The New Despotism of Bureaucracy
While the era of big government rages back, the tyranny of administration is just getting under way.


The objective of the American Founding was to break free of the old despotism, characterized by the arbitrary will of the stronger, based on force and fraud, masked by the false claims of long inheritance or divine right. Virtually every government at the time was based on a claim to rule without popular consent.

The Founders’ object was to establish the rule of law, decentralize political authority, and limit government to secure the unalienable rights with which man was endowed by “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” They held that man, though fallible and full of passions, is capable of governing himself and that none was so much better than another as to rule him without his consent.

And yet here we are today, covered by a vast web of rules and regulations, endless policies and programs, all emanating from a central government, mostly the work of agencies and bureaucracies that for all intents and purposes operate outside the consent of the governed.

The greatest political revolution since the American Founding has been the shift of power away from the institutions of constitutional government to an oligarchy of unelected experts. They rule over virtually every aspect of our daily lives, ostensibly in the name of the American people but in actuality by the claimed authority of science, policy expertise, and administrative efficiency.   

If this regime becomes the undisputed norm — accepted not only among the intellectual and political elites, but also by the American people, as the defining characteristic of the modern state — it could well mark the end of our great experiment in self-government.

Americans have always hated bureaucracy. One of the charges against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was that he “has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” Who wants to be ruled by a national DMV? It is costly, inefficient, and, well, bureaucratic.

“It is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but their distribution, that good government is effected,” Jefferson warned. “Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

For sure, the Founders understood the need for the good administration of government — an important aspect of the improved science of politics. But the administration was subordinate to the president, and thus indirectly responsible to the people through election. In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton calls it a “heresy” to suggest that of all forms of government “that which is best administered is best.”