"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.


Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:20 pm

by John Ralston Saul
© 1992 by John Ralston Saul




For Maurice Strong who taught me that a sensible relationship between ideas and action is possible


Ecartons ces romans qu'on appelle systemes; Et pour nous elever descendons dans nous-memes. -- Voltaire

Table of Contents:

o 1. In Which the Narrator Positions Himself
o 2. The Theology of Power
o 3. The Rise of Reason
o 4. The Rational Courtesan
o 5. Voltaire's Children
o 6. The Flowering of Armaments
o 7. The Question of Killing
o 8. Learning How to Organize Death
o 9. Persistent Continuity at the Heart of Power
o 10. In the Service-of the Greater Self
o 11. Three Short Excursions into the Unreasonable
o 12. The Art of the Secret
o 13. The Secretive Knight
o 14. Of Princes and Heroes
o 15. The Hero and the Politics of Immortality
o 16. The Hijacking of Capitalism
o 17. The Miracle of the Loaves
• PART III: SURVIVING IN FANTASY LAND -- The Individual in the World of Reason
o 18. Images of Immortality or The Victory of Idolatry
o 19. Life in a Box - Specialization and the Individual
o 20. The Stars
o 21. The Faithful Witness
o 22. The Virtue of Doubt
• Notes
• Acknowledgments
• Index
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:21 pm

PART 1: Argument

Reason is a narrow system
swollen into an ideology

With time and power it has
become a dogma, devoid of
direction and disguised as
disinterested inquiry.

Like most religions, reason
presents itself as the solution
to the problems it has created.

1. In Which the Narrator Positions Himself

In moments of great passion, the mind tends to be flooded with a warm vision of the person in our arms. We are unlikely, at that point, to be analyzing their flaws, real or hypothetical. Even less likely if lying in darkness. As for the possible product of our intercourse, only the most peculiar lover would be fretting, while in the act, over whether such a child might or might not be an appropriate and worthy creation.

Voltaire and the other thinkers of the eighteenth century could be criticized, with the facility of hindsight, for the passion with which they embraced reason. But they lived in societies still ruled by the demeaning vagaries of court life. All of them had been thrown in jail or risked it simply for expressing their opinions. In most countries justice still used torture as an official method of interrogation and the condemned faced a variety of brutal punishments; being broken on the wheel, for example. This and other tools of arbitrary power constituted a social form of darkness. The philosophers of Europe, England arid America threw themselves into the arms of reason, convinced that birth would be given to new rational elites capable of building a new civilization. This love affair was fertile to the point of being miraculous and society was subsequently reformed for the better beyond what any of these thinkers had imagined.

And yet the exercise of power, without the moderating influence of any ethical structure, rapidly became the religion of these new elites. And their reforms included an unparalleled and permanent institutionalization of state violence. This was accompanied by a growing struggle between democratic and rational methods, with the rational increasingly at an advantage.

Were Voltaire to reappear today, he would be outraged by the new structures, which somehow deformed the changes for which he struggled. As for his descendants -- our ruling elites -- he would deny all legal responsibility and set about fighting them, as he once fought the courtiers and priests of eighteenth-century Europe.

It is difficult now to reconstruct the impact that Voltaire had on his times. He was the single most famous individual of the eighteenth century. In spite of neither being a philosopher nor having an integrated philosophy, he set the Western agenda for much of the nineteenth century. His life was filled with contradictions. On the negative side, he was consumed by social and financial ambition. A product of the middle class, he wasted a good part of his life trying to win acceptance from the aristocracy and attempting to succeed as a courtier. The son of a provincial businessman, he made a fortune out of farming, manufacturing and the money market, but in the process was involved in endless ugly scandals and lawsuits. On the other hand, he was driven by an uncontrollable belief in social reform. And he alone of the eighteenth-century

Western writers knew how to carry that argument into the public place. Two unforeseen catastrophes forced him to favour the positive side of his character. In 1726 he was thirty- two years old and imprisoned in the Bastille for the second time. The authorities offered him freedom if he would go into exile. He went to England for two and a half years and was thus exposed to the country "where men think free and noble thoughts." In fact, he returned to France exaggerating the virtues of England as a way of encouraging change at home.

The most important part of his exile may have been the three months spent with Jonathan Swift in the house of Lord Peterborough. The pamphlets and novels he subsequently wrote were built upon the irony and ridicule which Swift had first perfected, but which Voltaire turned into unbeatable populist weapons." All styles," as he said, "are good, except the boring." His Philosophical Letters in 1733 was one of the first great blows against the established powers. His book The Century of Louis XIV was the beginning of modern historical method. He carried out exhaustive research and wrote not about a king, but about Society.

The second catastrophe came with his failure as a courtier, first at Versailles and then at the court of Frederick the Great. He was already the leading playwright in Europe and most-talked-about man. Then abruptly Voltaire was fleeing the Prussian court and welcome nowhere else. He settled at Ferney, an estate just inside France but for safety just across the Swiss border. There, far from capitals and courts, he was forced to rely on the written word.

Having failed to influence the monarchs and men of power to whom he had access, Voltaire turned towards the citizenry and became the leading defender of human rights and the most ingenious advocate of practical reforms. "Our dominant passion must be for the public weal" sums up the last two decades of his life. He inundated Europe with pamphlets, novels, poems, letters, all of them political.

Professional philosophers, now as then, criticized the absence of grand and integrated ideas in his writing. But grand, integrated ideas don't necessarily change societies. Voltaire concentrated on six basic freedoms -- of the person (no slavery), of speech and the press, of conscience, civil liberty, security of private property and the right to work. By addressing himself to the citizenry and not to the rulers and other thinkers, he invented modern public opinion. By successfully establishing the new "acceptable" vocabulary for all civilized men, he forced even those in power to fight on his terms. He was a one-man guerrilla army and, as he put it, "God is not on the side of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots." [1]

In the last year of his life, 1778, Voltaire came back to Paris in triumph. For months on end he was lionized, courted and cheered by all classes of the population. They seemed to be using the reappearance of the old man in the greatest city of Europe as an excuse to demonstrate that they had been converted to the idea of government by a new philosophical coalition of reason balanced with humanism. The arbitrary powers of church and state appeared suddenly quite fragile, in place only until some appropriate crisis brought change. In the meantime, Voltaire himself gave in to the pleasures of being adored. The adulation gradually wore him out and he died.

When the crisis came, it spread immediately throughout Europe. By 1800 all the negatives of the new methods were as obvious as their positives. Looking back on this disorder, our eyes tend to be drawn by the particular political battles of the day. But with the advantage of distance we can also see that the central assumption of Voltaire -- of his friends throughout Europe and of the English and the Americans -- had been wrong. Humanism was proving itself unable to balance reason. The two seemed, in fact, to be enemies.


A civilization unable to differentiate between illusion and reality is usually believed to be at the tail end of its existence. Our reality is dominated by elites who have spent much of the last two centuries, indeed of the last four, organizing society around answers and around structures designed to produce answers. These structures have fed upon expertise and that expertise upon complexity. The effect has been to render universal understanding as difficult as possible." What we cannot speak about," Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "we must pass over in silence." [2] The writer's most effective weapons against such silence have always been simplicity and common sense. But never have the custodians of the word been so cut off from the realities of power. Never, for that matter, have people so adept at manipulating the word held the levers of power. Western culture, as a result, has become less and less a critical reflection of its own society.

Ours is a civilization astonishing in the degree to which it seems to see and to know. Never before in history have there been such enormous elites carrying such burdens of knowledge. This success story dominates our lives. Elites quite naturally define as the most important and admired qualities for a citizen those on which they themselves have concentrated.

The possession, use and control of knowledge have become their central theme -- the theme song of their expertise. However, their power depends not on the effect with which they use that knowledge but on the effectiveness with which they control its use. Thus, among the illusions which have invested our civilization is an absolute belief that the solution to our problems must be a more determined application of rationally organized, expertise. The reality is that our problems are largely the product of that application. The illusion is that we have created the most sophisticated society in the history of man. The reality is that the division of knowledge into feudal fiefdoms of expertise has made general understanding and coordinated action not simply impossible but despised and distrusted.

When we look around at the influence and strength of money, of armies, of legal officials, or indeed at the ease with which writers are silenced through censorship, violence and imprisonment, it seems that the word is a fragile blossom. But one step back from this immediacy is enough to reveal the power of language. Nothing frightens those in authority so much as criticism. Whether democrats or dictators, they are unable to accept that criticism is the most constructive tool available to any society because it is the best way to prevent error. The weakness of rationally based power can be seen in the way it views criticism as an even more negative force than a medieval king might have done. After all, even the fool has been banished from the castles of modern power. What is it which so frightens these elites?

Language -- not money or force -- provides legitimacy. So long as military, political, religious or financial systems do not control language, the public's imagination can move about freely With its own ideas. Uncontrolled words are consistently more dangerous to established authority than armed forces. Even coercive laws of censorship are rarely effective for more than short periods in limited areas.

There is nothing particularly original about breaking down the intellectual, political, social and emotional walls behind which language has been imprisoned, freeing it, then watching while the poor thing is recaptured and locked up again. That process has been repeated endlessly throughout history. The wordsmiths who serve our imagination are always devoted to communication. Clarity is always their method. Universality is their aim. The wordsmiths who serve established power, on the other hand, are always devoted to obscurity. They castrate the public imagination by subjecting language to a complexity which renders it private. Elitism is always their aim. The undoubted sign of a society well under control or in decline is that language has ceased to be a means of communication and has become instead a shield for those who master it.

If reason is an idea and rational society an abstraction, then the whole age has turned and continues to turn upon language. Just as the unleashing of ideas and myths in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries cleared the way for endless changes in state and social structures. so the subsequent pinning down and splitting up of language into feudal states has now made it impossible for the citizen to participate seriously in society. The inviting humanist irony of the early days has given way to the off-putting rational cynicism and sloganeering of our time. And if there was something fatally flawed in those original changes -- a sort of grave misunderstanding at the heart of reason -- then that flaw must still be there, locked up inside the byzantine and inaccessible structures of our society.

The idea of universal understanding still survives in our memory. Stephane Mallarme, who was later echoed by T. S. Eliot. said that we should "purify the dialect of the tribe." What follows here is a mere purification rite; a stripping away of byzantine structures in search of our historical outline and our contemporary reality. This is not an attempt to realign ideas, merely a demonstration of their common sense alignment.

Here, in a few pages, four hundred years are rushed through without due process. Philosophical stop signs and one-way streets are more or less ignored. Here the principal fields of modern expertise are jumbled together as if they were one and not, as they present themselves, autonomous territories of self-contained power. And here. the proclaimed justifications of nations are obscured by the sameness of our modern elites, of our structures and of the form which power has taken in this, the dotage of the Age of Reason.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:23 pm


2. The Theology of Power

Some twenty years ago the democratic, industrialized, developed world began a false but ferocious internal struggle which was said to be between the Left and the Right. It was, in fact, the death rattle of the Age of Reason. The slogans assigned to the two camps in this imaginary battle were remarkably familiar. Words such as reform, socialist, social democrat and government intervention were pitted against capitalist, conservative, individualism and established values.

The struggle appears to have been set off by two successive, crises. First, the loss of the Vietnam War by the United States destroyed a whole set of assumptions based upon American infallibility and accepted until then by all of the democracies. These beliefs had been in place since 1945. Although few of the democracies had supported the American Vietnam effort, they followed the greatest nation in the world in most other matters. The U.S. defeat left them -- to say nothing of the United States itself -- milling about in confusion. As they turned, the second crisis struck, in the form of an international economic failure. That depression has now been With us twenty years.

We have, however, become so accustomed to our political and business leaders addressing themselves only to limited manifestations of this crisis and always in a positive way -- stimulating what they call a temporary recession or managing a Third World debt problem or waging a localized war against inflation or concentrating upon that portion of an economy which they have superficially stimulated to the point of explosion while the rest remains in profound decline - that we are never quite certain whether the depression is still with us or is on the point of disappearing. Nightly, it seems, we drop off to sleep with the vague expectation that all will be clear in the morning. Mysteriously, there is always a new explosion in the night and when we awake, the problem has been transformed into yet another limited manifestation.

This depression, of proportions as great if not greater than that of the 1930s, still engulfs us. None of our governments appear to have any idea of how to end it. How could they? The essence of rational leadership is control justified by expertise. To admit failure is to admit loss of control. Officially, therefore, we haven't had a depression since the 1930s. And since most experts -- the economists, for example -- are part of the system, instead of being commentators in any real, independent sense, they contribute to the denial of reality. In other words, there is a constant need in our civilization to prefer illusions over reality, a need to deny our perceptions.

Indeed, we haven't seen anything over the last twenty years which resembles the traditional profile of a depression. The reason is very simple. After the economic crisis of the 1930s, we created a multitude of control valves and safety nets in. order to avoid any future general collapse - strict banking regulations, for example, social security programs and in some places national health care systems. These valves and nets have been remarkably successful; in spite of the strains and the mismanagement of the last two decades. However, because the rational system prevents anyone who accepts legal responsibility from taking enough distance to get a general view, many of our governments, desperate and misguided, have begun dismantling those valves and nets as a theoretical solution to the general crisis.

Worse still, tinkering with these instruments has become a substitute for addressing the problem itself. Thus financial deregulation is used to simulate growth through paper speculation. When this produces inflation, controls are applied to the real economy, producing unemployment. When this job problem becomes so bad that it must be attacked, the result is the lowering of employment standards. When this unstable job creation leads to new inflation,. the result is high interest rates. And on around again, guided by the professional economists, who are in effect pursuing, step by step, an internal argument without any reference to historic reality. For example, in a single decade the idea of using .public debt as an economic tool has moved from the heroic to the villainous. In the same period private debt went in the opposite direction, from the villainous to the heroic. This was possible only because economists kept their noses as close to each specific argument as possible and thus avoided invoking any serious comparisons and any reference to the real lessons of the preceding period.

In general terms all this means that management methods are being mistaken for solutions and so, as if in some sophisticated game, the problem is pushed on with a long rational stick from point to point around the field. As a result we are perpetually either on the edge of a recession (never in it, let alone in a depression, whatever the indicators. say) or we are artificially flush and then manage to convince ourselves that we are flying high.

The accompanying political argument had been going on for a few years before it became clear that its vocabulary didn't apply to the problem. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, economic policies said to be of the Left in the United States, Canada, England and Germany led to the defeat of existing governments and to the election of new governments said to be of the Right. At the same time, identical policies in France, Spain, Australia and Italy were said to be of the Right and led to the replacement of their governments by those said to be of the Left.

This general confusion further clouded the public's linear memory. For example, the American Right has been in power for twenty of the last twenty-four years. One of its central themes is law and order. The argument is that the American Left - the liberals, whatever that word means - is incapable of maintaining law and order. And yet for twenty years the levels of armed robbery, violent crime and murder have continued annually to grow to record highs - records both for the United States and in comparison to other Western countries. Still, the American Right persists in thinking of itself, and is thought of by its opponents on the Left, as the voice of law and order.

Self-evident contradictions of this sort surround us. We talk endlessly of the individual and of individualism, for example, when any sensible glance at major issues indicates that we live in an era of great conformism. Our societies turn upon democratic principles, yet the quasi totality of our leading citizens refuse to take part in that process and, instead, leave the exercise of political power to those for whom they have contempt. Our business leaders hector us in the name of capitalism, when most of them are no more than corporate employees, isolated from personal risk. We are obsessed by competition, yet the largest item of international trade is armaments -- an artificial consumer good. We condemn arms dealers as immoral and sleazy figures, while ignoring the fact that our own senior civil servants and senior corporate leadership together are responsible for more than 90 percent of the arms traded. Never has there been such a sea of available information, and yet all organizations -- public and private -- work on the principle that information is secret unless specifically declared not to be. There is a conviction that governments have never been so strong and at the same time a sense that they are virtually powerless to effect change unless some superhuman effort is made. Or, to return to my first economic example, after a century of carefully building both self-respect among employees and job stability for them, our first reaction when faced by a depression is to move out of manufacturing into the service industries. We tell ourselves that the latter are the wave of the future -- computer software, sophisticated consulting -- when most of the jobs we actually create are at the low end of service -- waiting on tables, serving in shops, part-time, unprotected, without long-term prospects. In other words, much of the job creation of the 1980s represented a defeat for our theoretically balanced and stable societies.

We tend to blame this Western schizophrenia on national interests or on ideological conflicts. The official Left would put most of our problems down to uncontrolled self- interest. as if they still had a clear idea of how to harness self-interest for the general good. The official Right would shrug its shoulders manfully, that is to say cynically. as if to imply that reality is tough. But manful cynicism is probably a disguised form of confused helplessness. And none of these contradictions have anything to do with reality.

If anything, what all this tells us is that. while not blind, we see without being able to perceive the differences between illusion and reality. And so when one of these differences -- particularly the international variety, with all the accompanying mythological baggage -- appears to be resolved. there is general euphoria. which then gradually subsides without our schizophrenia being altered. This persistent displacement of responsibility causes us to lose track of the West's profound unity and. instead to swing violently between optimistic and pessimistic convictions of nationalism and internationalism.

It is true that at first glance the West seems to be nothing more than a vague chimera. What is anyone to make of seventeen-odd countries spread throughout three continents and divided by language, mythology and persistent tribal rivalries? It isn't even in a place which can accurately be called the West.

At second glance the binding ties between Europe, North America and Australasia can be seen in a series of fundamental shared experiences and convictions. From the Judeo-Christian imprint through the Reformation. the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the democratic and the revolutionary crises. the West was formed by a series of trials which turned into basic assumptions. And all these were themselves built upon our real and mythological assumptions about Greece and Rome. It is that West which is grouped beneath the sign of reason. Not the great and disordered empires of China and Russia. which have rolled through history upon a whole other series of experiences and assumptions. Not Japan. which is a case unto itself. Not what we call the Third World. which has been both a beneficiary and a victim of our assumptions. And it is that West which has become addicted to a particular set of illusions in order to avoid coming to terms with its own reality.


We are now more than four and a half centuries into an era which our obsession with progress and our servility to structure have caused us to name and rename a dozen times, as if this Hashing of theoretically fundamental concepts indicated real movement. The reality is that we have not moved beyond the basic ideas of the sixteenth century which, for want of any better description, should be called the concepts of reason. This Age of Reason will soon have been with us for 500 years. With each passing day more ideas, structures and beliefs are hung upon the fragile back of those few concepts.

And yet, even in their early days, they were not ideas of great breadth. What's more, from birth they were based upon an essential misunderstanding -- that reason constituted a moral weapon, when in fact it was nothing more than a disinterested administrative method. That fundamental error may explain reason's continuing force, because centuries of Western elites have been obliged to invent a moral direction where none existed.

Memory is always the enemy of structure. The latter flourishes upon method and is frustrated by content. Our need to deny the amorality of reason ensured that memory would be the first victim of the new structures. We must constantly remind ourselves, therefore, that the rational idea has run as the central force through almost five centuries of Western crises. It has provided the most basic assumptions and therefore created the most basic of divisions. Reason remains the sign of Western man's conscious self and therefore of his better self. Reason is still accepted as the light which leads the way across the treacherous ground of our baser instincts.

At first there was an easy conviction that all this was so -- a conviction made all the more easy by the moral baggage reason had been carrying for a thousand years. In varying ways, to varying degrees, the Greeks had identified reason (logos) as one of the key human characteristics -- the superior characteristic. Reason was virtue. Rational action led to the greatest good. Roman thinkers did nothing to undermine the conviction, nor did the Christian churches, which simply narrowed the meaning to justify their received truths. And when, in the sixteenth century, thinkers began to free us from this sterile Scholasticism, they turned for guidance back to Socrates, Aristotle and the Stoics in search of a freestanding, ethical approach.

The implication is that most people -- particularly the philosophers -- were more or less agreed on what actually constituted reason. This simply isn't so, There was and is no generally accepted, concrete definition. As so often with basic concepts, they slip away when you try to approach them. And the philosophers have kept themselves busy redefining as the centuries have gone by.

In truth the definitions didn't really matter, anymore than mine might. More to the point is what our civilization understands or senses or feels reason to be. What are our expectations? What is the mythology surrounding the word?

One thing is clear: despite successive redefinitions by philosophers, the popular understanding and expectations have remained virtually unchanged. This stability seems to withstand even the real effects of reason when it is applied; to withstand them so effectively, that it is difficult to imagine a more stubbornly optimistic concept, except perhaps that of life after death.

What's more, the renewed and intense concentration on the rational element which started in the seventeenth century had an unexpected effect. Reason began, abruptly, to separate itself front and to outdistance the other more or less recognized human characteristics -- spirit, appetite, faith and emotion, but also intuition, will and, most important, experience. This gradual encroachment on the foreground continues today. It has reached a degree of imbalance so extreme that the mythological importance of reason obscures all else and has driven the other elements into the marginal frontiers of doubtful respectability.

The practical effect of such a mesmerizing and prolonged solo has been to turn the last half millennium into the Age of Reason. We habitually divide this period up under a multitude of other headings: the Enlightenment, for example, Romanticism, Neo-Classicism, Neo- Realism, Symbolism, Aestheticism, Nihilism and Modernism, to name just a few. But the differences between these periods, like the difference between the school born of Bacon versus the school born of Descartes, all blend into one another when we stand back far enough to get a good look. And so Descartes's deductive, abstract arguments which prove their conclusions mathematically melt into Locke's empirical, mechanical approach which melts into Marx's determinism. In other words, since the 1620s, if not the 1530s, we seem to have merely been fiddling with details or rather, shifting from side to side to disguise from ourselves the fact that we have taken in that long period but one clear step -- away, that is, from the divine, revelation and absolute power of church and state.

That very real struggle against superstition and arbitrary power was won with the use of reason and of scepticism. And it has taken all this time for reason and logic on the one hand, and scepticism on the other, to seep into the roots of Western society. After all, there was still an absolute monarch in Germany 75 years ago and in France 120 years ago; universal suffrage is in general only 50 years old; the end of official Catholic anti-Semitism less than that; the largest landowner in England is still a duke; and American segregation, a tacit but legally organized form of slavery, began to die 40 years ago, although it now looks as if black poverty amounts to much the same thing.

It can, of course, easily be argued that reason still has not been absorbed into the roots of Western society. Large sections of the southern United States and of northern cities like New York and Washington, of southern Italy and of the Midlands in England and even of London, for example, have either never risen out of or have slipped back into a condition which more properly belongs to the Third World. But the evolution of whole civilizations is always full of contradictions which do not change the fundamental truths.

Our ideological bickering of the last hundred years has added extremely little to the central line we have been following. Instead, a series of grandiose and dark events -- religious bloodbaths in Europe, Napoleonic dictatorships and unlimited industrial competition, to name three -- overcame Western society and seemed to do so thanks to rational methods. The original easy conviction that reason was a moral force was gradually converted into a desperate, protective assumption. The twentieth century, which has seen the final victory of pure reason in power, has also seen unprecedented unleashings of violence and of power deformed. It is hard, for example, to avoid noticing that the murder of six million Jews was a perfectly rational act.

And yet our civilization has been constructed precisely in order to avoid such conclusions. We carefully -- rationally in fact -- assign blame for our crimes to the irrational impulse. In this way we merely shut our eyes to the central and fundamental misunderstanding: reason is no more than structure, And structure is most easily controlled by those who feel themselves to be free of the cumbersome weight represented by common sense and humanism. Structure suits best those whose talents lie in manipulation and who have a taste for power in its purer forms.

Thus the Age of Reason has turned out to be the Age of Structure; a time when, in the absence of purpose, the drive for power as a value in itself has become the principal indicator of social approval. And the winning of power has become the measure of social merit.

Knowledge, of course, was to be the guarantor of reason's moral force -- knowledge, an invincible weapon in the hands of the individual, a weapon which would ensure that society was built upon considered and sensible actions, But in a world turned upon power through structure, the disinterested consideration of knowledge simply couldn't hold and was rapidly transformed into our obsession with expertise. The old civilization of class was replaced by one of castes -- a highly sophisticated version of corporatism. Knowledge became the currency of power and as such was retained, This civilization of secretive experts was quite naturally obsessed not by the encouragement of understanding but by the providing of answers.

Our unquenchable thirst for answers has become one of the obvious characteristics of the West in the second half of the twentieth century. But what are answers when there is neither memory nor general understanding to give them meaning? This running together of the right answer with the search for truth is perhaps the most poignant sign of our confusion.

It is a curious sort of confusion. Organized and calm on the surface, our lives are lived in an atmosphere of nervous,' even frenetic agitation. Hordes of essential answers By about us and disappear, abruptly meaningless. Successive absolute solutions are provided for major public problems and then slip away without our consciously registering their failure. Neither the public and corporate authorities nor the experts are held responsible for their own actions in any sensible manner because the fracturing of memory and understanding has created a profound chaos in the individual's sense of what responsibility is.

This is part of the deadening of language which the reign of structure and abstract power has wrought. The central concepts upon which we operate were long ago severed from their roots and changed into formal rhetoric. They have no meaning. They are used wildly or administratively as masks. And the more our language becomes a tool for limiting general discourse, the more our desire for answers becomes frenzied.

Yet there is no great need for answers. Solutions are the cheapest commodity of our day. They are the medicine-show tonic of the rational elites; And the structures which produce them are largely responsible for the inner panic which seems endemic to modern man.


Of course, we try very hard to see this century in a more positive way; not so much more successful, as more dramatic. Meaningful. We see ourselves as victims of the disorder which inevitably follows upon the breakdown of religious and social order. In such a vacuum the collective Western consciousness couldn't help but splinter. It follows that the succession of great, all-encompassing ages -- Reason, Enlightenment, Romanticism -- had to end with an explosion. The resulting shards inevitably produced a confused age in which innumerable ideologies fought it out for control of our minds and our bodies.

And, so the tale has it, Fascism, Nazism, Communism, Marxism. Socialism, Democracy and Capitalism, among others, began to manoeuvre their intellectual, military and economic armies around the West. Indeed, around the globe. By midcentury, Fascism and Nazism had been destroyed, thanks to a temporary alliance among the others. Now Communism and Marxism may be on the point of being eliminated in their turn. Capitalism and Democracy, with some Socialist tinges, reign almost supreme after a century of confused general battle. It has been the second Hundred Years' War.

Unfortunately, like the first, this one has been relatively meaningless. A wasteful and superficial diversion. For example, in realpolitik terms, the Century ends much as it began. Japan is still dominant and rising in the East, Germany dominant and rising in Europe, the United States shaky but dominant in the Americas. Russia, China and Britain are, as they were, in continued decline, each held together by rubber bands of doubtful strength. And the middle powers have returned to their relative stability of 1900. Even France ends much as it began, the loss of empire being counterbalanced by the reestablishment of a central role on the Continent.

This war of ideologies may have been costly in every sense, but that doesn't make it meaningful. Men are perfectly capable of inventing concrete but stupid reasons to justify killing each other. Great battles such as Crecy and Agincourt demonstrated that perfectly during the first Hundred Years' War.

The vacuum which all this was aimed at filling was not, in reality, a vacuum. The structure and methodology of reason have been dominant everywhere during these struggles. In fact, there has been a great underlying unity throughout the West in the twentieth century: the superficial confusion, which we have mistaken for a vacuum, is simply the product of reason's innate amorality. The conversion of Western civilization to a methodology devoid of values -- humanist, moral or aesthetic -- couldn't have helped but launch us into unending, meaningless battles. More to the point, the struggles of the twentieth century could he characterized as perfectly unconscious, largely because the underlying force was a headless abstraction. Perhaps that explains our obsession with the strengthening of the. individual consciousness. Humans have a tendency to personalize those civilizationwide problems which escape them.

In the same decade that saw the affirmation of the rational nation-state -- thanks to such things as the American Civil War, the Second Reform Bill in Britain, the decentralization of the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, the freeing of the, serfs in Russia, the creation of Germany, Canada and Italy -- Matthew Arnold evoked in "Dover Beach" a vision of the century to come:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In such a context it hardly seems, worth delving into the rivalries between the contemporary camps. Neither Capitalism nor Socialism can pretend to be an ideology. They are merely methods for dividing ownership and income. What is most peculiar for such theoretically practical methodologies, which are also. theoretically opposed to each other, is that neither of them has ever existed, except in a highly tentative form. And even then they are invariably mixed together. Their mutually exclusive vocabularies have more to do with basic similarities than with differences. Like immature brothers, they have imposed their sibling rivalry upon us. The reality is that they are subspecies of the larger group which includes Christianity, Nazism and Communism, if .for no other reason than that all of them prosper through the cultivation of desire, as indeed does Islam. Of the great world myths, only Buddhism is centred on the reduction of desire in the individual.

None of the modern ideologies can be considered great mythology. Marx, for example, although a talented analyst, compulsively proposed inapplicable ideas and inaccurate conclusions. That these ideas have had considerable superficial success doesn't make them any the less silly. In the sixteenth century, the Inquisition was a great success, and was central to the original defining of reason. And yet it made no sense at all with its belief that the best way to question people was to stretch them until their joints separated or to smash their limbs with mallets. All of Europe accepted it and trembled. The elites, even the kings, dared not protest until the worst was over.

Marx was fortunate to have been born eighty years before Walt Disney. Disney also promised a child's paradise and, unlike Marx, delivered on his promise. This remark is not as specious as it appears. After all, one of the proofs that ideologies subsequent to the birth of reason have had little to add is that when they do gain power, their actions bear absolutely no relationship to their mythology. There has therefore never been a Communist state. They were merely old-fashioned, inefficient but authoritarian dictatorships. Critics make a great deal out of the heavy-handed, inefficient communist bureaucracies. But was there anything innately communist about them? What was there to differentiate them from dozens of other heavy-handed inefficient bureaucracies -- the late Manchus, for example, the Ottomans or Byzantium? The absence of private property is often seen as an essentially Marxist characteristic. But most feudal societies used the same idea and structure; the sole difference being that the ultimate repository of power had changed costume. A king representing God, who stood for the general good, had been replaced by a Supreme Soviet representing the Communist Party, which stood for the general good.

Marxism became the dreamlike answer to a real need in Western society, but anyone of a handful of other dreams might have done just as well. Walt Disney, for example, riding in the front lines of mythology, converted America to a vision of itself in which the citizen is a viewer, the beliefs are cinematic assertions· and the leaders are character actors. And that is more relevant to real life than an imaginary ideology or system -- for example, Capitalism.

After all, today's leading advocates of free enterprise and competition, the well-protected bureaucratic managers of publicly traded companies. are generally and with relative ease able to neutralize their real owners (the shareholders) and those really responsible (the directors). As for competition on the level playing field, a classic demonstration of how it works was provided by airline deregulation in the United States in the 1980s. The promised result was to be more airlines competing to fly to more places at cheaper prices. Instead, fewer airlines are now flying to fewer places at higher prices. Unregulated competition leads to oligopolies lit best and monopolies at worst. And both lead to price-fixing. This reality is erased in some people's minds because of an imaginary symbiosis between Capitalism and Democracy, which is just about as silly an idea as that of a symbiosis between Socialism and Democracy. If given a chance, both will corrupt public officials and install corporatism.

The Right and the Left, like Fascism and Communism, have never been anything more than marginal dialects on the extremes of reason. They are the naive answers that one would expect from a central ideology which, in its very. heart, believes in absolute solutions. And so, despite this confusion of false ideologies, the ethic of reason has continued to spread within our· societies. Certain characteristics of that ethic, less apparent in the beginning, have seeped through into dominating positions. It has produced a system determined to apply a kind of clean, unemotional logic to every decision, and this to the point where the dictatorship of the absolute monarchs has been replaced by that of absolute reason. The development and control of intricate systems, for example, has become the key to power.

The judgmental side of Descartes has come to the fore. It is answers we want -- simple, absolute answers where, in reality, there is great complexity. An obsession with the true versus the false leads us to artificial solutions as reassuring as the old certainty that the world was Oat. An obsession with efficiency as a value in itself has driven large parts of our economies into chaos. Briefing books and flowcharts have in our time become the protocols of power, just as the king's waking-up ceremony at Versailles was in the eighteenth century. Reason now has a great deal in common with the last days of the ancien regime. Reason possesses. as did the monarchy, a perfectly constructed, perfectly integrated. perfectly self-justifying system. The system itself has become the justification for the society. No one remembered in the late eighteenth century that the Church and the kings had originally developed their system of power in order to bring stability to an anarchical continent. Equally, no one seems to remember today the original purpose of the elaborate technocratic systems which dominate our lives. They were adopted in order to battle against the established forces of unfettered whims and self-interest. which used power however it suited them.

Until a few years ago there was general agreement that whatever reason dictated was by definition good. Since the mid-sixties, however, there has been a growing general Sense that our systems are not working. Multiple signs of this are easily identified, but they somehow resist fitting into a pattern. The depression. The swollen armaments industry. The breakdown of the legal system. The confusion over ownership and capitalism. Random examples from an endless list. We see signs of failure, but the system provides no vocabulary for describing this breakdown, unless we become irrational; and the vocabulary of unreason is that of darkness, so we quite properly avoid it.

This absence of intellectual mechanisms for questioning our own actions becomes clear when the expression of any unstructured doubt -- for example; over the export of arms to potential enemies or the loss of shareholder power to managers or the loss of parliamentary power to the executive -- is automatically categorized as naive or idealistic or bad for the economy or simply bad for jobs. And should we attempt to use sensible words to deal with these problems, they will be caught up immediately in the structures of the official arguments which accompany the official modem ideologies -- arguments as sterile as the ideologies are irrelevant. Our society contains no method of serious self-criticism for the simple reason that it is now a self-justifying system which generates its own logic.


It is hardly surprising that there has ·never been such confidence as there is today within our leadership about their unity of outlook. No matter which way they turn, they find other elites to confirm the reflection of themselves and of one another. Virtually identical programs in business schools and schools of public affairs are turning out people trained in the science of systems management. The Harvard Business School case method is the most famous example of this general obsession with management by solutions, a system in which the logic will always provide support for the conclusions. hi troubled times the citizenry search for the responsible parties. When their elites are so similar, this tends to turn into a search for scapegoats. In the United States, there is a tendency now to single out Harvard. And yet, precisely the same approach reappears throughout Western educational systems, whether in the training of lawyers or political scientists or, notably, in France, in the Enarques, the graduates of the school which trains key state employees. The Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) specializes in the abstract, logical process. In a sense the training in all these schools is designed to develop not a talent for solving problems but a method for recognizing the solutions which will satisfy the system. After that the established internal logic will provide all the necessary justifications.

For a good half century now it has been easy, even superficially satisfying, to say of our society that Christianity is dead and the psychiatrist is the new priest. But that is true only if you take the gossip columnist's view of civilization, a view in which character and detail are all that count. In reality we are today in the midst of a theology of pure power -- power born of structure, not of dynasty or arms. The new holy trinity is organization, technology and information. The new priest is the technocrat -- the man who understands the organization, makes use of the technology and controls access to the information, which is a compendium of "facts."

He has become the essential middleman between the people and the divinity. Like the old Christian priest, he holds the key to the tabernacle out of which, from time to time, he produces and distributes the wafer -- those minimal nibbles at the divinity which leave the supplicant hungry for more. The wafer is knowledge, understanding, access, the hint of power. And the tabernacle is what it always was: the hiding place of this knowledge, the place which makes secrecy one of the keys to modern power. Finally there is the matter of absolution from personal responsibility. All religions seem to need special-case facilities to deal with the uncontrollable realities of a world which refuses to respond to their official ideology. These facilities take the form of personal-access mythology which is strapped almost arbitrarily to the side of the power structure. We have replaced the old phenomenon of sainthood with that of Herodom. As with Christianity, this has a double function. It gives the "people" something emotive, in the form of something concrete, to concentrate on. And, immobilized as all. large systems are by their abstract nature, the Saint/Hero mechanism provides a practical way for that system to actually get things done.

No member of this priesthood would call himself a technocrat, although that is what he is. Whether graduates of Harvard, ENA, the London Business School or any of the hundreds of other similar places, they are committeemen, sometimes called number crunchers, always detached from the practical context, inevitably assertive, manipulative; in fact, they are highly sophisticated grease jockeys, trained to make the engine of government and business run but unsuited by training or temperament to drive the car or to have any idea of where it could be steered if events were somehow to put them behind the wheel. They are addicts of pure power quite simply divorced from the questions of morality which were the original justification for reason's strength.

They may or may not be decent people. This amoral quality of our leadership is essential to understanding the nature of our times, The vocabularies of Locke and Voltaire and Jefferson have led us to judge men upon a simple scale of good and evil. A man who uses power to do evil is in theory judged to have been conscious of his acts and to be as fit for punishment as a perpetrator of premeditated murder. But the technocrat is not trained on that level. He understands events within the logic of the system. The greatest good is the greatest logic or the greatest appearance of efficiency or responsibility for the greatest possible part of the structure. He is therefore unpremeditated when he does good or evil. On a bad day he is the perfect manslaughterer, on a good day the perfect unintentional saint. What's more, the people who succeed at this kind of training are those whom it suits best. They therefore reinforce this amoral quality. Dans le royaume des coulisses, l'eunuque est roi.

This form of education is not only applied to the training of business and government leaders. In fact, it is now central to almost every profession. If you examine the creation of an architect, for example, or an art historian or a professor of literature or a military officer, you will find the same obsession with details, with the accumulation of facts, with internal logic. The "social scientists" -- the economists and political scientists in particular -- consist of little more than these elements, because they do not have even the touchstones of real action to restrain them. The overall picture of the role of the architect or the officer is lost in the background, but the technocrat who sets out to build or to fight is convinced that he is equipped with the greatest good of all time: the understanding of a system for reasoning and the possession of the equipment which fulfills that system, thus providing the concrete manifestations of its logic.


Robert McNamara is one of the great figures of this technocracy. While secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson, then as president of the World Bank, he shaped the Vietnam War, was central to launching, both the nuclear arms race and the commercialization of the arms business and was again central to creating the financial structure which led to the current Third World debt crisis.

No doubt he is also a decent man, but that personal detail is irrelevant; or rather, what is astonishing about our systems is that the personal decency, or lack of it, of our leaders should have so little effect upon the impact of their actions. The way in which McNamara approached the Vietnam War was identical to the way in which be attacked the problems of the Third World while at the World Bank. The pure logic which on paper would win the war was the same logic which he applied to the massive recycling of the money deposited in the West by oil-producing companies, which in turn led to the Third World debt problem.

Throughout all these disasters he acted as the quintessential man of reason while remaining true to the abstract nature of the technocrat. In fact, he is still determined to go on doing good and apparently has no understanding of what he has done. It wasn't what he intended to do. It wasn't what the charts and briefing books said would happen. As a decent man, he is no doubt baffled. Other, less intelligent, less decent technocrats would simply have rewritten the brief in order to demonstrate that their logic had always been proved correct.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:23 pm


It may seem odd that the focus here has abruptly moved from large questions to the dissection of an individual. But Robert McNamara is a symbol of the end of the Age of Reason and, as I pick my way through the maze of the last forty years, his is one of the names which inevitably keeps recurring. The key to this examination is the avoidance of arguments limited to single sectors. What is interesting about McNamara is not what he did to boost the arms business, but the comparison between that and what he did to help Third World countries. More interesting still is the comparison between him and another key figure at the other end of the Age of Reason.

Cardinal Richelieu. a contemporary of Descartes, held power in France as the King's chief minister from 1624 to 1642. In many ways he was the first modern statesman, the first individual to apply an integrated rational method to that new concept -- the nation-state. A standard reading of Richelieu -- accurate in its details -- would portray him as a devious, convoluted autocrat, while the same sort of examination would show McNamara to be a decent, honest man in search of fairness and efficiency. The wider reality is that Richelieu, in laying the foundations of the first modern state, made it possible for personal restraint and social responsibility to play central roles,. while McNamara was in large part responsible for four of the West's most important postwar disasters. Yet in the eyes of the elites he has emerged from all that as an unblemished leader of our modern times and an example to be imitated.

Nevertheless, McNamara is very much a child of the Cardinal. Set side by side at a certain distance, they can hardly be distinguished from one another. Concentrated examination reveals only one important difference -- Richelieu forced his policies on France and Europe with the clear logic of a revolutionary using a new weapon, while McNamara asserted his with the confident blindness of an inbred - that is, an overbred -- aristocrat.

This youthfulness of Richelieu, compared with McNamara's intellectual degeneracy, make them the signposts of the Age of Reason -- one at its opening, the other at its end, but united in a single great rational family. As for the essentials, little has changed. We began the seventeenth century in the grip of what philosophers of that time called blind logic. We end the twentieth century in the hands of blind reason; a more sophisticated version of the earlier problem.

What has changed radically are the roles which those who want power must play. We have lost an unsatisfactory pyramidal system, which did have a few advantages -- functioning in a relatively public manner, for example. In its place, the management of power by the rational structures is much more absolute.

This doesn't mean that all power lies with the technocrats. In fact, the absolutism and inaccessibility which they have represented from the very beginning of the Age of Reason were, and indeed remain, so unrealistic that by the end of the eighteenth century a whole new type of public figure had to be invented: individuals who could -- as Mussolini would have put it -- make the trains run on time. Napoleon was the first and is still the definitive model. These Heroes promised to deliver the rational state, but to do so in a populist manner. The road from Napoleon to Hider is direct. Indeed, most contemporary politicians still base their personas on this Heroic model.

And so the breakdown of public figures over the last century has resolved itself into a large group on the rational side -- technocrats, Heroes and false Heroes -- with, on the other, a small group that resists the structural imperatives and stands for an embattled humanist tradition. Jefferson is still perhaps the greatest example of this school, but there were others. Pascal Paoli, the Corsican, creator of the first modern republic, was one of the most inspired cases and perhaps the most tragic.

This same phenomenon of technocrats, and Heroes versus practical humanists plays itself out in every sector of our society. The conflict is endlessly repeated with the same imbalance and the same results. It is as true among the military and the businessmen as it is among writers and architects.

The more these conflicts are examined, the. clearer it becomes that certain of our most important instincts -- the democratic, the practical, the imaginative -- are profound enemies of the dominant rational approach. This war between the reasonable and the rational is one which our civilization, as we have constituted it, is congenitally unable to resolve. If anything, the rise of more and more parodically Heroic leaders indicates that the system in place is desperately driving itself for ward according to its own logic. And endemic to that logic is the denial of all internal contradictions, to say nothing of internal wars.


But what are Richelieu and McNamara other than isolated remains on a field of ruins? The great danger, when looking at our society, is that what we see encourages us to become obsessed by individual personalities, thus mistaking the participants for the cause. Perhaps that is why I approach this seamless web almost in the manner of an archeologist, as if engaged in a dig for some forgotten civilization -- the Age of Reason somehow become Unreason.

Rational mythology has grown so thick and become so misleading that our reality -- the one in which we actually live -- does indeed seem to be dead and buried. The ground above us is strewn with collapsed columns and broken pots which indicate, despite the reassuring stories of our elites, that something is wrong. But this debris, taken piece by . piece, tells us little.

And so, like a man sensible of his ignorance, I have begun in the chapters which follow by clearing away the underbrush to lay bare the obscured overall pattern. This undergrowth is made up largely of myth and of ideas, presented as if they were fact. The pattern is, in reality, not very complex. It is merely the evolution of the Age of Reason. Not a philosophical outline but an existential unfolding. Not theoretical argument but events which dovetail one into the other; the events which join Richelieu to McNamara across hundreds of years.

One of the first things to emerge from this progression is a profile of the technocrats and the Heroes as they gradually become the guardians of the rational idea and then of that idea gone wrong. Given our general obsession with personality, I couldn't help but pause long enough to sketch out the typology of these modern elites and then to illustrate them with some of our recent leaders. There is a justification for this self-indulgence, It demonstrates the common methodology used by those who hold the levers of power in the West.

Late as we are in the twentieth century, it is no longer possible to go on pretending that the arrival of our elites in positions of power is somehow an accident. They are precisely the people whom our system seeks out: Robert McNamara and Ronald Reagan. Robert Armstrong and Brian Mulroney, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and William Westmoreland, Jim Slater and Michael Milken, along with armies of faceless corporate presidents, These are the desired and chosen leaders. They are also the precise product which our education system sets out to produce.

Like all functioning elites, ours seek to perpetuate themselves for the general good, As always, this involves the creation of an educational system. The formation process appears, at first glance; to differ from country to country, but once the common basic assumptions are dusted off. these differences disappear. Education is the one place where lofty ideals and misty mythology cannot avoid meeting the realities of crude self-interest.

And so, having uncovered an historical outline. an elite typology and the basic reproductive habits of that elite, I then sought a single example which would be equally true for all nations, would be clean and neat in both its abstract conception and its practical application and would illustrate the amoral -- in fact, the darkly comic -- nature of the rational approach. By far the cleanest and neatest of examples is the inter- national arms trade. What makes it doubly interesting is that leaders as varied as Kennedy, de Gaulle and Harold Wilson were seduced by its attractions. They were then tripped up between the intentions of the arms business and its reality -- tripped up So badly that the greater their success, the more disastrous the long-term effects on their economies and on their foreign policies.

The next step was to turn to a series of specialized areas -- the military, government and business -- to see whether the same general characteristics existed. The military come first because when humans undertake change -- whether in technology or organization -- they usually begin on the battlefield. This may be depressing, but that doesn't make it any the less true. Not surprisingly, therefore, the first technocrats were the staff officers. And the unprecedented violence of this century is partly a reflection of the struggle for dominance by the staff officers over the field officers, partly the result of the former's disastrous approach to strategy.

The case of government is more Complex. There has been a gradual, widespread improvement in social standards, thanks in good part to the work of large bureaucracies. But the conversion of the political class into an extension of the technocracy has been a disaster. Perhaps the most damaging part of our obsession with expertise and systems has been the restructuring of elected assemblies to make them more efficient. This equation of the idea of efficiency -- a third-level subproduct of reason -- with the process of democratic government shows just how far away we have slipped from our common sense. Efficient decision making is, after all, a characteristic proper to authoritarian governments. Napoleon was efficient. Hitler was efficient. Efficient democracy can only mean democracy castrated. In fact, the question which arises is whether the rational approach has not removed from democracy its single greatest strength -- the ability to act in an unconventional manner. When you examine, for example, our twenty-year-old battle against inflation, you can't help but note that politicians who become devotees of technocratic logic also become prisoners of conventional solutions.

It follows that the theology of power, under which the technocracy prospers, marginalizes the whole idea of opposition and therefore that of sensible change. Opposition becomes a refusal to participate in the process. It is irrational. And this trivialization of those who criticize or say no from outside the power structure applies not only to politics but to all organizations.

These victories of reason made the rise of the Heroes inevitable. And the marginalization of the politicians forced them in turn to take on, at least superficially, an Heroic profile, since that was the only available approach which could win them the status they needed. The effect of this change on the politicians themselves was profound. It altered the emotional relationship they had with the public. As the role of the leader has been destabilized, so his internal drives have turned into a psychodrama far removed from public arguments over ideology and administration.

In the meantime the very success of the technocrats and the Heroes was rendering powerless the law, which was theoretically their preferred tool for change and improvement. From the beginning of the Age of Reason, the law had been intended to protect the individual from the unreasonable actions of others, especially those in power. This involved regulating the proper relationship between ownership and the individual. Or between the state, the individual and the corporation. Or between defined responsibilities and the people charged with carrying out those responsibilities. In other words law attempted to regulate the application of power.

But the nature of power has completely changed in our society. There has been a marriage between the state and the means of production, an integration of the elites into an interchangeable technocracy, a confusion over ownership and management in the corporations. These new structures make it almost impossible for the law to judge illegal that which is wrong.

The realities of contemporary capitalism are central to our problems. Here is a term which has travelled far from the old concepts that still account for the vocabulary we use to describe the use of private property. Curiously enough, the word capitalist and all the supporting nations still seem to refer to the ownership of the means of production and to the earning of money and power through the successful working of that production. But most Western corporations are controlled by managers, not owners -- managers who are virtually interchangeable with military staff officers and government bureaucrats.

There are others, of course, who also claim the robes of capitalism. Small businessmen, for example, are large in numbers and do often conform to the original concept. But they have little power or influence in our society. Far more important in the nontechnocratic business community are what used to be called speculators: bankers, brokers, promoters and others who act as if capitalism has progressed from the slow and awkward ownership of the means of production to a higher level, at which money is quite simply made out of money. The nineteenth century saw these moneymen as marginal, irresponsible parasites living off the flesh of real capitalism. Their relationship to other citizens was roughly that of the Mafia today. And yet we now treat them as if they were pillars of our society -- both socially and economically.

As for the professional managers, their arrival was supposed to remove some of the selfishness from our economies. Unlike real owners, the managers were expected to be free from the logic of uncontrolled greed. Instead these employees have inherited the mythology of capitalism without having to bear personal responsibility for any of the essential risks. They have been free to apply the theory of unfettered capitalism as if it were a perfectible abstraction, nota human reality.

The leaders of all these specialized areas don't just act upon the population, however. Like everyone else, they are also acted upon by general social phenomena. Even a brief look at three of these phenomena -- the myth of the secret, the obsession with individualism and the idolizing of stars -- can help to clarify the effect that reason has had on our lives.

The invention of the secret is perhaps the most damaging outgrowth of the power produced when control over knowledge was combined with the protective armour of specialization. Until recently very little was considered improper to know. Today the restricted lists are endless. And yet there can't be more than two or three real secrets in the entire world. Even the construction of an atomic bomb is now part of available .knowledge. Nevertheless the imprisoning of information continues, undeterred by endless access-to- information legislation.

These restrictions have been counterbalanced over the last thirty years by an apparent explosion in individual freedoms. This breakdown of social order -- rules of dress, sexual controls, speech patterns, family structures -- has been seen as a great victory for the individual. On the other hand, it may simply be a reflection of the individual's frustration at being locked up inside a specialization. These acts of personal freedom are irrelevant to the exercise of power. So in lieu of taking a real part in the evolution of society, the individual Struggles to appear as if no one has power over his personal evolution. Thus victories won for these individual liberties may actually be an acceptance of defeat by the individual.

For example, never have so few people been willing to speak out on important questions. Their fear is tied not to physical threats, but to standing apart from fellow experts or risking a career or entering an area of nonexpertise. Not since the etiquette-ridden courts of the eighteenth century has public debate been so locked into fixed positions, fixed formulas and fixed elites expert in rhetoric. The nobles of that time gave themselves over in frustration to a frivolous self-indulgence, which could be called courtly egotism. It is difficult to identify any real difference between that courtly egotism and the personal freedoms which so obsess us today.

The combination of a restrictive technology inside power with decorative personal freedoms outside made the rise of a new class inevitable. It was first identified by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills in the 1950s. The celebrities. The stars. The people whose sole reason for being famous is their fame. Tennis players, aristocratic names, children of painters, movie. stars. History has always been filled with famous mistresses and actors, but their fame was measured largely by the degree to which the rays of the monarch fell upon them. Today's celebrities have fame unrelated to power. And over the last forty years they have gradually occupied large sections of the press, of conversations, of dreams. In the public imagination they have replaced the men of power who, being technocrats, are of little general interest.

These celebrities serve an important public purpose. They distract in the way that monarchs once used their courts to distract. And now that they have some control over that public mythology, they are actually rising to occupy places of real power.

Finally, our imagination has been radically altered in two areas by the Age of Reason. The image, which was first scratched on stone walls, then painted, printed, photographed and projected, can now be conceived as a three-dimensional whole by a computer program. In other words, after thousands of years of progress, the image has achieved technical perfection. That progress had been central to our sense of our own immortality and the completion of it has had a profoundly destabilizing effect on our sense of what we are. On top of that the undermining of universal language, in large part by the dialects of expertise, has meant that we can't turn to the word to steady ourselves. Instead, the writers and their pens, having invented the Age of Reason, are now its primary prisoners and so are unable to ask the right questions, let alone to break down the imprisoning linguistic walls of their own creation.


Blind reason is the element which links everything together ill this general survey. What is blind reason? Perhaps it is nothing more than a sophisticated form of logic -- a more sophisticated, more profoundly integrated, better structured version of the blind logic from which the reformers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were determined to escape. Their escape was to have been made, of course, on the back of reason. In other words, we have ended up today very much where we began nearly half a millennium ago.

The end of something often resembles the beginning. More often than not our nose-to-the- lass view makes us believe that the end we are living is in fact a new beginning. This confusion is typical of an old civilization's self-confidence -- limited by circumstances and by an absence of memory -- and in many ways resembling the sort often produced by senility. Our rational need to control understanding and therefore memory has simply accentuated the confusion.

The end, in any case, is that part of the human experience most often mistaken for something else. Everything is at its most sophisticated, most organized" most stable. The very. sophistication of the organism marks the divorce of those ideas which were reasonably clear and simple when they were first embraced from the marvellous; remarkable structure which has been built over and around those same ideas in the course of living with them. That structure becomes the superficial celebration of the ideas, which it also invariably crushes. This simple truth is hidden from us by the reassuring sense of stability which the structure creates. But stability is the most fragile element in the human condition. Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation.

The present condition of reason is clear when the Byzantine systems of today are compared to the clear statements of Francis Bacon in the early seventeenth century or, for example, of Voltaire a hundred years later in, his Philosophical Dictionary: "It is obvious to the whole world that a service is better than an injury, that gentleness is preferable to anger. It only remains, therefore, to use our reason to discern the shades of goodness and badness.'" These are the sort of words which lead us to associate reason with morality, common sense and, gradually with a personal freedom which we now know as democracy.

How is it, then, that neither Voltaire nor his friends noticed the intensive use of reason by Ignatius Loyola a century earlier, when he organized the Jesuits and almost single-handedly mounted the Counter-Reformation? Loyola was delighted to find a system that would serve the authority of the pope. And Bacon, lord chancellor of England; was neither a, democrat nor particularly obsessed by morality. What he was was modern -- the ideologue of modern science and as such the most important single influence on the Encyclopedists. [2] And even Voltaire and his friends, although they made the error of thinking that morality and common sense were the natural partners of reason, also saw these three in the context of authority. They wanted a strong but fair king. They thought reason would render authority fair. How did they make such an obvious mistake?

They were thinking on their feet in the heat of the action. They were responding to real needs, just as Loyola had taken charge when Catholicism was faced by a Protestant victory and Richelieu had devised the modern state as a way of defeating the warring nobles. Even William Blake, with the clarity of his mystical vision, said in Jerusalem, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's."

In the wake of the Encyclopedists came a raft of philosophers who adapted these basic ideas in order to suit the evolution of events. But all they did was construct an ever more elaborate structure over a falsehood. From its very beginning as an applied idea, reason has been as successful -- if not more successful -- at creating new degrees of barbarism and violence as it has been at imposing reasonable actions. As fast to invent a new breed of authoritarian leaders, whom we soon called absolute dictators, as it was to produce paragons of responsible democracy.


This is our Western inheritance. The rest of the world, however, is locked in a struggle with other problems and other forces. That doesn't mean we are not closely linked to them. We are all inseparably linked. And we must develop policies which take those links into account. But nor does this mean that we must analyze or reform our societies solely in the light of other worlds. To do so would be the equivalent of closing down our steel industries because someone else produces cheaper steel with child labour.

Our own evolution is the result of events which bear only a vague resemblance to those that shaped Africa, Asia or the Soviet Union. The Chinese, for example, looked into formal logic well before we became obsessed with it and found it less important than other things. They delved into the market economy when we were still in the Dark Ages, and therefore they do not associate it in any way with the democratic ideology. Western confusion over this led us foolishly to confuse economic liberalism in China during the 1980d with a desire for political liberalism.

Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are religions still carried by strong belief, while Christianity in the West has been largely reduced to a social phenomenon. Olivier Germain-Thomas's comparison of the life inside an Indian temple with the cool emptiness of Chartres is particularly moving. "The cathedrals in my country are only memories of a culture, while in this temple everything speaks, everything is vibration, everything sings, everything is alive." And in Buddhism, the reason for thinking about the world is to escape from it, not to find an explanation for its origins. [3]

As the West has closed itself ever more tightly into the self-justifying logic of its own system, we have found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the single truths of our situation. Instead the last twenty years have seen the rapid passage of a multitude of political and economic fashions, each of which was supposed to get us out of our doldrums and our internal contradictions. Most of them have involved key factors outside the West - not because of practical internationalism but as the result of a self-delusionary hope that external solutions would solve our internal problems. They have all been sophisticated versions of the great eighteenth-century financial fraud, the South Sea Bubble. None have delivered and so, in the last decade, the fashions have come and gone with even greater speed.

Massive lending at home and in the Third World had no sooner failed than we were righteously preaching fiscal austerity on every street-corner of the globe. Financial deregulation had no sooner, brought a wave of national and international mergers large enough to destabilize our economies than we discovered the truth of divestment and called it rationalization. Japan has swung in our imagination from representing the golden model of the future to incarnating the unfair devil at the root of our economic difficulties and then swung back again. A decade of wild hopes attached to Chinese liberalism no sooner lay dead in Tienanmen Square than we turned with emotional relief to Central Europe.

The promise of major changes and therefore of massive economic needs in the old Warsaw Pact quickly had us salivating. Here was the new and dreamed-of hinterland. Here were people who believed that our system was best.

But some of these countries have never been touched by the Western evolution; some have had marginal experiences; others have been cutoff since 1939. Their imaginary expectations are at least half a century behind our real experiences. Quite apart from the economic and political anarchy which the current situation involves, they would have to deal with a whole series of other basic internal questions before any real integration into the Western structure could begin. Whatever the ongoing changes actually hold for those living in what we used to call the Soviet bloc, the Western reaction is inescapably one of relief. Here is another fashion to hypnotize us with gratifying imaginary promises. Here is room for another round of prolonged self-delusions. Here is another excuse not to address our own problems.

This book is therefore about the West, that falsely geographic idea which refers to only 750 million people in a handful of countries spread around the globe. They are the countries fully in the grip of the Age of Reason. One way or another, of course, to a greater or lesser extent, that' age has penetrated everywhere on the planet. Our own problems are often mirrored in those penetrations. For example, while the technocratic leadership was presenting to us its promised solutions for the good management of democratic. societies, the same management principles were being presented in South Africa, Algeria; Morocco, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Kenya as the solution to their problems. How could technocracy have a complementary relationship with democratic societies, in which the individual weighs his freedom by the calm and regularity in which his community is managed, when it was also meant to be an intimate part of systems which eliminate or ignore democracy and individualism? How could a great leap forward in democratic management methods also be a great leap forward in efficient repression elsewhere? The answer could quite simply be that reason has nothing to do with democratic freedom or individualism or social justice.

To get at the unassailable, self-serving logic of the ancien regime, Voltaire and his friends made great use of scepticism. Once they had succeeded, this scepticism, this talent for criticism, remained in the air, a far easier tool than the vigilant common sense and morality which were intended to guide man's reason. And so a new sceptical logic was born, liberated from the weight of historical precedent and therefore even more self-serving than the logic which had gone before.

This scepticism became a trademark of the new elites and gradually turned to cynicism. Worst of all, as the complexities of the new systems increased, with their rewards of abstract power for those who succeeded, the new elites began to develop a contempt for the citizen. The citizen became someone to whom the elite referred as if to a separate species: "He wouldn't understand this." "She needn't know about that." "He will vote for any sort of politician if a nice package is put together." "She panics easily, so unpleasant news should be held back." The inability of governments to discuss in a coherent manner the political and economic difficulties in which we are mired today is a prime example of their contempt.


The attitudes of our elites remain even less positive when dealing with women. This has nothing to do with and has not been changed by a century of lobbying and struggling to integrate women into the mechanisms of power. The simple truth is that they were not part of the formulation and creation of the Age of Reason. In fact, women were the symbol of the irrational. Ever since the birth of the Age of Reason, women have been perceived by the new elites to be on the losing side.

Examples are legion. Richelieu can be found writing to his vacillating king about the necessity of developing "the masculine virtue of making decisions rationally." [4] Centuries later. the slow push for universal suffrage in Western democracies illustrated that nothing had changed. When the aristocracy loosened its exclusive control on society, it was in order to include the votes of the other property holders -- the middle classes. When the property holders weakened, it was to include those who did not own property. They in turn weakened, bit by bit, in order to extend the most basic civil right to the various excluded minorities members of. dissident religions were among the last to be allowed onto many voting lists. And after them the vote was extended to nonmembers of the ruling tribe -- blacks in the United States and Asians in Canada. for example.

Women were not even considered during this process. Fewer than seventy-five years ago an aristocratic, well-educated, property-owning woman was considered less.6t to vote than a penniless, uneducated miner or the segregated son of a freed slave. It would therefore be a great error to assume that our society has had or has within it today the basic flexibility to allow real female participation. After all. it has been created over a period of nearly live centuries without them in mind.

As recently as 1945, when the French government decided to create its revolutionary rational school of state administration, ENA, the following could be found in the introduction to the enabling legislation:

No doubt young women are suited to a large number of Junior jobs offered by the civil service. There are even certain bureaucracies. notably Public Health and Social Security, where their presence in management positions appear desirable. But their ability to fill junior positions is not reason enough to allow entry to the civil service, which must be able to furnish the executive management of the important public services. The aptitude for commanding, the capacity to handle important affairs. the need for a certain level of comportment when dealing with grave political problems: these are all important elements to be considered and which are not generally found in women. [5]

The minister responsible for these words and for the creation of ENA was Michel Debre, who went on to become prime minister in 1958.

These examples are not intended to suggest that women have played no role inside the structures of power. There have been remarkable queens, heads of government and ministers, just as there have been scientists, painters, writers and so on. Today, more than ever, women are occupying positions of influence. However, in the past they have been the exceptions to the rule and were usually obliged to hold on to their power by deforming themselves into honorary men or into magnified archetypes of the female who manipulated men. It still is not clear that women can successfully become part of the established structures without accepting those deformations.

What follows in this book is about the realities of Western rational civilization. It is a male reality. Women might well want to change that, but it isn't clear that the best way to do so is to shore up the existing structures by going into them. Even if they do so, it is difficult to see why women would want to claim responsibility for what has gone before.


Throughout the West, we are led by elected and nonelected elites who do not believe in the public. They cooperate with the established representational systems of democracy. But they do not believe in the value of the public's contribution. Nor do they believe in the existence of a public moral code. What they do believe in are Heroic appeals, contractual agreements and administrative methods. This means that in dealing with the public, they find it easier to appeal to the lowest common denominator within each of us. That this often succeeds reinforces their contempt for a public apparently capable of nothing better. They do not take into account that the public, like any of its members, is in fact capable of the highest and the lowest. Citizens are limited in their public role by time and knowledge. Their days are filled with jobs and families. They have come to fear stepping beyond their areas of expertise. In spite of the complaining they may do, they harbour a remarkably durable trust in their elites. Those elites, they believe, are made up of people who have been trained and chosen to deliver the Age of Reason. The contempt with which the elites reward this trust is a betrayal of those they are pledged to serve. Or, to be more concrete, it is a betrayal of their legal employer.

Cynicism, ambition, rhetoric and the worship of power -- these were the characteristics commonly found in the courts of the eighteenth century. They are the characteristics of courtiers, which is precisely what our modern and dispassionate elites have become. And courtliness is the characteristic they most encourage throughout the population. The new message of the eighteenth century wasn't complicated. It attempted simply to break the captive logic of arbitrary power and superstition with reason and scepticism. Now that same self-justifying logic has asserted itself within the new system. It took us four and a half centuries to break the power of divine revelation, only to replace it with the divine revelations of reason. We must therefore break again, this time with arbitrary logic and the superstition of knowledge.

But in this maze of logic, the unforgiving extremes function with the greatest of ease. The acquisitive, the cynical, the religious fanatics of raw competition, the exploiters of society -- all of them find the tools of reason, as shaped by time, to their particular liking, And yet, to argue against reason means arguing as an idiot or as an entertainer who seeks only to amuse. The structures of argument have been co-opted so completely by those who work the system that when an individual reaches for the words and phrases which he senses will express his case, he finds that they are already in active use in the service of Power. This now amounts to a virtual dictatorship of vocabulary. It isn't really surprising that a society based upon structure and logic should determine the answer to most questions by laying out the manner in which they are posed. Somehow we must do today what Voltaire once did -- scratch away the veneer in order to get at the basic foundations. We must rediscover how to ask simple questions about ourselves.

Technology and knowledge advance with great speed. That is, or can be, good. Man, however, does not change. He is as he was the day the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided to go on speaking out against Nazi anti-Semitism knowing that this could only lead him to a death camp. He is also as he was the day he cheered in the Roman circus, the day he crucified Christ, the day he slaughtered the unarmed Valdesians, the day he opened the first gas oven at Auschwitz, the day he tortured rebels in Malaysia, Algeria and Vietnam. In his last interview. the French historian Fernand Braudel ended by saying that although knowledge meant man had less excuse for his barbarism; he was nevertheless "profoundly barbaric." [6] There are no inherited characteristics to help us avoid repeating the actions of our parents or grandparents. We are born with the schizophrenia of good and evil within us, so that each generation must persevere in self-recognition and in self-control. In ceding to the automatic reassurance of our logic. we have abandoned once more those powers of recognition and of control. Darkness seems scarcely different from light, with the web of structure and logic woven thick across both. We must therefore cut away these layers of false protection if we wish to regain control of our common sense and morality.
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PART 1 OF 23. The Rise of Reason

It is a general weakness of men delivering ideas that they are able to convince themselves their words represent a break with the past and a new beginning. In the early stages of a revolution, history is at its most malleable. Disorder and optimism combine to wipe out those truths artificially manufactured by the preceding regime. At the same time, they usually wipe out the memory of any inconvenient real events.

The men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, were not wrong to condemn darkness and superstition. They were writing close to a time when it had been common to feed a consecrated Host to a sick cow in order to drive out the demon; a time of saint worship and of church corruption. [1] And, of course, a time of willful political leadership.

If the philosophers of reason believed that nothing provokes violence so effectively as fear and that fear is the product of ignorance, it was because they had arrived on the scene after two hundred years of religious and civil wars. These had produced levels of civilian violence not achieved again until the twentieth century. The reasonable men of the eighteenth century wanted to cut the roots of this fear. Their strategy was to attack what Isaiah Berlin called the "dark mysteries and grotesque fairy tales which went by the names of theology, metaphysics and other brands of concealed dogma or superstition with which unscrupulous knaves had for so long befuddled the stupid and benighted multitudes whom they murdered, enslaved, oppressed and exploited." [2] It was quite natural that this assault on darkness and on the divine aspect of the absolute monarchs who presided over it should eventually have been called the Enlightenment. The fact that the leadership came from France added a particular excitement to the affair, given that the leading European example of absolutism and of royal divine right was the French king and his court. And the French intellectual opposition had grown into a veritable army of thinkers in all domains -- philosophy, yes, but also agriculture, science, military organization and, of course, novel writing. The novelists were like deep-penetration patrols, striking out where least expected. By virtue of his devotion to the publication of the Encyclopedie, Diderot was the chief of staff of the operation, supported by faithful staff officers like d'Alembert. The strategist and champion of individual combat was Voltaire. He was constantly on the front lines of public debate, constantly inventing the phrases which might make change possible.

What these philosophes do not seem to have noticed, however, was that the very methods they were about to loose upon the world, in the name of reason, had been in. ever- increasing practical use throughout the two preceding centuries of violence. In fact, these methods had been used by Richelieu 150 years earlier precisely to create the absolutist state against which the Enlightenment was now rebelling.

Perhaps Voltaire and his friends believed that the forces of reason had suffered from being scattered in a disordered way around the previous century, when they had been used for a variety of causes, both worthy and corrupt. What was needed was to capture them so that reason could devote knowledge to the development of morality and common sense. That was how the philosophes presented their crusade.

Of course, neither morality nor common sense were new issues. They had once been integrated into the medieval concept, had then been rescued by new thinkers and reintegrated into the concept of divine monarchies. And here they were, once again lost in the degenerate structures of an aging system, being rescued by yet another group of thinkers who proclaimed the supremacy of reason as the new solution to man's problems.

This eighteenth-century revolution in mythology was therefore not so much something new as it was the repackaging of disparate forces already at play. The most revolutionary effect of their consolidation was the replacement of the control of the old class structure by two new sorts of leadership -- that of the technocrat and that of the Hero. This tendency has been leading the way ever since, even though there is still no popular or official or philosophical consensus that these two are the complementary heads of the rational power structure.

The technocrat began his existence as the ideal servant of the people -- a man freed from both irrational ambition and self-interest. Then, with surprising rapidity, he evolved into one who used the system with a distant contempt for the people.

The Hero was a more complex phenomenon. He appeared unexpectedly out of the shadows of reason, drawn forward when the people showed uncontrollable impatience with the way they were being governed. This impatience may have been provoked by poor or selfish government, by the inability of the new technocracy actually to govern or even by leadership which somehow bored the populace. With the old royal-baronial rivalry gone, there was no fixed structure to take up the slack of unpopular government. The idea of elections was new and, even now, two centuries later, does not easily convert the people's desires into appropriate government. And so it was that, in those moments when there was maximum confusion, the Hero took to stepping forward out of the shadows and presenting himself as the exciting face of reason; the man who could deliver the people's needs and be loved by them; the man who could take over the difficult labour of reasoning on behalf of the tired and confused citizen.

Trapped between these technocrats and Heroes were the reasonable men who thought of themselves as true men of reason -- men who held firmly to their common sense morality. But they were neither efficient enough nor exciting enough to hold their own in a squeeze between vicious structuralism and heroic logic. Many did, in fact, hold their own for a period of time -- Pascal Paoli for twenty years in Corsica, Jefferson for even longer in the new United States, the first Pitt for several decades in England. Michel de L'Hospital almost succeeded in preventing the French wars of religion. The host of those who served the good cause, and still serve~ in the way Diderot would have hoped they might, is legion. But they are not the ones who have defined the main line of the last four and a half centuries. They have been the exceptions to the rule, fighting a rearguard action in defence of humanism.

That main line has been obscured by .two of our obsessions. One is an uncontrollable desire to give ourselves the impression that we have made yet another fresh start. We are, constantly declaring new ages. The conversion of the original Age of Reason into the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was only a first step. Had humanity turned a great corner in the process? Not according to most definitions of the Enlightenment; for example, as a "conviction that reason could achieve all knowledge, supplant organized religion and ensure progress towards happiness and perfection." [3]

The rational machine continued on from there, being redefined ad infinitum, notably by Kant, until at last Nietzsche theoretically rejected the concept itself. But Nietzsche's discovery that reason was subject to passion and to supermen came a full half century after the real superman had actually galloped onto the public stage and given a demonstration. Napoleon had ridden in on the back of reason, reorganized Europe in the name of reason and governed beneath the same principle. The subsequent effect was to bolster the rational approach, not to discourage it.

This tells us a great deal about our other obscuring obsession. We have great difficulty dealing with philosophy in the context of real events. These two categories seem to live on separate planets, For example, we are still convinced that violence is the product of fear and fear the product of ignorance. And yet, since the beginning of the Age of Reason, there has been a parallel growth in both knowledge and violence. culminating in the slaughters of the twentieth century.

Does this mean that knowledge creates greater fear than does ignorance? Or that the rational system has distorted the value of knowledge? Or something else? One thing it does demonstrate is that the separation of philosophy from real events has encouraged the invention of-mythological obscurantism. The constant launching of new philosophical ages is part of that invention.


Revolutions do not begin on dates, although we constantly search for that kind of reassuring touch point. An argument can be made that the assumptions and methods of applied reason were first developed by the Inquisition. In its revolutionary approach to what a question consists of, what constitutes an answer and what is truth, all the key elements of modern intellectual thought can be found.

The Inquisitors were the first to formalize the idea that to every question there is a right answer. The answer is known. but the question must be asked and correctly answered. Relativism, humanism, common sense and moral beliefs were all irrelevant to this process because they assume doubt. Since the Inquisitors knew the answer, doubt was impossible. Process. however, was essential for efficient governance and process required that questions be asked in order to produce the correct answer.

When the Inquisition was created in the thirteenth century no one, least of all Pope Gregory, understood what was being set in motion. Issuing a bull which made the persecution of heresy the special function of the Dominicans hardly seemed a revolutionary step. The Inquisitors' definition of truth was arrived at slowly. as was the process which' permitted them to establish it. But as each detail of that process emerged, so the assumptions involved became clear.

Everything the Inquisition did -- except the execution, of the guilty -- took place in secret. Public silence surrounded the work of the travelling Inquisitors. Unlike judges, magistrates, nobles and kings, who have always worn some symbolic costume, the Inquisitors wore the simplest, most anonymous black, like the proverbial accountant. And while their power permitted them to do their work on the basis of accusations and denunciations, what they really wanted were complete inquisitions. Being already in possession of the truth, they were interested in the rational demonstration of it by each victim. Perhaps the most telling detail was that each of these secret tribunals included a notary. His job was to record every word of every question and answer. These notarised manuscript became the perpetual records of truth. But again, the purpose of such exactitude was to glorify the methodology, not the outcome. The notary was there to confirm the relationship between a priori truth and assembled fact. On the surface the Inquisitors were torturers and monsters. On a more profound level they were moral auditors.

If one is looking for an individual father of the Age of Reason, Niccolo Machiavelli is probably the right candidate. After all, he laid out in The Prince (1513) and in The Discourses (1519) a governing method which is with us to this day. The humanists of the Renaissance attacked him violently, as did the Encyclopedists in their time.

They recognized in Machiavelli their elder brother from the dark side." A detestable political system which can be summed up in two words -- the art of tyranny." [4] But this ex-senior civil servant of Florence, with a particular interest in military reorganization, remains nonetheless a man of our times: an ambitious individual, tainted but not swallowed by nationalism, constantly in search of an employer. Faced by the Medici princes after their destruction of the Florentine republican government, he wrote his books in good part in order to win favour with the new regime. He would have been a perfect recruit for the new class of intellectuals sought four and a half centuries later by Henry Kissinger -- men who, by virtue of not belonging to or believing in anyone concrete thing, could be considered independent. Of course, if viewed with the less trusting eye of an employer, that emotional and intellectual freedom could also be seen to offer the neutrality of a mercenary.

Machiavelli's message -- that "new modes and orders," that is a new system and new ways, would reward the sharp-eyed sceptic -- made him into the lasting symbol of the Age of Reason. Popular mythology insisted that he was the prophet of political immorality. In truth, he was indifferent to moral questions. He was a modern courtier in search of employment. Vitality, not Virtue, was the characteristic he sought in a political leader. At the centre of everything he wrote was the theme of political efficiency. To this day, men who find themselves burdened by the adjective Machiavellian also find their careers severely limited. And yet the question that might be asked is: Why do so few men carry the adjective? If you were to edit the sixteenth-century references out of The Prince and then to retitle it Power and the Executive or Effective Government, the book would immediately be adopted by all contemporary management courses aimed at training businessmen, civil servants and professional politicians. It would be considered an ideal manual for the. preparation of the modern world leader.

Hard on Machiavelli's heels came the third act of the rise of reason -- the schism in the Catholic church. Luther's 95 Theses (1517), the Church of England (1531), Calvin's Institutio Religionis Christianae (1536) burst out like a single large explosion. The arbitrary nature of official Catholicism was probably responsible for lighting the fuse. But a growing awareness of the rational argument also made people believe that reform was possible. And an almost unconscious common sense populism pushed the instigators to translate the Bible into various vernaculars. That simple act of vulgarization destroyed the priests' monopoly over the word. It remains one of the most successful blows ever struck against manipulative secrecy.

The clarity of such early ideas as freedom of dissent, personal responsibility and individual freedom was soon drowned, however, in a sea of blood. As the massacres produced by these religious wars passed from the thousands to the hundreds 6f thousands to the millions, both sides seemed. to lose sight of their purpose. In the end the Reformation dearly changed Europe. But the ambiguity inherent in the whole process was so great that the shape of the future was determined more. by those who fought reform than by the reformers.


Ignatius Loyola was an unlikely leader for the Counter-Reformation and an even less likely formulator of modern rational methodology. A minor Spanish noble, ambitious and much given to both war and womanizing, he had a talent for playing the royal courts. These skills of the courtier were to be essential later in his life.

While he was in battle as a young man, a cannonball passed between his legs, smashing the bones and crippling him. His manic drive refused this situation. He forced upon himself a series of extremely risky operations in which the legs were rebroken and reset. The final result still wasn't pleasing to the eye. The operations had left a piece of bone protruding out of line on one leg, and so, in a last act of courtly egotism, he forced the doctors to begin' all over again in order to saw off the distorting bone. [5]

This final folly of pleasure broke him, physically and mentally, and the resulting crisis brought on his passage towards God. His actual conversion was full of the sort of mysteries and meetings with the divine that one would expect from an important saint. Then, abruptly, the predictable became unpredictable. The classic road to salvation turned into a revolution.

No sooner was the initial miraculous part of the process over than he attached himself to a rigorously intellectual view of the Church. That intellectual abstraction was neatly tied up, thanks to his notary-like obsession with detail, law, procedure and, eventually, structure. This solidification process took only a few years. It began with Ignatius -- alone on the roads of Spain, limping towards God (the operations had not been entirely successful), preaching and teaching in towns and villages, carried forward with the aid of love and what appeared to be a natural communion with the people; indeed, a natural communion with the earth itself. Suddenly, others began to follow him and his example. The Church could not ignore this little band, all dressed in simple black and out working their faith among the people.

At first observers imagined that these young men were renewing the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, that theirs also was a vow of poverty and simplicity. But the uniform of Ignatius's band was the result neither of humility nor of a spirituality which left them indifferent, let alone unconscious of, their physical well-being.

Ignatius went out among the people to reason with them. To draw them to God not through love but through logic. He had not dispensed with his fashionable appearance in order to bring man closer to God. Rather, his appearance had been consciously tailored to advance the cause of winning individuals back to the Church. He sought discretion by costuming himself in simplicity. Ignatius was in the process of becoming the first complete rational technocrat.

In those times any religious initiative was dangerous. Ignatius was regularly and anonymously denounced to the Inquisition. The Inquisition, with its mastery, of fear, was indeed the guiding spirit of the new era, but others were learning from its methods and carrying them further. The Inquisitors were failing to keep up with their own concept -- power through structure. It became obvious how badly they had fallen behind when the time came to deal with Loyola. In 1535, about to leave Paris with his followers, he heard by rumour that someone had denounced him and his book of religious Exercises. His life was therefore in danger. Without hesitation he went directly to the local Inquisitor and announced that he was leaving for Spain. If they were going to accuse him of heresy, they should decide quickly. The Inquisitor, caught off guard and probably wondering whether the young man's brazenness meant he had important friends, replied that the accusation wasn't important. On the other hand, he would be curious to see Loyola's book. In the Inquisition's long experience, the best way to catch a man was through his writings.

The Inquisitor read the Exercises on the spot, praised them and asked if he might keep a copy. In other words, he wanted to keep a copy to examine it carefully for heretical laws. The little book might also be a potential sword which could be held over Loyola's head if he needed to be manipulated later on.

Ignatius agreed but insisted they indict him immediately in order that he might be tried and cleared. The Inquisitor reassured him that it wasn't necessary. That is, he wished to keep his options open. Ignatius went out, found a notary public and brought him back to document and witness the Inquisitor's praise for the Exercises, as well as his refusal to prosecute. [6] This small, private scene was of monumental importance. The first organization ever to be built upon reasoned terror had just been outmanoeuvred by the future creator of the second.

Only four years later Loyola had personally convinced the Pope to allow the official proclamation of his order. Its documents of creation began with a statement of the methodology to which it was devoted. This methodology contained the essence of all that the Age of Reason would later propose as its aim:

Whomever wishes to be a Jesuit must absorb absolutely this thought: that he is a member of a Society. instituted very precisely in order to seek out as its principal end to procure the progress of men's souls in their lives and in the Christian doctrine.... Its ends are to be accomplished by reasoning with the public and by teaching. [7]

The message was clear. First you must belong to an organization, one which possesses a method. Entry to the organization will be limited by the method. Its members will therefore be a trained elite. Its power will rest upon precision, research and movement. The elite will use its methods to educate the people and through this education to sell a particular point of view. And its success will be measured. The word progress, from those early times until today, has been used as a synonym for the word measurement.

This cool, professional approach was. of course, the product of an experienced, battleworn, ex-professional soldier. who organized the Society as a religious army. The process had little to do with the blind faith and the arbitrary powers of the old Church. Suddenly, it became clear that the Jesuit order held the keys to the future: organization and party policy. Doctrine shrank to little more than a useful tool. The role of God became quite secondary. Instead, the new order forced the Catholic world to put the interests of the Church itself -- the mother organization -- in the front row. In so doing they gradually reduced the religious wars from a fanatical level of belief and emotion down to the practical level of political interests. Practical meant negotiable -- suddenly impossible questions of religious principle were converted into territorial claims. alliances through royal marriages. and financial security or insecurity.

Loyola's election to the generalship of the Society was an illustration of his methods. He had no rivals. His leadership was accepted by everyone. The result of the members' vote was a foregone conclusion. And yet Loyola refused to accept it. He turned and manoeuvred and stalled for two weeks with a modesty which. given that this was the same man who had just outsmarted the Pope and the Vatican bureaucracy. can only have been false. He then forced his companions to vote a second time. The result, of course, was the same. At last he wandered out across Rome to see his confessor and to ask his advice. The poor man could hardly recommend that Loyola refuse. The entire Church leadership would have been furious with him. Loyola made his confessor commit his advice to paper and send it over to the Society. On the basis of this sealed recommendation, which was the closest thing a mortal could arrange to an order from God, the theoretically modest man finally accepted.

The Society was an immediate success. By the time Loyola died in 1556, seventeen years after its creation, there were one thousand members. By 1700 there were twenty-three thousand -- the most powerful political force in the West. They were running most European governments from behind the scenes, to say nothing of running their colonies. Even the Pope came to fear them and so eventually their enemies got together just long enough to have the Society disbanded in 1723. Nevertheless, it was the Jesuits who had almost single-handedly stemmed the tide of the Reformation.

At all times Loyola had used a careful, reasoned approach, free from dogma. For example, he pushed for the introduction of the Inquisition into Rome, to block the rise of new heretical errors, but opposed its use in Germany, where the Church hadn't enough power to make it stick. In the same "political" way, Loyola was for capital punishment when dealing with heretics, but "this seems to be beyond what the present situation in Germany can bear." [8]

His instructions to Jesuits struggling there might have been written in the twentieth century: people infected with error should be eliminated from government and teaching positions; heretical books should be burned; whatever the books, if by a tainted author they should be burned so that people could not learn to like the author; synods should be convoked to unmask specific errors; it was forbidden to call an heretic an "evangelical." [9]

This last simple instruction is one of the most fascinating because it heralded the future dictatorship of vocabulary, which has become so important in the twentieth century. Loyola was the first to recognize the force which specific words carried. It was therefore essential to control those words, To capture them absolutely for the use of the Church. Better still, by treating these captured words as icons, they could be packaged in order to produce a politically useful meaning. Thus, in the past there had been all sorts of "evangelical" figures, some good, some bad. The word simply meant bringing the good news. In the future only those speaking for the Church could benefit from the word.

In this century words such as capitalism or revolutionary or free are used in the same way. The very act of getting the word free into the public domain on your side places the other side in a difficult position. That is why politicians or businessmen, about to cut back on social benefits or to close factories, always invoke fairness as part of their justification, along with such concepts as justice, rationalization and efficiency. These mythological words come to replace thought. They are the modern equivalent of an intellectual void.

Almost immediately, the Society of Jesus began to produce an educated elite inside the lay population. No other education of that time could match what it offered. Those. who sought success for their children couldn't help but consider a Jesuit school. And yet, from the very beginning, the Jesuits' success was mixed with outside criticism of their cynicism, ambition, Political interference, and amoral intelligence -- everything that an Enarque or a Harvard MBA might be accused of today.

At the base of this criticism lay one fundamental truth. Whatever good the Society did, it seemed unable to avoid either deforming policy or producing brilliant students who were also somehow deformed. The more brilliant the student, the more shocking this deformation seemed to be.

The origin of this flaw lay in the original premise of the Order. The Protestants were the first active, widespread messengers of reform. Loyola stole the method which had delivered their message and applied it to defend a cause that stood resolutely against reason. What at first sight appeared to be a fundamental contradiction turned out to be a great success. In fact, reason was stronger in his hands than it had been in those of the reformers. What he had created was a flexible, unfettered weapon, free of all obligation either to morality or to specific ideas.

This severing of method from any roots provided the Jesuits with superficial strengths which were in fact profound weaknesses. The resulting system was incapable of defending itself against the inevitable invasion of extraneous, contradictory and destructive ideas, both moral and intellectual. And so it wasn't surprising that before the sixteenth century was over, the Society of Jesus had been invaded by virulent cynicism.


No great skill is needed to trace the pattern emerging from these three events. The Inquisitors, Machiavelli and Loyola were all devoted to a priori truths and the service of established power. Their profession was administration. Two of them were courtiers and drew heavily on their military experience. Their methodology was unrelated to ideas or morality. Fear and secrecy were their favourite weapons. They favoured personal anonymity, public discretion, simple dress and power exercised from behind a facade. Out on the cutting edge of social and political reform, methodology was becoming a mercenary for hire.

The next step was decisive. Early in the 1600s, rational technocracy found its long-term partner -- the nation-state. This passionate marriage took place under the authority of a theoretically absolute monarch -- Louis XIII -- and was engineered by a Cardinal.

Of course, when we look at those years, the tendency is to become mesmerized by the philosophical fireworks which filled them. Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes led the West in rejecting the medieval past and creating two opposing rational schools, one drawn from the new science, the other from mathematics.

Bacon went to great pains to layout the difference between constructing an argument in order to produce an answer, which he rejected, and doing so in order to seek an answer." The logic now in use serves rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions, than to help the search after truth. So it does more harm than good." [10] With perfect, effortless simplicity, he showed the fundamental difference between thought and judgment. This clarity, once released, seemed to languish for a century and a half, until the Encyclopedists seized upon Bacon and John Locke as their principal inspiration.

On closer examination, however, Bacon's clarity and open spirit seem less obvious. His personal career had been that of a courtier, with highs and lows not unlike that of Machiavelli. He betrayed his patron the Earl of Essex, further advanced himself by agreeing in a particular case to a torture-confession procedure in the Inquisition tradition and used public power to great personal profit. He appears to have been more Machiavellian than Machiavelli. .Bacon wrote a great deal about truth but rejected the supremacy of common law and therefore of Parliament. He considered natural law or reason to be supreme. This definition of the source of truth required an absolute monarch served by a wise adviser -- himself. And when, in his novella The New Atlantis, Bacon set about imagining an ideal society, the result was a dictatorship of technocrats who sought knowledge and truth. They then hid both from the citizen. Knowledge and power were married to secrecy and chastity. This chastity or asexuality may at first seem to be an oddity particular to Bacon's rational vision, but it will gradually show itself to be part of the general pattern.

A great deal is made of the differences between English and French philosophy, with Bacon and Descartes used to illustrate the parting of the ways. Their technical arguments are certainly very different. But the intent and the result are virtually indistinguishable.

Descartes, of course, remains the demigod of rational thought. His Discourse on Method formalized an astonishing view of reason. He was educated by the Jesuits and seemed to take from that -- among other things -- a submissive respect for authority. He even took the initiative to withdraw one of his books from circulation rather than risk displeasure. His celebrated exploration of doubt gradually showed itself to be a conservative force which prevented sensible arguments for change from passing the impossible tests of rational truth.

Descartes (1596-1650) was an exact contemporary of Richelieu (1585-1642). It was the Cardinal who, without reference to the thinker, would go on to build permanently into the first real modern state and into its methods all of Descartes's deductive ideas: One could even argue that it is Descartes who is in debt to Richelieu and not the contrary. By the time Descartes's Discourse on Method appeared in 1637, Richelieu had already been Prime Minister for thirteen years. As early as 1627 the Cardinal had introduced his thirteen-point proposal for "a Rational Reorganization of Government." The degree to which he was creating our future can be seen in such details as his restructuring of the educational system in order to produce more graduates in the scientific, practical professions and fewer in the general arts.

For someone who held power four centuries ago, Richelieu was a remarkable combination of the best and the worst of the twentieth century. As an individual he was the classic example of a technocratic leader. He had a nervous, impatient temperament, which made him far more effective behind the scenes than in public. He often dealt with widespread opposition by singling out and destroying one enemy in the group while reassuring' the others. He had a cynical view of human events which made him think that the mere application of his own intelligence could manipulate history and change its direction.

He was obsessed with detail and therefore with unending work. This work consisted to a great extent of placing himself at the centre of the flow of information in order to control or to collect it. By the end of his life he was manipulating an extraordinary system of agents and was the master of everyone's secrets. Secrecy was central to his methods. In his very first public act as a young, relatively unknown bishop at the Etats-Generaux in 1614, he proposed a two-part method for their deliberations: first, laying out the precise hours at which they would meet, and second, insisting upon the absolute secrecy of everything said and done. Precision, hard work and secrecy. If this does not seem a clear enough model for the technocrat, then one can add, for example, his vindictiveness. Twenty-eight years later, as he himself lay dying, swollen, in unbearable agony and fully conscious of the fact that he was within days of his own demise, he concentrated his mind upon the trial and condemnation to death of his great enemy, the Marquis de Cinq Mars. Of the thirteen judges who had just tried the young man, eleven voted for execution. What Richelieu insisted upon knowing -- he had no legal right to -- were the names of the two dissenters. [11] Had his own disease given him even a short reprieve, he no doubt would have insisted that only traitors could have believed that Cinq Mars wasn't a traitor.

Richelieu had another characteristic, a peculiar one, which is often found in people who are better at dealing with systems than with individuals. In public, he could force himself to be the essence of cool reason. In private, he was given to particularly personal and vicious attacks. Richelieu specialized in anonymous or ghosted pamphlets. There was, for example, his anonymous published attack on Louis XIII's favourite, the Due de Luynes. According to the Cardinal, the man had six major vices. He was "incompetent, a coward, ambitious, greedy, an ingrate and a cheat." [12] Language, for Richelieu, was a means of hiding his actions and thoughts rather than of communicating them. To his taste for private malice should be added a weakness for intrigues, which often accompanies both an obsession with secrecy and the seeking of power through structure.

But where did he get these tastes for intrigue and manipulation, this sad view of society and of the citizen and indeed of himself? The Chinese castration of imperial advisers was a means of removing dynastic dreams from ambitious young men. Certainly Richelieu's methods remind one of the eunuch approach. And the idle speculator can't help but gaze back at Bacon's praise of asexuality among rational elites or for. that matter, back further at Ignatius Loyola, creator of the rational system, and wonder about the exact height at which the cannonball passed between his legs and the exact damage it did on the way through. Reason seems to have created a system which, whatever its good points, . is often felt to be castrating. Is there any reason, then, to be surprised if it attracts to positions of power individuals who are prone to an asexual view of the world?

The structure that Richelieu put into place was, of course, filled with worthwhile and progressive characteristics. He had set out to create an honest administration, including that most difficult of things, an honest tax collection system. He was hard on elites that opposed him but relatively eager to help the poor, even if they had supported his enemies. He sought to remove the willful, irrational element from royal government.

Common sense leads each one of us to understand that man, having been endowed with reason, should do nothing except that which is reasonable, since otherwise he would be acting contrary to his nature ... there is nothing in nature less compatible with reason than emotion. [13]

The trademark of the nation-state was to be centralization and it was Richelieu who devised how to make this process unstoppable. He did this largely to create an efficient, honest government but also to destroy the negative power of both the Church and the aristocracy. It is difficult now to realize just how revolutionary all this. was. His nationalism was a new idea, scarcely understood, let alone accepted. He was struggling against the mainstream of power and against the general belief in aristocratic rights. In many ways the modern republic and its equivalent, the constitutional monarchy, are Richelieu's creations.

At the same time, all his actions -- positive and negative -- were accompanied by the use of fear, that essential tool of modern organization. "Punishments and rewards," he wrote,

are the two most important instruments of government.... Power is the cause of fear. It is certain that of all the forces capable. of producing results in public affairs, fear, if based upon both esteem and reverence, is the most effective, since it can drive everyone to do his duty. [14]

At one point in his career the Cardinal was forced out of office. Abruptly he became clumsy, even incompetent. He said and did the wrong things. He showed sijll1s of uncontrollable paranoia. His skills seemed to be suited to being in power, not in opposition. But if the rational method had grown out of the defence of established power, then why would one expect a great technocrat to flower in opposition? The effective use of power excludes the idea of honourable opposition.

A list of Richelieu's characteristics and policies makes him appear absolutely modern, but he should also be seen as the first man to fulfill Machiavelli's dream. Not to become the perfect prince. Machiavelli's prince was only the necessary, practical focus of a political method, given the time and the place. Richelieu was rather the fulfillment of Machiavelli's personal dream -- that of the employee who uses the cover of a prince in order to institute a new system. Louis XIII, despite his weak character and emotional instability, was the perfect marionette for Richelieu. Those who concentrated on the Cardinal's operatic day- to-day relationships with the King and the Queen Mother saw constant chopping and changing and minor intrigue. They missed what was really happening to France.

In the hands of a consummate technocrat, it was being transformed from a feudal kingdom into a nation. The absolute monarchy which followed, and which is habitually seen as the glorious swan song of the old ways, was in fact the first complete manifestation of the rationally administered nation-state.

Beneath the palace theatre of absolute monarchy ran the growing power of Richelieu's state, devoid of any real attachment to royal rights or to morality of any kind. Versailles was the modern state in disguise -- an elaborate game of charades. It was only a matter of time, given the forces which Richelieu had set in motion, before the prince was replaced by something even more malleable -- the constitutional democracy, in which governments came and went, while the cardinals, or their secular equivalents, remained.


In Buddhism there is a phrase -- the middle way -- which has always fascinated Westerners dissatisfied with the direction our society has taken. On closer examination that middle way turns out to be extremely arduous. But the phrase nevertheless expresses a reasonableness which is absent from our own rational absolutism. The tendency of eighteenth-century writers to set allegories in the East was tied to the idea that these people were more likely to be sensible.

Not that moderation has been absent from Western thought. Bacon strained after it in his search for openness of mind, as did Richelieu in his attempts to create fair institutions. And certainly Blaise Pascal laboured to cover up the still-warm tracks of Descartes by establishing the moral fibre of reason: "All our dignity, then, consists in thought. It is· upon this that we must depend.... Let us labour, then, to think well: this is the foundation of morality." [15]

In a sense Moliere was Pascal's alter ego. And Moliere's enormous popularity might have given the impression that there was hope for reasonable action. But those who told straight truths to large audiences -- as Moliere did -- came to play a specific role in societies where judgmental power dominated the state, learning, business and every other key area. They fulfilled the function of a Punch and Judy show. After the citizen had given his day, year, life to the real system -- the one that had power -- he went out to dream and to laugh in the theatre, where Moliere knocked his superiors about.

Still, Pascal could not be totally ignored. He could be admired, which meant he needn't be listened to. He could become like an honoured saint, better than other mortals but impossible to follow. As opposed, for example, to Thomas Hobbes, who was making an enormous impact in England by proposing a mechanical and secular social contract which depended on an absolute monarch and, above all, on fear as the control device.

Someone like John Locke was far more attractive. He attacked the old powers and the unexplained, unexplainable established order. And that was welcomed. Yet at the same time he led the citizenry, with his contractualism, farther along the easy path opened up by Bacon and Descartes which eventually brought them to an obsession with proofs and therefore with facts.

Facts at that time were such rare nuggets that no one realized how they would multiply. Everyone believed them to be solid and inanimate -- to be true facts. No one yet understood that life would become an. uncomfortable, endless walk down a seashore laid thick with facts of all sizes and shapes. Boulders, pebbles, shards, perfect ovals. No one had begun to imagine that these facts were without any order, imposed or natural -- that facts were as meaningful as raw vocabulary without grammar or sentences. A man could pick up any fact he wished and fling it into the sea and make it skip. A practiced, talented arm could make it skip three, perhaps four times, while a lesser limb might make a single plunk with the same concrete proof of some truth or other. Another man might build with these facts some sort of fortress on the shore.

As for Locke, he certainly did not think that facts would rapidly become the weapons, not only of good men but of evil men, not only of truth but of lies. Had he but looked back at Richelieu's career, he might have seen what was to come. At the age of twenty in Rome, Richelieu had argued a sermon before the Pope in order to prove a particular point. The very next day he was again before the Pope and argued the same sermon in order to prove the opposite point. [16]

Europe had hardly reached the supposed birth of modern reason, and yet hints of the force of the future blind logic were already in the air. There were those who saw what was happening and who warned eloquently. Jonathan Swift's trenchant words came too soon and were too harsh. With books like Gulliver's Travels (1726) he became popular but was immediately categorized as marginal and peculiar. And there was that unhappy professor, Giambattista Vico, who tried to advance his ideas in the very Catholic city of Naples. He used an historical approach to combat the Cartesian self-justifying abstractions. Rationalists tended later to categorize him as an obscure reactionary in order to discount what he was saying. But he wasn't seeking to defend the old order, and certainly not the worst of the old order. Rather, he was striving for the same inquisitiveness as Pascal, the same care in seeking out right and Wrong." Today," he wrote in 1708,

only criticism and judgement are admired. The subject itself has been relegated to the last row.... They say that as men are capable of judgement, one need only teach them a thing and they will know if it is true. But who can be sure to have seen everything? [17]

As for the new methods of analysis, "It is impossible to deny anything they say unless you attack them from the beginning. [18]

Vico was perhaps the first to recognize the irresistible strength of the new and theoretically free methods of argument, which in fact were structured to make a particular answer inevitable. He and Montesquieu both condemned the loss of the "political vocation" as it had been preached by the Greeks and the Romans -- a vocation in favour of the cult of truth, a vision of society as a moral whole. [19] It was Montesquieu, a jurist from the minor nobility of Bordeaux, who initiated early in the eighteenth century the admiration of French philosophers for English freedoms.

But if truth was becoming nothing more than a structured argument studded with useful, malleable facts, then what was left of the moral whole except Machiavellianism on the one hand and raw sentiment on the other? Common sense, which might also be called careful emotion or prudence, was squeezed out of the picture. Vico and Montesquieu sensed what would happen after the anchors of the old system had finally been cut away -- technocracy would reign in a curious coalition with almost animal emotion. The perfectly normal human emotive needs, in the absence of a social context which could deal with them, would degenerate into sentiment. And it was that base sentiment, unleashed by the rational technocrat, which would turn into the cult of the Hero.


The Lisbon earthquake struck in 1755 and shattered the moral legitimacy of established power. It did to the psychic inviolability of Church and absolute monarchs what the Vietnam War later did to that of the United States. This catastrophe, which killed indiscriminately thousands of children, women and men, poor and rich, seemed somehow to require an immediate explanation. The people of Europe asked themselves a collective Why? The Church and the constituted authorities couldn't stop themselves from replying that God was punishing sinners.

Instinctively the citizenry found this answer ridiculous. Lisbon wasn't a particularly sinning town, certainly not in comparison to Madrid, Paris or London. And those children, women, poor. They could know nothing of important sins. The claim of divine retribution was so obviously ridiculous that, abruptly, people felt liberated from any obligation to believe anything the authorities said. In particular the Church discredited its power to give or to withhold moral sanction on the way people led their lives.

Of all the citizens, those belonging to the aristocracy were in the most complex position. It had been decades since they had believed unquestionably in the foundations of their own legitimacy. However, they profited from the maintenance of a pretence of belief. That pretence was quickly cut to ribbons by the philosophers of the Enlightenment who, being in full flood, pounced with all their acerbic wit on the official Lisbon story. None of this was immediately clear in any concrete or structural way, but the veil had been rent.

In that same year, an event occurred which made it possible to believe for the first time that reason was not a mere idea, that reason could govern men. Philosophers would no longer have to invent mythical Oriental nations, as Montesquieu and Voltaire had done, in order to illustrate their arguments. They could now simply refer to the republic in Corsica. [20]

History is particular in the events that it chooses to retain. Retention usually requires the continued existence of a solid group -- an organized nation or a reasonably, numerous people -- that will integrate the event into its mythology and nurture it over the centuries. The Corsican republic has slipped out of general memory because there was no one off the Mediterranean island interested in remembering. The philosophical ideas that Pascal Paoli applied, when constructing his republic, were largely French. And it was the French who destroyed his republic: first Louis XV; then the Revolution; then, definitively, Bonaparte. Even on the island itself, integration into France meant that the importance of the Paoli republic would be, indeed had to be, played down by the authorities.

Corsica had belonged to Genoa since the sixteenth century. The Genoese had always concentrated their power in the island's ports and kept a loose hold on the mountainous interior, where most of the population lived. From time to time -- and increasingly in the eighteenth century -- the rival Corsican clans would agree on a common leader and then rise up in revolt. Paoli's father had led one of these liberation forces with great success. But the Genoese then asked the Austrians and the French to support them militarily and in 1738 the elder Paoli fled to Naples, taking his thirteen-year-old son with him. Pascal Paoli was therefore brought up in exile in Italy, where he memorized the classics, learned Italian, French and English, was trained as an army officer and read all the eighteenth-century philosophers.

In 1755 the clans again came together and, "by the general voice," elected the then thirty-year-old exile their leader and asked him to come home. Paoli came determined to apply the ideas of the philosophes to that piece of the real world. He transformed what had begun as yet another clan revolt into something so different that the island was soon liberated except for a few besieged ports. In desperation the Genoese again turned to France for help and Louis XV sent an expedition. (By chance the future revolutionary Mirabeau was among the French officers.) Paoli's army used guerrilla tactics to make mincemeat of these regulars, but Louis's response to defeat was simply to send a second, larger expedition in return for Genoa's title deed to the island.

This invasion stirred Rousseau to write: "I still find it hard to believe that France is Willing to ,call down upon herself the censure of the world." [21] The first Pitt, who was later to support the American revolutionaries against his own king, spoke up in Corsica's defence, saying of Paoli that he was "one of those men who are no longer to be found but in the Lives of Plutarch." [22]

The second French force included a young major, Count de Guibert, the future inventor of modern military strategy. Now that their own 'territorial expansion was in question, the French applied themselves seriously and the imbalance of numbers and of available funds combined to weaken Paoli's army. Then a single major strategic error in 1769 led to a Corsican military rout halfway across a mountain river on the Ponte Nuovo.

The republic was dead. Paoli fled. His senior officers -- including Napoleon Bonaparte's father -- went home. And Paris began its standard absorption of newly conquered territories. This included an interdiction on the teaching of the Corsican language and a gathering up of the local young male elite to be educated as Frenchmen on the mainland.

Paoli, meanwhile, was on his way to exile in England. At that time most philosophers believed that the English enjoyed the greatest political freedom in Europe. And Paoli had the expectation of being welcomed there thanks to James Boswell, who had come to Corsica a few years before and written a book devoted to glowing descriptions of Paoli's republic.

As the defeated leader crossed Europe on his way to London, he was greeted as the great hero of political reason. Enormous crowds -- often so thick that he couldn't leave the houses he was staying in -- followed him everywhere. His likeness was sold on handkerchiefs. The kings of Europe sought him out as he passed and paid homage. When he reached England, John Wesley wrote: "Lord, show him what is Thy will concerning him and give him a kingdom that cannot be moved!" [23]

This was the period leading up to the American Revolution, and the colonials had only three foreign heroes -- Pitt the Elder, John Wilkes and Paoli. Corsica played a key role in the rise of the republican ideal within the thirteen colonies. Ships and children were named after the martyred leader. When the Revolution came, the rebels used his name as a rallying cry during charges against the English troops. And in later years the old revolutionaries throughout the American republic raised their glass in his honour on the night of Paoli's birthday.

It is difficult to imagine today the impact that the Corsican republic made on Europe and America during its fourteen years in operation and then again during the French Revolution, when Paoli was called from exile in London across to Paris. There he was cheered by the entire National Assembly, from moderates to revolutionaries, as the first man to have fought the kings and governed under the sign of reason. All of them -- Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre -- knew that in 1762, when Paoli's republic was only seven years old, Rousseau had written in The Social Contract:

There is one Country still capable of legislation -- the island of Corsica. The courage and constancy with which that brave people have recovered and defended their liberty deserves the reward of having some wise man teach them how to preserve it. [24]

Various philosophers imagined themselves in this role, but Paoli himself was obliged by circumstances to fill it. Without being an ideologue, he saw himself as the agent of reason. His great common sense permitted him to act in a reasonable manner while the absolutist forces -- old and new -- flew about. In the end he was defeated by both: the tail end of the absolute monarchy combined with the new, strident forces of nationalist reason.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:26 pm


The modern equivalent of Corsica's popularity among the intellectuals and young of eighteenth-century Europe and America is perhaps that of Alexander Dubcek's Czechoslovakia or Salvador Allende's Chile in the 1960s. And yet the situation was quite different. Paoli was the forerunner of an absolutely new idea. He was the first leader to try and to succeed. And then he was crucified -- first by the old interests, then by the new. He popularized the rule of reason and thus carried the idea for the first time beyond the intellectuals and out to the general population of Europe. In popular terms his impact was like that of John Kennedy. Later, in exile, he came to resemble Norodom Sihanouk, the wandering shadow of a small country destroyed by the large powers.

Behind all these reverberations lay Paoli's practical invention of the modern republic, by no means an ideal creation. He was dealing with a poor population still divided into clans. Their election of him was representative only in the sense of a clan-based election. At best it could be said that if ever there was a society which resembled Marx's unconscious democracy, it was the Corsica on which Paoli landed in 1755.

He attempted to carry his country directly from the middle ages to the Age of Reason, jumping over the age of the absolute monarchs in a way which made use of every modern ideal. First he appeared to be the model republican leader. He dressed in simple clothing and refused the moneys voted him by the Assemblies. He created a public school system and a university. Although a believer himself, he dismantled the political and economic power of the Church, instituted a fair legal system, encouraged local industries in what we would now call a social democratic manner, and helped the Assembly to produce a model constitution, which encouraged decentralization and delegation. His enlightened ideas on a variety of subjects were reported to the world by Boswell and other visitors, as well as through his vast correspondence.

He admired politicians in their role as the servants of the people. He was a nationalist within the limits of public service and of a free state. He admired William Penn's peaceful colony, where the people were "happier than Alexander the Great after destroying multitudes at the conquest of Thebes." [25] He had a strong sense of virtue and a "faith in the people" which be followed all of his life. The Corsican Constitution of 1762 drew on the ad hoc body of existing laws and upon the principles of the Enlightenment. His opening speech to the elected Consulta in May of the same year was a model of reason in action:

Your fellow citizens in electing you to represent them have placed their dearest interests in your hands ... so examine your consciences, enlighten each other by frank discussion, and be convinced that the resolutions you will take together will become the law of the land, because what they represent will be the sincere expression of the will of the country.

It was Paoli who first wrote of free citizens ready to accept "only liberty or death" and ho, on returning to his country after twenty-one years of exile in England, fell to the ground to kiss the earth, thus sealing the link between reason and the love of country -- an equation which, more than any other of that time, has been deformed to serve the opposite purpose.

Paoli's republic, much more than the American, was the precursor of the French Revolution. In 1790 Mirabeau, in order to cleanse his own hands, which had been "dirtied" by participation in the military expedition sent by Louis XV to destroy the Corsican republic, moved that the Assembly invite Paoli back from exile in England. The French Constitution of 1790 was an imitation of the one Paoli had instituted a quarter of a century before, and so he came to Paris as a hero. A wild reception greeted his entry into the Assembly. The leaders filed one after the other to the podium to praise him. Robespierre set the tone: "You defended freedom when we did not even dare to hope for it." [26]

The excited and unstable tribunes of Paris sent him to Corsica to govern in their name and in that of reason. Paoli was welcomed home as the national saviour. As in 1755, he put all temptations of personal glory aside and got to work. But this was the last high point of his life. Having invented the first government of reason, he was about to be squeezed between the two forces that were set to dominate the West -- the technocrats and the Heroes -- the classic division of modern rational society. Paoli's honesty, his age and the smallness of Corsica in the centre of this hurricane, all limited his freedom of movement.

He set about carrying out his mandate, only to discover that as Paris writhed into ever- greater confusion and the revolutionaries set about destroying each other, it was virtually impossible not to fall foul of them. It was hard to know whether his distance from the capital was an advantage or a disadvantage. In any case he was soon under attack from the Assembly, which did everything it could to destabilize him.

The element most susceptible to destabilization was the new generation of young Corsican aristocrats who had grown up during the twenty years of French rule. They were a curious group. Almost schizophrenic. Educated in France a d drawn into the Parisian orbit -- with all that implied of superficial urban superiority covering up the demons of a provincial inferiority complex -- they were nevertheless sons of clan leaders and themselves Corsican nationalists who resented the French conquest. Paoli was their spiritual father.

Now, with the Revolution in Paris, a new phenomenon -- romantic reason -- was in full flood. Every young man began to see himself as a potential Hero, created not by the Paolian ideal of the self-sacrificing public servant but by the new dream of the unleashed ego. If a young man felt endowed with enough courage to snatch personal glory, then destiny and reason somehow empowered him to do so at the expense of whoever was in the way. Betrayal of causes and homeland were nothing when weighed against glory -- the new word for personal advancement. Voltaire had already written in his Philosophical Dictionary: "He who burns with ambition to become aedile, tribune, praetor, consul, dictator, cries out that he loves his country and he loves only himself." [27] For a young Corsican consumed by the fires of Heroic ambition there could be no greater obstacle than Paoli, the living spirit of reasonable public service.

The Bonaparte brothers led the way in this new worship of the Hero. Paoli had every reason to believe in their loyalty. Not only had their father been one of his best and closest officers, their mother had been a famous patriot, following her husband through the mountains from battlefield to battlefield during the campaign against Louis XV's expedition. She had been there, six months pregnant, on May 8, 1769, when the Corsican republic suffered its great and last defeat at Ponte Nuovo. With her husband, she managed to flee the catastrophe and to reach their home in Ajaccio, where Bonaparte was born. Twenty years later, the young man was serving in the French artillery, but he was still fiercely loyal to the Corsican cause. Like Paoli, he had initially been encouraged by the Revolution of 1789. Then, as the confusion and jingoism in Paris turned against the interests of his island, Bonaparte wrote to Paoli of his hatred for the French and of his feelings for the poor Corsicans, "weighed down by chains even as they kissed, trembling, the hand which oppressed them." [28]

In truth, however, the factionalism and subterfuge of a revolution gone wrong were already drawing these young Corsican aristocrats into the emotional turbulence. Who was pure? Who wasn't? Who a revolutionary? Who a traitor? What was liberty? What was the public good? Who should hold power? Who should die? Abstract rational thought was operating at full force and with an immediate impact on the real world. Paoli refused to let Corsica slip into this violent dialectic. Instead he continued on a course of steady, calm reform. The Paris Assembly was at its most radical stage and was looking for diversions. They declared Paoli a criminal and threatened to invade Corsica. They also focused on the young future clan leaders living in Paris and convinced them that Paoli's moderation was antirevolutionary. A small group was sent home to provoke Heroic, revolutionary events. Paoli countered by calling together the Corsican Consulta -- 1,000 strong. They declared the island an independent republic for the second time in forty years.

But when the old man discovered that a group of young Corsicans, including the Bonapartes, was actually plotting against him to win power in Paris, he despaired and sought a counterweight to France. Only one existed -- England. He placed the Corsican Republic under British protection, then discovered that they were just as rapacious as the French. London sent a governor -- a Sir Gilbert Elliot -- who turned out to be a technocrat of limited talents. Vain, given to plotting and flattery, jealous of prerogatives, an administrator who stayed inside his palace, Elliot could not accept that the support the English had on the island came entirely from the people's confidence in Paoli. Instead he saw the old man as a rival and plotted with the English authorities to squeeze the Corsican out.

Elliot believed that his own inability to control the island could be reversed through administrative manipulation. The problem, he argued, was Paoli's age. The old man slowed events by his lengthy consultations with the Corsicans. And his desire to support a state built on the principles of reason, while opposing French imperialism, was an idea too complex to function with a world war raging about them. Elliot believed that if he could get rid of Paoli, he would control the man's administrative system and therefore the government and the island. It took some time before his mandarin skills could force the old man into his third exile. This was followed by a night or so during which Elliot was technically in absolute control. Then everything evaporated around him. One minute he was master of the island. The next it wasn't safe for him to leave his palace. Shortly after, the English were obliged to abandon the island.

On paper, of course, Elliot had not lost Corsica. He had decided to withdraw from it. If any blame was due, it was to Paoli. Had the old man left sooner, Elliot would not have had to withdraw at all. In fact, there were lots of people he could blame in his reports. And, in what would later become the tradition of the staff officer -- promoted for losing battles -- Elliot managed to have himself rewarded with the title Baron Minto of Minto. He put the national symbol of Corsica -- a moor's head with a white bandeau into his family coat of arms.

As for Bonaparte, he had fled back to France the moment his plotting was discovered and had since concentrated his ambitions there. In some ways, having no attachment to the country made him a perfect model for the Hero. The importance of a detached or mercenary approach had been a recurring theme in the writing of rationalist thinkers since Machiavelli.

The Bonaparte brothers were still leading the way in the practical creation and worship of the rational Hero. By being first, doing so as an organized family group and getting a solid hold on power for more than a decade, they were able to define Heroic action for the next two centuries. The only problem they had in creating this mythological aura stemmed from the fact that they had made their way by betraying the first great rational statesman, who had also been their father figure and that of Corsica. In other words, they had also betrayed their own country.

Napoleon's embarrassment could be seen in his studious avoidance of Corsica once he had got hold of power in Paris. He also pushed ahead With the integration of the island into the French structure. The extraordinary educational and mythological machinery, centered in the French capital ensured that Paoli would be eliminated from or deformed in, every aspect of organized culture and government. Since the Revolution was to be presented as the expression of reason and Napoleon as its natural inheritor, Paoli had to be presented as the enemy of reason.

The official mythology, therefore, gradually balanced the idolatry of Bonaparte with its ridiculing of Paoli. This formula was finally perfected in the twentieth century, in Abel Gance's brilliant but totally inaccurate film deifying Bonaparte. The young man is presented as an idealistic, disinterested, virginal -- indeed, physically beautiful -- nationalist, who must deal with Paoli, a degenerate, corpulent, corrupt - indeed, syphilitic - old dictator. The fact that Paoli was scrupulously honest, died poor, led a monastic life and introduced democracy, while Bonaparte went on to political, military and financial excess through uncontrolled, egocentric ambition, disappears effortlessly beneath the full flood of organized cinematic mythology. Even the personal physiques of the two men were inverted by Gance. Paoli was a tall, aesthetic figure. It was Bonaparte, an extremely short man with an undescended testicle, who ran to fat. But none of that mattered. After all, the creation of the Hero had as little to do with reality as did the administrative effectiveness of Sir Gilbert Elliot, later known as Baron Minto.


Long before this disastrous period in Paoli's life, the example of his first republic had already been embraced in the American colonies. There, reason was given a second opportunity to prove itself. The colonials were far luckier than the Corsicans. London was a long way away. The power of the British Parliament tempered the power of the king. And the power of the colonials' friends within Parliament in turn weakened the war party. The colonies were also reasonably large ,and led not by one brilliant man but by a remarkable collection of men. Within this group were two who would replace Paoli In international mythology as the republican ideal.

It is fair to say that had the United States not produced Washington and Jefferson, its history would have been quite different. Without a calm first president, equipped with perfect honour and a limited ambition, and a third president who possessed in addition a genius that could both imagine the republic of reason and put it into effect, it is highly unlikely that the revolutionary excitement could have been channelled and the country put onto a reasonable track.

Not that the Revolution was entirely satisfactory. The resulting Constitution, as the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall has pointed out, was "defective from the start." [29] Even after a civil war and momentous social transformations, the current system of government is still unable to deal with the terrible economic disparities, the violence and the growing, uneducated, nonvoting percentage of the population. Nevertheless, Washington and Jefferson managed to hold the republic in place long enough for emotions to cool and for the nation to get off the revolutionary roller coaster. The French experience shows what might have happened. Caught in full revolution with no great republican leaders, they were thrown, as if in an epileptic fit, from republic to dictator to king to republic to dictator to republic to dictator and back to the republic they have today.

Our standard view is that the violent change provoked by the French Revolution was much greater than that of the American. France's subsequent instability is supposed to be the result. But if we are talking about profound social changes, then the analysis is wrong. In France the real revolution had already taken place, gradually, over the preceding twenty years.

The rising intellectual and administrative class was already converted to reason, Most of the latter came from the aristocracy, albeit the minor aristocracy, which was more accurately a manifestation of a new upper middle class. Many of the modernizing administrative changes they sought had already been made or were in process by the time the Revolution broke out. The Ecole Royale desPonts et Chaussees (the national civil engineering school) had been founded in 1776, followed by the national mining engineering school and the Ecole Normale Superieure (for the training of professors). Even the greatest of all the national schools, the Polytechnique, was created in midrevolution by the middle-class elements who felt they were involved in a continuing process, rather than beginning something new. The army structure had already been modernized under Louis XVI to an extent that the British would not reach until late in the nineteenth century. The revolutionary army, which amazed everyone by beating the great Prussian army at Valmy in 1792, was in fact the re-formed royal army, commanded in large part by the products of that system -- young, well-born, professional officers, who had been converted to the principles of rational management well before 1789.

As for the king's divine right -- that official enemy of the Revolution -- no one had actually believed in it for years. How could they? Most of the ruling elite hardly believed in God. They certainly didn't believe in an active, hands-on God.

The superficial forms, which Louis XIV had originally given the state, were now its only cement. Louis XIV had dressed and lived like a Sun King in order to give the aristocracy and the population a concrete emanation of his power. On the rungs which descended from his throne of grandeur, each aristocrat had a perch in declining order of visible magnificence. Louis sought to tie the aristocracy to this meaningless code in order to control them while he consolidated his own power. He was, after all, a man who enjoyed great simplicity, a man perfectly conscious of the difference between his appearance as Sun King and his reality as the functioning head of state. Particularly during the second half of his reign, he tended to escape from sight whenever possible, shed his extravagant costumes and, like an actor offstage, sit quietly in a small salon with his wife.

It took only a century for the sense of that division to be lost. Louis XVI and his entourage had actually come to believe in the reality of appearances. They believed that it was this masquerade, this publicity system, which made Louis king; that without it, he was nothing. What's more, if appearances were all that mattered, there was no reason to worry about his real incompetence when it carne to doing his job. This reasoning may sound familiar, because it resembles the assumptions often made about political leadership today.

Again and again during the Revolution, Louis was incapacitated not so much by his own weak character or his drinking or his wife's stupidity as by his inability to differentiate between appearance and reality. This came to a head during his abortive escape attempt of 1791, which ended in recapture at Varennes. Confusion in his own mind between his royal dignity and the need to disguise himself caused him to reject several effective escape plans. He settled for the most cumbersome approach and disdained any proper disguise. Louis wore a pink wig, as if the whole business were a costume party rather than a desperate, real moment. A government structure in which the leader and his senior advisers are willing to 'risk the existence of the entire system over whether the leader should or should not wear a proper servant's wig for twelve hours is not simply a sclerotic system. By normal clinical standards it is already dead.

But why was the result of revolution so much more destabilizing in France than in the United States? The first answer has already been given -- America was lucky in its revolutionary leaders. The second is that, unlike France, America did not try to become a republic in more than name. Washington's job description fitted Voltaire's of a benevolent monarch in almost every way except for the title. Third, it is not clear that the history of the United States has been any more stable than that of France. For example, the ongoing high levels of violence associated with American civilization are usually attributed to the frontier tradition. They could just as easily be attributed to the syndrome of solving social problems with force, which was produced by the Revolution.

The real answer, however, may be far more general. The threat or promise of change brings out the frail nature of mankind's psyche. And sudden change is an imposition of instability. The rational argument, from its modern beginnings, has tried to avoid dealing with this reality. The multitude of abstract social models -- mathematical, scientific, mechanical, and market based -- are all based on an optimistic assumption that a schematic reorganization of society will be good for the human race. Even the idea of man as a perfectable being is dependent on an idea of manipulation from outside or above. The technocrats and the Heroes are the two favoured types of rational manipulators.

But what the French and American revolutions should have told us is that human beings do not respond effectively to this sort of manipulation. And the more abstract it is, the more they resistor slide on to an emotional and political roller coaster. In that sense revolution is a sign of the failure of both those who lose power and those who gain it. It provokes an instability which the people and the new leaders seek to control as rapidly as possible. But once let loose, this instability takes on a momentum of its own -- a momentum that provokes physical suffering and blood. The end result may be that certain problems are solved, but in the process the civilization is permanently scarred. by the violence. The violent act usually fosters both increased levels of inflexible extremism and absolutism and yet more violence.


With this much hindsight, it is relatively easy to identify the long-term destabilizing effects of extreme social engineering. People living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a far harder time reading the signals flashing all around them in a confusing array. Those who sought the middle way -- like Paoli and Jefferson -- had to grope through the disorder as best they could, aided by their common sense.

An interesting example of this process was Edmund Burke -- a great Whig; a careful, inquisitive thinker; and a supporter of Corsica, Irish independence and the American revolutionaries. With his "Address to the Electors of Bristol" he laid out one of the first reasonable proposals fur a practical relationship between the voter and the elected. He also opposed slavery. He did make, however, one important "ideological" error in his career. He opposed the French Revolution. Some of his arguments against it were brilliant; others were patently wrong. France was not a country he knew a great deal about and so, out of ignorance, he praised the ancien regime. But his practical sense did help him to see what was disastrous-about the Revolution. He pointed out that he was in favour of a "moral regulated liberty as' well as any gentleman in France [but would not] stand forward and give praise [to an] object stripped of all concrete relations [so that it stood] in all the solitude of a metaphysical idea." [30]

This opposition caused him to be recategorized by the great flow of rationalist philosophers, including Jeremy Bentham and James Mill; as a reactionary, rather in the way earlier philosophers had categorized Vico. In a sense Burke suffered the intellectual equivalent of condemnation by the Inquisition or elimination for serious consideration by Cartesian logic or a Stalinist show trial.

Those who categorized him didn't like his stands in favour of Paoli and Washington anymore than they liked his opposition to the French Revolution. In fact, it wasn't his stands they disliked, it was how and why he took them. It wasn't that he opposed reform or justice, which he ,didn't, but that he rejected the new logic. On most days Burke had a solid historical sense, He was able to see events as they were and to see where an approximate moral truth lay. He was a practical man who relied on common sense, He didn't use a priori arguments. He was therefore an enemy of the new age.

To rational thinkers his support of reform in certain areas seemed to contradict his conservatism, in others. But Burke saw reform and the maintenance of stability as part of a balance or a compromise which reflected the real world. And the real world was filled with contradictions which could not be eliminated by the egotistical sweep of an abstract hand. In that sense, even at his most conservative, he was closer to the middle way than were the optimistic rationalists, who imagined whole populations sliced free of their limiting past and present, then flipped over to fry in a new, clean future with all the inanimate passivity of a Big Mac. This was the reality that Burke groped for when attacking the French Revolution: the more complete the idealistic future proposed, the more certain it was to require some overriding dissolution imposed either by the initiators or by those who would appear in extremis to establish authority in the resulting anarchical situation. In either case the effect would be to unleash a level of violence which, in this clean, new world liberated from experience and common sense, would be virtually unrestrainable.

Burke, of course, wasn't the only reformer to have doubts about the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was the American ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789. He and Lafayette had been friends during the American Revolution. In 1789 Jefferson was the only experienced and successful revolutionary in Paris and so his house became a mecca for the newly elected Assembly members. They asked his advice and he soon began to tell them they were slipping off course, that matters were moving out of control, not just for the king but for the reformers and the revolutionaries. They were losing sight of the concrete wrongs which had provoked the whole business. Real opportunities to consolidate democratic political power and social justice were slipping by because everyone was getting caught up in enormous battles over such abstract things as the true nature of man and which were the absolute solutions to all problems. Mirabeau and Danton were distracted by these large ideas and their own personal petty corruption. Robespierre and Saint Just were emerging as the reincarnations of the Inquisitors and Loyola disguised in the garb of revolutionary avenging angels.


Jefferson's own revolutionary origins and his record as a fair and honest president have in the long run put him beyond the sort of intellectual show trial that Burke suffered. In fact, Jefferson may be the sole example of a great man of reason able to keep himself above and beyond the judgmental scourge of the rational ideologues. He was thus highly successful both in his ideas and in his political execution. His faults are there to be counted, but he was arguably the greatest public figure the modern world has produced. Philosopher, writer, architect, farmer, inventor, revolutionary, politician, head of state; a man surrounded by friends and by love. He avoided intrigue. Did not believe in secrecy. Understood the difference between the primacy of peace and the extremity in which war is justified. He failed to convince his colleagues to deal with the slave question in the Declaration of Independence but wrote: "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people are to be free." But if "it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up." [31] He had the true democrat's faith in the people as "the source of all authority." [32] He acted in a constant state of moral consciousness." An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." "Though you cannot see, when you take one step, what will be the next," he wrote to a nephew, "yet follow truth, justice' and plain dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth, in the easiest manner possible. The knot which you thought a Gordian one, will untie itself before you. Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition that a person can extricate himself from a difficulty by intrigue, by chicanery. by dissimilation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an unjustice." [33]

His words ring today like those of a choirboy. But that reflects upon us, not upon the words. Jefferson dealt as he spoke." No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be to leave open to him all the avenues to truth." [34] Yet all the time he knew that the violent origins of the United States had created a mythology which its people were obliged to be proud of, and that pride could not prevent such violence from becoming an historical weight." The blood of the people is become an inheritance." [35] It was something that had to be slowly absorbed by the new system.

Nowhere does he suggest that being a genius or a Hero or a champion or, for that matter, being someone capable of producing right answers was necessary to the function of good government. His description of George Washington is a veritable eulogy to the qualities of not being the best:

His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so accurate as that of a Newton, Bacon or Locke, and as far as he saw, no judgement was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.... Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence.... His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known -- no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friend ship or hatred, being able to bias his decision.... He considered our new Constitution as an experiment on the practicability of republican government ... and would lose the 'last drop of his blood in support of it. [36]

It isn't surprising that Politicians of all sorts have tried to claim Jefferson as their own. They usually hang their claim not on his general philosophical, moral or political beliefs, but on some specific concept used by Jefferson to reflect a concrete need of his time. President Reagan was particularly adept at this hijacking of isolated moral precepts, which he then used to justify actions that would have horrified Jefferson. What these pillagers of words avoid, however, is the great common sense that Jefferson brought to reason and morality, as well as the historical view to which, like Burke, he managed to marry all three. But then the historical view implies a solid memory of how the past had unfolded and that in turn hampers the clean lines of freestanding rational solutions.

How different France's revolutionary experience might have been had it had either Washington or Jefferson to guide events, Instead the people, their hearts still racing with the excitement and anguish of revolt, were lost in a sea of superhuman ideas and expectations, while being led by brilliant but immature egotists who rapidly murdered each other. When these were replaced by a group of venal and rather ordinary politicians, the people felt more than disappointment. They slipped into a national depression and sought desperately for the promised answers. It was then they needed leaders capable of explaining that the true glory of freedom was something as boring as an honest politician. Or that the process of reason was slow and cumbersome. Or that restraint of the individual ego was central to the victory of reason.


Instead, out of the confusion, there appeared a full-blown male version of the base sentiment that Montesquieu and Giambattista Vico had warned of seventy-five years before. The anchor of the old system had been cut away by an abstract revolution, The rational thinkers and technocrats were unable to give the pitching ship a direction. And so, in the absence of any stable social context, the perfectly normal emotive needs of the population degenerated into sentiment. It took on concrete form as the cult of the Hero, the golden calf of reason, Bonaparte, disciple of Paoli, came fresh from the betrayal of both his mentor and his homeland, That he was a foreigner made him a more perfect Hero. He was there not to repair the anchor but to sail the ship away. In other words, the Hero turned out to be reason's magician, who replaced memory and history with himself.

Of course, Bonaparte made the impact he did because he had undeniable talents, He still stands as the great modern general, He had a passion for administrative and legal reorganization. He couldn't conquer a city without wanting, like a Roman emperor, to open an avenue through the centre and then build something grand at either end, In fact, almost everything he did was subject to the effects of uncontrolled ego, And from the moment of his coup d'etat on the eighteenth Brumaire -- when he panicked at the podium of the Assembly and his brother had to carry it through -- the chasm between the myth of the rational Hero on the one hand and the reality of the man and his acts on the other never ceased to widen.

In that context, it is worth pointing out that of the first four modern republics, Bonaparte destroyed three: Corsica, Haiti, whose leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture, was thrown into a damp, cold prison to die of exposure, and France. And he didn't get on with the fourth, the United States.

Bonaparte quickly revealed the face of the Hero, and from the very beginning it contained all the characteristics of blind reason. He was judgmental -- impatient of unclear situations. Not long before his coup d'etat, he said that what France needed was a "complete victory for one party. Ten thousand killed, from one side or the other. If not, we'll have to keep starting over." Along with his judgments came a contempt for the people." What they need is glory, the gratifications of vanity." [37] Beyond that he exploited a vaguely democratic vocabulary he didn't believe in. The real message he took from the Revolution was the necessity for rational administration. "Once the happiness of the French people is based upon the best organic laws, all of Europe will become free." [38] In other words, reason equals structure equals happiness and that is freedom. Reason means contented efficiency. Bonaparte understood that the power given by efficient methods and rational argument was 'far more absolute than anything the kings had known. The only thing needed to make this combination irresistible was an emotive personality. Thus, emotional instability -- known as charisma -- combined with a talent for rational methods, became the recipe for the modern absolute dictator.

Outside the Assembly on eighteenth Brumaire, just after his coup, Bonaparte felt his courage coming back and so began to harangue his soldiers: "This state of things can't go on. In three years they will lead us back to despotism. We want a Republic based upon equality, morality, civil liberty and political tolerance. With good administration, all individuals will forget which faction they belong to and they will be able to be French." [39] In other words, he carried out a coup to prevent despotism. He promised various liberties at the very moment that he was suppressing liberty. He promised efficiency, again, as the magic potion to produce what he had once called "happiness" and, now called "French." That reason could have led so fast to blind nationalism is astounding.

It followed that he should next shut down the new -- and even the old -- mechanisms of free speech. After all the Bourbon monarchy had been a fairly loose organization in its last years. Even Voltaire had come back to Paris and been cheered at the theatre with the Queen present. Napoleon wouldn't have tolerated Voltaire for two minutes. He reduced the Assembly to a mouthpiece. Writers fled into exile. He took Richelieu's idea of a spy network a step further by developing the first truly modern and effective secret police system under the control of Fouche. He recreated Louis XIVs diversionary social control system by crowning himself emperor and distributing grand titles which required grand uniforms. Then he cynically set about distributing more medals than any state had ever seen: He referred to them as baubles.

And all the time he continued working on his own Heroic mythology. At the heart of it lay his most brilliant and most deformed discovery -- the emotional trick which would bond a disturbed population to the Hero. This trick involved a very simple concept: all Heroes have a tragic destiny. They are married to the people. They sacrifice themselves like a virgin on the altar of mystical service. Napoleon's secretary, Count Roederer, recorded that when the Hero moved into the Tuileries -- the dark, damp, but royal palace -- the following exchange took place:

Roederer: "How sad this place is, General!"

Bonaparte: "Yes, like greatness!" [40]

For years he went on repeating this sort of mystical trash. While Moscow burned, for example, he engaged his confidant, Count Narbonne, in romantic conversation:

For myself, I love above all tragedy, great, sublime, the way Corneille wrote it. Great men are truer to life in plays than in reality. In plays you only see them in crises which test them, In the moments of supreme decision-making. No time is lost on all these preparatory details that the historians make the mistake of trying to weigh us down with.... Man suffers many miseries, fluctuations and doubts. All of that must disappear in the hero. He is the monumental statue on which no weaknesses show. He is that statue, Persia by Cellini. That sublime statue where one hardly suspects the ordinary lead or tin thrown into the mix in order to produce his demi-god. [41]

Suddenly it becomes clear why Bonaparte was the only real hate of Jefferson's life. Even Alexander Hamilton, who had some of the makings of a dangerous Hero, was treated as an opponent, not a monster. But in dealing with Hamilton, it was the American system that was in question and Jefferson must have believed he could bring out the best in it. Therefore Hamilton would fail. Bonaparte functioned in another system and Jefferson knew, from his time in Paris, that there were no reasonable leaders to oppose this Hero. The American's fury was provoked also by his inability to admit that the success of reason depended entirely upon the presence of the right men. The proof of how easily it could be deformed was the success of Bonaparte, who had already betrayed everything reason had to offer. He was a

wretch who ... had been the author of more misery and suffering to the world, than any being who ever lived before him. After destroying the liberties of his country, he has exhausted all its resources, physical and moral, to indulge his own manic ambition, his own tyrannical and overbearing spirit.... What sufferings can alone ... for the miseries he has already inflicted on his own generation, and on those yet to come, on whom he has rivetted the chains of despotism! [42]

Jefferson wasn't simply provoked by the irreparable damage Bonaparte had done to the promise of reason. It was also that this damage had been done within the first decades of the system's existence, when it should still have been full of unsoiled vitality. In one letter he attempted to reassure himself by comparing his own career to Bonaparte's:

Having been, like him, entrusted with the happiness of my country, I feel the blessing of resembling him in no other point. I have not caused the death of five or ten millions of human beings, the devastation of other countries, the depopulation of my own, the exhaustion of all its resources, the destruction of its liberties, nor its foreign subjugation. All this he has done to render more illustrious the atrocities perpetrated for illustrating himself and his family with plundered diadems and sceptres. On the contrary, I have the consolation to reflect that during the period of my administration not a drop of the blood of a single fellow citizen was shed by the sword of war or of the law, and that after cherishing for eight years their peace and prosperity I laid down their trust of my own accord and in the midst of their blessings and Importunities to continue it. [43]

Of course, other men in the United States, in France and in other countries have since tried to do as well as he. And there have been multitudes of talented and dedicated public servants, elected and employed. They have accomplished wonderful things in the handful of nations which make up the West. But the aberrant myth of the Hero, with his tragic destiny, has nevertheless rolled on, always ready to interpose itself when the public servants slip too deeply into the manipulation of systems and the public loses its sense of direction.


By the end of the nineteenth century, the world was filling up with Kaiser Wilhelms and General Boulangers and Cecil Rhodeses -- half-baked Heroes egged on by half-baked philosophers, who suffered in many cases from mental instability. This marriage of brilliance with insanity, which Friedrich Nietzsche still incarnates, created a perfect match for the glorification of the unpalatable.

In 1912 Leon Bloy, then a well-known French writer, published L'Ame de Napoleon. "Napoleon is inexplicable anl1, no doubt, the most inexplicable of men, because he is, first and above all, He who comes before the ONE who must come and who is perhaps not far away." [44] You might imagine that these rantings would have caused people. to laugh or to brand him as a deranged personality and to put him out of their minds. Instead Bloy became popular as part of a strange, unforeseen phenomenon, which was increasingly successful at creating a link between the rational Hero and the pre-Christian roots of earth religion. What Bloy was saying may superficially sound like Christian imagery. In truth it had more to do with animism. What he was really dealing with was the phenomenon of the inexplicable and the inevitable; the oneness of things, in which everything, animate and inanimate, is alive and the Hero is us.

When the eighteenth-century philosophers killed God, they thought they were engaged in housekeeping -- the evils of corrupt religion would be swept away, the decent aspects of Christian morality would be dusted off and neatly repackaged inside reason. Inadvertently they rendered that morality nonessential to their new society. Or rather they rendered it optional: The new essential element was structure. And so, while there was no room for a Leon Bloy in the official ranks of philosophy, by the late nineteenth century there was a growing desire in society to believe in something that went beyond arid structure and beyond the rather sad judgments of the new rational leaders, whether they be middle-class politicians or technocrats. Certainly Bloy's prophecy turned out to be perfectly accurate -- Napoleon was indeed a precursor." He who comes before the ONE." The unexpected element. was perhaps that the ONE turned out to be not French, but the bastard son of an Austrian customs official.

Leon Bloy may have been less intelligent than Nietzsche, but he was certainly no crazier. And while Nietzsche built a perfect philosophical nest for the cult of the pre-Christian Hero in the very heart of modern reason, Bloy had the advantage of bringing it all down to mystical practicalities in a manner which would satisfy the middle-class Sunday lunch convictions of the new twentieth-century Right wing.

What is more, Bloy certainly wasn't much crazier than Oswald Spengler, who began a justification of the first great Hero as follows: "The tragic in Napoleon's life, which still awaits discovery by a poet great enough to comprehend it and shape it." [45] Although Spengler wrote of the age of Heroes as if it were the end of our civilization, he also found the beginnings of the new civilization in. yet another Hero, supposedly of a different kind, cutting a swath through Africa and building a new, virginal civilization in his own wake. Cecil Rhodes was to be "the first precursor of a Western type of Caesar." [46] In fact, all Spengler is saying about Rhodes is that it was easier to be a Hero in Africa, where there were no deep foundations of Western civilization to slow you up.

These writers are usually dealt with as three separate phenomena -- Bloy, an eccentric marginal; Spengler, a flash in the pan, overobsessed by cycles and too egocentric to be able to influence the Nazis for the better; and Nietzsche, not tarred by the Nazis' use of his ideas because he was not himself an anti-Semite, racial nationalist or indeed a German nationalist. Thus Nietzsche alone remains unsullied enough to become a major inspiration for contemporary thinkers of all political varieties.

The truth is that when the technicalities are swept away, what remains is their deification of the Hero. All three accomplished this by marrying the earth-religion god-Hero to the modern Hero of reason. Nietzsche's brilliant analysis of the superman is merely a tarted-up version of Bloy's crude abasement of the individual worshipping at the feet of the megalomaniac dictator. And when an educated individual allows himself to be titillated by the sophisticated musings of Nietzsche, he is simply satisfying the need of modern rational man to feel what Bloy admitted was the excitement of being dominated. In the case of all three writers, the superman gains his power thanks to the death of God on the one hand and to being invincibly armed with the excalibur of reason on the other.


There is in the late twentieth century a general feeling that Hitler and perhaps Stalin, although people in the West feel no personal need to take him into account -- was an accident of history. He caught us off guard, but we recovered in time to meet this force of evil in combat: Now he is gone. A horrible aberration. It isn't surprising that no one wants to hold on to the memory of Hitler as an image of modern normalcy. But if this is still the Age of Reason and if Hitler is the great image of reason's dark side, then he is still very much with us.

As human beings we find it impossible to accept the idea that a man can do certain things unless he is crazy. We cannot accept that such evil is within us. That is a sign of man's unshakable optimism and even of his desire to be good. We have, therefore, placed the establishment, staffing and running of death camps in the category of a lunatic act. Of course, there was a strong current of lunacy in both, the man and his regime. But these organized massacres were not part of that lunacy.

History is weighed down with repeated massacres of nations, cities, armies and religious, social and political groups. But those earlier massacres were always tied to some relatively concrete political, economic or social ambition -- the seizure of private property or of territory, the increase of one group's power, the extinction of a rival group's beliefs, the erasing of financial· debts, or the setting of an example. This was true even of Genghis Khan's Mongol armies. They often began their occupation of a newly won territory by massacring the entire population of one city. This convinced other cities to cooperate with the occupier -- to pay any taxes, to accept slavery for their sons.

What Hitler organized was something quite different. It was the first absolutely gratuitous massacre in the history of man. It wasn't lunacy that made this possible, even if some of those who carried it out were clinically insane. Nor was this the simple product of traditional anti-semitism. It was more like the profound panic of a world somehow abandoned to a logic which had cut the imaginations of the perpetrators free from any sense of what a man ought to do versus what he ought not to. The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument -- given what reason had become -- that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on "the final solution," was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that this Wansee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solution. The systematic, scientific way in which those modalities were subsequently carried out has been categorized as an adjunct of lunacy or shrugged off as part of a phenomenon called the banality of evil. The massacre was indeed "managed," even "well managed." It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study. There was no practical reason for it. No property was gained, as it had all been expropriated already. No territory was at stake. The killings were a money-losing proposition - Nazi Germany was destroying a slave population capable of great production at a time when Aryan males had been sent away to fight. Judaism was not in any serious way a rival religion, since it did not proselytize. The power of Germany was not increased by their deaths. And no example was being set for other groups. After all, the whole process was kept secret.

An act of pure logic carried out in a rational manner, the Holocaust was a child of the marriage between the two key practitioners of reason -- the Hero and the technocrat. To put it down to lunacy or to the banalization of evil in modern technological society is to miss the point. And while we might have hoped that the dark side of this marriage had burnt itself out with the exposure and destruction of Hitler, the events of the last forty years indicate that the opposite is true.

Not only is the Napoleonic dream stronger today in our imaginations than it has ever been, but one can already feel the slow falling away of moral opprobrium from our memory of Hider. In another fifty years we may well find ourselves weighed down by a second monstrous dream of pure grandeur to match that of the Emperor. Two men who dared. Two men who were adored. Two men who led with brilliance. Two men who administered fairly and efficiently. Two men who were modest in their own needs but surrounded by lesser beings who profited from their situation and came between the Hero and his people. This last invocation is the "campaign bed syndrome" -- the Hero wishes only to sleep on his metal folding bed in a tent, to fight for the people and to walk among them in simple garb. If he must wear a uniform, he will make it simple, without braid, without medals. He is the people's soldier. Only the necessities of Heroship oblige him to sacrifice himself by sleeping on gilded beds in palaces, dressing up in the morning and creating a splendid aura for the people to admire. Needless to say, the rapacious elites, from whom the Hero protects the people, benefit from this. And so there are two men who were betrayed by those who surrounded them but not by the people. Two men who were destroyed, as befits the tragic destiny of Heroes.

The idea that Hitler may be treated with honour one hundred years after his death shouldn't be surprising. Napoleon, who suffered equally ignominious defeat followed by exile, was returned to Paris in a coffin with Caesarean pomp only twenty-five years after being deposed. The two men were responsible for approximately the same number of deaths. And the Napoleonic dream -- that of combining efficient administration with the brute force required to ensure that it is properly applied -- lies today beneath the pillow of every ambitious colonel who drops off to sleep at night in the hope that the tooth fairy . of power will slip in before he awakes. In a few more years all the witnesses capable of imagining what the Hitlerian regime actually did will be dead. All witnesses of all sorts will be dead. Then mythology will be free to do whatever it wishes. And what will mythology do with the murder of six million Jews? In the absence of witnesses, that abomination will become a tragic abstract flaw proper to the Heroes' tragic destiny, rather in the way that Napoleon's invasion of Russia is referred to as the single great error of his career. The rapidity with which this normalization process is advancing can be seen in the new boldness of the Holocaust revisionists.

We now assume that we have rejected all dreams of supreme leaders and of violent government. And yet the language of even the most insignificant minister of postal services is filled with Napoleonic images of strength and efficiency. The public appearances of political leaders are routinely organized as imitative Napoleonic triumphs. And our tolerance for both dictatorship and violence has never been greater. Our friends and allies around the world over the last forty years have included an astonishing collection of mass murderers, drug dealers and practitioners of widespread torture. Even the Khmer Rouge were reintegrated into the international community without great difficulty on the pretext of solving a relatively minor legal problem. We simply accept that the world will produce Heroes and that those Heroes will kill countless masses of people.


The posted declaration of the Khmer Rouge authorities at Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng Prison, their principal interrogation centre, is a reminder of their Western rational education. Thousands died within its walls.

Their motto might have been posted in Latin at an Inquisition interrogation of the seventeenth century. Or in a Czechoslovakian prison of the 1950s. Or in any contemporary Western military intelligence service, although modern methodology now finds that psychological torture is more effective than physical. The very problems which theoretically set off the original desire for reason have now reappeared as the official tools of reason. What's more, actions such as "torturing ... to get answers" do not seem to carry with them any real, lasting stigma.

Instead we concentrate our relatively abstract moralistic feelings on one or two chosen massacres, which graphically illustrate our horror -- a civilian airliner downed by terrorists or a small, innocent village burned -- as if our minds were unable to register and digest in a meaningful manner any more than that.

There is no point in attempting to model ourselves on a man like Jefferson, whose genius enabled him to apply fully both a personal and a general moral standard. He was fortunate to be the man he was, but to emulate him would be to make of Jefferson precisely that thing he most detested -- a Hero. And in doing so we would be ceding to the dream that we ourselves might also rise to that Heroic level.

The public domain requires, therefore, not a multiplication, but an abstraction of morality. And moral standards. since they are personal and applied, cannot be abstracted. That hasn't prevented us from seeking solutions to our problems, and the modern solution has been to set standards through constitutions and laws. But again, constitutions and laws are abstractions and subject more than we can accept to the will of those who manage them. And they are either technocrats or Heroes.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 9:27 pm


4. The Rational Courtesan

To believe that any class will act in a gratuitous, disinterested manner over a period of several centuries would be misplaced optimism. The intellectual and practical creation of our rational civilization by a succession of courtiers can only have been an act of self- perpetuation and self-promotion.

That doesn't exclude idealism from their motives or real improvements in our condition from their acts. But their underlying approach was that of courtiers and, however admirable parts of our society may be, at heart it is a civilization of courtesanage.

We don't see this in ourselves because we have learned to describe in admirable and positive terms those characteristics which" stripped down, would have been appropriate in Versailles or the Forbidden City. And we concentrate on the conflicts between Such sectors as bureaucrats and businessmen rather than admit that they all use the same methods. The very idea of the courtier has been relegated carefully to a past filled with absolute monarchies.

But there is nothing about courtiers which is proper to royal courts. They are characterized not by function, but by an approach towards gaining power. Only one important factor has changed over the centuries. In the past, when they succeeded in seizing real power, they were obliged to make a difficult choice. They could maintain their parasitic methods behind the screen of the old ruling class or they could transform themselves into a responsible ruling elite. The eunuchs behind the Manchus in the nineteenth century chose the parasitic route and gradually drained China of its energy and its direction. The Georgian eunuchs did the same thing in the seventeenth century when they controlled the Safavid dynasty of Persia. The Baghdad caliphs of the great Abbasid caliphate were so discredited by the power of their eunuchs in the tenth century that the military took over and left them as mere figureheads. Individual courtiers -- even eunuchs -- did occasionally transform themselves into true leaders. But a class of courtiers has never transformed itself into a responsible elite.

Rational society has refined that difficult choice between courtesanage and leadership almost to the point of rendering it irrelevant. After all, our society was largely conceived by the courtiers, with their own private and elitist skills in mind. They dominate the very idea of modernism -- particularly our wider sense of it -- and therefore influence our denigration of other social forces as being retrograde or inefficient. For the first time in Western history, the courtiers don't need to change when they win power, because power has been designed in their image.

The modern technocrat and the royal courtier are virtually indistinguishable. Of course, superficial details have changed. The great accomplishment of the rational approach was to remove the need for external characteristics by creating an all-inclusive abstract method. For example, in many places castration was standard practice.

Picturesque though this absence of testicles may seem in such cases as the Chinese emperor's eunuchs or those of the Persian shah, it was only an incidental detail. Castration established the fact that by function, or lack of it, the courtier did not have dynastic pretensions. He was the emperor's man. More to the point, however, was the division between inner court and outer court, which was particularly clear in China. The eunuchs were in the inner court and thus served power and not the population. The notion of "inner" meant they served in a secretive and arbitrary manner. Their personal power could be increased to the extent that they were able to elaborate on the formal structures surrounding the emperor. Perhaps the most eloquent surviving illustration of this power is the maze of high walled lanes which carve up the Forbidden City in Peking. Each short section leads everywhere and nowhere and was part of the unlimited manipulation which the eunuch lived.

Life at Versailles turned less on geographical intricacy and more on a maze of rules and dress codes and minutely carved-up privileges. The man who tasted the king's food (his brother). The man who carried his hat. But which man with which hat for which level of ceremony? The right to enter here but not there. Presence at the waking-up ceremony. At the king's meal. Hunting with the king. Not permitted to hunt but permitted to follow the hunt. The permutations were endless. In Diderot's words, they were "artificial productions of the most sought after perfections." [1] And in the process religious policy was set and wars declared or not, In all of this Versailles resembled the court of the Baghdad caliphate seven hundred years before, when the powerful eunuchs were ranked by their responsibility for the caliph's personal property, The Bearer of the Inkwell, for example. At the top was the one who wrapped his head with a special crown.

The second Duc de Saint-Simon was the great diarist of Versailles and himself a consummate courtier. The first duke, his father, had begun life in the stables and a terrible social inferiority complex drove the son to waste his genius in working the palace corridors. Like most courtiers he was filled with contempt for others but incapable of the introspection which permits irony. And so he could describe another man, who might have been himself, as "one of those court insects that one is always surprised to see and to find everywhere and whose very existence is built on a fear of being consequential." [2]

A sharp tongue in itself is harmless enough. As harmless as the nightly gatherings early in the sixteenth century in northern Italy of a handful of aristocrats. They sat in a circle in the sala delle veglie of the Duchess of Urbino in order to determine the characteristics of the perfect courtier. One of them -- the diplomat Baldesar Castiglione -- later published the entire "debate" as The Book of the Courtier and this instant best-seller was felt to have captured all the elegance of the Renaissance. Here was the bible of civilized behaviour. And the participants were also men of consequence, who went on to become a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal, a secretary to the pope, a doge of Genoa, a duke of Nemours, a prefect of Rome. They didn't manage to settle whether beauty or fine dancing or elegant clothes were or were not superior to using deception in the interests of the master or honesty or loyalty or personal courage for the sole purpose of distinguishing oneself. However, the mastery of reason was one of the few undoubted requirements: "Reason has such power that it always brings the sense to obey it and extends its rule by marvelous ways and means, provided ignorance does not seize upon what reason ought to possess." [3]

The reality behind all this chat was the Duchess's father-in-law, the first Duke of Urbino -- one of the most battleworn mercenaries of his day. He operated in an Italy overcome by political violence and disorder. The Duchess was married to his only son, the second Duke, who was crippled and impotent. In effect, despite all the elegant talk about court life, the duchy was up for grabs and one of the Duchess's guests did indeed end up running the whole thing in the name of the pope. Of course, the charm of the Duchess of Urbino can't be denied, anymore than that of the Earl of Essex, so long as he stayed within close range of Elizabeth I's palaces. The moment she sent him off to deal with the real world in Ireland, his charm evaporated and the result was a military and political catastrophe.

Because everything in society was centered on the courts, so they seemed to harbour as much good as they did evil. Versailles permitted the King to protect Moliere. Holbein's genius flourished in the shadow of Henry VIII. But the essence of the courts was power not creativity or elegance. A glance at Holbein's court drawings is enough to see that they depict the faces of manipulators, bullies and disciples of uncontrolled ambition, of cowardly violence and of betrayal.

What all this tells us about the modern variety of courtiers isn't very clear. McNamara, for example, may well be an evolved version of Richelieu. Or Giscard d'Estaing of Saint- Simon. But what really matters is that society has been restructured in order to convert these sorts of people into the mainstream of the social order. And that's why it is important to pause long enough to examine a handful of contemporary individuals in order to clarify what the modern courtier is like.

These individuals don't lead in the old political sense. They don't create policy in response to public needs. Nor do they function as forerunners of public need, formulating that which the public has not yet consciously formulated. Sometimes they are idealists, unconsciously dominated by their mechanical genius, like Robert McNamara or Michael Pitfield. Sometimes they are cynical opportunists, like Henry Kissinger, Harold Wilson or James Baker, playing the narrow field between the system and 'the politicians. Sometimes, as with Simon Reisman, the disequilibrium between apparently uncontrollable emotions and advanced technical skills seems to be so great that the resulting conflict carries public policy off course. There are also men who would like to have a moral or an ideological position but are dominated by a mechanical version of intellectual skills, like Jacques Chirac. Or men, like Valery Giscard, of intelligence severely limited apart from the narrow mechanical skills necessary to carry them to the fore. Or men like Sir Robert Armstrong, of great intelligence, but all of it consumed by those same mechanical skills, so that they function brilliantly and with absolute self-confidence, although to no apparent purpose.

Taken together, they form a group, a class, a type, linked by a particular sort of intelligence involving their central talents as systems men. They are men who create and work principally within and through the systems of which they are emanations. Men who deal in power. Men given to the manipulation of facts and contemptuous of public debate. The differences between them are in part generational, in part a function of their surviving traits of individualism. And yet their unity is not simply a function of society's training. It does not come only from a shared form of education. Rather, they are outstanding examples of the sort of man who is attracted to contemporary systems and who does well within them.

The idea of innate human qualities was much debated in the first half of the Age of Reason, then submerged beneath the growing need to prove everything by means of what were coming to be known as facts. And yet it is their innate mechanical and logical talents which link our new men of power together. They have what can most easily be summarized as a talent for manipulation. The system merely rewards them for this. They invariably seem to be lacking in applied moral common sense -- that quality which accounts for a straightforward respect of the individual -- in other words, a sense of proportion in dealing with those individuals and an understanding of the value of content over form. In other words, they resemble seventeenth- or eighteenth-century courtiers or courtesans.

Only gender separates those two words. English, for some reason, makes a greater distinction than French or, indeed, Italian, from which the words arise. English differentiates between social action and sexual action, as if to say that selling your honour isn't so bad as selling your body. For the Italians and the French, both words refer to clever and obsequious behaviour at court; whether this involves the soul, the body, or the mind, something is being sold. And since the role of the courtier is actually that of the mythological female at her most untrustworthy and amoral -- that is, seeking favour by flattery or behaviour -- as opposed to the real female, it is far better to describe the modern technocrat as a courtesan and his methods as courtesanage.


Robert McNamara is the individual who most dramatically fills the role of the man of reason in flamboyant decline. He straddles our era like a colossus, and yet, in any public poll ranking identifiable names, he would be lucky to pick up 1 percent. He is a man who believes in the forces of light and of darkness. A man of honour. He resigned as Johnson's secretary of defense because he felt the Vietnam War was spinning out of control. As head of the World Bank, he attempted to save a desperate Third World by sending a flood of money in its direction. He believes that the application of reason, logic and efficiency will necessarily produce good. And yet his actions have resulted in uncontrollable disasters from which the West has still not recovered.

When Robert McNamara left the presidency of the Ford Motor Company to become John Kennedy's Secretary of Defense in 1961, he was seen to be bringing modern management methods from private industry to government. No one imagined that those methods would turn out to be as disastrous for private industry as for public policy.

McNamara immediately set about reorganizing the Pentagon and the American armed forces. That is, he set about rationalizing them. No doubt he discovered great inefficiency. No doubt he exposed antediluvian methods and situations. He also set in motion three separate processes, the first two of which -- the application of rational business principles to officer training and to arms production -- will be dealt with at greater length in later chapters.

The idea behind training officers as rational executives was to incorporate "a number of business practices and techniques designed to make the Pentagon bureaucracy more "efficient." [4] These apparently worthwhile techniques did far more than that. They revolutionized the American officer corps by introducing, in the words of Richard Gabriel, "the habits, values and practices of the business community." [5] This, in turn, changed the motivation of officers from self-sacrifice to self-interest. The effect was to transform the professional officer into half bureaucrat, half executive. In the process everyone mislaid the basic given of membership in an officer corps: that each individual in order to do his duty is prepared to do the unacceptable -- that is, to die. Getting killed; after all, is not logical, rational, efficient or what a businessman would perceive as being in his personal self-interest.

This restructuring initiated a long period during which the American armed forces have been incapable of winning. Or, to put it another way, capable only of losing. Richard Gabriel, who is becoming the sort of nagging teller of truths to the American army that Basil Liddell Hart was to the British after World War I, explains better than anyone how the army has become a bureaucratic organism incapable of fighting in anything other than a clumsy, heavy-handed manner. The need to overwhelm vastly inferior enemies with sheer mass confirms rather than disproves this.

The second process began by McNamara evolved naturally from the first. As an ex- automobile manufacturer, he noticed that armaments were expensive. Building upon the Henry Ford principle of production-line cost reduction, McNamara concluded that it would be rational to limit armament costs by producing larger runs of each weapon and selling the surplus .abroad. Foreign sales would cover perhaps not all, but at least part of the Pentagon's upfront investment in R and D, as well as reducing the unit cost of each weapon the United States needed itself. America's allies, in buying these weapons, would also be repaying the United States for some of the protection it provided. Finally, the use of American, weaponry throughout the West would ensure a unity of material, thus facilitating both common action and emergency operational supply needs. Efficiency, return on the dollar, morality and sensible military strategy were all wrapped up together in a neat package.

The United States also happened to be running a three-billion-dollar general trade deficit. Foreign arms sales would be a way to balance the situation.

Thanks to all'this sensible reasoning, the International Logistics Negotiations Organization was created. Its name was a suitably obtuse management formula for the arms-dealing agency of the American government. Before long most other Western countries had followed suit and adopted the same management theories. We were on our way to developing the largest weapons market in the history of the world which, perhaps more significant, is now the largest market of any kind anywhere in the world economy.

The third area which McNamara set out to reorganize was American military strategy. It struck him as both immoral and irrational that Western defense was based on a nuclear deterrent which could only be used in a way that would destroy the earth. This strategy, known as Massive Response, was based upon an all-or-nothing view of nuclear war. If the weapons were to be used, they would be used massively to destroy absolutely the opposing side. Destroying the other side inevitably meant destroying oneself, either because the enemy managed to get off a similar counterattack before expiring or because the quantity of weapons unleashed by one side alone would be enough to make life impossible on earth.

In the absence of such a massive attack, there was no nuclear strategy, no organization; in fact, there were no nuclear weapons of a suitably limited size, equipped with suitably limited delivery systems, to permit any except cataclysmic use. The "rational" use of nuclear weapons was impossible. On the other hand, the door was theoretically open to some sort of accidental unleashing of the apocalypse. From McNamara's rational point of view, this meant that American nuclear superiority "did not translate into usable military power." [6]

He and the American government therefore proposed a new strategy to the NATO allies. It was called Flexible Response. This strategy consisted of neat, more or less parallel lines of in-depth defence, which began at the frontier separating NATO territory from the Soviet bloc. Response to Soviet armies attacking Western Europe would escalate as the lines were crossed, from an initial use of conventional weapons up to battlefield .nuclear weapons. And if the various levels of tactical nuclear weapons failed to stop this advance, the West would resort to the old massive and definitive, cataclysmic intercontinental strategic bombs. The lesser responses were intended to work. Therefore the strategy of Flexible Response lessened the risk of a cataclysm.

Of course, no one else, apart from McNamara and the American government, saw it that way. For Europe the meaning was quite clear: Washington was no longer willing to fight for its allies. Europe would have to be destroyed before the United States made up its mind to intervene seriously.

McNamara simply hadn't focused on the fact that he had drawn his neat, in-depth lines of escalating military response across the real world of Western Europe. Were Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Bonn, Strasbourg, Paris and Rome in zones one, two, three or four? The flexible, measured, rational response which McNamara was proposing -- or rather, thanks to the controlling superiority of America's leadership, imposing -- was, in fact, a plan for the death and destruction of the people of Western Europe.

The imposition of Flexible Response in 1961 utterly destroyed Europe. an confidence in American leadership. The Allies refused this strategy for NATO, but they knew their refusal was meaningless." It is evident," de Gaulle said in 1963, "that no independence is possible for a country which does not have nuclear weapons, because without them it is forced to rely on a country that does and therefore to accept its policies." [7] However serious the debate within NATO from 1961 to 1967 pretended to be, Flexible Response was effectively the alliance's strategy from the moment the United States announced it. The Germans, who -- being in the front line of the sacrificial lambs were most opposed to the strategy, also gave up arguing first, out of fear that further protest would drive Washington into an even greater withdrawal from Europe.

As for the French, Flexible Response made inevitable both their own independent nuclear force and their withdrawal from NATO. When that time came, de Gaulle explained that they could not belong to a "Europe of which the strategy is, within NATO, the American strategy." [8]

The proliferation of nuclear weapons produced by McNamara's rational strategy went far beyond the French force de frappe. In order to meet the new flowchart gradations of a possible military engagement, nuclear weapons and delivery systems of all sorts and sizes had to be developed. And the Soviets· had to match each of them.

The result, apart from an ever-larger number of nuclear weapons developed at great expense, was a far higher risk of nuclear war than under the old strategy. First, there was a higher possibility of error, given that there were now weapons of declining size put more or less in the hands of a whole range of officials and officers of declining rank. There were now, for example, field commanders involved in the use of battlefield nuclear weapons and therefore subject to the risk of error. Second, the moral threshold involved in firing a "small" nuclear device attached to a tank or a cannon is much lower than that involved in releasing an ICBM.

The secondary result of Europe's loss of confidence in America's willingness to respond decisively to all attacks was, of course, a drop in the Soviet fear of a U.S. nuclear reprisal. The risk of the Soviet Union being tempted by military action had therefore risen. This in turn fuelled new military spending on both sides. Finally, continued American military failures added further to the risk." When a nation has a record of successful military operations," Gabriel points out, "the available options of its adversaries are often self- limiting." [9] The failures which so damaged America's credibility were, of course, the product of McNamara's rationalized army.

The practical effect of Flexible Response was exactly the opposite of its theoretical intention, except that it did translate nuclear weapons into a "usable military power," as McNamara put it, and that was the original rational impetus for his reform.

What could be more surprising, therefore, than to find the same McNamara resurfacing in the early 1980s with virginal ingenuity as an opponent of Flexible Response? There he was in 1984 signing an appeal by Western "statesmen" which called for the withdrawal of nuclear battlefield weapons. The document's title had a familiar ring to it -- Managing East-West Conflict. In 1986 McNamara published an entire book devoted to the dismantling of nuclear arsenals. What we lack, he said, is "an agreed conceptual framework for the management of relations with the Soviet Union." Why? "The substantial raising of the nuclear threshold, as was envisioned when Flexible Response was first conceived, has not become reality." What went wrong? he asks. Things were too ad hoc, he replies. The current situation is the "unplanned -- and to me unacceptable -- result of the long series of incremental decisions taken by military and civilian leaders of East and West." [10]

At no point does he mention, or indeed appear conscious, that the present situation of nuclear proliferation and strategic uncertainty is largely of his own creation. Nor does he acknowledge that it was done precisely through the use of advanced planning and management as devised by himself. Nor does he seem to realize that he has travelled in a complete circle.

The movement of history is the great enemy of someone like McNamara. History is linear memory and, as such, beyond organization and indifferent to reason. The characteristic common to the modern man of reason is this loss of memory; lost or rather, denied as an uncontrollable element. And if it must be remembered, then that evocation of real events is always presented as either quaint or dangerous. The past, when it involves a failed system, disappears from the mind. The past is always ad hoc. The future is always optimistic, because it is available for unencumbered solutioneering. And the present lies helpless beneath his feet, just begging to be managed.

It isn't surprising, therefore, that anything which was not on Robert McNamara's flowchart is not his fault. And none of what has gone wrong appears to have had anything to do with his planning.

In 1991 he proposed that all nuclear weapons should be destroyed, except for a few hundred on either side. These would be monitored by effective mutual policing. But if there were only two hundred missiles on either side, a nuclear war would become a practical possibility simply because people would believe that it could be fought without destroying the world. Policing would be possible. But at such low levels of weaponry, a single, minor deceit by either side would radically alter the strategic balance. And that would make such a deceit very tempting. Today's horrifying mass of weaponry has the peculiar characteristic of making strategic advances almost meaningless. Two thousand weapons on one side versus 1,900 on the other, or even 2,000 versus 1,500 is strategically meaningless. But 300 versus 200 is of capital importance. Even 250 versus 200 would be decisive.

A reduction in the number of nuclear warheads is clearly a good and sensible objective. The last few years have seen some small steps in that direction. These have been presented as major reductions by politicians eager for easy credit. The reality is that they are minor. However, for as long as the reform-minded leadership survives in Moscow, these reductions will continue to grow.

But what would be the advantage to man of actually rendering nuclear war rational? That, of course, is not a question which a man like Robert McNamara could ask. Rational is good. There is nothing more to say. The untouchable simplicity of his advanced logic rarely takes the human factor into consideration. To do so would cause an unprofessional distortion in his conceptual framework.

McNamara resigned for moral reasons, after eight years as secretary of defense, and devoted himself between 1969 and 1981 to a task which suited his vision of public service. His attempt to turn the World Bank into a Western bridge to the Third World could be seen as a personal act of atonement for his years in the Pentagon. There are indications that, in a confused manner, he himself saw the situation that way. It was as if, by shouldering a personal and private blame modelled on the emotive mechanisms of Christian guilt; he was able to avoid questioning his own methods. But this decision to distance himself from a war of which he had come to disapprove was in itself an astonishing act. He had been the most important Vietnam hawk within the administration. He had fought a tough insider's battle to carry the case for war. He had done this in the face of the antiwar advice the President was getting from such people as George Ball, Senator Wayne Morse, Senator Richard Russell, Senator Mike Mansfield, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator William Fulbright. What's more, President Johnson was inexperienced in international affairs and was himself rather soft on the war.

If the fighting was allowed to drag on until America began to rip itself apart, it was in large part because Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had succeeded in making it his own war. And then. when things didn't work out, he admitted no error and gave no hint of an apology. He simply walked away. More astonishing still, he walked away in protest against a war out of control, as if by that simple act he had washed his hands of it all. He seemed to believe that in this way he had removed himself from the history of the war.

From the Pentagon to the World Bank was only a few city blocks. There he immediately set about trying to do "good." That attempt turned into an international disaster. His central idea was to increase the amount of money committed to the bank so that it could then help countries in need. In order to deliver this help properly, he restructured the bank's methods of evaluation.

This meant creating two new devices -- the Country Program Paper and the annual Country Allocation Exercise. The first "set out a five-year lending program for the Bank's International Development Agency in a given country against a detailed statistical analysis by sector of the country's economy." The second "set targets for the staff for each country and each sector within each country." [11] A truism of all technocrats is that they do not delegate and they are wedded to centralization. McNamara, therefore, oversaw these devices.

In 1973 the oil crisis began the flow of rapidly printed money out of the United States and other Western countries to pay the OPEC producers, who in turn sent it for deposit to the safest places on earth that is, back to the United States, Canada and Western Europe. This printing of money caused inflation. The payments to OPEC caused a trade imbalance. The returning investment from OPEC doubled this imbalance by creating a foreign debt.

The American economy, crippled by inflation, energy costs, and the resulting trade imbalance, was in no shape to make good use of these returning funds. The situation was difficult. McNamara intervened to make it catastrophic. He saw an opportunity, in the growing .mountain of unusable bank deposits, to push the cycle around another time by sending whatever money he could out to the Third World. He cajoled the commercial banks into following suit on the grounds that this influx of capital would create Third World prosperity. That prosperity would create local growth on the Western model and the accompanying needs would push the Third World countries to purchase Western industrial material and consumer goods. This would bring the money back again to the West in the form of a stimulation to production thanks to foreign sales. The depression would thus be ended and the trade balance righted.

Unfortunately, nowhere on McNamara's charts and models were the right questions asked. Is it wise to push fragile agrarian, often tribal, economies down the route of an oil-based, industrial development when there is an energy crisis which has already flattened the far- stronger economies of the West? Do these nations have any energy sources of their own in order to avoid the oil import trap which has done so much harm in the West? Do these new countries have the basic infrastructure to respond rapidly to such artificially induced growth? Should these agrarian societies, lacking in urban middle-class structures, often poor in natural resources, be pushed down this road at all? Does it suit their established economy? Does it suit their society? Wouldn't it be wiser to concentrate on improving their agrarian structure? If they are going to widen the base of their economy, would they not do better to concentrate at first on development which satisfies internal needs, rather than to throw themselves into the expensive, high risk international world of import-export wars?

Most basic of all was the question: what will happen if these massive loans from the West do not provoke Third World prosperity, and the poor nations are therefore unable to repay their debt? No one asked. And no one asked the related question: what will happen if the American and other Western banks, as a result of such a Third World failure, were themselves unable to repay their debts -- that is, to pay their depositors?

In fact, nobody even bothered to program debt figures into the World Bank's World Development Model until 1981. That was almost a decade too late. At first glance such an error seems criminally incompetent. At second glance it is perfectly understandable. Devoid of memory, anchored in the present, inescapably optimistic about the future, rational models always have great difficulty adjusting themselves to simple reality.

The practical effects of McNamara's management were as follows. His centralized, abstract methods destroyed collegiality, whether it be among bank staffs or between the bank and its borrowers or the bank and its clients. At the heart of these methods was "management by fear," [12] a phrase which endlessly recurs as an effect of contemporary organization. His two program devices involved lengthy country and staff reports. These became self-justifying, both on the part of bank staff and of the borrowing countries. Once a five-year program had begun, the bank employee directly responsible became committed to it working. He had, after all, recommended it. That country and that program were his, He adjusted his paperwork to keep the money flowing. Borrowing countries learned to flood the bank with tons of statistics, graphs, and charts to fit every need and keep everyone happy. [13]

In the early 1980s, the Philippine economy, for example, was still getting glowing reports -- "one of the best in the Third World." Everyone was too committed to say what they really thought. At a certain point the debt crisis became so great that the truth could not be avoided. It came out of the blue, in total contradiction to everything that for years had been written inside the bank.

But Third World statistics had been favourably falsified for so long that the true figures seemed as unreal as the old ones. And when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to address the growing world crisis by imposing economic remedies of an impossible severity, its attitude was the result of years of statistics which seemed to have no relationship to populations. People hadn't actually prospered when their economies were relaxed and statistically doing well, so why should they actually suffer when the IMF made the same economies meet draconian tests of tight financial management? It could be argued that it has been decades since real people were included as a component in our widely accepted definitions of what an economy is; only the theory of people has been included or the statistical reflection of people.

McNamara is no doubt morally outraged by today's situation. He is the most perfect example of a technocrat holding great power while crippled by a personality cleanly divided between mechanical brilliance at one extreme and childlike idealism at the other, with absolutely no thread of common sense to link the two together.


Robert McNamara may be an exceptional example of the rational phenomenon, but he is not an exception to the rule. He is the rule in its most advanced form. Others like him abound in other countries. Edward Heath, for example, had the same unmeasured eagerness, combined with a conviction that systems will do good. The process that McNamara began in the United States, Heath initiated in Britain. His Central Policy Review Staff brought in bright outsiders. He had a planning and priorities style, which sought out methods for policy analysis and review as well as checking for program effectiveness. He, also, seemed unable to link his belief in methods with the actual effect of their application in a real world.

The sight of Edward Heath being ripped apart by the coal miners, during the disastrous strike which destroyed his government, demonstrated the weakness of the new man of reason when he ventures outside the protective defences of the system. And, unlike McNamara, he had been elected to do what he did. So the voters made him pay for his flaws.

Heath's failure is usually dealt with by referring to his brittle character and his overly intellectualized, view of how government worked. Neither comment is inaccurate. What is interesting about Heath is precisely his conviction that people and structures could be made to change radically by the simple act of showing them a better way to do things. It didn't really matter whether the ways he proposed were better. It was his absolute conviction that they were which marked him as an early version of the technocrat with political power.

Robert Armstrong, for a decade secretary of the British Cabinet and head of the Civil Service, is a far more classic example of the rational administrator. From his appointment in 1978 he carefully avoided the technocrat's inferiority in public affairs by staying out of sight while quite naturally combining enormous political power without public responsibility. By background and training he seemed very much an old-style bureaucrat, yet his methods were perfectly modern. He was obsessive about secrecy. He controlled information flows even within the government, thus excluding certain ministers. He was, by nature, a manipulator of men and of structures. As with McNamara, this leadership by manipulation led to a demoralization of the civil service. In descriptions of him, the word courtier seems to appear effortlessly." It is the courtier's role to endure, to appease, to employ guile and stealth, to manipulate power -- always behind the throne -- in such abilities, Armstrong excelled." [14]

On issues that interested him personally, he prevented, as far as possible, proper debate between ministers. The information fed out served only his cause. He didn't appear to believe in anything except the excellence of his own positions, which were determined by the immediate interests of his job combined with a class attitude.

Only with the Westland Helicopter crisis in 1985 did he finally step over the protective barriers of administrative structure in an attempt to protect his employer by managing the public debate. Westland was the last British-owned helicopter manufacturer. An American company wanted to buy it. The Prime Minister and some cabinet ministers were in favour of this sale, while the Secretary of State for Defence preferred a European consortium. What followed was a battle that split the cabinet, the business community and the press, This climaxed with the improper leaking of privileged information which helped the Prime Minister's position. Armstrong was called upon to calm the resulting storm by carrying out an official enquiry into how this information had been leaked. In truth, it's difficult to see how he could not have known the answers before he began. He presented the results of his investigation to the Prime Minister as if she were a distant observer, when there is every indication that Mrs. Thatcher was as involved as anyone else. Finally, he allowed himself to be called before the Commons Select Committee on Defence, The others, who were deeply involved and technically responsible, refused to appear. This turned him, the chief civil servant, into the defender of, and spokesman for, the political authorities. He did this with a Jesuitical splitting of hairs which obscured the truth behind gerunds.

"Perhaps it was his success in manipulating his way through that mess, in order to maintain a veil of unjustified secrecy and thus to save the government, which made Mrs. Thatcher send him off to Australia. Again the issue was secrecy. Again the circumstances required an artificial view of reality. A disgruntled retired British secret agent living in New South Wales had written his memoirs and, in the process, had revealed some of Britain's security methods. By the time Armstrong reached Australia, the contents of the book were already known. There was therefore nothing to be accomplished. However, for the rational, logical minds of Mrs. Thatcher and apparently of her senior civil servant, this public knowledge was merely an intervention by reality. They seemed to believe that by means of a determined legal, technical, and manipulative intervention, reality would be put back in its amateurish place.

However, the moment Armstrong stepped out of his protective cocoon in London, he no longer made any sense. The official view was that he had failed in Australia because it was a rougher sort of place -- less civilized, less liable to give him the deference he deserved. The reality was that the lawyers who badgered him owed him nothing. He had no control over them. No purchase. Nothing to offer or to threaten.

The technocrat outside his own system is like any child outside his own house. In a moment of frustration at his own helplessness, Armstrong let loose his famous phrase, "Economical with the truth." This can be interpreted in many ways, but twist it as you will, those four words remain the perfect epitaph for the rational courtesan.

Of course, there were far purer practitioners in equivalent positions in other countries. One of the most rational was Michael Pitfield; head of the Canadian civil service (clerk of the Privy Council) under Pierre Trudeau almost continually from 1974 to 1982. Pitfield's brilliance got him to university by the age of fourteen and into the most important nonelected government position at thirty-seven. His youth and close links to the prime minister marked him, unfairly, as a partisan appointment. But it was his abstract management style that kept this political reputation alive.

The bureaucracy and the politicians -- not only those in opposition -- felt that there was something seriously wrong with both his methods and his actions. Most of them were singularly ill-prepared to do battle with him, either because of Pitfield's intellectual superiority or because, like McNamara, he was constantly redefining the way things were done. His opponents were therefore unable to find solid and commonly recognized ground upon which they could fight him.

Pitfield believed in what he was doing. He had a moral conviction as to which was the right side of each major question and that side was invariably tied to decency, social justice and the protection of the weak. In all that he resembled McNamara. Even his appearance -- that of a tall, gangly doctoral student -- somehow resembled the American's severe air of an outdated but upright notary.
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Pitfield was continually experimenting with the structure of government, attempting to raise efficiency, cause information to flow, force ministers to consider policy options in a rational manner. He experimented so well that the individual ministers were gradually drained of power and kept off balance by the young bureaucrats in his central Privy Council Office. They maintained an atmosphere in which the ministers were constantly frightened of losing their jobs and increasingly in the dark as to what was really going on in the Prime Minister's mind and therefore in the government of which they -- and not the Privy Council boys -- were the responsible officers. Pitfield was certainly the finest practitioner yet seen of that bizarre management method which consists of using massive quantities of information to create confusion which in turn creates ignorance and thus removes power from those who receive the information.

One of the last reorganizations involved unifying two key departments -- External Affairs and Trade. The principle was sound: diplomacy and international commerce were two aspects of foreign policy and therefore ought to be coordinated. The document laying out how the new department would work was brilliant. It read like a coded medieval Masonic plot grafted onto a detective novel and was filled with intricate cross-references between the two sectors -- physical. not intellectual cross-references. In order to do what the organization chart required. an official would have had to think not so much about what his job required of him. as about how to play permanent hopscotch across the board. No one could possibly have had any idea of what he was actually meant to be doing on a practical level. Just keeping up with where one was in the structure and where everyone else was and which parts of what you were responsible for would be a full-time job.

Pitfield's organization was the final nail· in the coffin of Canadian foreign policy. His misunderstanding seemed to be that advanced organization would produce content. If anything, his structures were designed to define all possible activities and therefore,. in their very concept. to discourage nondefined activity. In other words, they were designed to destroy content.

The public service in Canada had always been much admired by the public, who had seen in it a collection of men and women devoted to just that -- public service. That is, to the protection of the public. Pitfield's inaccessible structures led to the inevitable distancing of the public servant from the public. His admiration for the cool approach and his centralization of the decision-making process added to this distance and laid the foundations for a situation in which the servant would have contempt for his master -- that is, the civil servant for the public. As for the public. it responded with growing distrust and resentment, despite the fact that those same years saw a very real growth in social programs and in the protection of the citizen.

The growing atmosphere of distrust and of fear within the civil service was seized upon by the Conservative government which came to power in 1984. They actively used these elements to demoralize the bureaucracy, whom they perceived as the enemy, and to bully them into doing whatever was wanted. Their assumption -- that the public service was already political and in favour of the opposing side -- freed the new government to politicize it openly, bringing in a large number of partisan outsiders. Thus Pitfield's scientific and idealistic management of what had been, before his arrival, one of the most effective and popular bureaucracies in the developed world resulted in its reduction to a relatively, unpopular political tool for whatever politicians arrived in power.


McNamara, Heath and Pitfield seem scarcely to be born of the same egg as a man like Henry Kissinger. Whatever they did, they believed they were doing in the service of the public good. It was their methods and their lack of common sense which played against them. Kissinger used the same methods, but in a consciously cynical way. In their case the means were intended to serve the end. In his case the means served him.

Lermontov, in his poem attacking the men who had destroyed Pushkin, described the classic courtesan at his worst:

You, greedy crew that round the sceptre crawl,
Butchers of freedom, genius, and renown!
Hid by the bulwark of the law, and all --
Law, truth and honour in your steps cast down!

It is a vision which leads temptingly to Henry Kissinger, perhaps the technocratic personality who most neatly fills the traditional role. When Kissinger was playing Iago to President Nixon's Richard III, all the elements proper to a royal drama were present. But Kissinger wasn't simply the paragon of something past. He also used the modern techniques with a determined and narrow genius.

What isn't clear is whether he ever believed that he would be serving the public interest. We don't know what went through his mind during his first months as President Nixon's National Security Council Advisor. Perhaps he underwent a sudden private revelation that he craved power and had the manipulative talents to gain it. Perhaps, in the adrenaline rush of that revelation, he forgot about the nature of public service.

In those early, days he sounded like a prophet of the new way down the golden road to a rational heaven. He wanted men around him who had "addressed themselves to acquiring substantive knowledge" in order to give them an opportunity not only to solve problems but "to contribute to, the definition of goals." [15] They were to make 'up a new class of intellectuals, separate from the lawyers, bureaucrats and businessmen normally found in government.

But the true indicators of what was to come lay in Kissinger's past. His practical, intellectual and political hero had always been Prince Metternich, the man who dominated Europe for thirty-four years after the destruction of Napoleon. Those people in the government. the Congress and the press who ought to have been examining this newcomer's motives simply accepted the Metternich background as a sign of Kissinger's intellectual superiority. None of them questioned why they should be effortlessly seduced into believing that Kissinger was a voice of the future when he based his actions upon those of the most retrograde, hard-line, antireform political leader of the nineteenth century.

After the defeat of Napoleon, Metternich outmanoeuvred everyone in Europe who wanted the sort of humane peace which could absorb the social and political reforms produced by the preceding twenty-five years of revolution. He broke the power of any leader tainted by liberalism or interested in the idea of a fair society. As far as he was concerned, there had never been a French Revolution, Italian republics, elected assemblies or a claim to human rights. He subverted whatever good intentions the various kings of Europe had. He ensured the conversion of, Czar Alexander to unenlightened despotism, thus taking Russia off its Europeanization curve and launching it on the century-long trajectory which produced the explosion of 1917. Above all, he set out to defeat the design of the British Foreign Secretary, Castelreagh, for a European compromise, which, while protecting the monarchies and the form 9f the old order, was designed to integrate many of the reforms of the preceding quarter century. Metternich destroyed that compromise, and it was not attempted again until after 1945.

Having done all this, Metternich set about reconstructing the Europe of the absolute monarchs. The resulting long but unpleasant peace was his success, one that Kissinger greatly admired. The explosions of 1848 were the direct result, rendering inevitable the division of Europe into revolutionaries and conservatives. This artificial schism made it impossible to imagine reasonable, common sense solutions. All was to be a battle of extremes. Marx's convictions about the inescapable struggle of the classes made sense largely thanks to Metternich's Europe. Without stretching the point too far, the unprecedented European violence and bloodletting in the twentieth. century were made inevitable by Metternich's successful application of modern cynicism in a retrograde cause. This cynicism fed upon the development of artificial divisions between political powers and upon their separation from the more practical interests of the population. Prince Metternich did for the nineteenth century what Ignatius Loyola had done for the sixteenth.

Only now, after two world wars and endless civil wars and revolutions, does Western Europe seem cleansed of his divisive spirit. As for Henry Kissinger, he revised the whole approach and made his own contribution to the Metternich school of political action.

Kissinger believed that the best time to deal with a troublesome area was when a crisis took events out of control. The heat of events -- preferably violent events -- would melt the old political, social and economic constraints which had made the area resistant to change. As these old structures melted in the white heat, Henry Kissinger, "Asbestos Man," would dash into the inferno and construct a completely different building. As Kissinger presented it, he was creating new hope out of old prejudices.

The press was understandably attracted to a man who was not only not frightened by danger but who loved risk and rose happily to the demands of crisis after crisis. More than newsworthy, this sort of action provoked great excitement. He was a front-page editor's dream. Better still, he was a tabloid editor's dream, because he rejected as ineffective the slow, careful building of relationships and development of solutions which were intended to prevent situations getting out of control. Henry Kissinger dealt with events as headlines and was one himself.

But hot moments do. not melt the structures created by time. History has an extremely solid frame built upon profound memory. The flames of crisis create smoke and obscurity. They destroy windows, partitions, even floors. But the structures remain. When they do change, it is either very slowly or as the result of an absolute cataclysm. And even then, memory somehow still resists. To be convinced of this, one has .only to look at France, Germany, Japan and Austria rising out of the disaster of the last war. Solutions imposed artificially in times of trouble leave everyone dissatisfied when calm returns. They are felt as personal aggressions, imposed against the tide of history upon people temporarily too weak to resist. The moment those same people recover, sufficiently to resist, they invariably do -- and often with violence, as in 1848. Or indeed as the Central Europeans did in 1989.

There is something else even more Hawed about Kissinger's white-heat approach. Rousseau wrote in the Social Contract:

Usurpers always choose troubled times to enact, in the atmosphere of general panic. laws which the public would never adopt when passions were cool. One of the surest ways of distinguishing the work of a law giver from that of a tyrant is to note the moment he chooses to give a people its constitution. [16]

Kissinger's instincts for usurpation were revealed soon after his arrival in Washington. A great deal of time could be spent, and indeed has been by others, on his involvement in the Cambodian operation or on his wiretapping interests. But these are secondary to his sense of power -- that is, to his sense of how to gain power through the manipulation of structure.

He began as the National Security Council adviser to the president. That was not a position of remarkable power. It counted for nothing in comparison to the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, or the council itself. And yet, by the end of Kissinger's tenure, it was the most powerful foreign policy-defence position in the United States. He wasn't even a member of the cabinet, responsible for a department legally charged by the American system of government with the administration of foreign or defence policies. He was little more than a creature of the president. Somehow he had got hold of the power.

It wasn't his role as adviser which made this possible, although his talents for courtesanage were remarkable and helped him to deal with a president more susceptible than most to the courtly approach. Kissinger's rise to power lay in his ability to reorganize the structure of government so that the council and the secretaries of state and of defense all became adjuncts to the adviser. In doing so he accomplished something far more serious than any of the Watergate participants. He subverted the American system of government in order to put himself at its centre.

With President Nixon's acquiescence, he minimized the number of meetings the council held, thereby limiting opportunities for real debate in a forum where he was not in charge. Instead he chaired a subcommittee called the Review Group, which included deputy heads from the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defense and the secretary of state. They, in turn, referred questions either to junior committees or to the full council.

This managerial power allowed him to control the evolution of all issues. In the absence of full council meetings, he became the voice of the President. The Review Group decided whether issues had been properly prepared by departments and were ready for the council. What's more, his staff inundated the departments with requests for studies and surveys so that they had the impression they were participating in the decision-making process. In reality they were being kept Busy in order to keep them out of the way. And when the council did meet, the President had been prepared to such a point of formality that he often made prepared statements on issues, thus rendering impossible any informal disagreements from cabinet members. And yet, the council's very purpose was the informal discussion of key security issues which, by their importance, stretched beyond single departmental responsibilities. Add to this the enormous briefing books -- constructed to support Kissinger's point of view, but couched in the unassailable guise of a sea of facts -- as well as the council staff, ready with the slightest extra fact or figure, and you have the whole government apparatus unable to move other than as instructed by the president's adviser.

The stultifying effect on practical democracy of the briefing books is an extraordinary modern phenomenon. If facts are knowledge and knowledge is truth, then these binders give a peculiar form of absolute power to those who prepare them. Whoever controls the briefing books controls the debate. The books kill the function of cabinet government, which was intended to make use of collegial common sense. They are one of the central tools of our time, beloved of all technocrats and used as a weapon of power throughout Western society wherever group discussion once played a role -- in cabinets, cabinet committees, interdepartmental committees, corporate boards of directors, executive committees, advisory committees, emergency committees and just plain committees.

Kissinger added to his organizational skills an advanced sense of how to place himself on the trajectory of information in order to become its messenger or its reinterpreter or simply in order to be able to stop it. His need to control the flow of information was tied to an obsession with secrecy and, of course, to a climate of fear which seeped into everyone's life as he ceaselessly manipulated everything within reach.

He had another characteristic often found in courtesans: radical character changes. In public he was, indeed remains, the master of noble logic. The wise statesman:

Last week. I had the privilege of meeting [Japanese] Prime Minister Nakasone.... I said it was quite striking how different the perceptions of security were in Asia from Europe. And he said something to me which he authorized me to quote. He said, 'The difference is the difference between European paintings and Japanese paintings." [17]

In private, however, Kissinger could switch abruptly into a devotee of gutter attacks and ridicule. Thus he insisted off the record that Secretary of State William Rogers was a "fag"; that Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was a megalomaniac; that Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, was sexually aberrant. [18] He apparently relished the collecting of FBI reports on the private lives of public figures and the gathering of wiretaps on anyone who was not helpful to his cause.

Kissinger's belief in his ability to control events made him the kind of man who inadvertently unleashes anarchistic events. He believed he could alter the course of history through his modernized application of the Metternich approach. Despite his apparent use of history, however, the disjointedness of his actions reveals his technocratic soul. For example, he decided that the Shah of Iran was America's man in the Mediterranean. He pushed the Shah, already on the road to modernization, to go faster and to arm against the Russians, against Middle East instability, against Libya's Colonel Qaddafi. Although oil rich, Iran had a large population. The Shah spent as he was encouraged to spend but was soon strapped for funds. Kissinger, in one of his moments of brilliant clarity, pushed the Shah to finance his arms, his roads, his modern marvels by raising the oil price. Just a bit. But the oil price rapidly revealed itself to be one of those anarchistic elements. Kissinger reacted along with others, by becoming an advocate of the inflationary route: through inflation America would drown out the impact of the oil price increases. His spokesmen were to be found in meetings around the world, hinting at this miraculous cure, if only everyone would print money and remain calm while inflation digits rose. [19] The floating currencies, the currency wars. (which are still with us). the Shah ever farther out of his depth, indeed on the road to extinction -- all these realities indicate that history continued along its established way after Kissinger had finished temporarily distorting its course.


When technocrats are in elective office, their weaknesses take on a different form. They may be masters of artificial self-resuscitation, but they rarely have the characteristics necessary to make themselves believable in the full public light.

Jacques Chirac, for example, although twice prime minister of France, has never been able to shake the image that he has not earned his position. The slightly strained, abstract manner in which he presents his thoughts makes people think he doesn't really think them. They sense that his ambition is not balanced by a belief in any particular idea which justifies him holding public positions.

Twenty years after the event. no one has forgotten the brilliant manipulations with which he swept his political colleagues aside in order to get Valery Giscard into the presidential office and himself, for the first time, into the prime ministership. Sharklike images, of a man ready to betray his friends and his party in order to get ahead, reappear in the public's mind each time he moves into action. And yet he is a man. one senses. who would like to do the right thing. In normal times he administers with a certain straightforward effectiveness. But in any explosive moment, when a real moral sense is required to control the situation, he panics and inevitably chooses the wrong side.

For example, in the week separating the two rounds of voting in the 1988 presidential election. when the polls showed him running seriously behind, he exploded into a myriad of "statesmanlike" actions. He ordered a military attack on nationalists in New Caledonia. The local military advised against it, but the prime minister wished to demonstrate his firm hand. As a result nineteen people were unnecessarily. mowed down, with no possibility of defending themselves, during an assault on it cave in which they were hiding. He then attempted to demonstrate his humanity and international skills by negotiating the release of French hostages in the Middle East. All he did, in fact, was give in to a number of the kidnappers' demands. It is generally felt that -- in return for a few seconds on the evening news. which showed him at the airport welcoming the freed prisoners' home -- he endangered the lives of other hostages. And, of course, by giving in, he encouraged the kidnappers to Continue kidnapping. Finally, in order to , attract a small group of strong nationalist voters, he turned a commercial disagreement over fisheries with a close ally -- Canada -- into a major diplomatic, almost military, incident.

The French voters, filled with common sense, interpreted these three actions as concrete proof that this man was not presidential material. Not only did Chirac's mistakes cost him in the final round of voting, they also cost his party in the subsequent legislative elections. There should be no doubt about the public's ability to make the right choices when presented with clear alternatives. The point is that the new technocratic leadership usually manages to distort the nature and value of that choice.

Chirac's tendency to misfire spectacularly in public makes him appear to be the opposite of a man like Henry Kissinger, Not really. Both of them have technical skills. Both of them have great ambition. Both of them lack moral common sense. Kissinger fills this void with carefully measured cynicism.

Alone among the first generations of elected technocrats, Harold Wilson succeeded politically. Perhaps this was because he combined acting skills with the cynicism and the ambition of a Kissinger. And he knew how to mix them in the right quantities. Rather like Kissinger, he did not use his understanding of contemporary systems to carryon a modernization crusade. He merely sought power within them through the art of manipulation. After several years of governing the country, he had created an atmosphere of effortless acceptance -- acceptance, that is, that nothing disinterested or medium term, let alone long term, was possible when it came to public affairs. Only the crisis of the hour counted -- the latest wage dispute, the next run on the pound. A technocrat devoid of beliefs -- even misguided beliefs -- is little more than a card sharp, moving his attention from hand to hand. No action of Wilson's could be clearly identified as having involved wrongdoing, because the sense of what was right and normal had been lost.

In that atmosphere even the normally elastic standards of truth in politics had been strained. For example, he carried on a crusade against white Rhodesia by maintaining a British-government-controlled economic blockade. This also involved subjecting the world to idealistic rhetoric about racial justice and equality. At the same time he was fully aware that the British-government-controlled oil company was supplying energy to the Salisbury regime.

Even if the question of morality is put aside, can he really have imagined that the truth would not come out? In the context of the technocratic mind, truth, like history and events, is what suits the interests of the system or the game plan of the man in charge. Truth is an intellectual abstraction, and a man like Harold Wilson felt himself in control of the definitions.

This peculiar view of reality, being independent of both established practices and current events, was further illustrated by his attitude towards the press. He used the media in order to portray himself as a man of the people, but when it came to the exercise of journalistic freedom, he used the full weight of his prime ministerial power and of legal threats to keep the media from attacking him. If, during a television interview, he sensed that things were getting out of hand, he was perfectly capable of having the cameras stopped in order to threaten legal action of the most menacing kind against the producers and interviewers who, after all, had to earn a living.

Harold Wilson's long reign as prime minister was neither historic nor dramatic, except in the sense of theatre farce. There was a drama a day, but to no particular purpose. Instead the atmosphere surrounding government was seedy. He sought power, played the system like an ordinary fiddle in a provincial orchestra, and then went away to the House of Lords. Only the fact that the system had been played rather than the country governed makes him interesting.

A much more extraordinary example of the early elected technocrat was the man Jacques Chirac helped to make president of France -- Valery Giscard or Giscard d'Estaing, if one takes into account his father's purchase of someone else's name in order to give his family the appearance of an aristocratic background. As the most hopeless of the' group, Giscard reveals a great deal about the technocrat and about power.

He is a man of limited intelligence from a highly ambitious nouveau riche family. which was Petainist during the last war. Giscard was raised to fulfill the family's destiny. He graduated from ENA in 1954 in his late thirties and set about becoming an important man. The talent with which he was born was the ability to move numbers about -- an accountant's talent -- which he combined with enormous self-assurance. This self- ssurance could be, and often was, put down to a class mannerism. In fact, it was the assurance of the technocrat, who begins all encounters by defining the meeting in his own terms. Giscard's unusual talent was his ability to define absolutely everything in his own terms -- from the world and France to individual problems.

His abstract financial talents, when added to his family's concrete financial backing, helped to make him a young minister of finance. There he appeared to be the first of the new breed of modern men. His ministerial responsibilities were relatively easy because Western economies were benefitting from an extended period of expansion. On top of this, Charles de Gaulle was giving the government creative and directed leadership, helped along by a number of inventive ministers who were provoking real growth. Giscard's job was to be the government's stick-in-the-mud. It was a negative, passive role, devoid of creativity and of leadership requirements.

Everyone else in the cabinet being a bit wild, Giscard's passive negativism was useful. He played the same role for a decade in an increasingly stable situation. When Georges Pompidou replaced de Gaulle, the relationship remained unchanged.

It was only after Pompidou had died in office and Giscard had become a presidential candidate that his character began to reveal itself. He started his campaign with a little administrative trick to destroy his Gaullist rival -- Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Somehow Chaban's tax return was leaked to the press. Giscard, of course, was minister of finance -- the man responsible for tax returns. Chaban had done nothing wrong, but he hadn't paid much tax. The returns of rich people under current tax systems throughout the West are invariably a shock. Giscard's own would probably have been far more shocking, but the minister of finance didn't leak his own.

This tax return was central to Giscard's presentation of Chaban as a tired, corrupt, old figure of the Right, while presenting himself as a liberal, ready to build the future. Technocratic skills were then considered synonyms for open, liberal attitudes. In reality there was nothing whatsoever in Giscard's record as minister of finance to indicate that he was a liberal. He had always been the conservative voice to the sometimes Jacobin, sometimes Girondin, Gaullist governments. Chaban, on the other hand, had been the most radical, socially conscious prime minister of the Fifth Republic.

Giscard's betrayal of Chaban was accompanied by Chirac's. In order to advance himself, the young cabinet minister provoked division within the Gaullist party and then delivered his part of it to Giscard. As a result It seemed as if all the young technocrats were rallying to Giscard.

This wasn't true. If you looked around the French administration, you discovered that Giscard had few friends. He was a solitary, isolated, ambitious number cruncher. All the interesting men in the civil service -- the thinkers, the policymakers, the doers -- were for Chaban or for the Socialist candidate, Francois Mitterrand. Chirac was simply after power and he got it. Giscard, once elected, rewarded the young man's betrayal of his friends by making him prime minister.

The squeezing of Chaban by Giscard and Chirac was a classic battle between the new men of power at their worst and the old at their best. Chaban was no doubt a bit of a rogue. But he was also a Resistance hero, someone who had chosen the defeated side early in World War II, when it seemed to have no hope of recovering. Thus, he had opted not to seek power but to support the better values in society. Chaban, when named prime minister, had seized the reins of power and begun active reforms. And yet it was Giscard and Chirac who, in presenting themselves during the presidential elections as new, rational and efficient, argued that they were the men of reform. In truth they didn't really know what to do with the political power once they had it. But in the battle between the flawed reality of Chaban's good policies and the illusory image of Giscard's and Chirac's modernism, it was the illusory image which won.

The moment the 1974 election was over, Giscard began lurching from one ridiculous gesture to another. Garbagemen were invited for breakfast at the Elysee Palace. On the other hand, at official dinners, he and his wife insisted on being served first, as if they were royalty of the ancien regime. Two elderly women who had done a great deal of voluntary work for good causes were invited to the palace for tea. They were given tea on their own, alone in a large salon, then led to a grander room, where Giscard was waiting to greet them. He was seated upon a large chair, as if upon a throne, and greeted them sitting down. There is an endless supply of similar stories.

At the same time Giscard's economic judgments were hopeless. He was the first Western leader, long before Reagan and Thatcher, to try to strangle inflation with high interest rates, thus causing bankruptcies and unemployment. Again and again he went before the public and explained with his absolute self-assurance that the problems were specific and temporary, when they were in reality general and long term. He was the first of the Western leaders to generalize the technician's view that the public ought never to be told the real economic situation, that they were not capable of understanding or helping.

In fact he very rapidly ceded to the evidence of his own incompetence by changing prime ministers. Chirac's replacement was Raymond Barre, an economist. Thus, before half his seven-year term was up, Giscard surrendered control over the very area which he had convinced the public would make him a good president.

The people now sensed that they had made a fundamental error, but they couldn't quite understand what it was. Since the modern definition of intelligence was an apparent form of technocracy, they did not have the language to say that Giscard was stupid or, to put it politely, that he had a narrow, limited sort of intelligence. He was defeated in the next presidential election in good part because the public had decided that he was intelligent but silly (his social pretensions) and dishonest (the diamonds which he had accepted from President/Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic). He was probably these things as well, but primarily his problem was a lack of usable intelligence. In 1991 his .career came full circle when he took advantage of rising intolerance, over the number of nonwhite immigrants in France, to announce a policy which could be described as based on race. His father, the Petainist, would have been proud.


Finally, James Baker and Simon Reisman -- both of whom belong to this same class but are quite different in their methods. Their conflict ended in a victory for indirection and it highlighted which characteristics give the modern technocrat an advantage in the use of power and which, being confused with those of public man, in fact weaken him. Simon Reisman, a product of the depression, rose to become deputy minister of finance in Ottawa, resigned to become a lobbyist for major corporations, then returned to government to negotiate the United States-Canada trade pact in the late 1980s. There he came up against James Baker, who was .then secretary of the treasury and whose career had been built in the shadow of George Bush. Baker is in .many ways the inheritor of the Kissinger method. He, better than Kissinger, seems to understand the Metternich principles of control and management at all times. One of the things which makes him superior to Kissinger in these situations is that he knows how to restrain his own ego.

Reisman, on the other hand, suffered from the worst possible of the technocrats' flaws. Whatever the issue at stake, his ego strode before him. This made him a boisterous and bullying but ineffective negotiator. Earlier in his career Reisman's flaws had appeared to be strengths. While the old-style public servants had exercised a certain reserve, Reisman seemed to be permanently throwing tantrums and shouting at people. In this way he passed for a man eager to get things done. His constant bullying seemed to indicate intellectual superiority.

By the time there was enough evidence on which to doubt his intelligence and indeed to question his emotional equilibrium, the system already had him on the fast track. And a single success in the mid-sixties -- the United States-Canada Automobile Pact -- which he claimed was his own invention, became the concrete proof that he was a competent policymaker and administrator. In reality, he was a rabble-rouser for conventional wisdom, not intellectually strong enough to break away from the standard line of the economists.

Reisman was soon one of the pivotal deputy ministers and able to unleash fully his methods. With senior Japanese businessmen in his office, he is said to have phoned someone else and shouted down the line - ''I've got these goddamned Japs in here who want a lower tariff!" During a session with trade negotiators from the EEC in the late 1960s, Reisman suddenly began to bully them as he might his subordinates. When this didn't work, he swore at them. Within moments he had slipped into a screaming tantrum. The result was that Canada made enemies for nothing. The technocrat's power, after all, is limited to the system he dominates. [20]

While his energy and the fear he generated made his departments work, Reisman's obsession with power led him to undermine his effectiveness on the larger front. He constantly denigrated the other deputy ministers. Later, when he was at the summit of his powers. he managed to defeat a proposal for a guaranteed annual income, which an important part of the Cabinet favoured. Reisman boasted openly that he alone had blocked the people's elected representatives. When he resigned early in 1974 as deputy minister of finance, it was to create a lobbying company designed to serve precisely those interests he had been responsible for controlling as a public servant. The protests were so great that they led to strict new government regulations on civil servants and conflict of interest. These seemed to have little effect.

Reisman's reputation as a tough negotiator and his support for free trade with the United States persuaded the Canadian government to call on him to lead its team during the United States-Canada trade pact negotiations. Both sides knew that the results would alter profoundly North America's political and economic makeup. It was then that all his theoretical strengths revealed themselves as weaknesses.

He put together a relatively small team, cut off from well-organized support in the civil service. His aggressive leading from the front, in the manner of an old-fashioned cavalry general with quick spurs and a slow brain, undermined any hope of teamwork. All rested on his legendary powers as a tough negotiator. Washington played to this weakness by putting forward an unknown, quiet chief negotiator. Reisman saw this as an insult to his reputation and powers. He was drawn on to ever more egotistical, headline-oriented behaviour. Meanwhile, the American negotiator was quietly fronting for an enormous, invisible team in Washington. which was highly organized, highly professional, and walking away with the advantage on most key points. Out of sight and seemingly indifferent sat James Baker, perfectly in control.

Like Reisman, Kissinger and Chirac, Baker, without any accompanying moral purpose or devotion to ideas, is driven by a voracious taste for power and a profound hatred of losing. Unlike them, however, he is a master of the invisible manipulation which allows a systems man to make full use of the power he accumulates.

He mistrusts solutions offered in a loud voice and has no respect for those who offer them. [21] His negotiating methods are perfectly clear, in his own words:

The trick is getting them where you want them, on your terms. Then you have the options. Pull the trigger or don't. It doesn't matter once you've got them where you want them. The important thing is knowing that it's in your hands, that you can do whatever you determine is in your interest to do. [22]

That is Baker's description of how to kill a wild turkey. As Reisman stubbed out his cigar on the negotiating table and shouted and swore, the American secretary of the treasury can only have seen him as yet another bird, drawn to the feeding trough and prancing about nervously as the emotions associated with hunger are increasingly confused with those of danger. In the final, apparently desperate days of negotiation, Baker suddenly emerged, as if noticing for the first time that something was going on, and drew the confused Canadians into his office, where he fired the mortal shot. They died happily because they were concentrated on the trough when the bullet entered their collective brain.

Baker's first appearances as President Bush's secretary of state, however, were unimpressive. He and the President flung themselves into a series of foreign trips, which infuriated America's allies. Political observers began to mumble that he was no good outside the Washington system, where he had everyone under his spell. But Baker learns fast and within weeks he had withdrawn back into his old turkey-hunting stance. In no time at all he began to get the hang of international political games.

That he was capable of international manipulation on the Metternich level had been clear since his 1985 negotiation of the Plaza agreement, which was designed to deal with the then declining dollar. This required the unwilling cooperation of the President and of Donald Regan, who was both the ex-secretary of the treasury and the then presidential chief of staff. But it also required the cooperation of the other Western governments, who had a great deal to lose. Baker played them off against each other with such smooth and confident moves that they were never able to mount an organized counterargument. But a truly superior systems man can operate anywhere if he is careful to first get a handle on the structure into which he is venturing.

Baker quickly grasped the international mechanisms. He handled his home ground with great skill, slipping pieces of information into the public domain as he felt appropriate, but otherwise playing a hand which was often described as tight or disciplined. Quite simply, he functioned best in secret. He used the professionals of the State Department, but primarily as a source of information. He made Policy in a closed circle which consisted of four advisers.

The problem was that he appeared to have no particular set of values. Therefore, to make policy in isolation is to do so without direction or intent. And so his sophisticated methods were to little avail when applied against people who have an integrated view of what they want. In the months preceding and following Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, Baker was unable to make his skills work for him. In spite of unprecedented support in the international community, including the Islamic countries, his initiatives were ineffective. A disinterested look at the diplomatic configuration suggests that all the elements were there for a negotiated settlement, including enough time to put it together. Adequate time in an international crisis is a rare advantage for those who want a settlement. And yet the end result was a war with an unsatisfactory conclusion.


These rapid and incomplete portraits of complex men are concentrated on the common strains running through those who have been in charge of the Western world for the last few decades. Modern men of power come in many apparently different forms. But certain characteristics link them. First, a great difficulty in coming to terms with the democratic process. The talents of the technocrat do not suit public debate or an open relationship with the people. They become aloof in order to hide contempt; or ridiculously friendly, as if the people were idiots or simply confused. Their innate talents lead them in other directions. They are masters of structure, of backstairs battles, of prestructuring or withholding information. They are merchants of knowledge, selling it in return for power. They set enormous value upon secrecy.

Intentionally or otherwise, their methods induce fear among those who must deal regularly with them. Almost without exception they are bullies. Primarily this appears to be intellectual intimidation. Combined with the use of secrecy arid systems manipulation, it is used to frighten people on the practical level of their incomes, pensions, and careers. In many cases, this degenerates into nasty, personal, off-the-record attacks. Others will make them on-the-record as ,a shock tactic. It therefore isn't surprising that these men are rarely surrounded or helped by friends. They are usually solitary beings, floating through the structures of the state in the manner of McNamara and Giscard. Or they attach themselves to a. single public figure, a front man, as Kissinger did or Pitfield or Baker.

In many ways they resemble the Chinese eunuchs at their worst. The modern eunuch keeps his testicles, but seems to suffer from the same effects of isolation. Perhaps castration is as much a state of mind as a physical fact. The technocrats suffer from character defects which have to do with their inability to maintain any links between reason, common sense and morality. They believe themselves to be the inheritors of the Age of Reason and therefore do not understand why their talents fail to produce the intended results. Their abstract view of the machinery of human society prevents them from understanding the natural How of events and from remembering when they themselves have erred and why.

That is to say they don't seem to understand the historical process. Instead. they seem actually to believe that their definitions of the world will become both real and permanent simply because they are the result of applied logic. When these formulae refuse to stick, the technocratic mind, rather than deal with failure, simply wipes the slate clean and writes a new definition. They are, in that sense, slaves of dogma. At the same time they tend to avoid the maintenance of linear memory. An accurate picture of recent events would prevent the constant reorganizations which they use as a means of erasing the past and justifying current actions.

Their talents have become the modern definition of intelligence. It is an extremely narrow definition and it eliminates a large part of both the human experience and the human character. Suffice it to say that under the current definition of intelligence, Socrates, Byron, Jefferson, Washington, Churchill, Dickens, Joseph Conrad, John A. Macdonald and Georges Clemenceau would have been unintelligent or eccentric or romantic or unreliable.

The technocrats are hedonists of power. Their obsession with structures and their inability or unwillingness to link these to the public good make this power an abstract force -- a force that works, more often than not, at cross-purposes to the real needs of a painfully real world.
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5. Voltaire's Children

Between the newly ordained Jesuit, the young Marxist, the fresh staff officer, Enarque or MBA, there is no appreciable difference. All five are dominated by method and each of their methods arises from a common source. Appearances suggest that there must be some serious differences among them, since they regularly do battle with each other on behalf of their countries or professions. The differences must lie, therefore, in the content which they subject to their universal method. Or perhaps their rivalry is the result of their respective interests which, if the ferocity of their battles tells us anything; differ greatly.

Yet when you examine these differences or the content involved or even their respective interests, you search in vain for any remarkable contradictions. All that separates them are the positions they occupy. They defend the structural interests assigned to them by their system. And even then, if you remove the screen of ideology, the ends they seek are pretty much of a kind.

At first glance this seems to be good news -- proof that rational structures and the resulting education have broken down the barriers of narrow nationalism. Here are indications of an international order uniting all modern elites.

But has this rational education system produced the elites imagined by the philosophers of reason? Are they children Voltaire would recognize? Men like McNamara and Chirac are famous alumni, but are they really fair examples? The way' to answer these questions is to compare the original intent of rational education with that of its contemporary descendant. If, for example, our elites seem to be trained with methods and intentions which betray Western civilization's declared values, perhaps it is because the original creators of those values misunderstood what they were dealing With. If we are producing elites which serve neither. our needs nor our desires, perhaps the problem is that our expectations have always been ill founded. Perhaps these elites are the perfectly logical products of a rational society.

A unified Western elite, using a single system of reasoning, was precisely what Loyola set out to create in 1539. Thanks to his extraordinary invention, the Jesuits constituted the first international intellectual system. And yet, in the few years between the creation of the order and Loyola's death, the unfortunate reality of his invention clarified itself. The Jesuits rapidly became either the tools of local interests or simply replaced them. Within forty years the modern method, although remaining profoundly international, had linked itself inextricably to nationalism.

The second half of the twentieth century has marked the apotheosis of that original marriage. Systems dominate everywhere, as do the systems men. At the same time nationalism has never been so strong, so much an end in itself.

Americans have become obsessed by the state of the United States and with the American dream and why it doesn't seem to work. The Western Europeans have turned in upon themselves. The purpose of their supranational body is largely to deal with the disorder of nationalist forces elsewhere, including the growing nationalism of the United States. The Third World is made up of a hundred or so new nations, just starting down the long, complicated trail of the national dream. The Soviet abstraction has inadvertently loosed its multitude of nationalisms in a dangerous and unpredictable way. And five nations in Central Europe, which had struggled unsuccessfully through much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to establish rational, tribal identities, are now desperately trying yet again to rev up their dreams. In other words, despite the internationalist rhetoric which is so fashionable, we are now at the beginning of the most nationalist era the world has known.

The simple fact of belonging to what the Romans would have called a tribe -- although what we have today are increasingly intellectual and political constructions which simulate tribalism -- now gives legitimacy and justifies action. The national unit has become the ultimate tool of the modern manager and of his system.

And yet these men and, increasingly, women are Voltaire's children. They are the product of his attack on a corrupt society propped up by superstition, elaborate formality and the use of unlimited power. He had concentrated his criticism on the old elites and called for new, rational leaders who could see through the facade of eighteenth-century society. His ideal man of reason knew. And what he knew, he processed through morality and common sense.

The technocrat of today knows something. But his means of processing uses neither morality nor common sense. The differences between the imagined modern man of reason and the real thing can be found in his very name -- technocrat.

Technology is a relatively new word, combining the Greek techne (skill, metier) with logos (knowledge). The skill of knowledge. But the noun technocrat has a very different meaning. Techne is, in this case, attached to kratos (strength, power). The technocrat's skill lies in his exercise of power. The skill of power. His is an abstract profession involving only narrow bands of knowledge. He hires himself out as a mercenary to organizations that control wider bands of knowledge and create, serve or sell. In other words he hires himself out in order to assume other people's power.

Voltaire used to ridicule the elite of his day by pointing out that, apart from their titles and their money, they were pitifully ignorant. They simply bought knowledge and advice -- whether financial, architectural, ministerial, artistic or military. The elite's ignorance was so profound that it made them incapable of leading. Voltaire was not arguing that in order to lead or to assume responsibility you must be the perfect Renaissance man. But there was a need for general and perhaps for in-depth knowledge in some direction. And on that foundation there was a need to be interested in the ideas and creations of one's time. To read, to think, to ask questions, and to talk in wide circles, well beyond any particular competence. To look upon society as an organic, living thing.

The technocrats of our day make the old aristocratic leaders seem profound and civilized by comparison. The technocrat has been actively -- indeed, intensely -- trained. But by any standard comprehensible within the tradition of Western civilization, he is virtually illiterate. One of the reasons that he is unable to recognize the necessary relationship between power and morality is that moral traditions are the product of civilization and he has little knowledge of his own civilization.

Literacy is only defined as the ability to read because the assumption of Western civilization is that man wishes to read in order to participate fully in that civilization. Literacy refers to civilization as a shared experience. One of the signs of a dying civilization is that its language breaks down into exclusive dialects which prevent communication. A growing, healthy civilization uses language as a daily tool to keep the machinery of society moving. The role of responsible, literate elites is to aid and abet that communication.

What then is to be thought of elites who seek above all to develop private dialects? Who seek to communicate as little as possible? Who actively discourage the general population from understanding them? They are proponents of illiteracy.

What is to be thought of doctors, earning several hundred thousand dollars a year, whose annual reading is at best made up of two or three formula thrillers? Whose political understanding is limited to a schematic view of Capitalism versus Socialism? Who, by virtue of their profession's internal class system, are increasingly rewarded and ad- mired as their knowledge of medicine narrows? In the nineteenth century, doctors were at the centre of political, social and cultural change. Today, a doctor tends to reach her summit when her view of the human body consciously limits itself to a single organ. Is this woman not illiterate?

What of a full professor of English literature who views fiction as an exercise separate from society? Who encourages such ideas as deconstructionism, which render literature inaccessible except to the most intimately initiated? Who seeks to destroy the great populist tradition of literature as a weapon used in the forefront of social change? Who recognizes in modern literature only those forms incomprehensible to the outsider? Who recognizes as proper subjects for literature only subjects distant from the world of the citizen? And in the process, who becomes himself incapable of understanding the movements of the outer world? Is he any more literate than, say, a small farmer who cannot read but who has an immediate and real understanding of the world about him?

What of the banker or economist, called upon to make real decisions about the evolution of his society's economy in a time of instability and inflation, who either has never heard of John Law or has endeavoured to forget who he was and what he did? He probably thinks even less about the nineteenth-century railway "bubbles" or the crash of the 1880s. What does it mean when he talks seriously '"f the catastrophe which awaits if debts are forgiven, given that he doesn't know that the entire strength and civilization of Athens -- upon which we still model Western civilization -- was created through Solon's wiping out of all crippling loans? Or indeed that America's economic strength in the twentieth century was in great part the result of constant financial defaultings during the nineteenth?

None of this is illiteracy as we normally understand it. Nor is it functional illiteracy. Perhaps the right term is willful illiteracy. It isn't surprising that the modern manager has difficulty leading steadily in a specific direction over a long period of time, He has no idea where we are or where we've come from. What's more, he doesn't want to know, because that kind of knowledge hampers his kind of action.

Instead he has learned to disguise this inner void in ways which create a false impression of wisdom. Voltaire had a genius for deflating the credibility and thus destroying the legitimacy of established power. His weapon was words so simple that anyone could understand and repeat them. Genius, unfortunately, is something which can't be passed On. Voltaire did however introduce an auxiliary weapon which was perfectly transferable. Scepticism. It was a useful tool when applying common sense to the unexplainable mysteries of established power. Scepticism was something that most men of average intelligence could handle. It was to become the great shared tool of the new rational elites.

But it is virtually impossible to maintain healthy scepticism when power is in your hands. To do so would require living in a state of constant personal conflict between belief in your public responsibilities and self-doubt over your ability to discharge them. Instead the new elites rolled these two elements together into a world-weary version of scepticism, which is what we know as cynicism. It involves a restrained contempt for both themselves and the public. To this was attached the elite's assumption -- often justified -- that whatever was done would be in the public's best interests.

And therein lay the tragedy of the new elites. The heart of reason is logic, but Voltaire had imagined this logic well anchored in common sense. He had seen reason as logic used reasonably. Scepticism had seemed to be no more than a complementary device. But cynicism was quite another matter. It severed the lines holding logic to common sense and suddenly logic was again adrift, as it had been under the old regimes -- free to be blindly self-justifying or violently efficient or whatever suited the unfolding argument.

At least one thing is clear about the modern elites. They are truly international. But the curious self-deceptions of contemporary nationalism include the pretence that this isn't so. It seems to suit the national unit to believe that all characteristics tied to leadership are proper to the genius of the unit. No doubt it also suits the elites. If they are a manifestation of the national tribe, they are legitimate elites. Thus, never is the Enarque of one country compared with the MBA of another or the Marxist of a third. And since being a "professional" is one of the central values of our time, everyone is careful not to compare professions. The staff officer is never compared to the Jesuit or to the technocrat or to the manager. And yet, five minutes of conversation with any one of the above could be transformed into a conversation with any of the others by the simple device of interchanging their "professional" vocabulary.

This obsession with the particularity of the various professional groups is so strong that even when people wish to criticize their elites they cannot. There is no language available for outsiders who wish to criticize intelligently. The references to each profession are almost exclusively internal. In many ways the differences between various languages today are less profound than the differences between the professional dialects within each language. Any reasonably diligent person can learn one or two extra tongues. But the dialect of the accountant, doctor, political scientist, economist, literary historian or bureaucrat is available only to those who become one. This self-protective, self-satisfied provincialism resembles, if anything, the dialect and mannerisms of declining aristocracies.


The eighteenth-century rationalists would not be happy about the human product of their educational initiatives. Nor, for that matter, would Ignatius Loyola. And yet the lines of evolution are clear.

Loyola's intellectual church army had a dramatic air about it during the disorders and violent times of the Counter-Reformation: But the heart of his concept was an extremely modern and undramatic military structure. It had nothing to do with either the knight-errant tradition or personal valor. Instead his concept used the professionalism of the mercenary armies which were so prevalent in his time. Loyola converted this into modern professionalism.

He gave the Jesuits a highly centralized and autocratic structure. The general was elected for life. He in turn had absolute power to appoint the next level of leadership, the provincials. But Loyola's model went far beyond military autocracy. He introduced two revolutionary elements -- a new kind of education. and accounting for oneself regularly to superiors. The institutionalization of the second prolonged the effects of the first throughout the Jesuits' life. Absolute obedience lay at the heart of both the education and the accounting. Loyola's definition of obedience included the following:

More easily may we suffer ourselves to be surpassed by other religious Orders in fasting, watching and other austerities ... but in true and perfect obedience and the abnegation of our will and judgement, I greatly desire that those who serve God in this society should be conspicuous.

Abnegation of will and judgment were at the core of the new method. They have travelled unaltered through the last four centuries and now determine the shape of our contemporary elites.

Loyola's new style of obedience was induced by rigorous training, which began with a two- year novitiate. One year would have been normal. The purpose of these twenty-four months was to dismantle a young man's will into its component parts in order to isolate within those parts anything undesirable. The idea was not to change the man's ideas or beliefs but simply to eliminate the troublesome elements. The training then went on to purify what was adaptable and useful and to cement it all back together with the structure of the Society.

Dismantle. Clean and disinfect. Reassemble with the glue of the Society -- its structures, rules and habits. The final product was then costumed in the ideology of the Kingdom of God. [1]

Ten to fifteen years of intense training followed. Long periods of learning, of pure spiritual discipline, of teaching, and of being tested in action succeeded each other as the Society observed and gradually decided whether the candidate was suitable for full membership.

The whole process was carefully and discreetly controlled through private interviews between the superior and the candidate. These were "the Accountings of the conscience." As always with Loyola, concepts of morality were submitted to rules of measurement. The idea of subjecting a man's conscience to a profit-and-loss examination, in which fault and blame were consciously sought out, was revolutionary. The mutual understanding, which these accountings established between the new priest and the Society, as to the nature of real power, was then maintained through the regular writing of reports by each Jesuit to his superior. These reports dealt with his work but also with his fellow Jesuits. Thus, reporting on other priests was placed in the context of group interests.

No detail was too small to be communicated. Meals. Sleep habits. Loyola spoke, almost seriously, of counting and reporting fleabites. This appeared to be paternalism. 1t was gradually formalized as part of the system, part of the Jesuits' obedience or professionalism. Observers called it despotism of the soul. And certainly there was nowhere left for individual characteristics to hide. The best modern term for this process might be depersonalization.

At first glance Jesuit training seems to resemble our contemporary brainwashing or reeducation methods. Modern interrogations and indoctrinations do not use violence or even the threat of violence. They concentrate on dismantling and disinfecting the mind of the victim before reassembling it in a different pattern. As for the Jesuit accountings and reportings, they appear to be the originals of the twentieth century's systems of social control through anonymous informants -- systems we tend to identify with repressive societies, secret services and ministries of the interior.

If this unprecedented training and shaping of individuals produced the dominant intellectual force in Europe, it was in part because the Jesuits provided the most complete education. Loyola and the other founders had at once begun to analyze the best existing universities Catholic and Protestant. That done, they set up their own colleges based on the latest methods and knowledge. And then they observed and experimented for forty years until, in 1599, they finalized their official Ratio Studiorum, or "study plan." If the system and the message were removed, what remained was a remarkable education. Francis Bacon himself couldn't help admiring their work, once he had set aside the message. In no time at all they were educating not only future Jesuits but the elites of Europe. This infuriated other orders and the political authorities. Jesuit control over the intellect and emotions of future civil leadership was an integral part of the Society's complex politicking -- a natural extension of their influence over governments.

It is no accident that Richelieu and Descartes came through their system, any more than. Voltaire and Diderot. But resistance to both the implicit message it contained and to the Society's political manipulations began to grow. Moreover, once the Ratio Studiorum had been formalized, the whole system stopped evolving. It was as if a highly effective machine were functioning without reference to reality. This disconnection became obvious in 1755 after the Lisbon earthquake. It was a leading Jesuit -- Gabriele Malagrida -- who launched the argument that this massive and indiscriminate death and destruction was a judgment from God. Popular reaction was the exact opposite to what he had intended.

The practical manifestation of the Jesuits' failure to keep up with social evolution was that new rational schools began to appear in the eighteenth century -- schools more clearly tied to national interests and to separate, concrete definitions of professionalism. They dropped the Society's message and a good part of its humanist education. They kept the astonishing methodology and applied it to such institutions as military staff colleges and engineering schools. By the middle of the nineteenth century, these were proliferating into administrative schools -- first aimed at public service, then at business. As the obsession with professionalism grew, so the focus narrowed and the actual educational content shrank still further. The jesuitical concept of obedience also disappeared, but the new professionalism manifested itself by concentrating on such things as structure, accounting, reporting, manoeuvring and mastery of detail, all of which could be summarized as an unconscious and undirected version of Loyola's "abnegation of will and judgement."

To those on the outside, the most visible sign that someone had received Jesuit training was his ability to outargue anyone. This weapon of "argument" has also been adopted by our elites. The Jesuits called it "rhetoric." To outsiders it appeared to be a pompous style of formal address. Given our informal era, it seems to have been buried with the past. Its formality, however, was merely its public disguise. Rhetoric was more than modern. It was revolutionary. And it is still very much with us.

Rhetoric began to overwhelm the Jesuits even before Loyola died -- not because he sought it, but because it was the logical and inevitable extension of his own system, which called for priests to reason with the people. Clearly, to "reason" did not mean to enter into dialogue or to discuss or to explore. It meant to convince. That is to say, to argue in a manner which controlled the exchange and automatically resulted in the victory of the initiator. By reason he meant a predefined argument in which the people's questions and answers would inescapably lead them to accept the pope's authority. Everything lay in the advance definition of the form of the interchange between the priest and the individual. Rhetoric was the science of that form. Elegant phrasing was merely the decoration of the argument and, as such, distracted individuals from how the nuts and bolts of their interchange had been rigorously denaturalized and predetermined.

This is precisely the method used today by the MBA or the Enarque. The modern technocrat attempts at all costs to initiate any dialogue. Thus he is able to set, in the first sentences of any exchange, the context of the theoretical discussion about to take place. In written arguments briefing books play the same role. The intended audience unthinkingly accepts the parameters laid out. It is then caught up in the coil of the resulting logic and kept busy rushing back and forth between the questions and answers which the predefined structure imposes. In the process it feels the satisfaction produced by simply keeping up or the despair of inferiority if it does not. There is no time for reflection or consideration of the basic parameters.

We have difficulty linking the Jesuits' intellectual approach with that of the technocrats because we believe that formal eloquence was central to rhetoric. Modern argument doesn't rely upon the modulated qualities of the voice. Nor does it attempt to seduce by pleasing. There is no artifice. We are not enhanced by its appearance. In fact, modern argument is usually ugly and boring. The awkward bones of facts and figures are there as signs of honesty and freedom. The charts and graphs layout lines of inevitability, which always begin in the past and advance as a simple matter of historical fact calmly into the future. There is no appearance of guile.

But this awkward, boring surface is the new form of elegant phrasing. The facts, the figures, the historic events used to set the direction of lines on graphs are all arbitrarily chosen in order to produce a given solution. To this is added an insistence that the constant questioning involved in modern argument is proof of its Socratic origins. Again and again the schools which form the twentieth century's elites throughout the West refer to their Socratic heritage. The implication is that doubt is constantly raised in their search for truth. In reality the way they teach is the opposite of a Socratic dialogue. In the Athenian's case every answer raised a question. With the contemporary elites every question produces an answer. Socrates would have thrown the modern elites out of his academy.

Why, then, do they so insistently claim him as their godfather? First, no one can give greater legitimacy to intellectual honesty through openness to doubt than Socrates. Second, they who can claim to carry the torch of Athens can also claim to carry the light of Western civilization. In Western mythology the Athenian inheritance is a mandate to struggle for the rule of philosophy and law, the citizen state, justice and beauty. And, on top of all of that, Socrates is the Christ martyr of the Athenian myth.

Along with the false questioning, the boring awkwardness and the endless facts, the claimed Athenian inheritance is also there to distract us from the predetermined mechanics of technocratic arguments. Rhetoric still dominates our lives. Unchanged from the seventeenth century, it has merely reversed its style from elegance to ugliness.

This becomes more intriguing if you observe the way in which a technocrat deals with a discussion when he arrives on the scene after it has begun. By his standards this is an argument out of control, so he does not join in. What he does is find a way to abrogate the discussion so that it can begin again on his terms. The classic method is to make a violent, irrational entry, which often involves personal invective. The very rudeness of the attack will stop the discussion. The technocrat then picks one or two small points -- the weakest -- out of the argument and concentrates all his sarcasm upon them. Such a reductio ad absurdum catches everyone unawares and before they can recover he reintroduces the entire discussion in his own manner. This form of public debate made its entry into the twentieth century via the Heroes -- Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin. After 1945 it was adopted by the new elites.

The Society of Jesus had been overtaken by the new lay professional schools and by their elites as early as the middle of the eighteenth century. The Jesuits had not, however, lost their influence on modern trends. After being disbanded from 1773 to 1814, the Society returned to support conservative forces throughout the West. In the process there were endless intellectual marriages between their educational system and that of the new lay schools. The French Field Marshal Foch, for example, carried the jesuitical approach into the staff college and thus helped to set the disastrous direction of twentieth-century warfare.

The Society also continued its political manipulations. In 1860 the Jesuits were central to the organization of the First Vatican Council. The final battles for Italian unity were under way and the new nation's gains were automatically the Church's temporal loss. The Jesuits' aim was to use the Vatican Council to institutionalize the infallibility of the pope. Their idea was to create an uncontrollable sort of power. They succeeded. The pope became legally infallible. He was then free to demand a certain kind of loyalty from his followers. But the use of legal structures so late in the nineteenth century to enforce unquestioning obedience merely provoked revolt. The pope's infallibility has hung around his neck like an albatross ever since.

At first glance this seems to demonstrate the old rhetoric's inability to produce the intended result. And yet, if one can just disregard the outer shell, what difference was there between winning agreement on the pope's infallibility and Henry Kissinger's Vietnam peace plan? They were both classroom victories -- brilliant on paper. And both were swept away by the next real event to come along. They are both perfect case studies. The pope's Jesuit adviser and Henry Kissinger would have received the best possible marks for these solutions, had they been presented as a case study at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

But this is a dramatic comparison and there is no need to seek out, in this way, exceptional events. Loyola's methods are integrated into those of our contemporary elites and can be found in thousands of banal social details. A characteristic proper to rhetoric, for example, is that its science of decorating all arguments extends to the presentation of itself. Thus, in England, the London Business School claims that the central concept of its Masters Program "is that management can be taught as a unified body of essential knowledge which can be applied to an organization." [2] The statement deforms our understanding of what the school does by misrepresenting the word knowledge. There is no such thing as knowledge which is universally applicable to all organizations. Knowledge is concrete and particular. What they mean by "knowledge" is method. And the casual throwing in of the adjective essential is positive charlatanism. What do they mean by "essential"? If that were true, then the majority of businesses in England, which do not yet employ business school graduates, would be bankrupt.

In other words, the London Business School teaches manipulation. And part of that manipulation is to present the art of manipulation itself as truth -- that is, as knowledge. The presentation also attempts to leave an impression of universality, of open-mindedness and flexibility, But what they are really talking about is the training of managers who can do anything, for anybody, anywhere. That is the description of a mercenary or a condottiere.


Jefferson wrote the American Declaration of Independence. On the document itself, he and the other men who signed it pledged to each other their "lives, fortunes and sacred honour." Jefferson spent the rest of his life advising young Americans on their education and attempting to render it rational, as he understood reason, given his own experiences. And yet if one thing is certain about the modern manager, he pledges to no one his fortune or his life. As for honour, it simply isn't part of the equation. Some of the titles of the books written by professors at the Harvard Business School give a better sense of the manager's education -- Power and Influence, The New Competitors, Competitive Advantage, Managing Human Assets, The Marketing Edge -- Making Strategies Work. These professors have a very specific view of values. Take, for example, the description of the course which the same school offers on Comparative Ideology. It deals with "the role of ideology in modern business": "Ideology is a crucial analytical concept and an indispensable management tool, whose importance stems from the intimate connection between ideology and economic performance." [3]

It isn't surprising that the school's first Alumni Achievement Award was given to Robert McNamara. But what lies at the core of the minds which produce these titles? They are, they say, "preparing people to practice management." [4] In other words, they see themselves as "practicing," like doctors or lawyers, members of a reasonably specialized group which combines applied knowledge with a code of professional ethics.

The school was created in 1908 and, in that same moment, was fused together with its method. As the founders saw it, "business administration was. the newest profession." [5] Schools of commerce had been multiplying around the United States for more than half a century. However, the determining event came in 1895 when a gruff, difficult, upper- iddle-class Protestant -- Frederick Winslow Taylor -- gave a speech to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. This was the formal public beginning of Taylorism or Scientific Management. On a concrete level Taylor was proposing a new way to organize factories. Yet from the beginning he designed and explained this reorganization as part of a social revolution which rejected both the pessimistic view of the class struggle and the optimistic humanist view of such things as profit sharing.

Taylor replaced both with a rational, scientific system to which all employees would adhere. Their reward for unquestioning adherence would be more money. The whole system would turn on the rise of a managerial class." As a general rule," Taylor said, "the more men you have working efficiently in the management ... the greater will be your economy." [6]

The future deans of the Harvard Business School visited Taylor in 1908, were seduced and decided to design their program around this theory. Taylor and his disciples supported them by regularly coming to Harvard to lecture. In 1924 there were already six hundred students and the Harvard casebooks were being used in one hundred colleges.

Taylor believed his system would produce "a conflict free, high consumption utopia based on mass production." [7] Subjection to machines would destroy man's natural tendency towards evil. A reign of technocrats would replace the corrupt and inefficient political elites. Individual choice would be submerged beneath systems and discouraged by cash benefits. Depersonalization of production would be the key to success.

Directly or indirectly Taylorism has dominated business school methodology and changed business structures around the world. But it was also adopted in varying forms by both the Soviet and the Nazi regimes. Lenin structured his economic reforms on his version of Scientific Management. "We must," he said, "organize in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our purposes." [8] Trotsky militarized Scientific Management during the civil war, using it for example, in his transportation policy. Stalin turned it into a Communist truth. The first Soviet Five-Year Plan was drawn up with the help of leading Taylorist advisers imported from the United States. As a result some two-thirds of Soviet industry was built by Americans. And now, some seventy years later, the business consultant descendants of Taylor are being invited. back to the shattered Soviet Union to advise on how to undo the mess for which their approach is in good part responsible. The same principles were adopted by Albert Speer in his economic organization of the Third Reich. With a few adaptations, Scientific Management was used to run military production, forced labour and racial genetics programs, which included such things as gassing polio victims and genocide.

Of course it would be foolish to deny that Taylorism played a major role in early-twentieth-century industrial advances. On the other hand, it always preached that technocratic leadership was the new morality. Its antidemocratic premises were justified by "the redemptive role of a technically trained, professional middle class." [9] No doubt its proponents would refuse responsibility for the Soviet and Nazi experiences by arguing that any system can go wrong if misused. However, the astonishing thing about Scientific Management is that it has never gone wrong by its own standards. It has simply been more or less controlled by different civilizations. And, in any case, it would be wrong to ascribe too much blame or credit to Taylor and his disciples. Absolutist theories such as his tend to appear to be freestanding when they have in fact picked up on already existing trends and simply articulated them.

In the United States the drive towards a dictatorship of the technocracy was and is limited only because other social forces are at play. Harvard's version of the whole business school method is therefore fascinating. University authorities say it is "field-based and empirical," not "isolated in a laboratory or in hypothetical models." They add, of course, that it is based upon the school's "distinctive and continually developing teaching method -- the case method." But there lies a major contradiction. The case method is above all famous for bringing a detached, abstract approach to the conduct of business. Harvard insists that the case approach "sharpens the qualities of understanding, judgment, articulateness, human sensitivity and intuition, necessary to the successful practice of management.... It obliges the students to confront unruly, intractable reality." [10]

In other words, they train the technocrat to tame reality. And reality being what it is -- that is, real -- they must deform it in order to accomplish this. There is nothing empirical about the process because it begins with a solution and a predetermined argument into which the problems must fit in order to arrive at that solution.

The student who succeeds best at this game invariably has an aptitude for abstract structures combined with an aggressive personality. Intelligence in this situation consists of a combination of analytical skills, untutored ambition and banal materialism. Creativity -- which leads to new products -- is not rewarded. Imagination -- which enables the businessman to develop markets and sell -- is also absent. And there is no hint that the values of society might be taken into consideration. How could they be? The methodology Harvard teaches is freestanding. It is constructed to be free from memory, beliefs and nonmanipulable obligations. As the London Business School might put it, their methodology is a unified body of essential knowledge which can be applied to any organization.

Whether they succeed or fail in their battle with reality is of little importance. In the absence of memory, there is no long-term reflection on results. Instead, one moves rapidly to the next case. The interference of any "unprofessional" outsider in the application of their system presents the only great danger, because he might insist upon the use of memory. [11]

This training can't help but have an effect on students. What it seems to do is to encourage their natural tendencies. Thus, if they were, as most people are, equipped with an unbalanced distribution of talents, the Business School doesn't try to redress this in search of a healthy equilibrium. Instead, it actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view -- all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations -- all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows;'as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts.

Such sudden respectability for undisciplined self-interest is one of the most surprising developments of the last three decades. It seems to indicate just how confused our society has become. In two and a half thousand years of Western social history, one of the very few things that most societies have agreed upon is that individual restraint is central to any civilization. In an authoritarian society, this restraint is imposed in part from above. In a free society, the individual imposes it, In part, upon him- or herself. In the complexity of the real world, there is always a combination of imposed and self-imposed restraint. The late twentieth century is actually the first era in which the leading centres of elite education have either turned their backs on the question of restraint or have actually taught that it should be thrown off. In other words, for the first time in Western history, our most respected institutions are preaching social anarchy.

The effect on contemporary students of pushing them further into imbalance has been to create ever-increasing human problems. They do have within them, even if dormant or mutant, the elements of every human being. Increasingly these frustrated human elements play havoc with the carcass they occupy. The Harvard School responded with a new course -- The Social Psychology of Management -- aimed at the "problems of the family, the individual's emotional life and the tension between career goals and personal aspirations." The professor assigned to this course admitted that "we have been abstracting people out of management as if they didn't exist.... Students have been taught to be utilitarians and calculators. [As a result] often they are running away from the intimacy of family life and running away from themselves." He went on to draw a surprising conclusion: "The capacity for intimacy and nurturing is a characteristic of the most effective leaders. Not only is there a direct connection between the capacity to give and personal satisfaction, but also it seems to release more creativity." [12]

The basis for this assertion isn't clear. An enumeration of the private lives of leaders and creators, good or bad, might well consist of a litany of disasters. In any case, the professor's answer to the student's personality problems is that more happiness is required. He teaches his course by the case method, thus attempting to "abstract" an a priori definition of personal happiness into management in an attempt to counterbalance the absence of the human element, which had previously been abstracted out.

If one looks at the situation from the school's point of view, this attitude is perfectly understandable. The school needs to compensate for undermining both the individual's decency and his or her role as a citizen. If it can do this by co-opting the combined idylls of family and personal happiness, it will have maintained its system intact.

These characteristics are not at all particular to Harvard. When the British felt their business methods had fallen behind, they asked Lord Franks to carry out a study. In 1963 he recommended the creation of a business school and went on: "We have a great deal to learn from the successful practices of the leading American Business Schools and from their fruitful experimentation ... in methods and curricula." [13] This study led to the creation of the London Business School, which uses the same admissions test as do most American business schools. [14]

The results of these methods, when applied in two very different societies, are almost identical. The schools were created to improve management. It was argued that this improvement would lead to real growth, a revivified industrial base and healthier economies. But where have these modern managers gone to practice their profession? Seventy-one percent of Harvard MBA graduates go into nonmanufacturing. The figures in England are almost identical. Worse still, more than 80 percent of graduates are not in line functions. More than 80 percent do not manage. [15] In both America and Britain they are in consulting, banking and property developing. They have joined the sectors which do not provide capital goods -- the service industries. It could be argued that their desire to avoid real management and to concentrate on areas as superficial and as abstract as their own training is one of the causes of our industrial decline and of our unhealthy concentration on services.

At its most basic the idea that personal self-gratification is the right counterbalance to the overemphasis in business schools on competition and Winning is also a problem of geography. Industry today 'has great difficulty recruiting the first-class rising managers, who don't want to go where industry is physically situated. They wish to stay in the great centres of postindustrial self-gratification -- New York, London, Toronto and Paris, for example. Pittsburgh and Birmingham, Hamilton and Lille are not target towns for personal nurturing.

In England the new elites avoid industry on an even larger scale than elsewhere and head for the City or for West End jobs. Their refusal to live in the towns where industrial activity takes place can be identified as an important element in the decline of British industry. Throughout the West this is one of the reasons for the perceived panacea of service industry growth.


The creation of contemporary government elites has followed the same path as that of the new business elites. The phenomenon has different superficial characteristics, but the underlying theme is identical. In many countries the trend began with the growth of the social sciences, which forced the full array of real social questions into a falsely scientific straitjacket. The postwar schools of political science and economics are a prime example, with their reliance on abstract models, flowcharts and impenetrable specialist dialects. Apart from being indescribably boring, they have also been almost flawlessly wrong on every issue they have addressed. The experts in these fields have projected Our societies in a multitude of directions over the last forty years. Each time they have been able to prove their case with quantitative arguments and graphs as artificial as a case laid out by a prospective MBA.

That is how we came to flip from the absolute public conviction that Keynesian economics are right to the absolute certainty that they are wrong. That is how monetarism abruptly became a cure-all. How the mixed economy dropped from being next only to God to become the devil's device. Inflation was a harmless economic tool. Moments later it was little better than the assassin of free men's hopes. Then we woke up to discover that an investment device called debt was an even greater evil. Evil only, however, for governments. The same men who asserted this also asserted that commercial debts of historic sizes were good things. And nationalizations of state corporations, which for years we had been told were central to rebuilding the West's economy after the depression of the thirties, suddenly became the source of our problems. The new truth was privatization and competitiveness.

Never in these abrupt flips was the best of the last system hailed and the worst of the new identified. Calm, practical sense was impossible. The social scientists carry truths and assert them. To resist is to be on the other side.

One of the most fascinating phenomena in the "professionalizing of governance" has been the rapid growth of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The Kennedy School has gradually applied to the public sector criteria identical to those already applied to the private sector by the Harvard Business School. They see themselves as "a Professional School of Government." "What is needed," they say, "is nothing less than the education of a new profession. This profession should include persons elected to public office, individuals appointed to executive positions and career civil servants." The idea takes on frightening dimensions when one realizes that this school does not distinguish between the public servant and the elected official. But there is no reason for surprise. These are merely updated reiterations of the need for a technocratic dictatorship, as proposed by Scientific Management. The myth of salvation through efficient management is now so strong that no one pays much attention to the premises upon which the new elites are being educated.

Efficiency. Professionalism. A belief in right answers, which can only be produced by professionals. All these concepts simply exclude the basic democratic assumptions. Members of this single professional class of politicians, appointed ministers and civil servants "should be distinguished for their analytic skills, managerial competence, ethical sensitivity and institutional sense."
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So much lies in these words. For example, they must be distinguished not for their ethics or their sense of ethics, but for their ethical sensitivity. That is, their sensitivity to other people's ethics and their ability to manipulate them in the interests of management. The idea that society is based upon an ethical foundation, to which the leaders as well as the citizens are bound, is not entertained.

The more management is explained, the more it sounds like raison d'etat. The idea of governments invoking the public interest, as a justification for taking unjust or illegal action, has been with us since the French satirist Mathurin Regnier coined the phrase in 1609. It has been inseparable from the rise of reason and of the nation state. Now raison d'etat is being turned into a blanket principle which could be summarized as: The technocrat knows best. Without anyone actually saying so, the citizen is eliminated as a participant. He or she is there to be managed. These professional politicians and civil servants are to have no sense of ideas, of policy or of responsibility. "Problem solving" is to be their central skill. "Obtaining answers after asking the right questions will often depend on the decision-maker's ability to recognize opportunities to use formal quantitative methods to structure problems and draw information from the data." [16]

What they are attempting. to do, probably without consciously understanding their own motives or actions, is to create a class into which entry will be limited by common standards. That class will control public affairs. An aristocracy of public affairs. A rational, management meritocracy. They will share an obligatory methodology which, like a court ritual, will exclude all citizens who are not properly admitted. This class will deal with public affairs in a professional language which will be as inaccessible to the public as court ritual and Jesuit rhetoric used to be. And all of this is to be done in the name of reason, for the good of the public.

Never have ideas of Left and Right seemed less relevant. People who believe themselves to be liberal reformers are proposing an apparently reasonable form of government by elites. Only at second glance does it become clear that this form subverts the democratic process. People who think of themselves as part of the conservative forces -- those who, by accepting the term conservative, ought to be protecting established values -- embrace the new methodology eagerly as a faster way to profit personally at society's expense.

The heavy-handed verbiage of the Kennedy School and its limited power in American government seem strangely primitive when compared to those of the greatest school of public servants -- l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

The desire to create a strong, technically minded French elite had been in the air since Richelieu. The first Grandes Ecoles were begun under Louis XVI and the most important of the great engineering schools -- the Polytechnique -- appeared during the Revolution, a creation of the Convention. The first attempt to create an equivalent training centre for the bureaucracy came under the Second Republic, in 1848. It disappeared rapidly, with Louis- Napoleon's coup d'etat, but in 1871 a Monsieur Boutiny created l'Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques. It was private and he was backed by bankers and industrialists. The future bureaucratic and eventually political elites began to funnel through Sciences Po, as It came to be known, and ten years later Jules Ferry, a moderate, reforming government minister, tried to nationalize it, with the support of its founder. Leon Blum, a Socialist, tried again in 1936. Finally, it was de Gaulle, aided by Jeanneney and Capitant, two left-wing Gaullists, who in a single act nationalized Sciences Po and created ENA.

Each of these advances in the education of a public elite took place during moments of revolution or of great reform immediately after a revolution. The rich conservatives who founded Sciences Po, like the solid bourgeois who created ENA, were republicans acting in the aftermath of terrible civil violence. These initiatives were the continuation of a long dream which carried the conviction that democracy and equality would be advanced by a well-trained bureaucracy. The future prime minister, Michel Debre, had been put in charge of writing the law creating the school and then of organizing it. It isn't surprising that in his official report he wrote of the need to "take up again the belief and the hope of the republicans of 1848 in the value of public moral virtue, taught and understood." To accomplish this he said that ENA must give its students a taste for certain key skills -- "a sense of what man is, which gives life to all work; a sense of decision-making which, after weighing the risks, allows one to decide; a sense of the imagination required to create with originality." [17]

In the midst of this hymn to the rational, humane and republican virtues of an administrative elite, Debre interrupted himself with a burst of pessimistic clarity. What would happen, he asked, if "this new elite developed a belief in their caste, a belief which would pervert the civil service?" He quickly recovered and produced arguments to prove this outcome impossible.

But that, after a period of enthusiastic creativity, is precisely what has happened. Simon Nora, a recent director of ENA, described how he had gone straight from the Resistance to become a student in the new school." Blowing up trains or going to l'ENA was about the same. In both cases, we were a small band who knew better than the others what was good for the country. And we weren't completely wrong. We were the best looking, the most honest, the most intelligent, and we had carried the flame of legitimacy." [18]

This little outburst of passion and mystique and ego makes a certain amount of sense. After all, the first generation of Enarques had proved themselves before getting their ultimate education. They arrived in the school with a practical determination to change their world for the better, because their shattering wartime experience had convinced them that it could and must be done. Then they went on to run the country. And given the great problems of the fifties and sixties, they ran it well. People assumed that the new rational training of ENA had made it possible for them to do this. In reality that training had merely polished human characters which had been irrationally formed in the crisis of war.

From 1950 on, that same training was being applied to unformed characters, which contained the usual raw ingredients of youth. These students arrived fresh from the classroom and the bosom of their families. The result was not the same. Each year's class varied with the fashion of its time, but in general the students graduated with an undirected personal ambition. In the hands of young men who knew nothing about the real world but were rapidly given real power, abstract organization became an overwhelming, self-evident and absolute truth for all situations.

Within forty years ENA, and with it the other Grandes Ecoles, had completely changed. In the words of Jean-Michel Gaillard, an Enarque himself and a former adviser to President Mitterrand: "Whatever their official reason for existence or supposed vocation, they are institutions without content, machines for choosing multi-purpose elites and creating men good for anything and nothing." [19] The Enarques alone now number some four thousand. They control absolutely the civil service, have more than thirty-seven elected deputies, range between twenty-five and forty percent of the cabinet positions and around a third of the positions in the ministers' private offices, have had one president of the Republic and seven of the last eleven prime ministers. They produced all of the leading candidates for the 1988 presidential election, except the incumbent. What is more, the annual graduating class has now been reduced from 160 to 90, which will not reduce their power, but increase the power of those who have already gone through the school, as well as future graduates. Given public uneasiness over the growing power of ENA, this has been presented as a measure to restrain its power. In fact, every political figure involved in making the decision was an Enarque.

That they have become the multipurpose empty carcasses described by Gaillard is beyond doubt. Everywhere in Paris they can be seen, instantly identifiable in their ill-fitting, sombre clothes, which continue the Jesuit tradition of physical anonymity befitting a man of power. Their unsmiling, busy expressions convey a certain weary superiority. Their conversation is so certain, so full of banal phrases, that the listener hardly notices the structures leading to answers.

This depersonalized and asexual language is the very worst of French. And yet, when subjected to such noncommunicative verbal authority, the listener is discouraged from dissent by the emanating murmurs of "raison d'etat" and "privileged information."

The school now seems to have accepted that its graduates will continue in the same pattern, although this acceptance came only after years of attempting to maintain the initial postwar drive towards disinterested public service. With the passing of the Resistance generation, that drive slipped away and in 1958 the school's program was completely reorganized. This was done to make it much more abstract and theoretical. The idea of the multipurpose civil servant made its official entry into state education. No matter what careers lay ahead of them, all candidates were to be judged on identical tests of culture and knowledge, then trained at the school in an identical manner. In 1965 there were further changes in the same direction.

This system created profound problems in the national bureaucracy. The candidates for ENA were becoming a type suited to the constricted criteria of the entrance exams. Most of them would graduate successfully and go on to invest the French state with their narrow approach. By 1971 the directors were obliged to admit that the knowledgeable, multipurpose graduate was an impossible abstraction. That idea was replaced by one which abandoned knowledge. It concentrated instead on molding the students to fit into a single system which would deal with all areas of government. The individual was to be unidimensional but equipped with a multipurpose method. In its own words, the school was after students capable of "a polyvalent point of view." [20] The genius of their administrative system would permit them to deal with everything from theatre to taxes.

They were now very close to the Harvard idea of management. And, indeed, Taylorism had had a great vogue in France early in the century, as it had everywhere in Europe except Britain. France, however, was the mother of rational structure, with an evolution stretching back to Richelieu, and so produced its own theories of Scientific Management. The inventor was Henri Fayol, and he and his disciples rivaled Taylorism in influence for several decades. Then, in 1925, the two groups formally merged into one and became part of the larger historic process which led to ENA and the Enarque problem.

In spite of the new polyvalent theory, most people sensed that the problem had not been resolved. The elite was ever stronger and ever less creative. It was self-serving and self- protecting. Nevertheless the process continued and in 1986 the new director of ENA, Roger Fauroux, declared: "We must build into the civil service the sense of efficiency, of return on investment and of performance." [21] In other words the founding intentions of the school -- reform and public service -- had been completely lost.

And yet, when the subjects dealt with at ENA are examined, the first impression is encouraging. The courses seem to address the problems of the real world. Even the instructions attached to the entry examinations seem reasonable. They call for reflection rather than memory work, and for the use of intellect to dominate the subject. Above all, the applicant is instructed to attack the subjects from the high ground in order to dominate them. By "domination" the Enarque means "control." This is what Harvard called "taming unruly reality." And "reflection," in this case, means taking the time to work out the answer expected by the examiners. The professors' comments on the previous year's entry exams are always printed up as a guide for new students. There the form which replies ought to take is laid out chapter and verse, sometimes down to the headings. It is a highly sophisticated game of intellectual painting by numbers.

The comic level to which this control descends can be seen in the section of the entry exams devoted to sporting events. These events are laid out in government decrees filled with such sentences as: "The order of testing the candidates in the different sports is left to the discretion of the jury in function of the requirements of the organization." The events include:

Distance Covered in a Given Time: competition with a maximum of fifteen competitors on the starting line. When the signal of the end of the race is given, the competitors should continue their efforts to the next control post where the performance they have accomplished will be registered. [22]

The nonsporting management problems which the professors give these students, along with encouragement to use their imagination, are presented in the same prestructured, suffocating manner.

Harvard and ENA are the high points of a general state of affairs. Business schools and administrative schools have popped up all over the West and reproduced the same logical errors of answer-oriented, multipurpose elites. Few of their graduates have the sense of relative truths produced by exposure to a real society, Absolute truths based on detached abstraction reign supreme. These truths are endlessly defendable and interchangeable. The Harvard-ENA graduate is unlikely to understand either the irony or the relativity of truth in Voltaire's discussion of the wildly different sorts of circumcisions to be found around the world: "A Parisian is taken aback when he is told that the Hottentots cut off one testicle from their male children. The Hottentots are perhaps surprised that the Parisians keep two." [23]


The quality of, and investment in. these technocratic leadership schools continues to increase at a time when the quality of general education is in a steep dive. Given that the very idea of reason began as a conversation among middle- and upper-middle-class elites, who believed in the value of excellence, it isn't surprising that more popular forms of education have always been a secondary consideration.

Within the ethos of reason there was also the idea of encouraging generalized education. Education instilled knowledge. Knowledge dispelled superstition, thus making it possible to reason. A man capable of reasoning was fit to be a citizen. But this idea of creating citizens was vague. What did the elites want them for? The eighteenth-century philosophers believed, after all, in permanently established but benevolent authority. Educating the masses was intended only to improve the relationship between the top and the bottom of society. Not to change the nature of the relationship.

Like any elite holding great power, the technocrats are not particularly interested in the creation of subsidiary elites. Thus, while a fortune continues to be spent on state schools and universities, the entire system continues to decline. The intellectual muscle needed to give it direction is concentrated instead upon the continued refining of the education of the technocratic elite. Indeed, whatever may be quoted about the need for general education, there has always been an underlying contradiction in what the nation-state wished to teach the citizen. The masses, it was believed, could not be given more than a basic education: basic skills and -- nowhere in elite education does this appear -- a moral framework. In other words. they were to receive the nuts and bolts of a humanist formation.

But from the beginning, the men of reason complained about the interfering weight of humanism or what they called, when dealing with education, the humanities. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the humanities were the area where superstition and prejudice could most easily hide. To flush them out, the victory of science was required. And yet, when Richelieu complained that the humanities took up too much space. one senses that he was already concerned not about the dangers of superstition but about the threat represented by a humanist education when the state is attempting to create a useful elite. This sense of the humanities. as a time-consuming interference in useful education, resurfaces again and again over the centuries. Boutiny evoked it when he created Sciences Po in 1871. It is evoked today whenever education is discussed.

Not only have the humanities been singled out as the enemy of reason, but there has been a serious attempt to co-opt them by transforming each sector into a science. Thus architecture has become a quantitative, technological formation in which the details add up to the building. Even art history has been converted from a study of beauty and craft into a mathematical view of creativity. The new art historians are interested not so much in art or in history as in technical evolution. The social sciences, new creations of the mathematical obsession, are of course the principal example of the humanities deformed. The reduction of politics, economics, social problems and the arts to mathematical visions and obscure, hermetically sealed vocabularies may well be looked upon by those who come after us as one of the greatest follies of our civilization.

The removal of the humanities from education has undermined common sense and restraint and thus encouraged us to lurch from extreme to extreme in public policy. And yet there is still too much of the humanities in education to suit the technocratic elites. They blame the troubles of state-funded education on this.

In fact our elites no longer believe that it is possible to offer a general, universal education. Perhaps in Britain they never believed it, except in the most abstract way and in small idealist circles. Even the Labour Party leaders tend to send their children to private schools, while calling for improved state education. Yet when they are in power, it doesn't improve. In the United States large sections of the population were happily abandoned to illiteracy from the very beginning. Now new sections are added to this lumpen proletariat with each passing year. Everywhere one hears. the elites saying to each other, in private: "Well, of course, they are not educable." There are endless statistics to confirm the already educated in their pessimism. Seventy-two million Americans are illiterate, the majority of them white. This doesn't include the functionally illiterate. One-quarter of American children live below the poverty level. Forty percent of children in public schools are from racial minorities. The whites who can afford to are slipping away into the private school system. Twice as many children are born to American teenagers as to those of any other democracy. [24] But if you begin to add such facts as that forty million Americans do not have access to medical care, you are also obliged to wonder if the problem lies not with the population but with the elites, their expectations and their own education.

If Harvard, to remain with the same example, is what it claims to be and its graduates are to be found everywhere, then why are they showing no signs of being able to deal with their society's terrifying problems? Were Montesquieu's proverbial Persian to look in upon American society today, the only possible conclusion he could draw would be that never has such a magnificent elite failed so miserably and done so with such little grace, insisting as it does upon blaming the lowest end of the social scale for much of what is wrong.

Outside the United States, the decline in general education has been marked but less frightening. The German and the French are among the finest surviving public education systems in the West. Of the 5 percent who do go to private schools, most seem to come from broken homes or from among the aristocratic remnants and the very rich, two groups which often prefer exclusivity to quality.

Nevertheless, in 1986, when the French National Institute of Educational Research carried out an interpretive survey of sixteen thousand students, 69 percent of the fifteen-year-olds were either illiterate or marginally so. That is to say, they were either unable to read the text given to them or were obliged to read it out loud, slowly, in order to convert it into an oral message. The government had announced not long before, with antihumanist, managerial clarity, that it wanted to improve public education to the extent of getting 80 percent of the students through the baccalaureate (the last test before university). The current level is 50 percent.

The survey concluded that what was wrong was the way students were being taught to read." To read you must invent." [25] Literacy requires the participation of the imagination of the reader. They also discovered that for 53 percent of the students, comic books were their primary reading pleasure. Television and films no doubt take up whatever inventive time remains.

Throughout the West the reaction to this crisis has been a growing chorus, calling for a return to basic education in order to stop the decline. But as always in a rational society, this return to basics is proposed as a narrow and absolute solution to what is a general problem. There is no accompanying hint that something ought to he done about the disastrous divorce of the humanities from the systems which control our societies. Or about developing a common sense line linking general with elite education. Or about evaluating why the most complex and competitive higher education systems ever seen in the history of the world do not produce elites capable of addressing the problems of their society. In fact, the assumed contempt for anything other than highly specialized education continues to grow. A general university education is increasingly considered to be of very little value. And the call for a return to basics in the classroom probably has more to do with attempting to quiet growing public fury over ballooning illiteracy than with a serious desire to understand the problem. If anything, it resembles another reactive and prepackaged formula. Another management fad. On top of which it echoes eerily the old calls for the working classes to work harder, bathe once a week and go to church on Sunday.

Meanwhile the elites continue to try to improve themselves by further eliminating the humanities. The result has been the gradual appearance of an evolved technocrat who almost inevitably has the character of an intellectual bully. These aggressive men and women have no talent for what might be called the public emotions. The remarkable form their education has given them is fundamentally empty, except when filled with the content of whatever job they are currently doing. And when they are attacked over their management of that job, they have a tendency to freeze hard on their positions, unable to compromise because they don't have the roots with which to penetrate into the matter. They often become stubborn, absolute defenders of things they care nothing for. This psychological rootlessness causes them to confuse power with such things as morality and understanding.

Even within the elites, however, there is a growing awareness that something is wrong, that their systems do not produce the announced result. The business community -- stuck with ever-larger legions of these seriously flawed human beings, who are often unable to deal with the unstructured problems to which senior management exposes them -- have begun paying lip service to the reeducation of their executives in midstream.

The Aspen Institute, the leading U. S. business seminar and thinking centre, now holds a one-week course on the humanities. [26] It has a darkly comic title: Can the Humanities Improve Management Effectiveness? and an appropriate course description:

AT&T, one of the world's largest and most influential corporations, believes that a study of the humanities is an Important educational experience in the executive development of middle managers. This course is open to upper-middle management personnel judged to be high achievers with potential for advancement into executive management positions. Primary objectives -- to improve management effectiveness, to develop more competent and socially-acclimated managers, and to assist in the succession process of managers to executives.... It is focused on five areas: leadership, interpersonal relations, problem- solving/decisionmaking, tolerance for change and personal introspection.

And a whole week to do it in. False and rather sad little remedies such as this are proliferating in an attempt to tack humanism, post facto, onto rationally formed beings. That does at least indicate that our contemporary elites are beginning to wonder whether, despite their satchels of degrees, they are in fact educated.

In keeping with their lack of historical baggage, they tend to read as little as possible, avoiding in particular history, philosophy and fiction, limiting themselves to escapist novels, newspapers and technical documents. They may read a few biographies, which have come to play the same voyeuristic, wish-fulfillment role that accounts of saints' lives played in earlier societies. At home they hang little or nothing on their walls. And, as they rise to the top, their preferred form of "official" culture tends to be nineteenth-century opera and classical ballet -- both dead arts. The once populist and sometimes revolutionary operas are now ritual, as are the ballets which, in any case, were never taken to be much more than high-class circus entertainment. Fine ankles, bare thighs and high leaps. Ballet's origins were as light interludes within operas. With the disappearance of functioning royal courts late in the nineteenth century, the great opera houses gradually became one of the focuses for the new elites. These palaces of marble and gold leaf were perfect reflectors of legitimacy for a civilization in which that concept was confused. It remains confused and, wonderful though the music and the performers may be, they are little more than background.

In short, unlike the Victorian upper middle classes, our contemporary elites are rarely wedded to culture. They tend to absent themselves from the continuation of their civilization. They therefore have little sense of the reverberations of their actions. The loss of an historical view is perhaps the most serious of their flaws, because they cannot imagine an impact which goes beyond a case study. In this context their adoption of Socrates as godfather makes sense. They simply don't have the coordinates to realize how silly it is to claim that relationship.

What is more, the entire process, which has developed rational education from the original formula of Ignatius through to today's virtual monopoly of the technocrats over Western leadership, has unfolded without any consideration of the woman as a participant, Women are now participants in large numbers. But the system has shown no sign of adapting itself to this relatively new reality. If the rational civilization is a male idea, then it isn't surprising that education should be an area particularly lacking in flexibility. Certainly the first area requiring transformation is the education of our elites. Since that education can be seen to be a failure, women might do better to become the catalysts leading to radical change, rather than just another ambitious group competing for a percentage of the top places in schools not worth going to.

The methods of the technocrats have now become parodies of those used by the courtesans in the last years of the divine monarchies. In the Russian court of the seventeenth century, "intricate intrigues were mistaken for shrewdness," [27] a deformation which would apply to most Western elites today. The methods now essential to power are pseudoscientific versions of life at court. The courtesan approach hardly seems to be a positive thing for modern women to aspire to. But if they want to beat our contemporary elites at their own game, that is the inevitable route.


At the heart of our problem lies the belief in the idea of single, all-purpose elites using a single all-purpose methodology. We have developed this in search of a social cohesion based on reason. Certainly, there is an essential need to find common ground on which an integrated moral view can be built. Without that, society can't function. But a society which teaches the philosophy of administration and "problem solving," as if it were the summit of learning, and concentrates on the creation of elites -- whose primary talent is administration -- has lost not only its common sense and its sense of moral value but also its understanding of technical advance. Management cannot solve problems. Nor can it stir creativity of any sort. It can only manage what it is given. If asked to do more, it will deform whatever is put into its hands.

One sign of a healthy Western civilization is that within a relatively integrated moral outlook - for example, agreement on democratic principles -- a myriad of ideas and methods are brought face to face. Through civilized conflict the society's assumed moral correctness is constantly tested. This tension -- emotional, intellectual, moral -- is what advances the society. These contradictions are what make democracy work, but they also create technological advance.

By concentrating on an integrated management method run by a single elite, we are giving power to people whose primary skill lies in the removal of contradictions or at least the appearance of contradictions. Managers are not profoundly disturbed by failure or error. But they are driven to nervous collapse by the public demonstration of contradictory solutions. Of course they aren't alone in this reaction. They are accompanied by that inevitable creation of technocratic civilization -- the Hero. Heroes take the whole process a step farther because they are mere exploiters and deformers of the elite's devotion to absolute truths.

How can social values be weighed when decisions are made on the basis of preintegrated logic? The ENA examiners recommend to their students that they dominate problems by attacking from above. From above what? From above society? From above its beliefs, standards and moral traditions? What is taught is efficiency freed from social reality. The more spectacular the successful creation of such an elite, the more rudderless the society becomes.

It is difficult to imagine how this can be dealt with unless we break down our education to more practical levels, for example by dismantling the funneling nature of elite education.

Jefferson, founder and patron of the University of Virginia, never allowed his university to give degrees. He considered them pretentious, irrelevant to learning and unconnected to the preparation for responsibility. This wasn't idealism, It was the opinion of the most successful practitioner of reason, The purpose of universities has now been inverted, Learning has become a goal-oriented process aimed at winning a degree.

As Gaillard has pointed out, we needed or thought we needed these sorts of elites when our societies were still under challenge from within by the forces of arbitrary power. That is no longer the case. [28] And we can't use the continued existence of such power outside the West as an excuse to continue creating a false elite inside our society.

"It is very dangerous," Northrop Frye wrote, "to assume that only emotions can stampede the mind." [29] We have embraced the analytic approach so absolutely that counterweights, such as the linear historical view, have been stampeded into irrelevance. This wasn't what Jefferson or the philosophers of the eighteenth century expected would happen, Analysis was a means for hunting out falsehood and superstition. But a clear, practical line back into past experience was the foundation upon which the rational man was to base his abstract examination. The Encyclopedists went to great lengths to layout what had come before them, precisely because the established powers of the church and the monarchy had cut those lines in order to produce absolute truths which justified their power. Jefferson, who thought a great deal about the practical shape of the future and did so with reasonable optimism, came back again and again to an analytical and scientific approach based upon a full and conscious assumption of the past. His advice to various young men turned constantly around the welding of optimistic analysis to a linear historic base as the best way to ensure change while limiting the risks involved, He used the University of Virginia as a place to put his principles into practice. [30]

This careful approach was swept away by the forces of pure reason, In its place we have an elite created and dependent upon the death of memory. Not simply our memory of the past, but of the recent past and even of the present. This could equally be called the end of relativity or of comparison. What remains is a cheapened memory -- little more than nostalgia -- which is methodically used for the purposes of patriotism and advertising. Real memory does not induce regret. It is no more a conservative force than analysis is a tool for change. Memory is part of a seamless web with the future, there to help us remember exactly what our civilization is constructed upon and therefore in what ways our actions ought to be shaped in order to serve our needs and our interests.

By throwing ourselves into the analytical arms of technocracy we have gained the illusion that every day is another day. Every intent can be freshly argued. But every day is not another day. Common sense tells us that it is both the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow. One of the principal effects of our elite education has been to cut us off from the self-evident.

And the social sciences, which have monopolized our memory in this century, with promises of exploring every corner of it -- indeed of us -- have succeeded simply in dividing and obscuring any sense of our civilization. By occupying most of the humanist domains, they have further undermined humanism.

In order to improve this situation, we would first have to remove the contempt for the public which is buried deep within our elite education. Jefferson said that "Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests." [31] For the words higher classes we must substitute managerial classes or technocratic. These people have used the public's confidence in their judgment in order to insist that wisdom is the primordial public quality. That all other qualities are subsidiary, even dangerous for the public interest. Thus honesty and safety become metaphors for naivete. And wisdom is reduced to a single, narrow view -- their own. In other words, our modern elites fall into Jefferson's first category. They fear and distrust the people.

The depressing state of public education follows quite naturally from that, as does the reaction of the elites, which is to make greater efforts to strengthen their own training structures. It is harder and harder to raise money to pay for public education, because more and more of those who would pay the necessary taxes educate their children elsewhere. And the more expensive private education becomes, the more the middle classes resent being taxed for public education. They, after all, cannot really afford the private system. But they sense that education is becoming increasingly elitist. And to deprive their children of that kind of training is to deprive them of future opportunities as adults. To pay for schools and universities they must make enormous financial sacrifices. Thus the middle class, who were the heart and soul of the democratic, broadly based nation-state, are being converted into enemies of that society.

The curious thing is that the creation of competent elites shouldn't be a problem. In societies as rich and textured as ours, that is something which can almost look after itself. If the society is healthy, it will find outlets at the required levels or it will create them. And the more varied and contradictory these outlets are, the better. How this can be done will differ from country to country. The same is true for general, basic education. There is no need to search for global solutions, apart from an absolute necessity to destroy the idea that such things exist. There is a need to dismantle the obsessional structure which imprisons us and to explode the vertical logic which dominates learning.

At the same time it isn't surprising that our democratic nation-states are finding it impossible to develop ideas which might get us out of our political and economic difficulties. To govern a democracy you require constant vibrations from the population. Between our superior, enclosed, contemptuous elites and our disintegrating system of public education, we have lost the unity which is needed to feel those vibrations.

One of the areas where most waits to be done is the integration of parents into the school system. The current elites are against this because they say it really doesn't work -- the wrong parents come forward, they don't understand modern education, and they demand restrictive forms of education. The periodic removal of controversial authors from school curricula under parental pressure is invariably given as an example of the dangers inherent in letting the citizens participate. Thus, the essential liberal democratic instincts of our society are themselves used to discourage people from democratic participation. The people are dangerous and the elites know best.

But what are the roots of this unhealthy democratic influence? Is not the problem that, even where school boards do exist, most citizens don't participate in elections, thus leaving control to fringe groups? If everyone believed it was more important to vote for school boards than for presidents and prime ministers, then a normal cross-section of citizens would appear on those boards. The decline of our school systems reflects perfectly our general problems. The elites preach power, not participation. They preach control, not contribution. They preach gratification of the ego, not the unglamorous duty of service to a larger whole.

Power is generally perceived as something exercised at the highest levels. And the lower levels are best occupied by experts -- by people who know best in their field, whether it be education or tax planning.

In countries where most of the middle and upper classes send their children to private schools, the situation is even worse. Those who hold the bulk of the powerful places in government and industry, and who are responsible for the central administration of the education system, know that whatever happens, it will not affect their children. The education they create for other people's children -- the children of less important people -- cannot possibly be the same as the education they would insist upon for their own. Again, in Britain and the United States, the two Western countries in which private schools account for most of the elite, the public system is in the worst shape. And in those countries you are bound to hear again and again from the mouths of their elites the private complaint that large sections of the population are uneducable.

Were Voltaire to reappear today, it is unlikely that rising technocrats anywhere would recognize in him their spiritual father, nor he in them his children. Perhaps there would be a repeat of the Dostoyevski story, in which Christ returns to Seville in the sixteenth century the day after an auto da fe, during which the Grand Inquisitor has had a hundred heretics burned at the stake, all at once with great pomp, in front of the royal court and the population. The cardinal recognizes the Son of God, has him arrested and threatens to burn him also unless he leaves town. In Voltaire's case our elites would immediately begin to marginalize him through logical arguments designed to prove that his positions all suffer from lack of professionalism.

The attack might well be led by the five Harvard professors who wrote Managing Human Assets. [32] They would prove irrefutably, with an "organigram," that whether Voltaire was right or wrong didn't matter. His presence was a danger to stability. Enarques and structuralists would be produced to prove that he was a fraud. If not, how could such an intelligent man so endanger the interests of the state of which he was a citizen? Political scientists, supported by a chorus of poststructuralists, would come forward to point out that Voltaire had never understood his own words. They would provide a properly professional analysis of his texts.

The prosecution could do worse for its closing argument than call on Dr. Madsen Pirie, president of the British Adam Smith Institute. Dr. Pirie had a great influence on Mrs. Thatcher's government. The rationalization (or destruction) of the National Health Service has been one of his great successes. He would probably argue that Voltaire was a flawed Voltairean because he was an unconscious presocialist. Dr. Pirie would prove, however, that he himself was a pure Voltairean and therefore bound to condemn the master. He would do this with the absolute conviction of a former professor of logic, which is what he is.

That attack, of course, would delight Voltaire. Professors of logic were always his enemy. His defence might be that by creating elites obsessed with the intellectual process that is used to produce decisions, we have indeed eliminated prejudice and superstition from that process. But we have also put ourselves into the hands of men who have no relationship to the organisms they govern. That is, we have abandoned to chance such things as social responsibility, identification with the organism and belief in what the organism represents. These have all been removed from the decision-making process.

All three may carry with them the risk of irrational decision making. But without them, only the abstract remains, devoid of common sense and moral responsibility. Reason, when so abstracted, becomes a series of unrelated assertions bereft of memory. And the elites who apply such abstractions give themselves over to competitiveness -- a state of being which is characterized by unfocused, uncontrolled ambition and a myopic obsession with profit. Voltaire once complained, in the wake of some state executions brought on by condemnations for blasphemy, that "every sensible man, every honourable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror." If he were alive today he would probably extend that horror to the Rational sect.
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