Thoughts, Opinions, and Theories on the Deep State as Nature and Convention
A Definition of the Deep State that Considers its Actual Meaning and Trumpian Meaning From a Realist and Philosophical Standpoint
Although the term Deep State is as complex as what it describes, being a single term with many (sometimes dark and “deep”) implications, in simple terms:
Below we describe the many ways to understand this complex term, first let’s start with
For reading, see: Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State and Anatomy of a Deep State. It’ll help explain the different aspects of the Deep State and how in a democracy like America it isn’t one thing, but many.
Deep State as a Neutral Term
Although the term Deep State can be used in context to imply a certain subsection of the ingrained establishment (“the liberals,” “the secularists,” “the conservatives,” “the globalists,” those who support “X” leader), Deep State is a neutral term at its heart. It simply describes all ingrained members of the state who rule from behind the scenes and help to get the government moving through different administrations and help to secure “National Interests.”
It doesn’t describe a good or bad thing, it just describes an inventible feature of any government that survives more than one administration, an ingrained establishment that isn’t subject to regular popular elections.
James Bond’s MI-6 is a Deep State entity, so is the KGB, sometimes autocrats need to get rid of the Deep State to ensure despotic power, sometimes the Deep State needs to ensure the National Interest / Common Good / General Will (these terms are synonymous in their true form; it is the difference between justice and true justice) against despots.
Sometimes a political body functions like a healthy body, with the Deep State, Media, and other organs-of-the-state acting as a sort of immune system, and none of this really needs to be discussed.
Sometimes things get wacky and this sort of conversation becomes more relevant.
In all cases, the topic opens the door to describing some really interesting political concepts.
TIP: Some might think of the Deep State as only having a single interest, but any political body is going to be comprised of differing interests (at worst a Frankenstein’s monster of different interests, at best a unified political body focused on altruistic national interest… although, as I’ll note clearly below, not everyone agrees on “what the national interest is.”)
Examples of the Deep State and The “Purging” of Deep States
Before we get into the philosophy of Deep States, let’s start with two examples of Deep States, 1. Turkey, and 2. the U.S. (as both speak to how the term is used today).
- In Turkey, Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”) wanted to create a somewhat liberal and secular state, and he did from 1923 to 1938. After his death he put the military in charge of ruling the state in his vision, and it was ruled that way until modern times (with many revolts and stories to tell, but they aren’t the story here). In modern times, the more conservative Erdoğan began to take power and, in an effort to change Turkey, “purged” the Deep State left behind by Atatürk. Here Erdoğan “purged” the engrained establishment that governed from behind closed doors. It would have been near impossible for Erdoğan to make sweeping change without changing the old guard, because the “Deep State” in this instance was largely loyal to the National Interests of a different era.
- In the United States, members of military, other executive agencies like the FBI, and Congress don’t have the same term limits Presidents do. This creates a sort of Deep State that consists of liberal, conservative, and many other interests, appointed in different liberal and conservative eras, who help run the show out of the public eye. When a new President comes in, and they often fire some of this old guard and replace them with those who will further their agenda (this is the Democratic version of “purging the Deep State;” Clinton fired Sessions, Trump fired Comey, these aren’t the same situations, but they are PC examples of the democratic version of this).
As you can see, neither the Deep State nor the replacing of its positions is inherently wrong, but there are countless ways for this to go wrong (both for the new administration and for the current state). This is especially true under an authoritarian who wants to make sweeping change and under a deeply ingrained state with differing interests.
Now with the above said, you’ll notice I use the term Purge (that is because the oustings are not always nice and very often include the jailing and murdering of political figures, intellectuals, citizens, and journalists).
Speaking loosely, we can say: NAZIs “purged” the Deep State on the Night of the Long Knives and that the Jacobins of the French Revolution purged the Deep State in their Reign of Terror. Oliver Cromwell, he also purged the Deep State, and when the State was retaken it was purged again. Lenin, Stalin, Caesar… if we use the term loosely, we can see that both creating a Deep State and purging it are common threads of history.
Lastly, before moving on, you’ll also note that above I specified that both liberal, conservative, and other interests comprise the Deep State, this too is on purpose.
After-all, any Deep State built over time will include a number of different interests. In modern times we can always consider those interests to be very generally: liberal, conservative, and/or economic (and different flavors of these).
In the best light the interest of the Deep State is the interest of a wise and seasoned senator, “purely the national interest despite their personal partisan interest,” but of course… in any country, there is often not a consensus on national interest, nor is the direction of any state constant.
If this seems complex…. it is probably because we are discussing a complex aspect of states and “shadow governments” (a term that describes those who rule “from the shadows” so a corporation that lobbies, a celeb who influences, a member of the Deep State, or anyone with power who we can’t see influencing us directly).
The Deep State and the Body Politic
With some basics covered, let’s consider this from a more philosophical angle.
Consider, the “body politic” (a political body) consists of all the members of a nation. Those sovereign people, necessarily in large nations, delegate power to official and unofficial political bodies (government). This political body has heads (leaders), limbs (branches), and organs (agencies).
The purpose of all parts of the body are the same as the purpose of a normal physical body, to rule in-line with the common good AKA the General Will (so in-line with “national interests” AKA the Common Good of the State; power is delegated by the people, not taken by Kings or given by Gods, thus the interest of any part of the body can’t diverge from the interest of the body as a whole).
It wouldn’t make sense for a healthy body’s arm to cut off its nose, and likewise it doesn’t make much sense for a political body to war with itself. However, the body is constantly fighting off outside influence and working with other parts of the body, and thus the general metaphor works.
A government of a political body is formed from those who have short term positions and longterm positions, and from those who are elected and known to the public, and those who are hired or appointed and often unknown. Here elections are important, because they allow the citizens to “check the state” and that “creates balance”, but with the Deep State (which is a term that describes the ingrained establishment of many organs) direct elections are not ideal because these positions demand that they be picked on merit and not popular consensus (they should be an aristocratic meritocracy and moral-ethical technocracy).
The “Deep State” then is the collective coordinated and uncoordinated interests, of those who are generally unknown and often appointed or hired, who have longterm positions in the different organs of government (mostly, some are actors outside of government) based on merit (ideally, as we all known birth, networks, and money are all common “corrupting” factors).
Overtime, this political body whose interests are not purely party interests or corporate interests (ideally), but are the interests of the national interest (ideally), forms, by its nature, what we can call a “state-within-a-state”.
To the extent this state-within-a-state has a doctrine which is just, fair, reason-based, ethical, and in-line with the National Interest / Common Good, it is good!
In fact, this can be very good and create a sort of ethical and neutral focus on matters not subject to political whims, that can focus 365 days a year without worrying about outside social forces.
A healthy political “organ” preforms vital functions for the political body no matter the ruling party (preforming the same function for a left-left party, as a far-right, as a center left, as a center right, as a single voter issue party, etc).
However, basic reason and logic will show you the sticking point. That this can be problematic if that Deep State is corrupted and, for whatever reason (the reason is almost always money).
When the will of an organ is not in-line with the General Will, it is akin to cancer in a physical body. No organ is worse off being effected than a deep ingrained organ like the Deep State, as its members can’t just be unelected by popular vote.
Luckily, the Deep State, in a just nation, should have a natural immune system. A just state should produce just citizens, and although rank, title, and power is delegated in a political body, all people of free states are born first and foremost citizens. So, the Civil Religion of a just state, paired with the fact that old-timers and new-timers work side-by-side gaining their longevity over time, these factors of seniority and virtues of honor and duty and love of country, should be enough to ensure that even when a J. Edgar Hoover goes too far in his old age, the organ endures past a few bad actors.
When Party Interests Are Not Aligned With the Deep State
And that brings us to the dark conspiracy minded meaning behind Deep State, the one used by the autocrats of any nation who seek to control government fully, charges that this Deep State is working against their interest.
However, while this isn’t impossible that a Deep Body would work against a virtuous leader, the idea that the Deep State, people, and leader can have conflicting wills is theoretically wrong.
There is only one General Will, and thus there is only one National Interest. Since there is only one National Interest, than the Deep State and Party-in-power must have the same Will, and that will must be the same as the Will of the people. If those wills diverge, then one of the entities is incorrect.
This is complex, but it suggests an answer in its complexity. It suggests that citizens, parties, and deep states are all natural advents of a political body. Thus, it suggests that when wills diverge there is need, not for purging, but for Democracy in some form, for the application of reason in an effort to confirm the General Will so the organs, limbs, and body can realign itself (“a democratic immune system”).
In a democracy, all powers are meant to be checked and balanced, even complex powers that grow in the shadows, and even the powers of popular leaders who are lifted up to great heights by the people.
The Deep State as a Political Class
In the old French the Estates of the Realm, the Deep Church State checked the Second Aristocratic Estate, and the People checked both. In the modern west, the same basic political dynamic can, will, and must occur, because it is the nature of a political body.
Call these things organs, limbs, bodies, realm, or visible and invisible governments moved by visible and invisible hands, that is just semantics to describe real sociopolitical systems in-action as they seem to arise in common throughout nations and ages (inside and outside of government by the way, consider the wealthiest citizens who try to influence public opinion are part of a “Deep Civil State” and the influencers among the plebs are then the influencers of the “Deep Culture”; there are many natural forces that work for the public interest and specific interests, despots know this instinctually and use fear to oppress them).
The problem is: When the party in power wants to purge the Deep State for reasons not in line with the General Will, or when the Deep State wants to control the party in power, for reasons not in line with the General Will, we start down a slippery slope.
This is Madison’s factions, Bernays’ is Invisible Government, Smith’s invisible hand, Rousseau’s General Will, the French Estates, the Spanish fifth column, and the Leninist idea of political organs all happing at once.
Would be much more interesting to discuss if it weren’t getting pointed at for political and conspiratorial reasons.
A Summary of the Above: The Interests and Organs of the Body Politics
So, we can boil this all down to: There is only one national interest, but many official and unofficial political organs with the power of influence within the main body which may arise naturally, one of these is the official Deep State, where Deep State specifically describes a state-within-a-state that forms naturally as longterm position are held in what we in American consider mostly “executive” institutions. With that in mind, in general with any group of influencers, there tends to be way less coordination and consensus than one might imagine, and rather most are driven by invisible social forces (AKA self interest and shared interest).
One would expect the Deep State to be upholding national interests in-line with the General Will due to their rank and longevity, and thus would expect that those attacking “the Deep State” are simply trying to replace the old timers with those who will seek their political interest rather than the National Interest, but to think that is always the case would be naive. That is why we must employ reason, democracy, and other liberal and enlightened principles to complex situations and not move toward despotism via any “organ” based on whims, fancies, emotions, and special interests.
The Deep State as an “Invisible and Shadow Government”
(which Should be Understood as Both a Governing Force that is Generally Unknown to the Public, Shadow, and Collective Self Interest and not Conspiracy, Invisible; like Smith’s “Invisible Hand” Paired With the Idea that Many who Influence Our Daily Lives do so Indirectly and are Unknown to Us)
Below we discussed the Deep State as a part of the body politic, as a part of the class system, and touched on its conspiratorial meaning. Below we’ll discuss it as a naturally occurring sociopolitical force.
In these terms:
The “Deep State” isn’t purely the known government that we elected and who are subjected to public elections and term limits, it is [using the terms very loosely] a sort of “shadow government” that acts as an “invisible government” by way of visible and invisible hands consisting of some who we elected, those who the elected appoint, and those who were hired by the elected and appointed.
More broadly, the term Deep State describes the official and non-official entities that propel forward national interests inside and outside the state, but whose faces aren’t known to the average person and whose careers aren’t at the whim of a popular vote. Those who help shape the direction and acts of the government from behind the scene.
It is a official and unofficial coordinated and uncoordianted “shadow / invisible government”, where we mean it more like Edward Bernays, not as a scary conspiracy-minded thing, but as a natural advent of society where people act in their own interest (like Smith’s invisible hand; the shared self interest that drives social systems), and in this case, that interest is the general interest of the state and the actors are appointed and hired figures (mostly unknown to the public) in positions of influence (with, one would expect, reigned in powers in-line with the letter of the law in most cases; as unlike other shadow and invisible interest groups, this one is an official group with official duty).
It is like how everyone at Apple touts Apple, is interested in Apple, and will defend Apple even if they don’t agree on the next product launch. It is like how at Apple some groups with shared interest in specific direction and with influence in the company will directly or indirectly coordinate to influence things and take minor actions, but it is not a well organized secret conspiracy that fully agrees and coordinates, nor is this body of actors fully known to the public.
This is to say terms like “shadow government” and “invisible hand” don’t imply actual vast conspiracy, but rather describe the shared intentions of members within a group. In this case those shared intentions are, in a mundane sense, “national interests and not party interests”… the problem here, and the darker implication of the term, is however, “that parts of the Deep State have political interest which is not the same as the interest of the Party in power”.
Darkness aside, the Deep State is (by another definition) simply:
“A hybrid association of elements of government [all branches, but especially the executive branch] and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern a Nation without reference to the direct consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.”
That aspect of the concept is mundane if not benevolent in some ways.
The Deep State as a Naturally Arising Aristocracy
It is a sort of naturally arising aristocracy which helps to ensure longterm stability and a focus on true National values (in our case liberalism, republicanism, democracy, capitalism and the other planks of our core ideology; instead of party politics which may be further left or right) over the course of decades (instead of everything changing completely with every new leader it creates stability and checks and balances; preventing power from consolidating under a popular leader or party).
Sure, we can see a bunch of sticking points arising (everything from rouge elements to political witch hunts and power grabs), but those aside, there is a certain wisdom from having an old timer from the Reagan administration in office while Obama was getting his sea-legs. It creates a sort of balanced government over time and allows for the influence of major industries (which, like it or not, like a Union head, are major elements of a democratic, individualist, and capitalist nation).
But here we just hit at the heart. This big and deep machine that spans decades by its nature limits the ability of elected officials to make sweeping changes and power grabs. The machine has its own set of interests that don’t change just because the people voted for a Revolution.
The Deep State as a Political Machine
Here I’m calling it a machine because that is a good term for it, it is a naturally arising political machine, be we talking about state politics or party politics. These machines, being naturally occurring, like a “shadow government” who shapes tastes and opinions, or an “invisible hand” that moves markets, can, must, and should be expected to arise in all governments that aren’t fear-based despotic totalitarian governments.
Mussolini knew this, and that is why he created a totalitarian fascist regime, it was with this and only with this that he could ensure the state moved in lock-step direction toward his Nationalism. WWII got bloody for many reasons, but a big part of it was simply the removal of bi-partisan interests from the Deep State and what I call “Deep Culture”.
FDR barely made it past the DNC in the Primary, that ingrained political machine of the American left-wing is strong (just like the right-wing machine), and we can imagine that the “shadow and real machine” behind the scenes that both parties answer to indirectly is even stronger (and less concerned with left-right politics; although everyone is human and thus has their own tastes and biases).
That Deep State machine (here describing the invisible hand and loose coordination of many self-interested groups and individuals) isn’t going to take kindly to say: replacing Democracy with an Authoritarian government, or depending on the Nation, even replacing an Authoritarian government with Democracy.
So, in the U.S., we can say, although there are some sticking points, the “Deep State” is probably a good thing on the whole. It is a bit like eating our vegetables, not as good a dessert, but functional.
America is a global superpower, we have iPhones and chips and a minivan, why not protect that way of life? I mean at least Tweet our support or hit a like button.
Well if only things were that simple.
The Dark Aspects of the Term Deep State
The problem is that the definition of the term I gave above, is that those definitions are not widely accepted and the term has been politicized from its inception and it has some political implications. As you may have noticed I’ve been dancing around its darker, fascist, and authoritarian implications of the term Deep State that we introduced a bit above with “authoritarians” and “purges.”
In trying times, like when Lincoln took office, Deep State can be translated to “a new perceived-authoritarian in power surrounded by their political opposition”. This creates creates an environment of fear and mistrust (Lincoln had good reason not to trust, was arguably doing the moral thing, but still, the concept of purging really never looks all that good on paper, even when ol’ Abe does it”).
Again; Erdoğan as an Example
This is to say, “Deep State” as a term can be used politically by authoritarians and as propaganda. This is the way it was used to describe the Deep state in Turkey in the 1990’s when the term was coined; And where some accuse Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of purging [fire, jail, and/or kill] the Deep State (both in government and in culture; so bureaucrats, and intellectuals, and teachers, and newscasters, etc; anyone who didn’t want totalitarianism) and saying:
I don’t agree with those who say the deep state does not exist. It does exist. It has always has—and it did not start with the Republic; it dates back to Ottoman times. It’s simply a tradition. It must be minimized, and if possible even annihilated.
And annihilate it he did, Erdoğan ‘Purge’ the Deep State ‘Saboteurs, no different from the WWII statist Communists and Fascists really. He accused the more liberal Turks of a coup d’état attempt and proceeded to pure the state in 2016 (and he had already done the same thing before).
Today in America Obama is being accused a coup d’état, and Sean Hannity (of all people) has suggested “Trump must purge deep-state bureaucrats now”. This might sound smart to paranoid minds who dislike Obama, progressives, and neoliberals, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t sound to me more like a line from Mussolini’s fascist Republican playbook. You see, if it is not that Obama is planning a coup, and rather that the other political side is assuming this in paranoia, it threatens democracy, liberalism, and capitalism (via authoritative protectionist doctrine).
Remembering that America Has a Duty to American Values; Enlightened Liberal Values of Democrats and Republicans in the Classical Sense
In other words, it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong, if we react based on fear and create a policy of fear, then we have embraced the virtue of despotism and we risk creating a despotic state (as if by an invisible hand).
Of course, we have to ask, “who is this evil little birdie whispering in the ears of would-be authoritarians?” Is it fear and human nature, is there a coordinated plot, or is it another nation with interests that are not our own? We can’t know the answers to these conspiratorial theories, but we do know what democracy, liberalism, capitalism, and Americanism look like, and we do know what technology we need to safeguard them. One technology is a separation of powers and Bill of Rights liberalism, and we cannot turn from our values in a paranoid attempt to stop a coup.
If we turn from the values, we start down a slippery slope, one where the nature of our values commands the invisible hand shadow government to act, not out of spite but duty. You can’t break a law in front of a police officer and expect no reaction, they are bound by duty, and you can’t turn a democracy into a totalitarian government in front of the Deep State, they are compelled to act by duty. Thus, there is a big slippery slope here.
But luckily, we don’t have coups in America, we have elections every 2-4 years. Not because it is pretty, but because our Founders knew that people come in two types, and that these two natural left-right types could not disagree more politically, but could use their reason to agree on a smart center.
The American way is not a way that pleases authoritarians, and that makes it even more pleasurable to find success in.
John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu: Influencing the Founding Fathers. We either heed the words of Locke and Montesquieu or we abandon our values, we can’t have it both ways. In a liberal nation, there is no room for undemocratical despots and tyrants, theirs is the ideology of fear and power, ours is liberty and equality tempered by classically conservative limited authority and order for citizens and, when more authority and power need to be granted, in otherwise separate powers.
The Deep State, it is Ordered and Not Revolutionary By its Nature
Of course “Deep State” isn’t just an American thing, it is a thing of each nation, it is global thing.
It describes the ingrained state and it makes it hard to have a full revolution in a Democratically-minded Republic.
It in some ways, if we consider a global Deep State, describes why Fascism and Communism keep failing globally (the collective self interest to avoid extremes).
If you want a Revolution, the Deep State makes it hard, doesn’t matter if you are left or right. Of course, the problem is.
BIG PROBLEM: If a Despot fills the Deep State with cronies, or corporations do, etc then the General Interest / National Interest is not in line with the interest of the Deep State. If the Deep State is corrupted, then the body is sick by its nature. Despotism is a sick form of government. The will of the head, limbs, and organs cannot diverge from the General Will and the General Will is a synonym for the term National Interest. A despot can’t declare the National Interest, a specific special interest is always a specific special interest even if the Queen says it isn’t and uses the term “we”.
The Concept of “Deep Culture”
Now, lets expand this concept to the Deep Culture.
The Deep Culture might include teachers, news people, intellectuals, media personalities, etc.
If one wants a Revolution, they have to not only undo the Deep State, they need to undo the Deep Culture.
The Deep State as a Justification for Political Purges; The Very Dark Side of the Term
The problem is, if the Revolutionary wants a left-wing Revolution, then Deep State becomes code for “all right-wingers” in government and the nation, and if one wants a right-wing Revolution, then Deep State becomes code for “left-wingers”.
Here the term is being used politically as code for “pure the political opposition” so we can create an authoritarian government.
But we didn’t like Hitler and Stalin did we? We didn’t need a global Deep State to tell us that, we knew this as liberal republicans and Democrats, that western liberalism was better than despotism.
The problem with “purging” all the left-wingers from a nation is generally the same problem with purging the right-wingers, the left and right are naturally occurring and most free people stand against despotism and tyranny.
Of course there is a Deep State in every state that allows officials to stay in office or people of influence to stay in power. It is, as Madison would note, an advent of liberty.
Term limits are one thing, but purges are another. In the modern day, we should be careful to distinguish between the concept of Deep State and the Concept of Purging Political Opposition from Government like it was Germany 1933 or Russia 1918.
The Rise of Mussolini and the Fascists. If you want sweeping change like Mussolini did, the ingrained establishment, liberalism, democracy, and individualism are not your friends. You must use Machiavellian criminal virtue to take the state if you want an authoritarian government, and that means you need to implant your own Deep State and Deep Culture.
FACT: During the Night of the Long Knives the NAZIs purged the political opposition. Then tens of millions of dead later America arose a super power after defending liberalism and Americanism across the globe. You can imagine why the Guardians of America don’t take too kindly to people pushing Fascism or Communism over Americanism. The Deep State isn’t a person or people, it is an idea. You can “sing power to the people and not the establishment”, and that is respectable, but you can’t destroy ideas, and you can’t change American values. One must come to the center to meet American values from a moderate position, as is the purpose of the structure of the American Republic.
June 30th, 1934: ‘The Night Of The Long Knives’.
TIP: Obama used the term Deep State in his farewell speech referring to those on the left-and-right who would protect our Nation’s values, meanwhile the Trump administration has used the term as a sort of “political dog whistle” to signal that they plan to purge Government of left-wingers (like what they did with the DOJ). These two usages have gotten confused here in early 2017. The Deep State should, from a perspective of political science, not be seen as a political bias but as an national asset. If the Deep State is not on your side, you may want to consider your platform before a purge. It could be natural human reaction to radical policies more than political motivation. Even to the degree it is political motivation, national interests are different than left-right political interests, we have a diverse 320 million to consider, not just a 60 million who voted one way or another.
Obama Farewell Speech FULL Event | ABC News. Obama explains the Deep State, but he didn’t mean “liberals ingrained in government” he meant Republicans and Democrats who support American interests and values and will protect American from Tyranny and Despotism. The idea this is being twisted is a pretty disturbing red flag.
- State within a state
- Deep state in the United States
- Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State
- Anatomy of a Deep State
- The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government
- Trump must purge deep-state bureaucrats now
- Deep state in the United States
- Spicer doesn’t reject concept of ‘Deep State’
- Trump Abruptly Orders 46 Obama-Era Prosecutors to Resign