Friday, May 06, 2005

American Technical Modernity

This statement from Paul Rabinow's French Modern struck me:
There is a consensus among historians that the period of 1940-1945 constitutes a chrysalis of the present French state ... The contrast between Vichy's ruralist, traditionalist propaganda and its introduction of a technical vision and institutions to implement that vision should no longer seem paradoxical.
Rabinow does not suggest that contemporary French government is a rebranding of Vichy. Instead, every political party, every regime expanded on the ability of the state to engineer social conditions. The technical state developed on its own, in spite of political ideology, since the mid-nineteenth century.

France was not alone when it chose professionalism over democracy. Geoff Ely and David Blackbourn argued that German anti-democracy was peculiar only in its success, and that Britain pursued similar goals.

Could the same statement apply to contemporary America? The F-word (fascism) has been used casually to describe the Bush administration. The administration has expanded on its ability to collected information about citizens and residents. The Patriot Act's provisions to check into library and bookstore records is only one example of how the state can intrude on personal privacy.

So far, attention has been paid only to how this information will be used. Those on the left suspect that the information will be used to monitor patriotism and opposition. Recently I was asked about the collection of information on students and universities. I replied that I had no problem with the government taking information on me so long as my name was dissociated therefrom. Later I realized that it was a meaningless caveat.

What will happen when the administration changes parties: will democrats really dismantle the American technical state? Rabinow's statements may apply to America. The informational capacities of the state will grow, regardless of whether information will be used to shape social policy or security strategies.


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