This's my term paper for sociology
United States of America: a Technocratic Nation
If you ask what type of government presides over the United States, the most common response would be democracy. While there will definitely be some deviations among the responses, it’s hardly likely that anyone would call the American government a technocracy. The term, coined by Herbert Marcuse, refers to a government where the “technical considerations of imperialistic efficiency and rationality supersede the traditional standards of profitability and general welfare.” (Marcuse, 1941) Does that not perfectly define our government? Among the leading industrial nations, we’re one of the few left that do not have universal health care, a free college system, or any of the other perks that Europeans enjoy. There’s one thing we do have though, and that is bureaucracy. Tons of agencies meant to supervise, to control, and most of all, to do so efficiently. One might ask how Herbert Marcuse pinpointed America’s true nature. The answer is that he did not. When he wrote of a technocracy he was referring to Nazi Germany.
Robert Michels, another German sociologist noted the increase of bureaucracy in socialist parties and labor unions in Germany shortly before World War I. He pointed out that the leaders of such parties had a vested interest in maintaining power (Michels, 1915). Thus he devised the idea of the iron law of oligarchy, which describes how even a democratic organization will lead to a bureaucracy ruled by a few. He theorized that this result was enforced by two processes. The first, which isolates the leaders, is their individual abilities. Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, pointed out that people who achieve leadership roles usually possess the skills, knowledge and appeal necessary to control others. (Weber, 1922) Subsequently, Michels points out that the rest of the organization looks up to the leaders for direction and thus reinforce the process.
In America, it’s no secret that there’s a big discrepancy between classes. In this country, the top 1 percent of the richest people own almost 51 percent of the liquid financial assets (Ruccio, 2011). Considering the government’s actions, it’s clear that the balance is tipped in their favor. The Bush era’s tax cuts have been extended, despite the national budget deficit, while at the same time, the government is looking to cut away spending on food stamps, health care, and even want to get their hands on the social security money. Just as Marcuse said, the traditional standards of general welfare are nonexistent. At the same time, how do you think people get away with manipulating the government this much? The answer is through bureaucracy, of course. Large corporations lobby for their political interests. Money talks, and it speaks loud and clear. The Wall Street bailout was one of the most outrageous moves in our country’s history. When the American people were all going through foreclosures, and some lived in tents in public parks, some of the richest men in the world were getting subsidies. It was the clearest example of a bureaucracy ruled by the few, acting in the interest of its leaders at the cost of its followers.
What allows the leaders of this country to do whatever they want? The answer is individualism. The principle of individualism, the pursuit of self-interest has been redefined into compliance. Herbert Marcuse explains this by comparing man’s relationship with machines. “In manipulating the machine, man learns that obedience to the directions is the only way to obtain desired results … There is no room for autonomy” (Marcuse, 1941). This is the perfect analogy considering how America is now almost entirely a consumer culture. After all, who is the most compliant of individuals, if not the consumer?
When describing Nazi Germany, Herbert Marcuse implies that the control imposed on the people would not have worked if it operated purely by brute force and terror. He said that it was also the ingenious use of manipulation through the use of labor, propaganda, training, and the industrial and party bureaucracy. (Marcuse, 1941) That is the true danger of bureaucracy, a danger that should be noted as clearly as its benefits. In a technocracy like our own, there’s not a lot of room for free will. Autonomy is reserved for the leaders of this country, the people in charge of the bureaucracies that control almost every aspect of our lives. I sincerely doubt this is in the interest of the general welfare.
Schaefer, R. T. (2008). Sociology; a brief introduction. (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gerardi, S. (2010). A brief survey of the sociological imagination. (3rd ed.). USA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.
Ruccio, D. (2011, February 25). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/25-graphics-showing-upward-redistribution-of-income-and-wealth-in-usa-since-1979/