This essay is an exploration of the modern bureaucratic state in the United States of America; in large this essay is polemical.  The bureaucratic state in the U.S. has become a behemoth so large and so immersive into the lives of every individual under its umbrella, which is now a global leviathan – with a military might unmatched in all human history, that it is nearly endless in its influence and scope.  Thus, the process of administering the bureaucratic state is a hegemonic process.  Unless one in civil society transcends their role as a serf, then that member of civil society is chained to the will of the state and its ruling oppressors.  Certainly, it is true that the bureaucratic state cannot exist without a working civil society, but almost just as true is that a civil society could function quite regularly without a massive bureaucratic state.  Milton Friedman hints at the dangers of a powerful state in Capitalism and Freedom, “The power to do good is also the power to do harm; those who control the power today may not tomorrow; and, more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm[1].”  Looking specifically at examples of how the bureaucratic state does harm to civil society, we can formulate a working idea of the importance of a minimal state to maximize the freedom of the modern individual.  When considering the idea of limiting the state’s scope over our lives, which at the moment of writing this seems practically endless, we must ask ourselves “what is harm?”  As Friedman outlines, this is difficult to answer – harm as a definition is in flux.  However, a sound argument can be made that harm is such that it is an avoidable use of force against an unwilling or unknowing individual.  To demonstrate that a bureaucratic state is necessary in avoiding harm, said state should be able to demonstrate that rational people have a good reason to be bound to it, and demonstrate that those individuals who are not convinced are still morally bound to obey it regardless of their personally decisions.  The burden of proof on the bureaucratic state should be justifiably high if individuals are going to be asked to sacrifice their personal freedoms for the exclusivity of state membership.  Robert Nozick argues that that state should only override the rights of individuals when it can prove that doing so will “avoid catastrophic moral horror[2].”  Thus, the bureaucratic state should be forced to overcome a reasonably high burden of proof to justify its countless tendrils of influence within our lives.

The government of the United States of America was conceived as having a tripartite pact, formed through the sharing of powers between Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.  James Madison famously wrote, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite[3].”  The founders of the U.S. and writers of the Constitution had what Madison described as a skepticism for “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority… the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.  Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[4].”  This form of radical republicanism was intended to share power widely within civil society[5], which itself belongs to a tripartite pact of local, state, and federal, control the powerful through a system of checks and balances put in place to clearly define the state and its role within our lives, and breathe life into the idea of a powerful individual working in tandem with a limited government.  The U.S. Constitution, thus, acts both as a limit on state power and a legal document which prescribes the limits of individuals within a shared society.  No one individual or body of individuals, minority or majority, can claim “full freedom” within the constitutional republic.  We are collectively limited by Lockean tacit consent, to be governed and subject to the laws of the land.  However, at what point do those laws become too overbearing and cumbersome[6]?

In arguing for federal sovereignty, The Federalist Papers provides perhaps the greatest insights into the psyche of the men responsible for the formation of our constitutional republic.  In their 85 essays, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton outlined their founding vision.  Who better to provide us insight into the U.S. nation-state than the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and the fourth President of the United States of America?  According to John Jay, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers[7].”  This creates an interesting conflict within the narrative of power within radical republicanism.  While it is true, as Madison argued, the majority can and sometimes does invade the rights of individuals within civil society, Jay argues that this is necessary for government to wield the appropriate power to function.  Madison expands on this point by Jay, “WE HAVE seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the Old World, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments, and of which alarming symptoms have been betrayed by our own[8].”  Thus, the philosophy is set to give extended and far-reaching powers to a federal bureaucracy, the intent of which is to ensure that our commerce is protected, our defenses are bolstered against foreign threats, peace is maintained domestically, and liberties are protected.  It is clear, at least in the minds of Madison, Jay, and Hamilton, that only a federal bureaucracy is capable of such a task.

However, the modern U.S. state is not the Hamiltonian state.  It is not a state that is under the constant threat of foreign invaders; and if it is that threat is maintained not by the populace of the state but by its governing authority.  The modern U.S. state is not one in which the constant threat of economic subversion by powerful industrialists and predatory corporations can go unchecked by oppressed middle and lower classes (technology has given us the tools to combat this and communicate between ourselves when necessary).  While Hamilton argued, “… there must be interwoven, in the frame of the government, a general power of taxation, in one shape or another[9],” (emphasis added) that power has extended far beyond the scope of “general.”  “One shape or another” in the modern sense has become total immersion into every faction of our day-to-day lives.  The near unlimited powers of the state have become so outlandish in their administrative capacity, so far from the original intent of the nation’s founders, that the state itself, the bureaucratic measures the state forces upon its populace, and the implementation of the state’s laws, have become hegemonic in practice.  These practices are not limited simply to federal governments, as the federal powers have grown so to have state and local powers.  There is a constant competition between varying levels of government for complete control over civil society.

To illustrate the hegemonic prowess of the state we must investigate how the state spends our money (taxes), enforces labor laws (our work), and punishes us when we disobey their administrative processes.  New York City serves as one of the most important illustrations of the hegemonic nature of the bureaucratic processes.  In Brooklyn a city councilman, David Greenfield, successfully completed seven years of lobbying the Mayor’s Office to complete a 400-square foot bathroom in Gravesend Park.  It took city planners the full seven years and $2 million dollars to complete the project[10].  According to New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, $2 million dollars is a great deal.  The current estimate for “comfort stations” in the city is $3 million dollars, the excuse for the expense is that they are “built to last[11]” and “New York City is the most expensive place to build.”  This, however, is simply the excuse that bureaucrats spin when they are caught in their web of deception.  No reasonable person should take Silver at his word about the cost to build (seven full years aside) in relatively little used Gravesend Park.  Bryant park, which is significantly larger and receives far more visitors being in the heart of Manhattan, recently underwent a full renovation of its bathroom facilities.  The total cost of the renovation was $280,000, “… it will have sleek Toto toilets and fixtures, wall tiles in warm, earthy shades to reflect the trees outside and a modern air-conditioning system for the dog days of summer.  The attendants, fresh flowers and seat covers will all return.  And for the first time, original artwork depicting Bryan Park will be displayed, selected from the park’s collection of 225 works by painters-in-residence[12].”  Gravesend Park’s restroom do not have air conditioning, seat covers, bathroom attendants, or artwork by in-resident-artists.  Gravesend Park is managed by the NYC Parks Commission… Bryant Park is privately managed by the Bryant Park Corporation, a private not-for-profit.

The Gravesend Park/Bryan Park duality is simply one example, and on the micro-level, of how the powers of the bureaucratic state can and often do take advantage of the near limitless coffers of collective taxation.  When the government is in a position to plan and implement a project, something even as simple as building a bathroom, they are paying above-average-prices, usually as much as the contractor can get away with charging, a contractor who is often not competing with other contractors because of “who he knows” in the government, and they are receiving below-average-service (the contractor is aware that they can simply increase the cost of their bid should the government contract not meet the necessary requirements of the project).

On the federal level this happens regularly.  When the Health Care Exchange first opened following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (which itself is something that could be discussed at length) the website was inoperable.  Originally the website was supposed to cost over $400 million dollars to complete[13], it ended up costing at its original completion over $800 million, and Bloomberg discovered that contracts related to the website ended up costing our civil society more than $2 billion[14].  The ACA website is one example, another is Washington, D.C.’s Visitor Center far exceeding the original estimates of lawmakers.  When the project started the estimated building expenses were $265 million, it ended up costing taxpayers more than double that at $621 million[15].  In another embarrassment for federal lawmakers, a VA hospital in Aurora, Colorado was awarded a budget of $590 million for construction in 2010.  Current estimates have the final cost of construction at $1.8 billion by the middle of 2018, “multiple investigations concluded the costs got out of hand because the VA did not oversee the project closely enough, did not assign enough officials to it, approved lavish design elements, failed to get the designers and builders to agree on the design and tried to use a complicated form of construction contract that agency executives did not fully understand[16].”

Labor practices instituted by the bureaucratic state are another form of hegemony, the simple act of asking for permission to do a job which individuals can agree to be mutually beneficial.  While arguments can be made, some of which I support, that there are certain professions which require the watchful eye of the state (doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc.), there are many examples of the state simply intruding upon the individual.  Why does there need to be a massive bureaucracy dedicated to regulating travel agencies, private contractors, beauticians, moving companies, cleaning services, waitstaff, Uber or Lyft drivers, lawn care providers, babysitters, educators, valets, handymen, interior designers, wholesalers, or retail arbitrage specialists?  The state takes its edict to protect the citizenry to unnecessary and burdensome places when it decides that it is the sole provider of permission to do “specialized” jobs.  Not only that, the state provides this “service” for a fee (tax).  Individuals are required to pay for licensing and pay for education to pass the exams (which they must pay to take) for that licensing.  The state’s reach into both the pockets and the personal buying decisions of consenting individuals is nearly without end.

Consider the report from the Institute for Justice, Barriers to Braiding[17].  The practice of African hair braiding is 100% natural in most cases, it does not require scissors, heat, chemicals, or any sort of formal specialized training.  In most instances hair braiding is a technique passed between mother and daughter.  Yet 16 states require under threat of force (a fine or incarceration) that hair braiders go through lengthy and time-consuming cosmetology training programs.  In each of these states it takes between 1,000 and 2,100 hours and many thousands of dollars to complete a legally certified cosmetology program.  These programs require students to learn how to cut hair and use chemicals to justify their cosmetology monopoly; hair braiders must learn skills completely unrelated to the practice of braiding hair (and in many cases hair braiding is not taught in cosmetology schools).  Taking this scheme even further, the District of Columbia and 14 other states require a specific hair braiding license in addition to the necessary cosmetology license.  Iowa provides the perfect case study for this dramatic use of the bureaucratic state.  In 2016 Iowa threatened two black women with up to a $10,000 fine and one year in prison for practicing hair braiding without a cosmetology license.  According to Aicheria Bell, the oldest of 12 siblings, “when you’re trying to feed your kid and yourself, you take that risk [braiding without a license].  It was scary; you never know if somebody reported you.  I remember everyday watching people coming into the salon and wondering if they were with the cosmetology board[18].”  For Bell, a poor black worker with a large family, the cost of going to cosmetology school in her area, $22,000, and the 2,100 hours required, was simply too much of a burden.  The Institute for Justice was able convince Governor Terry Branstand, under threat of a lengthy and expensive lawsuit, to exempt hair braiders from Iowa’s cosmetology licensing requirement, but this does not solve the problem of predatory occupational licensing practices for other professions.  It took the Wildcat Moving Company, LLC over two years of expensive legal battles in order to operate their business in the Lexington, Kentucky area[19].  The owner of the moving company, Raleigh Brauner, attempted to legally obtain a state certificate to operate his business in Lexington, only to have his application blocked by another moving company (a competitor), Many states have “certificate of necessity” laws which enable other businesses to veto licensing for potential competition.  In Kentucky no company since 2007 had received a certificate after having its application blocked by another moving company.  According to the judge in Brauner’s case, “instead, companies have offered to sell existing permits for $25,000.”  While on the surface this would appear to be merely a form of crony capitalism, and indeed it is, “certificate of necessity” laws would be impossible without the long arm of the bureaucratic state.

Considering the previous examples provided, it is important to analyze the hegemony of the bureaucratic state through a theoretic lens.  Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe offer what they describe as a “socialist answer in a politico-discursive universe[20]” on the question of analyzing hegemony.  While their text is a critique of various strands of orthodox Marxism, it provides a significant foundation on which to build an understanding of hegemony and to begin the process of questioning the social democratic left’s response to issues of hegemony within the structure of the bureaucratic state.  If political issues, such as government inefficiency in building bathrooms and the corrupt scheme of occupational licensing, are class issues, then all social antagonisms might be able to be explained and rooted within a prevailing understanding of hegemony through the socialist lens.  However, Laclau and Mouffe root their text and understanding of hegemony in a critique of capitalism.  They even attack thinkers who might support some of their conclusions as being capitalist apologist (perhaps they are, but not necessarily a bad thing), and choose to focus instead on their version of the Democratic Left.  Choosing to ignore free market solutions to labor problems, which classical liberals often espouse, in favor of Leninist-revolutionary-daydreaming, also ignores the will of a corrupt bureaucratic state.  They state: “Faced with attempts to tackle the crisis of an essentialist monism through a proliferation of dualisms – free-will/determinism; science/ethics; individual/collectivity; causality/teleology – the theory of hegemony will ground its response on a displacement of the terrain which made possible the monist/dualist alternative[21].”  This appears to make the study of a socialist or capitalist society nearly impossible, obfuscating the material world in a debate on the possible existence of a dualist approach to all things and grounding the discourse of hegemony in this exploration.

Hegemony by necessity and definition requires the collective of a society to exist.  Without civil society’s obedience and sub-ordinance, the hegemon, the bureaucratic state in this example, cannot sustain itself.  Laclau and Mouffe, however, link the hegemon directly to capitalism and attack the chief intellectual defenders of the free-market economy.  The author’s critique of F.A Hayek outlines, “According to him, the threshold of collectivism is passed at the moment in which the law, instead of being a means of controlling the administration, is utilized by it in order to attribute new powers to itself, and to facilitate the expansion of the bureaucracy[22].”  The authors outline here that the law might be a means of controlling an administration, they assert an assumption that civil society is the law or comprises of its enforcement.  However, in our modern context nothing could be further from the truth.  The bureaucratic state is the ultimate enforcer of the law, maker of the law, and punisher of the law violators.  The authors go on to outline Hayek’s negative conception of liberty, framing him as a neo-liberal (as opposed to classical liberal), juxtaposed to their positive conception of liberty – rooted in conceptions of social and redistributive justice.  This is done through references to “poverty, lack of education, and great disparities in the conditions of life” being “offences against liberty[23].”  The authors argue that thinkers such as Hayek have contributed to a “clearly hegemonic character[24]” and even a “new ‘definition of reality’” which can legitimize inequalities and restore hierarchical relations.

Laclau and Mouffe present as a solution the hegemonic influence the assertion that one “cannot renounce liberal-democratic ideology, but on the contrary, deepen and expand it in the direction of a radical and plural democracy[25].”  To accomplish this the working class must have a “democratic equivalence” which requires the construction of a “new common sense” in order to modify the identities of resisting groups of radical new left politics[26].  The practicality of convincing so many people to formulate a “new common sense” through a socialist political lens is impossible.  Beyond that, individuals do not exist solely inside one political or economic collective.  Specifically, in the American context, Laclau and Mouffe overestimate the appeal of a socialist revolution.  Even the “Democratic Socialist” of the Bernie Sanders movement should be described, at best, fair weather acolytes of their own doctrine.

Perhaps a just as radical approach to the problem of the hegemonic policies of the bureaucratic state is an approach inspired by the likes of F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick.  Nozick provides the foundation for a minimal state in Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  Nozick outlines, “… a monopoly on deciding who may use force when; it says that only it may decide who may use force and under what conditions; it reserves to itself the sole right to pass on the legitimacy and permissibility of any use of force within its boundaries; furthermore, it claims the right to punish all those who violate its claimed monopoly[27].  Nozick makes the claim that the state, and for my uses specifically I will claim the bureaucratic state, is the sole source of who, what, when, where, why, and how force may be applied legitimately to individuals within the state.  In fact, the bureaucratic state’s monopoly on force is so powerful that it can implement itself on unwilling individuals, such as hair braiders and moving company owners, subverting their liberty whenever and wherever the state deems it necessary to its own survival and operation.  The state also empowers privileged individuals within its intricate gargantuan blob of bureaucratic networks to arbitrarily punish those who may attempt to act outside of its coercive influence.

At the heart of the state’s monopoly on force is what Hayek criticizes in much of The Road to Serfdom, the planned society.  The bureaucratic state is that, a society planned to the minutia.  Hayek writes, “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another.  But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy.  And an authority directing the whole economic system would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable[28].”  This is directly at odds with the sort of Keynesian economics policy which pervades modernity.  Keynes argued for a “wisely managed” form of capitalism summed as follows, “These reasons and this atmosphere are the explanations, we know it or not – and most of us in these degenerate days are largely ignorant in the matter – why we feel such a strong bias in favor of laissez-faire, and why state action to regulate the value of money, or the course of investment, or the population, provokes such passionate suspicions in many upright breasts[29].”  The literal road to serfdom, from which Hayek borrows his title, is in centralized economic planning – the bureaucratization of the economic policies of the state which Keynes argued so passionately for in The end of laissez-faire.  The continued move in the direction of centralized control limits our individual freedom.  Where Laclau and Mouffe would have us shackle ourselves to an even large government, admittedly comprised of ‘the people’, such a government in the modernity of the United States of America doesn’t seem capable of existing.  The military industrial complex and the U.S. police force are far too armed, our politicians far too powerful, our democratic processes far too slow, to allow such a radical solution as an increased plurality of democracy to be successful.  However, an embrace of more economic freedom, the type of freedom which might prevent the bureaucratic state from monopolizing the occupational licensing industry, could perhaps create an environment of enhanced political freedom.

In concluding my thoughts on the plight of the bureaucratic state it is important to quote from the oft maligned Capitalism and Freedom, “There is still a tendency to regard any existing government intervention as desirable, to attribute all evils to the market, and to evaluate new proposals for government control in their ideal form, as they might work if run by able, disinterested men free from the pressure of special interest groups[30].”  This is the world in which Laclau and Mouffe might design for us in combating hegemony, one in which the intention of the policy proposed would be judged instead or in preference to the result of the policy.  One in which all men and women who help to design and enact a policy for good do so completely free of corruption.  However, no modern state functions in such a way without a high degree of economic freedom for its civil society.  It is necessary to base an individual’s freedom on their ability to live absent the use of force (as much as conceivably possible).  Milton Friedman writes, “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want.  Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself[31].”  Friedman outlines specifically the problem with centralized control of not only the economy, but of the forms of control the state assumes over the freedom of the individual (and almost always under the guise of protecting the collective).  Foucault outlines for us ways in which the state “gently” punishes violators of its rules; the bureaucratic state creates an environment in which punishment seems natural, committing crimes against the bureaucracy seems unnatural, and punishment, or being locked in a cage for an arbitrary length of time (perhaps paying a fine), serves as a transformative exercise for the offenders[32].  Prisons become the source of our social re-engineering, the “schemata[33]” for transforming rebellious individuals from freedom loving surfs into quiet and obedient slaves of the bureaucracy.  Criminal justice reform becomes an important campaign tool, private for-profit prisons become an important source of political dollars for powerful hegemonies, economic freedom is hindered even more by requiring felons to “check a box” on an application, and millions lose their ability to exercise their political freedom through the lost “privilege” of voting.  Both Friedman and Foucault shape a world in which our freedoms are commodities which are traded within the confines of the white marble walls of our federal, state, and local political throne rooms.  However, if we wish to seek the deviance that makes life pleasurable, a la Foucault, perhaps it’s also worthy to seek the economic freedom which allows living life free of undue state interventionism possible, a la Friedman.  Often the two opposing political dynamics of conservative and radical left are at odds with each other.  I believe, however, that a blend of the two is necessary to realize the good life.  A socially tolerant society which entrusts its state with a fiscally responsible makeup, full of the economic freedom we require to reach our potential political freedom, should be the ideal.


“Barriers to Braiding.” Institute for Justice. Accessed December 20, 2017.   

Calder, Rich. “Councilm an can’t believe city spent $2M on this tiny park bathroom.” NewYork Post. July 06, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.            park-bathroom/.

“Capitol Visitor Center opens after delay.” November 10, 2008. Accessed December 20, 2017. destination_travel/t/capitol-visitor-center-opens-after-delay/#.WjqGLUqnFPY

“Donald Trump says that ‘$5 billion website for Obamacare… never worked. Still doesn’t work’.” Politifact. Accessed December 20, 2017.          obamacare-neve/

Elliott, Dan. “Ex-VA chief says he wasn’t told about Colorado hospital’s ballooning costs.” The Denver Post. June 15, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage, 2012.

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and freedom. University of Chicago press, 2009.

Green, Adrienne. “Braiding Without a License.” The Atlantic. August 02, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison, The federalist papers. The Floating          Press, 2011.

Hayek, Friedrich August. The road to serfdom: Text and documents: The definitive edition.           Vol. 2. Routledge, 2014.

Hu, Winnine. “A Public Restroom Fit for Brooke Astor Gets an Upgrade.” The New York    Times. April 05, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Keynes, John Maynard. “The end of laissez-faire” (1926). Accessed December 20, 2017.

Kocher, Greg. “Federal judge rules in favor of Wildcat Moving in its battle to overturn ‘anti-competitive’ state law.” Accessed December 20, 2017.

Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. Verso, 2001.

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, state, and utopia. Basic books, 2013.

“Obamacare Website Costs Exceed $2 Billion, Study Finds.” Bloomberg. September 24,       2014. Accessed December 20, 2017.  09-24/obamacare-website-costs-exceed-2-billion-study-finds

Stossel, John. “NYC Government Spends $2 Million on a Park Bathroom.” July 26, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.   

[1] Milton Friedman, Capitalism and freedom, (University of Chicago press, 2009.), p. 3.

[2] Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, (New York, NY; Basic Books, 2013), p. 30.

[3] Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison, The federalist papers, (The Floating Press, 2011), p. 431.

[4] Ibid., 100.

[5] The author fully admits that this shared power was originally conceived as being available to white male landowners.  Blacks, women, poor whites, other minorities outside the traditional scope of power were completely excluded.  However, the constitution, ultimately, was the legal tool used to usurp at least some of that power from the oppressors (eventually).  In the contexts of this paper, however, some assumptions will be made about the availability of power within civil society juxtaposed to the threat and role of the state in subverting it.

[6] A question this essay will seek to answer in detail.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Ibid., 125.

[9] Ibid., 277.











[20] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, (Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. Verso, 2001), p. 14.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 171.

[23] Ibid., 172.

[24] Ibid., 176.

[25] Ibid., 176.

[26] Ibid., 183.

[27] Nozick, Anarchy, p. 15.

[28] Friedrich August Hayek, (The road to serfdom: Text and documents: The definitive edition. Vol. 2. Routledge, 2014), p. 127.


[30] Friedman, Capitalism, p. 197.

[31] Ibid., 15.

[32] Michel Foucault, (Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage, 2012.), p. 104-114.

[33] Ibid., 136.