What lies beneath government

Gordon Peake and Miranda Forsyth in Aeon:

We live in Canberra and Washington, DC, two stately capital cities that embody all the trappings and the ethos of the bureaucratic state. With their monuments, statues and symmetrical lines, the architects of both cities dreamt them as manifestations of the rational administrations that would work there. Imposing government buildings are the dominant architectural feature of both places, rising like redwood plantation trees in a planned forest. Irrespective of the decade or the party in charge, policies and plans that emerge from these buildings have the hallmarks of a planned forest, too: ordered, consistent and ostensibly guided by clear rules.

In terms of their scale, size and administrative grandeur, Canberra and Washington, DC are as different as can be from another city where we have both spent time: little Buka Town, the tumbledown, sun-scorched capital of Bougainville, presently an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea (and possibly soon the world’s newest country, after a 2019 referendum on independence, in which 97.7 per cent of the population voted in favour). In Buka, there is no capacious national repository to store administrative documents: the Bougainville government’s archives are a rusty-red shipping container into which papers get chucked periodically.

Ironically, though, it was in Buka that we found ourselves constantly bumping into the ghost of Max Weber, considered the father of bureaucracy (although he himself might bristle at that designation).

More here.