Do you know the painting of the man in the suit and bowler hat with his face obscured by an apple? (“Son of Man.”) It was originally a self-portrait, but it could perfectly symbolize today’s topic: bureaucracy. It’s not a new phenomenon. As long as we’ve had leaders giving orders, we have had people whose job it was to follow them.
Caesar Augustus recognized the value of such managers. Once given responsibilities, and authority (if large and entrenched enough) they could help the State function independently even in the absence or death of their leader.
Augustus, like others, cared about his legacy; he radically altered Roman government and established bureaucrats so those changes could outlive him. Like a gyroscope — once set in motion, its own inertia resisted outside influences.
Government agencies have power to change your taxes without explanation, strangle a business with red tape, or spend themselves (i.e. government) into oblivion, sticking taxpayers with the tab. This is why people are uncomfortable with ubiquitous government.
Something else happened under Caesar Augustus — the death of the Roman Republic. Long after his passing, Rome limped along; it even flourished at times. But it was no longer a government accountable to its citizens. From that point forward, the many were ruled by the few. These were, in turn, not accountable to the many.
Accountability works best at the local level. If the person who caused the problem you want fixed is answerable only to people in his neighborhood or town, you can rally some friends, raise hell and get something done.
If you oversee a larger population — a State, or government department, you needn’t fear petitions. As long as the the State, Province or Nation remain ambivalent it won’t matter who signs a petition. Protesters are nothing more than an inconvenience. By design, you’ll pinball from one nameless drone to another, filling forms until you throw up your hands in defeat.
The Framers of the Constitution knew history and human nature well enough to recognize these dangers. The checks and balances they instituted were to dampen the human tendency to amass personal power and wield it over others. Safeguards were also implemented to protect the States from being bullied by the Federal government.
You need not look further than the news to realize that power is shifting away from direct public accountability, and into back rooms, secret deals, and “plausible deniability”.
People now say “the buck stops here” only after they’ve identified their fall guy.
Can these trends be stopped, or reversed? It’s hard to say — we’re pretty late in the game. Although, considering the stakes, a small hope of success is better than the guaranteed failure of surrender.
What can we do? Well, here’s a list to get you started, add to it as you like.
— Break the media monopoly “lockstep” — this has already begun. Create public pressure on every branch of the media. Shame those that give big stories a pass; but celebrate those who don’t, even when ideologically opposite. Celebrate: praise, “like” and generally promote them.