“The China Convergence,” The Upheaval, by N.S. Lyons, Substack, 85 pages
We Americans sense that we live in an empire of lies. We want to understand the people and systems which control our country and society. At a minimum, we want to know how and by whom we are ruled, and what that means for both the present and the future. But we can trust no source of information, because we know every channel of knowledge has been corrupted. Thus, inquiry usually ends in frustration, in obvious falsehoods peddled to us, or in esoteric conjectures which seem the more popular the more unlikely they are.
In August, however, N.S. Lyons (a pseudonym) offered a widely read novella-length essay at his Substack, The Upheaval. The article, titled “The China Convergence,” pulls together modern thinking on, and practice of, the managerial state, beginning with James Burnham’s classic 1941 study, The Managerial Revolution, and ending with Xi Jinping Thought. Lyons then ties this compelling analysis to both China and the United States, finding not only far more similarity than commonly believed, rather than any fundamental opposition in political structure, but also a convergence into “totalizing techno-administrative governance.” He then analyzes the implications of this convergence for our future, and in so doing, answers many of the questions we have about our country and society.
Lyons begins with a history lesson of the late 19th through the mid-20th century. As the mass and scale of industrial organizations increased, a new social and administrative class of managers emerged to operate them. The interests of these managers differed from those of the owners, and one of their key interests was having more managers, what Lyons calls the “managerial doom loop.” This class developed a managerial ideology, which “presents itself in the lofty language of moral values, philosophical principles, and social goods,” but “just so happens to rationalize and justify the continual expansion of managerial control into all areas of state, economy, and culture.” Those “values” and “principles” are those of liberal modernism, essentially the emancipatory and egalitarian values of the left, birthed in the Enlightenment (though Lyons does not much directly focus on the left versus the right).
Managerial ideology was hostile to bourgeois, middle-class values, most of the all the values of subsidiarity, self-reliance, tight family life, and widespread participation in intermediary institutions which characterized America at the time, and whose erosion Alexis de Tocqueville had feared a hundred years before. Such values frustrated managerial governance and discouraged emancipation. Yet as the 20th century ground on, managerial ideology gained ever more power, inserting itself not only into the industrial sector, but everywhere—education, media, the government, even philanthropy. This spread broke down the strong old fibers of America. (Some saw this even at the time; it was first discussed in Robert Nisbet’s 1953 classic, The Quest for Community, a book Lyons does not mention.) And it was thus that the managerial regime came to dominate all of America, and the West, in the second half of the twentieth century.