The Administrative State and the End of History

Francis Fukuyama just has to be wrong. Not about the end of history, for we are at history’s end (history being up until now the very imperfect record of how man has governed himself during some 50,000 or more years) but about the nature of the organizational structure of the last state.

The last state is/was not, of course, communist as Marx, Lenin, Mao and their followers would have it, nor was it the fascist state tried by Hitler and others, and still being tried by reactionaries today, but, and this a big but, neither was the last state liberal and democratic as described by Fukuyama.

The last state marking history’s end just has to be the administrative state. Not the fake autocratic democracies of present day Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Venezuela nor the real autocracies of China, Syria, Egypt and Cuba.

The administrative state is, or will be in most places, the last one standing because it is the only governing political structure that takes into account the huge differences there are among people. And that has to be the biggest discovery of the modern world, that people are different, and not because of the color of their skin. For much too long political leaders of all stripes have been devising governing structures that would attempt, unsuccessfully of course, to make people all the same, perhaps wrongly assuming they were. They’re not.

People are different. And our differences are now more than ever in view, if not in all instances thriving. And only the administrative state, among the world’s governing structures, tries to recognize and contain the differences among us while not just placing them within, but making then an integral part of, the constantly evolving, fluid and what seems to be the unwieldy and formless state structure encompassing them.

However, we’re not there yet. In fact it does still seem all too often  that we can’t yet govern ourselves, that our leaders, such as they are, are themselves most often at a loss what to do. So as I say it’s messy, life’s messy, but what we have come up with, the more and more global administrative state, is par for the course, probably the best we can do at present.

As crazy as this may seem, as crazy as it seems to me, there are those who would bring down the administrative state: —Steve Bannon, for example, but also the recent Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, an originalist, or one who would always go back to our founding documents as if they were no less relevant today than at their origin (if then).

These people and others, mostly of conservative, nationalist, and nativist views, many among the close advisors of President Trump, while trying to correct what they may see as the failures of present day societies, only make things worse by favoring this group or that group, their groupings based on ethnic, racial, sexual or other superficial divisions, never on the fundamental and individual differences among us, these being the only ones that really count. The real failures of our society including economic inequalities, family breakdowns, true believers turning into fanatical Islamic terrorists, the country’s lacking a moral center, the frequent and ubiquitous manifestations  of untruth and unreason) remain pretty much untouched.

The differences between us now coming out mean that we have to constantly confront an endless stream of issues and problems, and it’s only the administrative state that seems to be up to the task of handling them.  Here are two examples of the typical situations that we face all the time.

The first follows from the sale of recreational marijuana being allowed in Massachusetts. In November of last year 1.8 million residents went to the ballot boxes to vote to legalize recreational marijuana. The result was that growing, buying, possessing, and using limited quantities of the drug became legal in Massachusetts. How will the sale and use of the drug be regulated and controlled?

The second situation follows from the fact of the sale and distribution of foods taking place in public on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. The streets in the example, and in the pictures below are in Bangkok, but they might have been in lower Manhattan or New Orleans.

Both situations will mean, of course, that new regulations will be necessary, probably a lot of regulations (and who would want it otherwise?) on top of whatever codes and regulations already existed for this sort of thing. The bureaucratic state with all its red tape is here to stay. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands of situations like these just in our own country’s history.

By the way we may be “great” now. But history, if nothing else, makes it clear that at no time in the past were we great. (History of course being one of the subjects of which our President is almost without any knowledge, that is ignorant.)

World wide there are millions, hundreds of millions of situations springing up where new regulations  are needed and necessary. And when the people who are living together are all different, as is the case now and has always been, it makes it even more difficult and complicated to resolve the problems arising from such situations. But we have to do it, and we have to do it by means of the last state standing.


In Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg is the top recreational marijuana regulator, with unilateral power to hire and fire the officials who will oversee the new billion-dollar industry. But things will probably not remain that simple. The State Legislature wants some of the action, and appears likely to strip Goldberg of her authority, perhaps creating an independent marijuana oversight commission instead.

Also Representative Mark J. Cusack, House chairman of the committee overhauling the voter-passed pot law, floated the possibility that a “new regulatory structure, such as an independent commission,” might work better for Massachusetts than the current plan. It’s worth reading the article from the Boston Globe, Lawmakers may strip treasurer of pot authority, as a fine example of the rapid growth, in this case, of state agencies. No end in sight?

From the Globe article: “…Advocates expressed worry that taking authority away from Goldberg would push the opening of retail shops further into the future. The treasurer’s office is the appropriate place for the Cannabis Control Commission because both this treasurer, and past treasurers, have shown a very high level of regulatory ability with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which is the most analogous agency. Our fear is that moving the Cannabis Control Commission now, after considerable work has taken place in the treasurer’s office, will result in additional delays,,…”

The other article,

The World Capital of Street Food Is Banning Street Food,

is from the magazine Foreign Policy.

Bangkok’s bustling, roadside food stands are legendary. But with the Thai government’s new decree to shut down street food — in an attempt to improve safety and cleanliness — outrage is growing.

Below I’ve posted a few of the pictures from the streets of Bangkok. After looking at them imagine it your job to determine the amount and kinds of rules and regulations that would be necessary to be sure that people there in the streets were not at risk from the products they were buying. I’m sure you’ll agree that regulations (and a lot of them) will be necessary.

These two articles almost by themselves ought to make us, if we’re not already, believers in the Administrative State. For me it was like realizing where I had been living all my life, just as M. Jourdain in the Molière play realized he had been speaking prose all his life.

Link to Foreign Policy


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