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Diese Überlegenheit des berufsmäßig Wissenden sucht jede Bürokratie noch durch das Mittel der Geheimhaltung ihrer Kentnisse und Absichten zu steigern. Bürokratische Verwaltung ist ihrer Tendenz nach stets Verwaltung mit Ausschluß der Öffentlichkeit. Die Bürokratie verbirgt ihr Wissen und Tun vor der Kritik soweit sie irgend kann… Allein weit über diese Gebiete rein sachlich motivierter Geheimhaltung wirkt das reine Machtinteresse der Bürokratie als solches. Der Begriff des „Amtsgeheimnisses“ ist ihre spezifische Erfindung und nichts wird von ihr mit solchem Fanatismus verteidigt wie eben diese, außerhalb jener spezifisch qualifizierten Gebiete rein sachliche nicht motivierbare, Attitude. Steht die Bürokratie einem Parlament gegenüber, so kämpft sie aus sicherem Machtinstinkt gegen jeden Versuch desselben, durch eigene Mittel (z.B. das sogenannte „Enquêterecht“) sich Fachkenntnisse von den Interessen zu verschaffen: ein schlecht informiertes und daher machtloses Parlament ist der Bürokratie naturgemäß willkommener—soweit jene Unwissenheit irgendwie mit ihren eigenen Interessen verträglich ist.
Every bureaucracy strives to increase the superiority of its position by keeping its knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always seeks to evade the light of the public as best it can, because in so doing it shields its knowledge and conduct from criticism… The pure interest of a bureaucracy in power, however, stretches far beyond those areas where purely professional interests might justify the demand for secrecy. The concept of the “official secret” is the specific invention of bureaucracy, and nothing is so fanatically defended by the bureaucracy as this attitude, which cannot really be justified beyond these specifically qualified areas. In facing a legislature, the bureaucracy, motivated by a pure lust for power, will battle every attempt of the legislature to gain information by means of its own experts or from interest groups. The so-called power of legislative oversight is but one means by which a legislature can seek such information. But bureaucracy inherently welcomes a poorly informed and hence a powerless legislature—at least in so far as ignorance somehow coincides with a bureaucracy’s own interests.
–Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, ch ix, pt 2, pp. 730-31 (1918) (S.H. transl.)
The struggle of the forces of bureaucracy to maintain their precious secrets is a steady element of the Washington political environment, as it indeed figures in the political life of all modern democratic states. But today this struggle has taken center stage. Guarding their secrets is essential to the nation’s security, the guardians of the state tell us. Expose them, and we’ll all be at risk. This argument has its historical antecedents, of course, and none more powerful than the experience of Germany in the years up to and during the Great War. Germany’s nascent democratic institutions were strangled by a national security bureaucracy that steadily assumed dictatorial powers in the country. But Max Weber, the brilliant student of these developments, showed clearly that beyond the narrow confines of legitimate state secrets–involving diplomatic and military tactical matters–secrecy played an altogether destructive role. More often than not, secrecy was invoked to protect bureaucrats from disclosure of facts that would embarrass them by demonstrating that they had acted foolishly, corruptly, or even criminally. Secrecy effectively subverted the democratic process, avoided the checks of democratic institutions and the exposure and correction of mistakes. Consequently it was evident that the German national security state’s obsession with secrecy actually undermined the security of the state and contributed to a failed war effort, and ultimately to the state’s collapse and demise. There is a role for secrecy in government, Weber acknowledges, but more often than not the claim of “official secrets” cloaks a raw struggle for power and authority between the institutions of a democracy. Too much secrecy means the triumph of the bureaucratic state, and is the death knell for democracy. And in America today, the pendulum has swung dangerously in favor of unsustainable claims of secrecy.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”