But they overshoot the mark in saying there is no such thing as the Deep State in America. Their belief arises from the erroneous notion that such constructs must be conscious conspiracies, and that they must be sinister.
The Deep State is not a conspiracy: it is the evolution of social organizations according to chance, necessity, bureaucratic regimen, and a large dose of what psychologist Irving L. Janis called “groupthink.” At its most benign, it is simply continuity in government: aviation safety inspectors staying on the job regardless of who is president, public health officials working to keep Ebola out of the country without the need for a directive from the Oval Office, and our own trusting that the cut of Porterhouse we buy will have been government inspected regardless of whether the current fashion in Washington is to get government off our backs.
But when organizations gain outsized shares of power, money, and influence, as the Pentagon is widely recognized to have done, they begin to set their own agendas, and representative government cannot always rein them in. As President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address almost six decades ago, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Eisenhower’s description of the military-industrial complex, along with its associated intelligence complex, has, in some circles, become synonymous with the American Deep State, but the concept is far more diffuse and elusive than that.…
The preferred pose of these people is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise. But in reality they are deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican. Domestically, whatever they might privately believe about essentially diversionary social issues such as abortion or gay marriage, they almost invariably believe in the “Washington Consensus”—financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation, and the commodification of labor. Internationally, they espouse 21st-century American exceptionalism: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground.
Combined with what Max Weber called “the iron cage of bureaucracy,” this attitude results in a cliquish, we-know-best mentality, as Elizabeth Warren vividly describedher 2009 meeting with Larry Summers, then director of the National Economic Council:
Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People—powerful people—listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.….
Yes, There Is a Deep State—But Not the Right Wing’s Caricature