Why Eggheads Are Sometimes Bad for America
By: Warner Todd Huston
I will admit it. I am a subscriber to the Claremont Review of Books. Whatever you make of that, don’t imagine that I am one of those pointy-headed, University types that sit about in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, drawing on a pipe, and pontificating about the Greek Classics. On the other hand, I ain’t no anti-intellectual neither. Just consider me one of those fellows that knows just enough to be dangerous.
In any case, one thing that always strikes me about The CRB is that I always find at least one article that proves to me that while eggheads might make for wonderful support for policy, that they may be ideal for an intellectual underpinning of ideas, they would be horrible implementers of it should they be the ones in charge– yes even those ostensibly on our own side of the issues. As it happens, the Winter issue of the CRB did not disappoint me in this area.
This issue it was a review of a pair of tomes that investigate the state of federal service in the country today written by one Carnes Lord and titled, “…And We’re Here To Help You.” Both books that Lord reviews indulge the lament that the government doesn’t work as well as it should because the sort of people that now flock to government are no longer our best and brightest but are instead mere placemen and hangers on that only want a permanent job at which little is expected of them and from which they cannot be fired.
As it happens I agree wholeheartedly with this lament. I have written before how I’d be almost happy to welcome back the days of patronage where every last clerk and dogcatcher was fired with the turnover of an elected officialâ€™s office. I’d nearly rejoice if it were to happen again that every new politician coming to office would do so with his own patronage army in tow, an army that itself would be turned out with the next chair filler elected. Of course, I say almost. But the frustration I have over the poor state of government workers is deep.
As it happens, Lord, the professor of naval and military strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, also feels my pain. In fact, he is so discouraged that he feels there might not even be a cure extent for what ails the low quality of government workers. He is so despondent that he doesn’t even think firing them all, as I have hoped for, will work. Lord gravely states, “In fact, it is increasingly clear that the private educational sector in the United States is no longer capable of preparing students adequately for public service.” He thinks that there isn’t anyone out there that is any better than what we have and it is because of the poor state of our educational system coupled with our nationwide disinterest in public service all mixed up liberally with our rampant distrust of government.
But, being a university egghead, he goes just that extra distance to suggest a possible cure that shows that were we to listen to him, we’d be in even worse shape.
Just as some leading corporations in this country have created their own “universities” to train employees to an appropriate standard based on their real-world requirements, the government needs to consider a similar approach. At present, only the military is seriously concerned with higher education (as distinct from professional or technical training), in the form of its various service academies and war colleges. Perhaps new institutions are needed at the graduate level for the wider foreign policy and national security community. A strong argument can also be made for creating a new government-run undergraduate academy for public administration.
To which I can only moan a pained, “God forbid!”
One need only look to the endemic corruption of France’s Ã‰cole Nationale d’Administration to see what a horrible idea this would be. France has since right after WWII gathered and trained an entire class of permanent government workers. Unfortunately for France, instead of training an expert administrative class it has created a vampire class that feeds on the blood of the state, ties its victim in miles of red tape and marks self preservation as its first priority.
And that is what Lord wants for the U.S.? Not only would such an academy breed an administrative class that would quickly find its own interests more compelling than that of the government it is supposed to serve — as the French model has found — but were we to create such an institution, we’d quickly find that our government is even less answerable to the voters than it now is. We would find a class of people that feel themselves above both the lowly, untrained and uneducated masses, but also the politicians from whom they are supposed to be taking orders.
In fact we already have a U.S. model of sorts to prove what a disastrous idea this would be. Senate and Congressional staffers often stay for decades in Washington D.C. and pass from one elected official to another. They have made such a permanent career out of these positions that many elected officials no longer even bother getting involved in matters of administration or even crafting legislation. They just let staffers do all the work. In essence, D.C. is run by staffers that occasionally let the elected official have his head allowing him the fantasy he is still in charge. It isnâ€™t uncommon that these â€œlawmakersâ€ havenâ€™t the first clue what is in the legislation that bears their name because they have never really seen it at all.
Further, what would such a government trained administrative class do to our Constitution? Who cannot realize that the Constitution would be rendered worse than useless if we had such a class of perfunctory automatons clogging its arteries and constantly working for its own interests instead of those of the people?
I can’t imagine a worse idea than a national academy for administrative workers in the U.S.
Of course, we have to realize that Professor Lord comes by this mistaken opinion of his honestly. After all, he is a creature of the academy and likely is prone to imagining only good comes from universities. But we should also remember that university eggheads gave us the debacle of the New Deal and the LBJ’s Great Society. It also created out of whole cloth the foolishness they call “social science.”
I would posit a different direction than creating a permanent, self-interested, unconstitutional, governing class churned out by an â€œofficialâ€ government training program. I would say that the solution is to overturn the anti-American liberal group think currently infesting our entire educational system. It is a long-term project, of course, but our first order of business should be excising the leftist babble by which our students are taught, an ill that infests our schools from the lowest grades to the greatest heights of “higher learning.â€
Bringing back into our grade schools, high schools and universities a focus on American exceptionalism, the great books, western history, classic and enlightenment philosophy, math, science, and civics would go a lot farther toward enriching the pool of qualified government workers than creating an entire system of government drones, taught by other government drones.
So, while Professor Lord had much of his Claremont Review of Books article right, his final cure would be far, far worse than the disease.
The Ivory Tower is not the real world.