Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Mandarins (the intellectual elite) make lousy leaders

It was nearly a decade ago, during the summer vacation, that I read a book which permanently changed one of my cherished beliefs.

The book was The decline of the German mandarins: the German academic community, 1890-1933, by Fritz K Ringer.

The cherished belief was that it would be best if countries were led by their intellectual elite, i.e. by 'Mandarins' - by the likes of Professors, senior administrators and professionals - by those whose jobs require high level formal educational certification.

In other words, I had assumed, up to that point, that if only things were run by people 'like me', then things would inevitably be run better.

***

Before reading the book I had not been aware that I believed this, but although unarticulated, a belief in leadership by intellectals had been a basic assumption.

It is, indeed, an assumption of the modern political elite, and has been the assumption of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) for a couple of hundred years (since the Romantic era) - but it was *not* an assumption of traditional societies before this.

Indeed, as I read in Ernest Gellner at about the same time, in traditional societies the intellectual class (priests and clerks) was subordinated to the leadership - which was essentially military.

Intellectuals were - Gellner said - essentially 'eunuchs' - in the sense that they were not allowed to build dynastic, hereditary power - this was reserved for the military leadership.

So priests and other intellectuals with power were sometimes actual eunuchs, or servants and slaves, or celibate (legally, not sexually, celibate - i.e. they could not have legitimate heirs), or members of a legally circumscribed minority (such as Jewish merchants and money lenders), or - like the Chinese mandarins - they were prohibited from handing on their status to their children (entry to the mandarinate being controlled by competitive examinations).

The 'natural' leaders of human society throughout most of history are the military leaders - the 'generals'. The aristocracy were essentially the military leaders.

***

But in modern societies, the Mandarins have progressively taken over the leadership.

People 'like me' run things; the military leadership (unless they are themselves mandarins - as increasingly is the case - and servile to political correctness) are officially feared, hated and despised; indeed any aspirant for power who is not 'an intellectual' is officially feared, hated and despised.

Fritz Ringer's books was a revelation because he described a familiar and recent society that had indeed been a mandarinate - and this was Germany in the nineteenth century and leading up to the first and second world wars. Germany was at that time the academic intellectual centre of the West.

And 'yet' the mandarinate had been a disaster - leading to two world wars and National Socialism and also (ironically) to the eclipse of the German mandarins - who were purged virtually overnight in 1933 (only a few obedient Nazi mandarins were allowed to stay - like Martin Heidegger).

The German mandarins were nationalist, that was the focus of their ideology (the distinctive superiority of German culture) and that is one variety - very rare nowadays except in small nations and would-be nations like Scotland or Catalonia.

Of course the most widespread mandarinate was the Soviet Union whose ideology was (mostly) anti-nationalistic/ international communism. And international left-mandarinism is now the dominant form of government in the West. 

***

Since reading Ringer, when my eyes were opened, my experience has hardened into conviction that - as a generalization - mandarins make very useful servants but very bad leaders. Good professors make bad kings.

The main problem is, I think, that mandarins are expert at ignoring common sense reality and focusing on abstraction.

Mandarins live 'in culture' - they are 'Kultur' experts. Culture is the source of their expertise and prestige - culture comes between mandarins and common sense. 

When, as is normal, mandarin abstractions are substantially incomplete and significantly biased, then there is no limit to how bad mandarin leadership can be; because any feedback provided by 'reality' can be ignored by mandarins in ways which are impossible to normal people.

***

Mandarins can wreck an organization, a nation, with a completely clear conscience; and will then write history to show that they were correct all along.

Conversely, there is no achievement of their enemies that is so large or  blatantly obvious that mandarins will not ignore, sideline, or subvert it.

(In pursuit of discrediting their enemies, mandarins are utterly unscrupulous, dishonest and coercive - they perceive this as nothing less than their duty, indeed heroic.)

Nothing that could conceivably happen would conceivably affect mandarin ideology - which explains everything in advance.

***

Mandarins are therefore unique among humans both in their perspective on life - in their evaluations of what is important; and in being immune to learning from experience.

And mandarins really are, on average, the most knowledgeable and cleverest people, and they know it and they value smartness very highly; so they will not listen to any critics who they think of as dumb.

Undeniably smart critics are labelled crazy or evil (they *must* be, obviously), so they are ignored too.

When mandarins have closed the loop between education, media and power; they are hermetically sealed from alternative perspectives - change can only arise from within the loop, and this change will tend to bolster the power of the mandarinate, and be directed against their enemies in the natural military leadership.  

***

So, once they have taken-over, the mandarinate is uniquely unreformable by argument and experience.

And that is the present situation in the West.