Forget about the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and yes, the Founding Fathers. All of these subjects really belong, and that’s where they will usually be found, in the classroom. They have little to say about the United States of 2017. For example we are not now, and most likely never were, a Republic, or state or a country governed by elected representatives including an elected leader (such as a president).
For what we are now, and find as I learn more about our history, that we have always been, is an administrative state, or one where a literally unknown number of Federal Agencies have completely replaced the “separation of powers” model of home rule that was drilled into us in our youth.
Amazing right!? We don’t live in the country so beautifully described by Jay, Jefferson, and Madison in the Federalist when trying to convince a relatively few white land owners of the rightness of their vision for the young country but rather in an administrative state, one that Donald Trump and company would now like to break up, although of course he can’t. For Trump, as well as the rest of us, are just small change within the entire administrative structure that is now our country.
And then I thought of the French 17th. c playwright, Molière, and compared myself to the main character in his play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Just as Jourdain suddenly learned that he had been speaking prose all his life I suddenly realized that I had been living all my life in an administrative state. Allow me to introduce you to Jourdain as he makes his discovery in scene 4, act 2 of the play.
The play takes place at Mr. Jourdain’s house in Paris. Jourdain is a middle-aged “bourgeois” whose father grew rich as a cloth merchant. The foolish Jourdain now has one aim in life, which is to rise above this middle-class background and be accepted as an aristocrat. To this end, he orders splendid new clothes and is very happy when the tailor’s boy mockingly addresses him as “my Lord”. He applies himself to learning the gentlemanly arts of fencing, dancing, music and philosophy, despite his age; in doing so he continually manages to make a fool of himself, to the disgust of his hired teachers. His philosophy lesson becomes a basic lesson on language in which he is surprised and delighted to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it.
Here is the actual exchange between the Philosophy teacher and M. Jourdain. If you don’t read the French go to Google Translate.
M. Jourdain suddenly learns that while he didn’t know what prose was he has been speaking prose all his life, even when, for example, he tells his servant to bring him his slippers and “bonnet de nuit.”
Well just the other day I had my own revelation. While not having read much about the “administrative state,” I quickly came while reading on the subject (in order to better understand Bannon et al.) to the realization that I had been living in an administrative state all my life, even when doing the most mundane things such as going to the corner store to buy bread and milk, not to mention loving my wife and raising my children and starting a school.
I had heard Steve Bannon when he said, on several occasions, but very early on in Trump’s presidency, that one of his own major goals was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the time I didn’t think much about it, not really knowing what he meant, other than somehow undoing our system of taxes, regulations, trade pacts etc. that all together according to Bannon were stymieing economic growth.
My realization only came about later when I began to read about the administrative state online and I read that Jefferson’s Declaration that all men were created equal, as well as the founding fathers’ Constitution, that had created the separation of powers, or a government divided into legislature, executive, and judiciary branches, had all but been replaced by the now indeterminate, vast and mostly misunderstood and frightening administrative state.
Well, right now I have very much the feeling that I’ve just got started with this huge subject, and that I will need to go on, and continue to write, and will do so in a later blog.
For the moment let me just say that I fully agree with Bowdoin College’s Professor Jean Yarbrough who writes:
We need an updated online primer in American government and political thought. We all learn about the separation of powers and federalism, but don’t understand that these restraints do not operate in the administrative universe. Indeed, the administrative state was designed to overcome these obstacles. Our mission should be to educate Americans on the real effects of this turn toward administrative regulations and rules.
She is correct to say that the separation of powers and all the rest do not operate in the administrative universe, and that the American public very much needs to become aware of what this now means for them.