In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published his influential work on the history of science called “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. In his book, Kuhn challenged the notion that scientific progress moves forward in a linear fashion. He asserted that transformative, scientific knowledge did not build upon itself through the gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but rather came from outside the ‘normal’ process of science and often disrupted accepted thinking by offering unanticipated ideas. History was replete with examples, he wrote, of how acceptable science always became plagued with discrepancies and anomalies. The ruling scientific notion would have explanatory power over the world at large, yet the persistence of anomalies would inevitably lead to a theory crisis. Theory Crisis would lead to a response and eventually the prevailing scientific view would give way (often becoming totally abandoned) to a view that had better explanatory power.
The pattern was thus: Normal Science, which was based on prior scientific achievement, would foster puzzle-solving in the scientific community. This would lead to an established paradigm, or example, of scientific theory that was shared across disciplines. All goes along swimmingly, the paradigm legitimizing the puzzle-solving and the puzzle-solving approving the paradigm until the discovery of anomaly, again, usually across disciplines. Incongruities were identified in the model at hand but were found not to ‘fit’ into the current theoretical system. These anomalies then became sufficient in number or magnitude to attract an enduring group of adherents away from the prevailing theory. This redirection of effort led to a crisis that persisted to the point that the paradigm could not cope. The response to this failure was a revolution in thought and effort towards an all-new paradigm that did not build on the old but abrogated it, almost always completely. This was the structure, and it could take centuries or decades to play out, depending on the system.
It was this book and its premise that came to mind when I finished reading “The Managerial Revolution” by James Burnham. There can be little argument that Burnham correctly diagnosed the system taking the place of Capitalism in the Western world. Writing in 1941, it is remarkable how accurately he predicted the rise of the managers as a ruling class over society and the amount of influence and control the merchant elites have garnered up to this present time. Yes, there has been a lot of history experienced since ‘41 and Burnham did get a few things wrong, but overall, his diagnosis of an ever-rising managerial ruling class has proven true. One of the most intriguing things that Burnham points out is that the beginnings of the current system found their places in the system it was replacing, as was the case for the system before that. The tares of Managerialism grew among the wheat of the Capitalist ideals just as the seeds of Capitalism found germination in the fertile field of feudal fiefdom. No one person directed these developments, according to Burnham, and no group of people was, at first, consciously working to replace this ‘-ism’ with that ‘-ism’. Each prevailing model of society had in itself the conditions needed for its replacement to be created; In the feudal Middle Ages, the anomaly of using money for commodity exchange became more and more frequent until it created a crisis for feudalism and the creation of what we would call Capitalism, which changed the very nature of economy, the ruling classes, and even the political sovereignty of the state. So too did Capitalism, along with the rise of modernity, create the anomaly of managers coming to control the means of production and not those Capitalists who originally created those means of production. These anomalies led to a crisis and the decline of the prevailing system, and again profound changes to society were created.
Burnham’s book is prescient indeed, and his observations and analysis hold more than I could adequately convey here. Suffice to say, we are living through managerialism and managers have become the new ruling class. But that brings us to the subject of this essay. What will the end of Managerialism look like? What incongruities and abnormalities can we presently look to as evidence of the formation of crisis inside the system? What challenges to the present paradigm of the merchant ministerial machine are distinct and foretelling of a coming revolution? Before these questions can be asked, we must deal with a reality that cannot be blithely dismissed. All systems, no matter what they are or how they are constructed have challenges to them. These challenges can be serious and threatening or merely superficial and easily dealt with. What we cannot look for are just those things that are challenging managerialism on a superficial level as these are not the type of anomalies that will bring about structural change. The challenges that we must look for will be ones that signal a paradigm shift in who, (what part of society), will come to wrestle control of the instruments of production from the managers, just as the managers took it from the forces of capital.
One of the greatest friends of Managerialism is technology. Technology has greatly enhanced the ability of the new ruling class to control the means of production. It has been the main reason that the transition from Capitalism has been as quick as it has. While it previously took centuries for systems to supplant one another, managerialism has used technology to achieve dominance in less than one hundred years. Technology will also increase the magnitude of control. The weight of management by technology will prove to be more oppressive than ever before in history, to the point where we can expect management of not only thought and deed but diet and dwelling. While ‘Orwellian’ is a well-worn term, it never seems to be exhausted by the efforts of the new ruling class. But an anomaly is here. Technology that has made managerialism so effective is not partisan. It works just as well for the individual producer. Previously, when producing goods or services, economy of scale was needed to produce anything of mass value or supply. These scaled economies needed managers. But now, technology allows a simple artisan or producer to achieve greater outputs on their own, without administration. Look for this to happen more and more. Commerce will become more and more decentralized but more and more effective, even to the point where money is decentralized. It is the ‘gig’ economy or some resemblance of it that will bring a form of crisis to the system. Hopefully, just as technology sped the ascendance of the managers, so also will it speed their demise.
This is just one example of potential incongruity within the system, and I believe that more points of departure with the managerial system will come that will invoke crisis. These situations will be where economies are created that are different from the larger economy around them. They ultimately will be about exchange, or what Thomas Sowell likes to call ‘trade-offs”. They will have to meet essential needs at the personal level. They will have to fill the gaps that Managerialism could never fill: Beauty, Originality, Transcendence, Holistic Health, Duty, Solemnity. The very human need to have these transactions with each other will create anomalies within the system. Look for them, seek them out. Participate. We need to find the points of crisis so that we can have a revolution and quicken the end of Managerialism.