Progress, Process, and Dead White Males

[Going to tie a few seemingly unconnected thoughts together here.  Buckle up.]


In middle school, I had a history class that began with some historiography.  We learned about different ways history had been portrayed and understood.  The gist was that the Great Man Theory of history, in which powerful, capable individuals were the force which led their peoples to their destinies, was outmoded.  In its place, modern historians looked at historical events as confluences of many events, situations, conditions, etc, and this was more scientific, accurate, and meaningful history.

Tied into this was discussions of variations on the theme of divine right to rule, of which I remember precisely three concepts: traditional Western divine right, and the Chinese concepts of Mandate of Heaven and Filial Piety.  These tied back into the historiography in that these three concepts provided socio-religious explanations for a certain power structure, just as the Great Man Theory of history provided a secular, historical basis for that power structure.  And they all were equally bad.

I was sympathetic to this lesson at the time, and to a large extent still am.  I believe the neoreactionary tenet of the Cathedral’s existence necessarily places all neoreactionary writers in fairly close concurrence with me on this one.


However, there is a critical error in the common application of this lesson, an error which I see as integral to the Leftist worldview.  The importance of context is excessively emphasized over the importance of individuals.  This much should be abundantly clear to nearly any observer.  It is impossible to hear the phrases “institutional racism,” “institutional sexism,” “privilege,” and the like and not see that, while the Left claims to champion agency, they believe their wards have very little of it.  The myriad ways in which the Right mocks the Left for believing nothing is anyone’s fault (unless, that is, a Rightist happens to be at fault), from everything ranging from poverty to the behavior of children, readily confirms this.

John C. Wright’s hypothesis that the Left takes this to the extreme, beyond no-fault to disbelief in cause-and-effect, is a high quality read in this regard.  Perhaps no-fault is a lesser included form of no cause-and-effect.  It doesn’t matter for my purposes here, but the possibility seems worth mentioning.


The focus on circumstance and the devaluation of individual choice does something very strange to ethics.  This is worth a quick side-adventure.

In my opinion, it is difficult to top the Nicomachean Ethics.  In contrast to the “no friends to the right, no enemies to the left” mantra which can only perpetuate extremism, I find the measured centrism of Ethics to be a useful guide.  Courage lies between Recklessness and Cowardice.  Temperance between Profligacy and Insensibility.  Generosity between Waste and Stinginess.  Etc.  The significance here is that these are sliding scales within the scope of one human’s behavior; they are necessarily bound by human capacity.  In this system of ethics, setting oneself up to fail by behaving outside of human bounds is not noble; it is clearly a lack of ethics.  I can’t emphasize enough; the system inherently has realistic bounds.

Readers may recognize one of my favorite themes here.  The inability or unwillingness to deal with the limits of reality is a failure of Leftism I harp on time and time again.  A system with requirements which exceed its resources, and/or which requires greater inputs than its outputs will quickly devour itself and fail.  You may not be interested in reality, but reality is very interested in you…


Now let’s examine government.  Whenever a problem arises, a new process or oversight body is put in place to fix it.  This is old hat: the notion that bureaucracy exists to create bureaucracy has been written about enough.  I want to tackle it here from a different perspective.

Processes, procedures, oversight bodies, and commissions are all very expensive.  In the arena of personal ethic, bound by human nature, certain limits obviously cannot be denied or avoided.  A schedule which would require an individual have 25 hours in a day is obviously infeasible.  A task which required a man to lift 2000 pounds overhead would be impossible.  A foot journey of 250 miles in one day is out of the question.  Undertaking any of them is foolhardy.

However, scale this up to an organization, and suddenly, like I promised, the ethics seem to change.  The tasks are no longer impossible; the organization is simply underresourced.  The organization simply needs a second employee to split the labor hours, a forklift to lift the 2000 pound load, and a car to take on 250 mile road trips, all paid for by the public treasury, of course.  Is FEMA as ready as it possibly could be to prevent the next disaster from becoming another Katrina?  Of course not!  They haven’t taken all your money to buy supplies with yet, have they?  Is the militarization of police forces a complex issue?  Certainly.  But underneath it all is an individual sheriff, commissioner, mayor, etc, who doesn’t want to be the guy in charge who didn’t have an MRAP when he  needed one when a Black Swan terrorist event occurred in his jurisdiction.  “No friends to the right, no enemies to the left” quickly becomes “No measure too far, no expense too great,” in the name of public safety or any other public good.

The obvious question here is, “How do we stop this?”  The reflexive answer is, “More oversight!”


In a bureaucracy, there is a lot of diffusion of responsibility via paperwork; it is much easier, both practically and morally, to fill out a form to do something than to do it yourself in person.  This is true from sending eviction notices to signing death warrants and anything in between.  However, ultimately, every form, every decision, every action, has someone who approves it.  Someone’s name goes on the paper.  Someone is, at least notionally, accountable.  “More oversight” ultimately means more, and more highly-paid, names on that paper.  And since the oversight, the names, and the money all seem to get us less return-on-investment than we expect, the names themselves bear some scrutiny.

Here is my callback to both Great Man Theory and the Nicomachean Ethics.  Leftists of all varieties gleefully create oversight functions because they know they have effectively destroyed the class which used to “sign the forms.”  Every additional layer of oversight is simply another opportunity for confederates to get paid from the public treasury.  And no task, from the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Terrorism, the War on War, or any other undertaking, is beyond the scope of the government’s ability to resource itself.  In short, there are few constraints, financial or otherwise, left on the system.


In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, an interesting phrasing repeats in various forms, the base form of which is this: American Sociology is no longer accountable to anyone.  It has processes galore; magazines, journals, books, double-blind reviews, and so on.  However, these processes are owned, administered, and carefully steered-if not outright corrupted-by the individuals who run them.  This is systemic beyond one discipline in academia; it appears to be a trend that cuts across any institution large enough to wield power or shape opinion.

Western faith in process, “due process,” and institutions runs high.  This is a relic of an age where institutions were more integrated into daily life and the clergy and the laity were from more similar cultural backgrounds, where “the right thing to do” was commonly understood.  In short, the “guy signing the papers” had a clear mandate from the people where he could reasonably draw the line: for example, the cops need body armor, but not MRAPs.  In absence of that culture, there will be an absence of a line, and his default position will be body armor, MRAPs, and anti-tank rockets for everyone!

I suppose this is one of the chief cases for monarchy: that the character required to make balanced decisions on behalf of a nation instead of scrapping for as much bacon as possible for one’s home district requires a true aristocracy, and not the pseudo-aristocracy churned out by the captive education and credentialing institutions of the West.  We need a class raised, educated, and trained in leadership, rather than demagoguery…who are perhaps born to power, rather than a class that obtains power by promising to “take down the system” and “share the wealth,” right after the proletariat helpfully elevates them to the top of the very structure and wealth they want to tear down and distribute.  In short, we need an elite, not an elect.  Additional processes are not replacements for sound minds.


3 thoughts on “Progress, Process, and Dead White Males

  1. Pingback: Progress, Process, and Dead White Males | Reaction Times

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