Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Administrative evil?

Yesterday my colleague S gave a response to a book on administrative evil. I haven't read the book myself, but S pointed out, rightly, I think, that it's difficult to label a function as "evil," even as it may facilitate "evil" ideologies. The problem's in the ideology, not so much in the function itself.

Kind of like rhetoric, eh?

But this idea of administrative evil reminded me of my recent discovery of the intense interest among certain ideologues in a pretty obscure book called Philip Dru, Administrator. Written by Edward Mandell House, a kind of Karl Rove to Woodrow Wilson, the novel tells the story of a benevolent dictatorship of the USA that sets up a Progressivist social agenda.

C told me about this book, which he encountered in a grad class back in the day. We own a copy, which has been reprinted by some strange right wing press. Given my interest in all things managerial, this book has long attracted me, though I've yet to find a way to write about it. Still, I did a little Google search the other day to see if anyone else was talking about it, and it was then I discovered the OBSESSION. Do the search yourself, you'll see. The first hit is a talk radio show in Austin, with a libertarian host taking on the role of Dru as he conducts interviews. Someone even has done up a myspace profile for the author, where he is found talking about his "friends" Stalin and Lenin.

Seems as though for those of a certain political bent, the book represents all that is wrong with America--a "collectivist" agenda that is, in the words of the Austin radio host, "dramatically at odds with the principles of individual liberty upon which our Constitution is based." It's almost like the smoking gun, the piece of evidence that establishes once and for all that the US really is off course, that there is a vast "collectivist" conspiracy, and that raising consciousness about this novel will somehow change things.

I find the paranoid attention paid to this very unabsorbing novel simultaneously bizarre and eye-opening. I saw a fairly well known person in composition give a talk once in which he used a scene from the Matrix--where Neo has "seen" reality and subsequently vomits from the profundity of the revelation--as a kind of "jab" at critical pedagogues who think they're mission is something like that: to pull off the veil of obscurity and reveal reality, in all its stomach-churning intensity. All this attention to Philip Dru, a curious little novel, sort of reminds me of that--and sort of reminds me of the importance of a little bit of humility. What the Zen folks call "Don't Know Mind."

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