David Brooks and the Infrastructure of Technocratic Control

One thing I wish decent liberals would get a handle on is this: the idea of the state as a benevolent scientific administrator of all aspects of the lives of its citizens is not a liberal idea. There is nothing about this conception of state power that tends, in principle, to promote liberal values. The values it will promote will be the values of the people who control it. Moreover, science isn’t partisan. Once we have created a infrastructure of technocratic control, if the science happens to say the economy will do marginally better if, say, more women spend more time in the kitchen, pregnant, rather than competing for social esteem on an equal footing with men, then the state is ready with its managerial tools to reshape our incentives, our lives, and our social structure. We need only wait for a faction to come to power that finds that this or that bit of science (or “science”) conveniently reinforces their prior impulses, and then those tools will be deployed.

These are the thoughts I had reading David Brooks’ play at writing John McCain’s domestic policy in his latest column. I don’t have time to pick through the trainwreck, but let me just note that Brooks is in favor of mandatory national service, no doubt to help shape young people’s conception of who they really belong to, and what their lives are really for. And he wants to send government agents into “chaotic” homes, so that the children there “have some authority in their lives.” Brooks is very keen to ensure that we all have a great deal of authority in our lives, it seems, and I’m afraid that John McCain is too.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center