The Founders Never Wanted An Unaccountable Deep State

The Founders Never Wanted An Unaccountable Deep State

As Fukuyama waxes eloquent about the role of the deep state in protecting democracy from who knows what, we are well-advised to question whether he has sufficiently taken into account the essence of human nature and the dangers it can pose when expansive power is unchecked.

 

And, if Jackson was so blasé about corruption, as Fukuyama suggests, why did he issue a stern warning to his protege, James Polk, when the newly elected Polk indicated presidential plans to name Robert Walker of Mississippi as his Treasury secretary? Noting rumors of unsavory land speculations on the part of Walker, the former president warned, “There never was a greater fraud attempted & committed than in those claims and when properly investigated will throw shame & disgrace upon all concerned.”

Based on Fukuyama’s Journal essay, he seems incapable of comprehending a reality of humanity that Jackson understood all too well—power corrupts. That reality shaped Jackson’s political philosophy and rendered him a populist and a warrior against concentrated and entrenched power of the kind seen today in the administrative and deep state. 

 

Fukuyama enters dangerous territory when he hails the need for public servants “whose primary loyalty is not to the political boss who appointed them but to the Constitution and to a higher sense of the public interest.” Here Fukuyama is calling for an independent power center within the executive branch that can challenge the power of the presidency itself. Not only did the Founders never conceive of such a thing, but neither did the so-called reformers cited by Fukuyama—Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson—who championed the creation of the Civil Service system.

And who’s to say when this deep state, so “crucial to fighting corruption and upholding the rule of law,” as Fukuyama puts it, has gone astray and upended the delicate balance of powers that the Founders sought to establish among the three main branches of the federal government? What is the redress when the independent power center undermines the president and his constitutional prerogatives in the name of its very own “higher sense of the national interest?” At least the president and his party are accountable to the voters every four years, and the electorate can clip their wings further at midterm election time. In extreme cases, there is the impeachment option. But who will rein in an errant bureaucracy running free based on its own self-interested perception of its great civic rectitude?

The glaring gap in Francis Fukuyama’s thinking is an inability to understand or even perceive the ongoing challenge of human nature, the one and only constant in history and politics. Back in 1989, when he was musing about the ultimate triumph of Western-style liberal democracy as a final world phenomenon, just a fleeting look at the force of human nature, along with a cursory survey of world history, would have told him that such a prediction was utterly ridiculous. And today, as Fukuyama waxes eloquent about the role of the deep state in protecting democracy from who knows what, we are well-advised to question whether he has sufficiently taken into account the essence of human nature and the dangers it can pose when expansive power is unchecked. Perhaps, in pondering Fukuyama’s latest commentary, we should place greater stock in the superior wisdom of the “poorly educated” Andrew Jackson.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C., journalist and publishing executive, is the author most recently of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century (Simon & Schuster).

Image: Reuters.