The Administration of Things

Aside from being a day for dissecting the latest set of gushings from dear old Polly Pot, Friday is also Home Office press release day (particularly when there are unpromising statistics that need burying).

And so, on the Labour Party website, we find that Dr Demento doing his level best to polish up his shiny, patent leather, jackboots by administering a good kicking to David Cameron:

JOHN REID MP, Labour’s Home Secretary, has challenged Conservative leader David Cameron MP to back the government’s plans on ID cards if he is serious about managing migration. It follows the Conservatives launch of their flagship immigration policy document Controlling Economic Migration.

There then follows, in entirely predictable fashion, the usual diatribe on the subject of Cameron being ‘soft’ on whatever it that Dr Demento is wittering on about at any given time, plus the requisite list of things that Cameron has voted against in Parliament in recent years, as if to suggest that Reid still hasn’t quite worked out why the people who sit on the other side of Commons Chamber from where he plants his own impeccably uniformed (in his dreams) arse are called the ‘Opposition’.

What’s most interesting about this press release, as it comes from a man who is, at the present time Britain’s most prominent ex-Communist, is the following statement.

I challenge David Cameron, if he means what he says, to come out and support our plans for ID management because it is the key tool to manage migration in the 21st century.

ID Management? What an interesting turn of phrase.

There are several ways in which one might reasonably view this remark, not least of which is within the context of the obsessive managerialism that has been the hallmark of New Labour – see Chris Dillow’s remarks here and then, in the absence of a search facility on his blog, search Google from references to ‘Blair’ and/or ‘New Labour’ and ‘managerialism’, which was surely turn up a fair amount of Chris’s other work. Also, this article by Phil Edwards on his new blog/collection of past writing ‘What I wrote’, is also well worth a look, not least as it dates from 1997.

Reid’s one-time communist proclivities, however, suggest another potentially fruitful line of inquiry, one both in keeping with his political background – and that of several other New Labour notables including Jack Straw, Charles Clarke and Peter Mandelson, all of whom were at one time members of communist groupings/organisations – and with New Labour’s dominant managerialist credo.

Although today most clearly associated with Marxism and the Communist view of the state and its inevitable demise in the wake of revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it was actually one of the founders of Positivism (and the first clearly identifiable socialist), Henri de Saint Simon, who advanced the maxim that the government of men would ultimately be replaced by the administration of things, a concept that Marx then appropriated in his own writings.

For Reid to refer, in this press release, to the government’s plans to introduce identity cards and a national identity register in terms of the government’s ‘plans for ID management’ is, therefore, to expose the scheme as being one founded on essentially Marxian/Postivist roots.

Within the present government’s worldview, identity, a concept that the majority of people would consider to be both highly personal and individual in character, has become something to be managed, i.e. a thing to be administered by the state. This, in turn, accounts in no small measure for the palpable sense of dislocation that has characterised the public debate surrounding ID cards in relation to civil liberties-based objections to their introduction.

In this debate one finds, therefore, on one side, libertarians and liberal individualists, whose perception of the nature of identity is that it belongs intrinsically to the personal domain, and on the other the government, who view the nature of identity, at it relates to the functions of the state, in mechanistic terms and from what is essentially a technocratic/managerialist perspective. There is, in this, not simply a dispute over the nature of liberty (and civil liberties) but a fundamental disagreement about the nature of identity itself, such that the government not merely see that objections to the introduction of ID cards as carrying much ‘weight’ but is, in fact, rendered largely incapable of even understanding such objections as they derive from a view of the nature of identity that the government does not accept as valid.

This, in turn, also explains how it is that Blair, quite happily, can advance a line of argument that characterises the ID cards debate as a contest between personal liberty and modernity but also that view that, in the context of such a contest, modernity is assured of being the victor. From both Positivist and Marxian perspectives, theat stage in social development in which government becomes the administration of things is synonymous with society reaching the apex of its development and the ‘end of history’. The mere fact that the government’s ID cards scheme treats identity as a thing to be administered is, to Blair and others who share his worldview, conclusive and unimpeachable proof of the schemes modernity and, consequently, the inevitability of its superceding both the personal view of the nature of identity espoused by the scheme’s opponents and, consequently, also any objections to the scheme raised on civil liberties grounds; objections which, being rooted in what is perceived to be an archaic notion of the nature of identity, are themselves archaic and outmoded.

Both Blair’s juxtaposition of liberty and modernity as contending ‘forces’ and Reid’s reference to ‘ID management’ mark the introduction of ID cards and the national identity register as being an instrinsically Positivist/Marxian venture founded on a deep-seated belief that it is the interlinked forces of technology and historical determinism that drives society forward.

With that, I’ll point you in the direction of another article by Chris Dillow, this time at the Sharpener, which explores the possible Marxian influences on Blair’s worldview.

By way of commentary and critique, the one this I will add to Chris’s comments is the note that, like Marxism, Neo-liberalism, which animates belief in the absolute virtues of globalisation and the universal free market, is itself derivative of and heavily influenced by Positivism through the influence of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle on the later work of Milton Friedman, Francis Fukayama and the Chicago School of Economics. As such one can just as easily contruct an argument around Blair’s views and values, similar to that which Chris put forward, in which Neo-liberalism is substituted for Marxism without, for the most part, diminishing the validity of the argument itself.

What this, perhaps, suggests is that much of the ease with which both Blair and New Labour’s cabal of ex-Communists have made the transition from Marxism to Neo-liberalism, in terms, at least, of economic policy, may be accounted for by the Positivist roots to be found in both doctrines, for all that conventional wisdom sees each of them as being in diametric opposition to the other.

3 thoughts on “The Administration of Things

  1. Funny though, how the government’s supporters constantly refer back to the archaic principles of the late 18th century Enlightenment (a period of history largely ignored until very recently when it became politically useful as the purported source of all our contemporary values). Somehow the government can embrace Englightenment values of personal sovereignty and at the same time act as the vanguard party of Modernity that seeks in its operations the very destruction of the archaic sovereign individual.

  2. The notion of Blair as a Marxist ignores entirely a fundamental tenet of Marxist philosophy, namely the class antagonisms that exist between the ruling classes and the proletariat.

    For anyone that hasn’t noticed yet, Blair is a quite firmly a member of the ruling classes whose mortal enemy is the proletariat, hence the creation under Blair’s watch of at least 3,000 new crimes that only the proletariat can ever be found guilty of, even if they’re innocent.

    Meanwhile, the ruling classes can commit fraud, mass murder and genocide and still remain above the law. Simple enough?

  3. Hmmm…very interesting. I’ve always wondered about the (far)left roots of so many New Labour groupies – see also Blunkett, Hodge and Boateng (ex municipal left), Milburn (of course), as well as Aaronovitch and Kettle in the media. Throw in a democratic centralist mindset, and bingo!

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