Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State

Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State

Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State

Beyond Camelot: Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State


This book argues that many of the basic concepts that we use to describe and analyze our governmental system are out of date. Developed in large part during the Middle Ages, they fail to confront the administrative character of modern government.

These concepts, which include power, discretion, democracy, legitimacy, law, rights, and property, bear the indelible imprint of this bygone era's attitudes, and Arthurian fantasies, about governance. As a result, they fail to provide us with the tools we need to understand, critique, and improve the government we actually possess.

Beyond Camelot explains the causes and character of this failure, and then proposes a new conceptual framework, drawn from management science and engineering, which describes our administrative government more accurately, and identifies its weaknesses instead of merely bemoaning its modernity.

This book's proposed framework envisions government as a network of connected units that are authorized by superior units and that supervise subordinate ones. Instead of using inherited, emotion-laden concepts like democracy and legitimacy to describe the relationship between these units and private citizens, it directs attention to the particular interactions between these units and the citizenry, and to the mechanisms by which government obtains its citizens' compliance. Instead of speaking about law and legal rights, it proposes that we address the way that the modern state formulates policy and secures its implementation. Instead of perpetuating outdated ideas that we no longer really believe about the sanctity of private property, it suggests that we focus on the way that resources are allocated in order to establish markets as our means of regulation. Highly readable, Beyond Camelot offers an insightful and provocative discussion of how we must transform our understanding of government to keep pace with the transformation that government itself has undergone.


Over the course of the last two centuries, we have developed a new mode of governance—the administrative state—and it makes us feel miserable. We rail at the bloated bulk and dreary pragmatism of our public institutions. We condemn the uninspired, cumbersome rigidity that, despite such pragmatism, makes those institutions ineffective. We yearn for times that were not only simpler but more joyous and more integrated, when our individual experience was directly connected to the collectivity and we inhabited a political world that was suffused with moral values. This set of attitudes can be described as social nostalgia.

Social nostalgia pervades both our political and our popular culture. Citizens complain that government has become too large, too bureaucratic, too remote. Politicians, even when they are incumbents, regularly campaign against the prevailing administration, promising to restore the virtues of some prior period, to bring the government “closer to the people,” or to “return to normalcy.” in the movies, anyone with an ordinary administrative role—an office supervisor, university dean, or government official—is either an actual villain or, at the very least, an impediment to justice and good sense. How often have we seen our hero, a police officer, for example, slam his badge down on the captain’s desk and say, “I’ve had it with your rules; now I’m going to take care of things myself.” Indeed, the romance of life outside the administrative state rivals sex and violence as the dominant theme in contemporary cinema. the Wild West, the Middle Ages, the urban ghetto, outer space, and Earth after a nuclear or environmental holocaust all serve as settings where heroism and adventure flourish in the absence of bureaucracy. One might imagine that the planetary and interplanetary regimes in Star Wars would require a good deal more administrative resources than the small segments of our own planet that constitute contemporary nation-states, yet planets are ruled by queens and princesses, the evil intergalactic empire is controlled by Darth Vader’s personal commands, and political conflicts are resolved by individual combat between opposing leaders.

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