Monday, 26 February 2007

5: The need for iron control of the population.

In any war, and in particular in the war on terrorism, you can only win if your system of administration, covering everything from the military to education, is superior to that of your enemies. Here there is much work to be done. Most Empires in history, the Persian, Roman, Chinese, Spanish, French and the Soviet Union, to name only a few, grew powerful in tandem with growing bureaucratic control.

Control was maintained and increased by dividing and sub-dividing the bureaucracy, increasing its numbers and its power. It became stronger and more centralized and more ‘efficient’ as a way of controlling every aspect of people’s lives. The aim was to create a world where no one was more than a heart-beat away from some official, some file, some rule which they must not be, but almost inevitably was, broken. This process of the inexorable progress of bureaucracy filled almost all civilizations with an army of officials and petty rules.

Unfortunately there were a few exceptions, and the countries you lead in the west are among them. For peculiar reasons the English operated a de-centralized and rather informal and shamelessly ad hoc and non-bureaucratic system. Their appalling jumble is well described by the philosopher Tocqueville who also noticed how this system was transferred to America. The bureaucracy was small and relatively weak, and most of the administration, whether of justice, local politics, or the local economy was undertaken by unpaid ‘amateurs’. What kept the system going was a system of voluntary responsibility, numerous associations and organizations not owned by the State. This is what some people have recently termed ‘civil society’. These stood outside the State and could not easily be controlled by it.

This was a very unprincipled and dangerously confused system, which might have been just about tolerable at the primitive stage of development of Britain and America in the past. It even muddled through in a couple of World Wars, but it was a close thing against the more sophisticated bureaucratic machines of Germany, Italy and Japan. It will not do now in this new war against terror.

1 comment:

Gabriel Andrade said...

A few weeks ago I was going through some of Ernest Gellner's lectures on "civil society". As he saw it, Marxism and Islam were the great contemporary threats to "civil society" (Shariah explicitly rejects the recognition of non-government organizations), but I guess one could well include the neo- conservartives of America and Western Europe in that list.