This latest article struck me as both depressing and stimulating. I got the feeling that he'd finally adjusted a lens I'd been squinting through for years, and brought a shape into focus. He's tracing the decay of virtue in the British civil service, and by extension, all of British society. I feel strongly about this, because the Canadian civil service was very consciously modelled on the British one, and up until recently was actually quite good. Up until about 15 or 20 years ago, pride in our civil service was a peculiarly Canadian thing. Politicians...well, you can always expect to find some bad eggs among them, it just goes with the territory. Politics is like acting - weak characters tend to gravitate to it as a profession. But the people in our government departments were for the most part good people, like us, doing a job that was probably a little dull, but doing it conscientiously and honestly. And we got that from the British, in a time when replicating the best of Britain was something we did deliberately.
We've slipped from that high quality, but we're not yet as badly off as the British. But Dalrymple is writing about more than just the civil service - he's writing about the decay and corruption of the intelligentsia, and at the moment that's more visible in other fields - academia, media, and (naturally) the church - which presently display more of the symptoms he describes. Doesn't this sound familiar?
Anyone who has had dealings with the British public service in the last ten or fifteen years will know that the principle qualities required for advancement within it are unceasing sanctimony, brazenness, a craven dedication to orders from on high combined with an ability to justify a complete change of direction at a moment's notice, and a capacity for bullying those lower down the feeding chain, or (to change the metaphor slightly) those jostling for a place at the trough. A rigid self-control is required to suppress any independence of mind or a tendency to consider the ethics of orders to be implemented....Is there anyone who doesn't recognize the Eloi type described here? Always giving opinions to the media, from universities, special-interest groups, the cathedrals? And the good people, who still exist, "have become a defeated class", of no importance, who don't even have to be treated politely anymore.
I recently met a public servant who had risen up the ranks and had about him a triumphalist air, as of a successful revolutionary. He had arrived in bureaucratic heaven. He travelled to London on the train first class every week (a ticket costs the equivalent of an annual working class holiday in the sun), and attended sumptuous functions there attended by others such as himself, under the impression that by so doing he was working. Had he been a little boy recounting a visit to Father Christmas in a department store, it would have been disarming: as it was, I found it profoundly alarming.
Here was the voice of militant mediocrity, who expressed himself even in private in the language of Health Service meetings, believing that his large salary and high living at public expense were all for the good of those who paid for them.