A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Interchangeable, Suburban Men

John Lukacs wrote in The Passing of the Modern Age (1970):

Except for two republics [France and Switzerland] as late as 1910 every European state was still a monarchy, but the actual political power of the monarchs was dwindling everywhere.... 

Of course it is very often true that officials of a central government, sitting in their capital, gravely and injudiciously interfere with the lives and property of citizens in distant provinces or towns, without having consulted them at all, and without either considering or understanding their particular problems.  But there is no longer any guarantee (if there ever was) that people elected or appointed locally will be more capable or even more considerate...

Why is the election of supervisors of townships, or mayors of small towns, an even less inspiring exercise of one's civic duties than the election of a governor or a president?  Is it because people feel... that these locally elected men have little power?  Not necessarily: the budgets that local governments and school boards handle nowadays are enormous, their powers of regulating properties are very large indeed.  The answer, I submit, is to be found elsewhere.  People have become distrustful of the kind of men and women who are interested in holding this kind of power at all. 

In the long run the rule of aristocracy has been succeeded not by the rule of democracy but by the rule of bureaucracy.  Let us examine this pallid aphorism a little more closely.  If one does not like aristocracy one is, most probably, a democrat by preference; or the other way around.  But one's exasperation with bureaucracy is a different matter: it is at the same time more superficial and more profound than our dislike for either form of government.  The democratic exercise of periodic elections does not compensate people sufficiently against their deep-seated knowledge that they are being ruled by hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, in every level of government, in every institution, on every level of life. 

These bureaucrats are not the trainees of a rigid state apparatus, or of capitalist institutions, as their caricatures during the nineteenth century showed them.  They are the interchangeable, suburban men and women of the forever present, willing employees of the monster Progress

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