Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Implosion of the Mandarin Class (The Establishment or 'Cathedral')

As I wrote in a comment yesterday - the UK Establishment is imploding before our very eyes. The ruling elite are tearing each other apart, lashing-out, panicking, venting... despairing in an escalating cycle (while repeatedly calling for calm, unity, reconciliation etc).

A post on http://booksinq.blogspot.co.uk reminded me of something I wrote 6 years ago about why secular Mandarins (aka The Establishment, or 'The Cathedral' to use the currenly popular casually-anti-Christian neoreactionary synonym) are a bad choice for rulers - which I repost here for its revelance to the future:


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.


Simon said...

Dr Charlton, I do not read the news at all. Would you be able to briefly summarise what is happening in the UK?

AnteB said...

And the Mandarins of the Mandarins are the EU-elite. Only a couple of days after the referendum it is clear that they will not learn from the loss of Great Britain - they will not use it as an opportunity to reform the EU in any meaningful way.

Instead there is an outpouring of spite and resentment towards Britain and mockery and wrath and mockery against all those who voted to leave. It is like they are truly unable to view disagreement in good faith - it HAS to be racism or ignorance.

In other words, they behave exactly like you predicted they would.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AnteB - Over the weekend I conversed with someone who has had detailed detailings with the Euro elite, who confirmed from personal experience everything you and I had inferred.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - It would take too long to describe and be obsolete before I had finished writing - I would suggest readng some of Google News or the main UK Newspapers (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Mail, Express, Mirror, BBC News - The Times is behind a paywall) online to get a flavour. Of these the Telegraph and (sort of) Mail are pro-Brexit, the rest *very* against.

AdamW said...

Have you read Stefan Zweig's 'World of Yesterday?' An interesting first-hand account of German intellectualism before the War.

It's interesting that high thought is valuable, but practical solutions must be something everyone can understand. A Christian revival, for example, must fall into the latter category.

The anti-Leave reaction by the mainstream journals is not exactly surprising but I find its degree quite shocking. 'Spittle-flecked' seems an apt description of most editorials.

On a lighter note, someone once told me, 'A politician is someone who lies to the press and then believes what he reads in the papers'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AdamW - No I haven't read that one.

"It's interesting that high thought is valuable, but practical solutions must be something everyone can understand." Agreed. And if they don't understand, they will simplify it until they do. In fact, politics just is very simple - and inevitably so. There is no nuance about it. What matters most is the motivation of the people.

The Remain response is quite appalling - and embarrassing. The Establishment are apparently competing to scream opinions, and reveal attitudes, that ordinary people will not be able to forget, and which cannot be unsaid. It is like they have all ripped off their masks together.

They are also very obviously engaging in deliberate lying, destruction (eg in financial markets) and incitement. The fact that they are watching each other do this will make it very hard again to pretend that they are decent people whose motives are good.

In sum, it looks like a very sudden collapse of self-confidence and morale.

I do not know what will happen - nobody yet does - but things will never be the same again. The Remain response - not the Brexit vote - has ensured that.

TedW said...

I posted the link to this article on Facebook. For the first time ever it came up with a security check. Has Facebook put you on the blacklist, Bruce?

Doug said...

All I know is resistance is never futile, that it is always the dirt people who rescue humanity from itself, from tyrants and tyranny time and time again, that it all begins with each of us, and what is really happening is not a revolution because of arms or civil war, but an evolution in honesty and first principles, that without virtue, without integrity of the man first, without facing the harsh realities of the predicament we are in in this country, we will never be freemen, we can only have our liberty and the primal freedoms, the component parts of living as a sovereign man, if we become that man who not only looks the truth straight in the eyes and never flinches, but goes after the truth with a bone in our teeth and a rifle in our hands, and in this way we all become leaders, ambassadors of liberty, and then we set the bar, the standard for others to aspire to and follow or become leaders in each his own way… This is the indomitable thing, it can not be stopped, it is called winning.…..The only thing more dangerous than fighting our tyrannical corrupt government that has amassed unlimited resources against us freemen; this tyrannical corrupt government facing an awakened citizenry who face the unlimited power of and truth they have their liberty and freedoms within their hands and always have….

Bruce Charlton said...

@TedW - I don't know.

J said...

Dr Charlton,
As someone who is prone to "Mandariness" (advanced degree, Mandarin-type social circle), how do you suggest inoculating against it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - My most recent idea is to examine your fundamental (metaphysical) assumptions about 'reality' - to see whether they are plausible, coherent, lead to absurd consequences etc.

Anonymous said...

J's question somehow makes me suddenly think of Jerzy KosiƄski's Being There (especially the film version) - and that, again, of the Fellowship hobbits in various circumstances - the innocent among 'the Madarins'.

I don't know if this, among recent posts, is the best place for it, but it seems a possible one - I just became acquainted with Pierre Manent and his works via this interesting post:


I've also been much struck by Peter Hitchens's recent Mail online blog entries.

And Gavin Ashenden's post at Anglican Ink.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Thanks for the heads-up about Ashenden's article.

Sam J. said...

"...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..."

This is most excellent. Note they do not have to pay for their wrong views. They also have their ego tied up in their ideas. If you're a businessman or military leader you pay and the outcome is based on output or wars won not just an idea. Therefore the "idea" becomes less important than the outcome. For the elite it's all about the idea. The only acceptable outcome is that the idea work.