In 1941, James Burnham wrote his prophetic book The Managerial Revolution, in which he predicted the rise of a new ruling class, that of managers.
Whether they ply their trade in government or the corporate world is immaterial. Neither their mentality nor their modus operandi changes when they float from cabinet rooms to boardrooms – and back again.
The Soviet term nomenklatura describes this class accurately, and whenever Soviet concepts apply in the West, I have sleepless nights preceded by a bout of nausea.
The spirit of James Burnham wafted through the Sky TV studio the other day, when Attorney General Suella Braverman had to explain why she had put an end to diversity training in her department.
She took that audacious measure not for any moral, intellectual or aesthetic reasons, God forbid, but as a result of a cost-benefit analysis. Apparently, last year her employees spent 2,000 hours listening to expensive consultants pontificate on diversity – with nary a financial benefit to show for it.
Sternly queried on her feelings about diversity, Mrs Braverman restated her, and her party’s, unwavering commitment to that transcendent virtue. She was especially proud, she said, that it was a Tory PM who had legalised homomarriage. And in general, she’d happily vote for any diversity law – trans, racial, gender, interspecies, you name it.
No, it was just a matter of the bottom line. Her employees could spend their time more profitably than learning about pronouns, unconscious biases and cultural appropriation, vital though such education is.
The conversation then veered into other areas, such as the economy, healthcare, education and so on. Here Mrs Braverman instantly underwent a metamorphosis that has become the hallmark of her profession: she turned into a human jukebox.
Push a button, and a pre-recorded tune comes out. In this case, every sentence she uttered included the buzz word ‘deliver’. It’s a function of government, maintained Mrs Braverman robotically, to deliver [person-to-person GP appointments, best economic outcomes, affordable energy, multi-orgasmic sex… I made that last one up, but you get the picture.]
Someone has misled the poor dear desperately. It’s post offices, obstetricians and Chinese takeaways that deliver. Governments, on the other hand, are supposed to, well, govern.
Our ‘leaders’ increasingly express themselves in the language of corporate managers, or rather managerial consultants. They don’t govern. They ‘deliver’ markers and outcomes; they hit targets; they facilitate optimisation; they optimise facilitation; they meet goals.
That’s not how statesmen talk because it’s not how statesmen think – or act. This is the jargon of the new class whose ascendance Burnham predicted so presciently.
He identified a developing problem in the corporate world: those who control capital no longer own it. A member of the nomenklatura has worlds to gain if his company does well, but next to nothing to lose when it doesn’t. A golden parachute will pop open, and the chap will softly descend into another job at another corporation or perhaps a government quango.
This is the spirit in which the nomenklatura acts when it runs the country as well, or rather as badly. Any corporation with the record of HMG would be bankrupt by now, with its officers possibly facing charges of fiduciary malfeasance.
Our governmental managers, otherwise known as ‘leaders’, are even further removed from the capital they control, and I don’t just mean money. Hence they use the language of management consultants not to elucidate but to obfuscate.
They all, with but a handful of exceptions all over the West, lack the basic skills to function in their chosen field. That’s why they hope that the jargon borrowed from another field will help them hide their incompetence behind a verbal smokescreen.
They should be informed by the tenets of political philosophy, not those of crooked double-entry accounting with several sets of books. I don’t mean they should be philosopher-kings of Plato’s fancy. But they should check their words and deeds against the first principles of politics, economics, justice and morality.
That doesn’t mean turning into dogmatic doctrinaires, for the art of government presupposes a certain amount of compromise. Statesmen guided by the noblest of principles are sometimes forced to deviate from them. Yet tactical flexibility shouldn’t mean strategic ignorance. It’s one thing to have to compromise on one’s principles occasionally, quite another not to have them in the first place.
By their words shall you know them, for if our politicians were indeed guided by immutable values, they wouldn’t be expressing themselves in the lingo of a pizza takeaway. They’d know it’s not the function of government to run a delivery service.
It’s to protect the people from foreign enemies and domestic criminals. It’s to make sure that the country is run by just laws, not pernicious fads. It’s not to ‘level up’, to use another buzz non-word, but to create conditions in which people can fulfil their potential to its limit by their own efforts. It’s to set an example of prudence, sagacity and thrift. It’s to protect freedom of expression, including the kind of expression some may not like. It’s to encourage proper family life, not abortion, divorce, various perversions and casual cohabitation.
It’s to govern, not to ‘deliver’. Then again, our ‘leaders’ have to think of their post-leadership careers. So perhaps it’s a good idea to bone up on managerial cant, in the hope of someday using it full time to a lucrative effect.
After all, there’s only one first principle our politicians recognise: look out for number one.