Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 4 May 2017

THE DEEP STATE and the Parliamentary System

As we have sought to explain in this Blog, the Deep State that governs Western bourgeois parliamentary regimes – otherwise known as “Western liberal democracies” – is called so because it is virtually invisible to the greatest majority of its “subjects”, because it lies buried deep in the machinery of government. The part of government that most people see every day is “the spectacle”: the circus of rock-star politicians smiling in front of cameras or giving interviews in the media. This is the unseemly “parliamentary cretinism” that is mawkishly paraded before us “citizens” by the bourgeoisie and its loyal acolytes in the deep state, in the bureaucracy. It is usual for most of us to dismiss “bureaucrats” as mere acolytes or “clerks”, as monastic nerds and “scribblers” or “hacks” that slave behind the walls of government buildings. But in fact, it is this less visible army of functionaries who truly “run government” not just in the sense of day-to-day administration, but also and above all in the sense of decision-making, of actually preparing and dictating the policies (from “politics”) that those smiling politicians put to us as if they had been freshly excogitated by them almost ex nihilo. This is the true Eskamotage – the heist or magic prestidigitation – performed by our beloved politician clowns: it is a game of smokes and mirrors behind which, deep within which, lies the omnipresent power of the bureaucratic elite.

At the end of the feudal era, with the abolition of monarchies and Absolutist States, the most vital problem for the nascent capitalist bourgeoisie was how to replace political regimes that founded their legitimacy in God and faith – in the divine descendance of the King or Queen – with a new legitimacy and legality based on strictly secular and supposedly “rational” bourgeois capitalist principles. (We have discussed elsewhere here the strict Weberian link between “rationality” and factory discipline of living labour.) Liberalism was the ideal ideology for this purpose: first, liberal ideology presents the State (the liberal State) as the necessary tool to protect individual private property: in this sense, the State is mere Police (Hobbes, Schopenhauer). But this is a purely “negative” role for the State – a role that merely protects individuals as they are found in the mythical “state of nature” that liberalism presumes to have existed before human beings entered into a “contract” to form a society for mutual protection. What this “negative” rationalisation of the State fails to do is to lay out a “positive” reason for the existence of the State – because without such a “positive” rationalisation it is virtually impossible to make the liberal State palatable to those members of society who have little or no property for the State to defend!

But what could provide a positive justification for the bourgeois State? Obviously, the function of the State could not consist only of protecting property: rather, the function of the new bourgeois State had to be that of increasing and enhancing the private property of individuals – in other words, to ensure what we call “economic growth” or, in the words of Adam Smith’s paramount work in the new science of economics, “the wealth of nations”. The two legs of liberal ideology were conceived thus: possessive individualism is one, and the “science” of economics is the other.
In both instances, however, the emergence of the bourgeois liberal State still has no legitimacy because, (a) it does not explain how those who have property came “legally” or “legitimately” upon it, and (b) it does not explain the link between present ownership and the legal claim to produced social wealth which is paramount in a capitalist economy.

Because of this evident lack of legitimacy, it was essential for the bourgeoisie to erect a State-form that could give at least the appearance of direct representation to all members of “society” – to establish, in other words, a State-form that is “liberal” because founded on possessive individualism but also and above all one that is “democratic” – a State-form that arises from “the will of the people”. The initial war-cry of “no taxation without representation” was meant by the bourgeoisie to maintain this strange link between “property” and “sovereignty” – because clearly pursuant to this motto only those who had enough property to be “taxed” by the State could be politically “represented”; and they had to be represented in proportion to the amount of taxation they paid! It was only belatedly and after epochal political struggles by working-classes in the West that “universal suffrage” and “one man one vote” finally became established principles of what is known as Western democracy. Yet these political struggles by workers and proletarians had to be “absorbed” and co-opted within the structure of the old feudal State now transformed into a capitalist nation-state (this precious link between the nation-state and the economy is preserved in the earliest German word for economics – National-oekonomie, meaning that “economics” has no sense outside of “the nation”, just as Adam Smith linked “wealth” with “nation” in the first textbook of economics, “The Wealth of Nations”).

So how could the revolutionary working class be absorbed and co-opted within the structures of the old Absolutist monarchic State which, as we mentioned above, was constituted by the Bureaucracy and by the Army? The clever answer was: the extension of the Parliament to workers’ representatives organised as “parties”. This was the start of the “parliamentary” or “political party system”.
It is of the utmost importance to understand and appreciate that the parliamentary system and its political parties did not itself originate and constitute the State: on the contrary, it was the old Absolutist State that created the parliamentary system as its “constitutional” progeny.

In other words, the State was never and has never been the product of parliamentary democracy or of universal suffrage: on the contrary, it is “parliamentary democracy” and the party system that have been created and regulated and controlled “constitutionally” by the pre-existing State! That has made it all the more likely, first, that the State could conceal itself behind the “democratic” façade of parliamentary institutions such as “free elections” and “the party system”, and second that these so-called “democratic” parliamentary institutions could operate only within the specific narrow and highly regulated confines of the pre-existing or “deep” State!

Most people, even the most informed political analysts, see “the State”, the Executive, as an emanation of “the democratic will of the people”. But in reality, as we have demonstrated through our rapid review of the evolution of the modern bourgeois liberal State, democratic institutions are emanations or creations of the Deep State – which controls and directs them through the Law, through the Constitution! The Constitution is not the product of constituent power; it is instead controlled by constituted power. (This essential distinction is enucleated in H. Arendt, On Revolution and more recently in A. Negri, Insurgencies.)

In the next contribution we shall examine how the Deep State absorbs the real contradictions of bourgeois-capitalist into the false “democratic” heaven of parliamentary cretinism.

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