The Utopia Of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, And The Secret Joys Of Bureaucracy, by David Graeber
One of the most telling aspects of this book is the way that the author’s straw man argumentation against Mises and refusal to seriously treat the anti-bureaucratic economic views of Ropke demonstrate a desire to stack the deck against the anti-bureaucratic right in support of the anarchical left. That doesn’t mean that this book has no insight, as it is entertaining if deeply biased, but rather that its insight is deeply limited by the author’s defective worldview. Ultimately, the author’s leftist critique of bureaucracy suffers from the failure to recognize both the corruption of sin in mankind that justifies and even requires the coercive power of the state to be exercised against evildoers as well as the specific desire of the left to control the lives of others which require burdensome bureaucracies that can only be overcome through personal connections for cronies. The author, quite understandably, blames reformers for this and does not dwell on the inherent hypocrisy of his worldview. As he notes with regards to rightist populists, though fails to apply to his own side, there are a great many people who promise liberty who only increase the burdens on others.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and consists of a few large chapters that show the author’s thinking and experience as a longtime professional anarchist. The author opens with a lengthy introduction on the iron law of liberalism and the era of total bureaucratization that shows how America and many other societies have faced increasing bureaucracy in recent generations and how business and government have both been implicated in this. After that comes a discussion of the dead zones of imagination and the structurally stupid nature of bureaucracies and how they operate, with an admittedly deeply biased perspective (1). This leads to a look at the failed dream of flying cars and a declining profit rate that has been managed by increasing reliance on middle managers and efforts to control others (2). The author then turns to a discussion of the utopia of rules and why it is that we secretly love bureaucracy because it offers an opportunity for fairness and the enforcement of rules (3), a pleasure that some of us share to a high degree. There is then an appendix where the author rants about the anti-Occupy perspective of The Dark Night Rises before the notes section closes the book.
In reading this book one gets a fascinating look into the perspective of warped structural violence that demonstrates the mental illness of the contemporary left. That is not to say that one ought to be a fan of bureaucracy, except that some aspects of bureaucracy come from the understandable and universal tension that exists from the desire for a fair enforcement of impersonal rules and ambivalent feelings about play and creativity that exist. If the author is too committed to his own worldview to recognize the justice of those who feel and think differently than he does, this is a book whose perspective will only appeal to those who are already open to or committed to the author’s own. In this case, as is the case so often in our society, it is impossible to talk fairly and rationally about such matters because there are not common authorities or common worldviews that can allow for mutual understanding. And if the author thinks that the bogus views of structural violence do no actual harm to people, then obviously he has not seen the damage to people and property brought by his fellow travelers in contemporary America. It is quite possible, and terrifying, that our nation may come to support bureaucracy in the face of defending property and order and safety from those who like the author revel in the destructiveness of unrestrained evil.