Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Continuation on the Affliction of 'Political Science'

My previous post introduces my thoughts on how the study of government has devolved into a process of inane attempts to craft clever solutions to public problems, solutions which typically engender a practically malignant growth upon the body politic – a growth metastasised from a problem which would not have existed in the first place but for a bureaucrat's insistence that something must be done. And by 'bureaucrat', I mean an increasingly Progressive (yes, that is the term of preference for them now) set of beliefs that gather such people about in public service unions, and help perpetuate the problems themselves well beyond our normal capacity to deal with them. I believe that it was Ronald Reagan who quipped that the thing which comes closest to immortality is a Federal programme. And beyond even that, imagine if you can a UN peacekeeping mission which has actually accomplished its purpose. (I am in a position to criticise – I observed the inertia of UNDOF in the Golan Heights, and was a member of MINURSO in the Western Sahara.) Allow me to forestall a wasted reverie – none of them have been completed, other than those fore-ordained from the beginning as a place-keeper, such as West Irian or the Auzou strip, to oversee a settlement already agreed upon.

Just today, I had the good fortune to read the latest column of the Canadian writer David Warren, in the Ottawa Citizen (I recommend him unreservedly - always a delight to read), and he wrote on the same idea of 'Our dependent bureaucracy', explaining in part the ancient Confucian attitude to public servants. Only a small portion will I quote, to entice you to read the entire column:
For the wisdom of the ancient Chinese, as I understand them, was to govern with minimal intervention. The sage, as we read in Lao Tzu (I live and die by Arthur Waley's translation), "relies on actionless activity, carries on wordless teaching." He, "achieves his aim but does not call attention to himself." He is the opposite of one of our "nation-building" politicians. We, in our day, out of our own bureaucratic notions, are inclined to interventions that invariably compound truly simple problems, which we angrily refuse to understand. We gather statistics, and conduct sociological studies of extraordinary fatuity. 
To my more Sinitic view, the numbers themselves are a form of provocation. They are a way to avoid plain and unavoidable moral judgments; to intrude with the equipage of "science" into fields where knowledge must be of human nature, and where statistics can only mislead and obscure. Usually, there is some political agenda in play, and the grand spray of statistics is intended as cover for what the activists had decided to do all along. . . .  
Social "science" has itself been transformed over the last couple of generations, from an essentially journalistic enterprise, in which phenomena were directly observed in the field, intelligibly reported, and logically considered, into an extravagant, jargon-ridden, arithmetical game, aping physics, and attempting to appropriate its prestige. It was, from its beginnings, the softest "science" imaginable; it has hardened now into a ridiculous imposture.
And my paragraph above, relating to the United Nations and their apologists?  Another of my favourite quotes, from the great T E Lawrence (whose nom de guerre was Lawrence of Arabia), from his sublime Seven Pillars of Wisdom, explains the relationship by telling of the aftermath of his desert campaign with the nascent Arab armies against the Ottoman Empire in World War I:

We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew.
They are always with us, those who would rob our freedom for the common good.  Society must endure a beneficent cooperation for our individual needs, which translates to a common good of mutual benefit, as Adam Smith would describe it.  But beyond that, we must be always careful to distinguish the public servant from the bureaucrat, or worse, the apparatchik.  Haven't we all met them, at one time or another, or more commonly than civilisation should permit?  They are the people so ably described by G K Chesterton in The Secret People:

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.

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