens of scaling up a system (in this case from small peoples to larger ones) for greater economic efficiency.
    4. Per your comment about the school system, I wonder what might be said about similar attitudes spreading through the current Anglo-American corporate world, where there is now a big push for more social functions and greater social intergration. Being exposed to it sure does give you the feeling they’re trying to replace your friends and family. It’s certainly in line with a Trotsky-esque vision of common economic living.
    5. I think it’s worth pointing out that there are massive benefits to scale economies, at least when it comes to purely material metrics. While I don’t think the topic has been explored sufficiently to draw conclusions, the immediate logical inference does seem to be that this guarantees conflict as more materially productive societies outcompete (through war (see WW2) or more peaceful means) others but then collapse in the long-term due to what’s required of these systems.
    6. I’m sure the more one thought about it, the more clearly anti-human the managerial attitude would be. It’s obvious to everyone who isn’t a manager that humans can’t healthily function in the systems the likes of Messrs Trotsky and Flynn (to say nothing of Asimov et al) dream of and that it would be insanity to expect them to, and that the perfect labor input to these systems is someone stripped of all human qualities.
    7. I’m sure someone more interested in the topic would have a great deal to say about the impact of automation on the managerial view of life. The most apparent thing to me is that while automation might reduce the pressure of managerial systems to dehumanize (as it reduces their required labor inputs, though how much these systems also demand dehumanization of the managers is an unexamined question) it certainly would reduce the demand of these systems for dehumanized consumers.

    1. I meant that automation wouldn’t reduce demand for dehumanized consumers. Perils of writing just before bed.

    2. Interesting comment, thank you. I have some things to add, but busy today - will get to it soon.

    3. The quote Mark had from MacIntyre about corporations desiring fungible consumers. I think this is largely correct and I would argue that a consumer stripped of all particular loyalties and identities is a dehumanized one.

    4. Guest Ghast, I'll start with your point number 4, as I've thought about this recently myself. Apparently there are corporations now who are hiring "happiness officers". They do small things like sending staff books by their favourite authors or big things like taking responsibility for an employee's "personal development". You get a sense of how this is supposed to draw people into a corporate environment from the following:

      "Katina Byford-Winter is the office and employee wellbeing manager at Magenta Associates where she organises chats between employees and line managers every three months to discuss career progression, quarterly team outings and annual mini-breaks. She also has a monthly, hour-long mental health “walk-and-talk” with every member of the company, including the founder and CEO.

      Last week, Craig Peters, a consultant at Magenta, had his monthly meeting with Byford-Winter. “The work Katina does makes me way more efficient and effective as an employee,” said Peters. “My head is clear and calm when I come into work because of her, and I pay back the support she gives me with 100% loyalty to the company.”"

    5. Mark, that’s disturbing. I’ve experienced it in my own workplace, but not quite that bad. The last quote in particular unsettles me, but that’s because I find it unnerving to see people (allegedly) repeat verbatim what I’m sure is the desired Party line about the subject. I rather hope Mr. Peters didn’t really say that.

    6. Guest Ghast, also wanted to comment on your third point. You write about a scaling up of peoples for greater efficiency: "through a managerial lens of scaling up a system (in this case from small peoples to larger ones) for greater economic efficiency". It reminded me of the case of Alfred Deakin, Australia's second PM. He was torn between wanting to retain the particularity of the Australian identity of the time (early 1900s), but thinking also that the longer term trend was toward "higher unities". He wrote about liberalism that "All such provisions point to larger and more effective Unions within the realm and then beyond it." Part of this could be, as you suggest, the managerial focus on scale & efficiency. Lawrence Auster suggested an alternative explanation, namely that it has to do with leftists accepting the existence of "wholes" (unlike right liberals), but rejecting the hierarchies that exist within them due to the emphasis on equality:

      "On the left, socialists and Communists, like traditional conservatives, believe in larger wholes, but the wholes they believe in are seen in terms of equality: the whole of society—equal; the whole of the human race—equal. They believe that man has the ability to engineer this larger, equal whole into existence, wiping out the unequal, inherited orders of class, sex, nation, race, religion, morality, and thus creating a New Humanity. Only the largest whole—humankind—is good, because only at the level of all humanity can there be true equality and fraternity uniting all people."

      I suppose the technocratic side fits in here too as it requires an "enlightened" class of experts/state bureaucrats to socially engineer these new "wholes" into existence.


    7. Mark, my general view is that evil is holistic, and detrimental forces will work out to harmony in the end. While managerial types, technocratic types, and leftists seem to conflict on many points, they also seem to work together more than they work against each other. Their efforts consistently average out to chronically bad policy. Which is all just a roundabout way of saying that I’m sure both forces, that of the managerial and that of the leftist, are at play. Even more likely, really, when it’s many thousands or millions of people at work.

  2. Excellent post, Mark. Have you noticed how the deep state has switched on a dime to worrying about population decline? I wonder why this is. Any thoughts?

    1. I believe they switch between worries as needed. Their regimes rest on a very unstable balance point and they have to keep pushing one way and then another to maintain them. You might be talking about something different, but when I’ve seen them worrying about population decline it’s usually as a way to offer the “solution” of mass immigration, and the problem most of the time is that existing Western citizenries can’t economically support the likes of social security, socialized healthcare, and things of that kind (especially as they start to shrink).

    2. Because they want to “be like gods,” but they waited too long:
      1) the “elite” are very old and dying.
      2) their brainwashed are so aged they can’t fight anymore.

      Same reason france wanted world war 1 in 1914, because germany had a 60% birthrate and france only a 5%. Had france waited 5-10 years longer to take back Alsace and Lorraine, they would have lost all their military aged males (they did that anyway by the war, ironically).

      england jumped in because germany was busy trying to expose the english war crimes in South Africa during the boer war, and it would expose england to some very real crimes that would collapse their country if found out. plus if england did not continually steal all those diamonds then they would have collapsed because their world “empire” was such a massive failure on its own.

      this last fact is why thatcher did all she could to free nelson mandela (a famed mafia don and nail bomber of children) and made him an object of pagan worship: to hide english war crimes for 100 years so they would be forgotten.

    3. Thank you. Can't say I've seen what you have regarding population decline - it's possible I've missed it.

  3. what is being hinted at by you and the author here, but missed, is that these “elites” are trying to create the antichurch. they were never going to, but that’s what they want.

  4. Mr. Richardson

    One of the things that I notice is that they want people to live and to turn into things that they themselves do not live by. They don't live in communes, which is what they want for us. They still get married, something that they don't want for us. They still raise their own children, something that they don't want us to be doing.

    Curious that they cannot get it together for themselves.

    1. Yes, interesting, isn't it? I've noticed the same thing. In fact, I'd divide those with a modernist mindset into two types. Those who take the ideology at face value and who lose big time vs those who pick and choose strategically and who often end up well off. More specifically, there are those who push technocracy hard when it comes to public life, including the workplace, but who resolutely cling to other values when it comes to their private, personal lives.

  5. Sorry to be a bother, but I was recently reminded of this. It’s but an anecdote, but I think it’s nevertheless an interesting insight into a more common form of managerial thinking (if I may say so): https://web.archive.org/web/20220728235056/https://www.reddit.com/r/antinatalism/comments/wap891/the_fact_that_any_two_idiots_well_a_male_and_a/

    Apologies for the archive link. If you can’t or don’t want to view it, the title should more or less suffice: "The fact that any two idiots (well, a male and a female idiot) can force a life into existence is mind-bendingly terrifying.” Admittedly it is more dominated by an antinatalist fear that sees life as pain, but the fear of “amateurs” being in control of something like reproduction is nonetheless an example of managerial fear.

    1. Good find. It is certainly one aspect of the technological mindset on display - the idea that social life should be under the formal control of "experts" with credentials, rather than a loving father and mother.

    2. Chesterton’s blistering essay on “expert” worship is key here.

      “we trust travelers on places they have never been.”