Now that we have a new set of elected and appointed officials in Washington, we should remember how helpless they are in the face of Washington’s permanent establishment — the bureaucracy. A Republican in the White House, even if he dislikes big government, is yet overshadowed by big government.

George W. Bush only has four years to make a dent. The bureaucrats have 40 years. And they will continue to follow their own ideas, despite the president’s wishes. They will infest new areas of the country’s life. As George W. Bush passes from the political scene, they will smile.

Take the education bureaucrats, for example. Bush has a plan to roast them on the spit of their own failure. If a school does not meet certain standards, the parents will get vouchers to attend private schools. It’s a clever plan, with tactical advantages.

But the education bureaucrats of the states will respond. They will maneuver at the local level to counter vouchers, to render them null and void. “Local control” will be their ironical battle cry. Bush will be forced to retreat, perhaps quietly and without fanfare, since he acknowledges the rightfulness of local control over federal control.

Bureaucrats can get out of most anything. For them Reagan was a blip. In speaking of the Reagan revolution, one might ask, “What revolution?” What difference does it make if government grows at 16 percent every year under Jimmy Carter or 8 percent every year under Ronald Reagan?

Growth is growth, and the thing that grows will eat you alive in the end.

Hannah Arendt once noted that monarchy is rule by one, oligarchy is rule by a few, but bureaucracy is “rule by Nobody.” Perhaps it is even “rule by nobodies.” To be sure, it is rule by busybodies. Thanks to the enlightened and politically correct legislation of recent years, bureaucrats can now enter your home and take your children. Even if you avoid Child Protective Services, the state’s educational gulag will teach them that man evolved from lower animals, that condoms are essential, that homosexuality is cool and so is socialism. After all, public education is socialist, and it works.

Doesn’t it?

Related to this, bureaucrats have a strange way of replicating. It seems that educational bureaucrats are the egg-laying females of the species. Their eggs are planted in the minds of young college freshmen. These freshmen begin to dream of bureaucratic careers justified by the latest politically correct fads. Imagine how wonderful this is. You can save the planet and get paid at the same time! And you have a wonderful list of activities to choose from. You can save the world from reactionary home influences, poverty, war, ozone depletion, global warming, family violence, illiteracy, homelessness, illicit narcotics, male chauvinism and racism. Each theme has its own career path. Each theme has one or more bureaucracies eager for bright young nobodies.

And the government’s benefit package is nothing to sneer at.

Ludwig von Mises, an economist of the Austrian school, once wrote a book on bureaucracy. He said that government bureaucrats often break human laws in the name of a higher law. Such a bureaucrat is fighting, wrote Mises, “against the selfishness of the populace.” The bureaucrat’s god is called the state while his devil is the individual human being. “This is the essence of the philosophy of bureaucratism,” warned Mises, “It is one step only from such a mentality to the perfect totalitarianism of Stalin and Hitler.”

As the bureaucracy grows, year by year, the society it feeds upon gets weaker and weaker. It is not just a matter of less cash in mom and dad’s pocket. It also means fewer choices, more regulations, a narrower range of acceptable words and deeds. It means that the population actually becomes, over time, less intelligent and enterprising. As the enfeeblement progresses, the bureaucrats find further justifications to increase their control. “Look at these idiots!” cry the champions of idiocy. “We need a new bureau to wipe the drool off their chins.”

When Ronald Reagan entered office 20 years ago, some conservatives imagined he would do something to shrink the cancer of bureaucracy.

Did the Energy or Education departments disappear, as promised?

Not a chance. One looks at the patient, one looks at civil society and the prognosis is not good. The tumor’s growth is slow but steady. One might even calculate the exact decade when America will finally succumb, when the pavement will be broken up from neglect, the electricity will be sporadic, and the stores will have little to offer. Everyone will be waiting in line — waiting for the “yes” or “no” of a smug official.

This is the final end under a government of nobodies, where no one is responsible, where bureaus, departments and ministries continue to replicate until red tape finally strangles to death the last solitary human being.

How do we save ourselves from this latter-day scourge?

Education is the key. As Mises points out, we are chiefly in trouble because of the “bureaucratization of the mind” which has progressed under a system of state schools. Consider what happens to real human beings under such a system.

Recently I had a conversation with a university student. She was shocked by the idea that human beings are different, not equal. She was also shocked by the idea that we are “equal before the law,” but not equal in a more fundamental sense. Even though she is a registered Republican, she could not get over the “immorality” of such politically incorrect statements.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Equality,” she said, “was the first thing we learned in school. That was Lesson 1.”

Political indoctrination begins with one small concept. It grows and expands in the mind. A young person might be a Republican on the outside and an unthinking socialist on the inside. Ludwig von Mises explained in the 1940s that the universities in most European countries were owned and operated by the government prior to the disaster of World War II. “European totalitarianism,” he wrote, “is an upshot of bureaucracy’s preeminence in the field of education. The universities paved the way for the dictators.”

In America we are not so warlike. The nobodies that govern us and teach our children would never organize a world war. They are too soft for Spartan projects. Our bureaucracy reflects market hedonism rather than militaristic values. Instead of inspiring World War III, our bureaucracy inspires abortion on demand, racial sensitivity, self-awareness, cultural diversity and a feminized military. It was Christopher Lasch, author of “The Culture of Narcissism,” who first hinted that our government and commercial bureaucracies were developing a therapeutic totalitarianism, based on what he called “narcissistic entitlement.” According to Lasch, “As the new elite discards the outlook of the old bourgeoisie, it identifies itself not with the work ethic … but with an ethic of leisure, hedonism, and self-fulfillment.”

The greatest danger is not the rise of a Hitler or Stalin among us. The bureaucracy does not encourage strong characters with an iron will. Instead, our governing nobodies have instituted a regime of permissiveness. Consider, for example, classrooms where little is learned, or nuclear labs where security measures are lax, or a CIA that promotes a drunk like Aldrich Ames (who is simultaneously a Russian spy).

Laxness and complacency characterize our bureaucratic hive. Therefore, it is not an American Hitler we need fear, but the emergence of a human jellyfish, a creature without spine or character, without solid knowledge or common sense — a creature of “narcissistic entitlement.”

Some of us suspect that nothing can be done about the problem, especially by someone like President Bush. I often wonder what will happen, one day, when the tumor of bureaucracy reaches critical mass. I look at Europe, at the European Union. I see how soft and helpless and stupid it is, sitting next to Russia — a country that is hard and hungry.

It’s almost like seeing the inside of a clock built in the 18th century. There is complexity in the movement of so many cogs and gears, which do not see the greater whole to which they contribute. Each part of the machine is blind. Those who made it, long dead, are no longer present to fix its current derangement.

It is now the madness of clockwork.

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