Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bureaucrats, Pointy-headed and Otherwise

First Things offers up an appreciation of a certain civil servant:
[H]e belongs to a type of quiet and careful civil servant that Caesar Augustus would have recognized. As would Phillip II and Napoleon and Gladstone, for that matter. Powerful governments have always needed this kind of man: the senior administrator, the superior public official who (to reverse the entropy the Irish senator W.B. Yeats feared) makes the center hold and keeps things from falling apart.
For "Caesar Augustus," I suspect that the writer thought he was saying "Hadrian," but let that be: the general point is important, and well made. But how ironic to see it come from an institution somewhere near the center of the right-wing bile machine--guys who have spent almost every moment of every waking hour over the past generation trying to mock or demean or belittle the (as it is said) pointy headed bureaucrats who (as it is said) dedicate their lives to complicating our lives while fattening their own retirement plans.

Of course very stereotype is founded on truth and there are plenty of time-servers who fit the description exactly (and god knows I rolled around on the floor helpless with hilarity in my first encounter with Yes, Minister). But that's why FT's narrow point is so important. In an age that does so much to demonize public service, it's at least a small comfort to see that once, just once, a commentator will let slip a word of well-deserved appreciation.

And who is he, this paragon, the subject of this encomium, and what does he do? Go read the original; it's quite a story.

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