A scholarly look at Government

Discussion in 'Politics' started by onecut39, Jul 19, 2010.

  1. onecut39

    onecut39 VIP Member

    Dec 3, 2008
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    [SIZE="6"]A scholarly look at government. Rarely seen on these pages.

    The question is whether or how a country can protect itself from protective stupidity in policy-making, which in turn raises the question whether it is possible to educate for government. Plato's scheme, which included breeding as well as educating, was never tried. A conspicuous attempt by another culture, the training of the mandarins of China for administrative function, produced no very superior result. The mandarins had to pass through years of study and apprenticeship and weeding out by a series of stiff examinations, but the successful ones did not prove immune to corruption and incompetence. In the end they petered out in decadence and ineffectiveness.

    Another such scheme used aliens. The Turkish Janissaries were the better-known military arm of a larger bodythe Kapi Kullari, or Slave Institutionwhich filled every civil post from palace cook to Grand Vizier. Made up of Christian children taken from their parents and brought up and exhaustively trained by the Ottoman Turks for official functions in what may have been the most complete educational system ever devised, they were legally slaves of the Sultan, converted to Islam, forbidden to have families or own property. Free of these distractions, it was supposed they would be able to devote themselves singlemindedly to the state and its sovereign, on whom they were entirely dependent for pay and the necessities of life. The Sultan thus acquired a body not only of first-class administrators, but of strong supporters of his ab-solutism. Although the system worked to excellent effect, it did not save the Ottoman Empire from slow degeneration; nor, in the end, could the system save itself. In the course of time, the military branch gained growing power, defied the marriage ban and assumed hereditary rights, perpetuated themselves as a permanent and dominant clan, and eventually, in inevitable challenge to the ruler, attempted to seize power in overt revolt. They were slaughtered and destroyed, bringing down the rest of the Slave Institution with them, while the Grand Turk dwindled into dotage.

    In 17th-century Europe, after the devastation of the Thirty Years' War, Prussia, when it was still Brandenburg, determined to create a strong state by means of a disciplined army and a trained civil service. Applicants for the civil positions, drawn from commoners in order to offset the nobles' control of the military, had to complete a course of study covering political theory, law and legal philosophy, economics, history, penology and statutes. Only after passing through various stages of examination and probationary terms of office did they receive definitive appointments and tenure and opportunity for advancement. The higher civil service was a separate branch, not open to promotion from the middle and lower levels.
    The Prussian system proved so effective that the state was able to survive both military defeat by Napoleon in 1807 and the revolutionary surge of 1848. But by then it had begun to congeal, like the mandarins, losing many of its most progressive citizens in emigration to America. Prussian energies, however, succeeded in 1871 in uniting the German states in an empire under Prussian hegemony. Its very success contained the seed of ruin, for it nourished the arrogance and power-hunger that from 1914 through 1918 was to bring it down.

    Political shock moved the English to give attention to the problem. Neither the loss of America nor the storm waves of the French Revolution shook their system of government, but in the mid-i9th century, when the rumble from below was growing louder, the revolutions of 1848 on the Continent had effect. Instead of taking refuge in reactionary panic, as might have been expected, the au-thorities, with commendable enterprise, ordered an investigation of their own government practices, which were then virtually the private preserve of the propertied class. The result was a report on the need for a permanent civil service to be based on training and specialized skills and designed to provide continuity and maintenance of the long dew as against transient issues and political passions. Though strongly resisted, the system was adopted in 1870. It has produced distinguished civil servants, but also Burgess, MacLean, Philby and Blunt. The his-tory of British government in the last hundred years suggests that factors other than the quality of its civil service determine a country's fate.

    In the United States, the civil service was established chiefly as a barrier to patronage and the pork-barrel, rather than in search of excellence. By 1937, a presidential commission, finding the system in-adequate, was urging the development of a "real career service . . . requiring personnel of the highest order, competent, highly trained, loyal, skilled in their duties by reason of long experience, and assured of continuity." After much effort and some progress, that goal is still not reached, but even if it had been, it would not affect elected officials and high appointmentsthat is, government at the top.

    In America, where the electoral process is drowning in commercial techniques of fund-raising and image-making, we may have completed a circle back to a selection process as unconcerned with qualifications as that which made Darius King of Persia. When he and six fellow conspirators, as recorded by Herodotus, overthrew the reigning despot, they discussed what kind of governmentwhether a monarchy of one or an oligarchy of the wisest menthey should establish. Darius argued that they should keep to the rule of one and obtain the best govern-ment by choosing "the very best man in the whole state." Being per-suaded, the group agreed to ride out together next morning and he whose horse was the first to neigh at sunrise should be King. By ruse of a clever groom who tethered a favorite mare at the critical spot, Darius' horse performed on time and his fortunate master, thus singled out as the best man for the job, ascended the throne.

    Factors other than random selection subdue the influence of the "thinking fire" on public affairs. For the chief of state under modern conditions, a limiting factor is too many subjects and problems in too many areas of government to allow solid understanding of any of them, and too little time to think between fifteen-minute appointments and thirty-page briefs. This leaves the field open to protective stupidity. Meanwhile bureaucracy, safely repeating today what it did yesterday, rolls on as ineluctably as some vast computer, which, once penetrated by error, duplicates it forever.

    Above all, lure of office, known in our country as Potomac fever, stultifies a better performance of government. The bureaucrat dreams of promotion, higher officials want to extend their reach, legislators and the chief of state want re-election; and the guiding principle in these pursuits is to please as many and offend as few as possible. In-telligent government would require that the persons entrusted with high office should formulate and execute policy according to their best judgment, the best knowledge available and a judicious estimate of the lesser evil. But re-election is on their minds, and that becomes the criterion.

    Aware of the controlling power of ambition, corruption and emo-tion, it may be that in the search for wiser government we should look for the test of character first. And the test should be moral courage. Montaigne adds, "Resolution and valor, not that which is sharpened by ambition but that which wisdom and reason may implant in a well-ordered soul." The Lilliputians in choosing persons for public employ-ment had similar criteria. "They have more regard for good morals than for great abilities," reported Gulliver, "for, since government is necessary to mankind, they believe . . . that Providence never intended to make management of publick affairs a mystery, to be comprehended only by a few persons of sublime genius, of which there are seldom three born in an age. They suppose truth, justice, temperance and the like to be in every man's power: the practice of which virtues, assisted by experience and a good intention, would qualify any man for service of his country, except where a course of study is required."

    While such virtues may in truth be in every man's power, they have less chance in our system than money and ruthless ambition to prevail at the ballot box. The problem may be not so much a matter of educating officials for government as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character and to reject the ersatz. Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society. If John Adams was right, and government is "little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago," we can-not reasonably expect much improvement. We can only muddle on as we have done in those same three or four thousand years, through patches of brilliance and decline, great endeavor and shadow.

    ..Barbara W. Tuchman.

  2. Oddball

    Oddball Diamond Member Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2009
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    Drinking wine, eating cheese, catching rays
    Care to edit this and link to the source, lest it go by-bye?

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