The following comes from Ursula Leguin’s masterpiece The Dispossessed. Shevek, a great physicist “on the outs” with the hidden power structure of his supposedly anarchic planet Anarres, faces a singular temptation posed by a powerful enemy:
“Sabul left me a note this morning at the Syndicate.” Shevek drank off his fruit juice and lowered the cup, revealing a curious set to his mouth, a nonexpression. “He said the Physics Federation has a fulltime posting to fill. Autonomous, permanent.”There are walls behind the walls. Ponder that for a moment.
“For you, you mean? There? At the Institute?”
“Sabul told you?”
“He's trying to enlist you,” Bedap said.
“Yes, I think so. If you can't uproot it, domesticate it, as we used to say in Northsetting.” Shevek suddenly and spontaneously laughed. “It is funny, isn’t it?” he said.
“No," said Takver. "It isn’t funny. It's disgusting. How could you go talk to him, even? After all the slander he’s spread about you, and the lies about the Principles being stolen from him, and not telling you that the Urrasti gave you that prize, and then just last year, when he got those kids who organized the lecture series broken up and seat away because of your ‘crypto-authoritarian influence’ over them—you an authoritarian!—that was sickening, unforgivable. How can you be civil to a man like that?”
“Well, it isn’t all Sabul, you know. He's just a spokesman.”
“I know, but he loves to be the spokesman. And he's been so squalid for so long! Well, what did you say to him?”
“I temporized—as you might say,” Shevek said, and laughed again. Takver glanced at him again, knowing now that he was, for all his control, in a state of extreme tension or excitement.
“You didn't turn him down flat, then?”
“I said that I'd resolved some years ago to accept no regular work postings, so long as I was able to do theoretical work. So he said that since it was an autonomous post I’d be completely free to go on with the research I’d been doing, and the purpose of giving me the post was to —let's see how he put it—‘to facilitate access to experimental equipment at the Institute, and to the regular channels of publication and dissemination.' The PDC press, in other words.”
“Why, then you've won,” Takver said, looking at him with a queer expression. “You've won. They'll print what you write. It's what you wanted when we came back here five years ago. The walls are down.”
“There are walls behind the walls,” Bedap said.
“I've won only if I accept the posting. Sabul is offering to ... legalize me. To make me official. In order to dissociate me from the Syndicate of Initiative. Don't you see that as his motive. Dap?”
“Of course,” Bedap said. His face was somber. “Divide to weaken.”
“But to take Shev back into the Institute, and print what he writes on the PDC press, is to give implied approval to the whole Syndicate, isn't it?”
“It might mean that to most people,” Shevek said.
“No, it won’t,” Bedap said. “It’ll be explained. The great physicist was misled by a disaffected group, for a while. Intellectuals are always being led astray, because they think about irrelevant things like time and space and reality, things that have nothing to do with real life, so they are easily fooled by wicked deviationists. But the good Odonians at the Institute gently showed him his errors and he has returned to the path of social-organic truth. Leaving the Syndicate of Initiative shorn of its one conceivable claim to the attention of anybody on Anarres or Urras.”
They who love power above all other things delight in co-opting their opponents with clever gambits. One such gambit comes under a guise of inclusion. Lyndon Johnson, who will lose his position as the most corrupt, despicable man ever to sit in the Oval Office if Hillary Clinton should win this coming Tuesday, phrased it memorably. To give it force, allow me another fictional citation, this one from an immortal of science fiction:
“Thank you for joining us, Douglas,” Charisse said. “It was a pleasure finally to have you here.”
“The pleasure,” he said in a monotone, “was mine.”
She inclined her head as if she believed him sincere. “I have a request for you to entertain, if you have the time and aren’t averse to doing a little business in the middle of all this revelry.”
“What is it you want, Charisse?” Kramnik barely managed to keep the snarl mounting inside him from affecting his face or voice.
“As it happens,” Charisse said, “I’m looking at some reorganization of clan operations. I’ve been managing every aspect of Clan Morelon's businesses and finances for coming up on a century, but it’s getting to be beyond me. So I consulted with my senior kinsmen about how to divide the load, and they made a most useful suggestion, simple yet penetrating. Would you like to hear it?”
“I can’t wait,” he growled.
“It’s just this,” she said. “Separate off the clan’s investment activities and place them under other management. I’ll go on running farm operations and conducting our external relations, but the employment and monitoring of our investment capital will become the responsibility of others.”
Kramnik said nothing.
“Well?” Charisse said. “Don’t you have any opinion to offer?” Althea and Martin drifted toward them, noticed the sobriety of the conversation, and veered away.
“I can’t imagine for the life of me why you’d want my opinion about it,” Kramnik said. “I can’t see what it has to do with me or Clan Kramnik.”
Charisse’s eyebrows rose. “No? How odd. Alvah and Patrice have spoken exceedingly well of your skill at managing your own clan’s resources. I know how high-stress an undertaking that is, when margins are thin and a business is hanging by a thread. So you must have garnered quite a bit of expertise at it.” She smiled. “Expertise I was hoping to employ to Clan Morelon’s benefit.”
Kramnik’s mouth fell open.
“You want...me...to advise you on your investments and financial management?”
Charisse squinted. “No, not quite. We want you to become part of the management council for Morelon Investments. You would have an equal voice with two other councilors. The three of you would share the duties of allocating, monitoring, and harvesting the fruits of our liquid capital. At the moment, that comes to a bit more than eighty-five million dekas. About a third of that is already invested. The position carries a stipend of a hundred thousand dekas per annum.”
Kramnik blinked disbelief at his oldest adversary. “You’re serious?”
Charisse nodded. “Quite. Are you interested? It would seem to be a good fit to your aptitudes.”
“Why are you offering me this?” he murmured.
“Douglas!” she said. “Is it completely impossible that I’m sincere about my appreciation for your skills and my desire to have the advantage of them?”
Kramnik was unable to reply.
“If you’re thinking that I must have a reason beyond that,” she said, “you’re quite correct. Your son is now a member of my clan. I’d hoped that would be enough to put an end to the enmity between us, but recent events suggest that more might be required. That got me thinking about tents.”
“Tents?” he said.
Charisse nodded. “I came across a saying from an Earth politician that tweaked me just right. This...person was known for bringing his political adversaries into his councils, giving them a say in what sort of advice he would receive. The way he put it was, ‘I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.’” She chuckled. “Quaint, isn’t it?”
It might not be the oldest trick in the political book, but it’s one of the most effective: If you can entice your most threatening opponent into accepting a position within your number, it will make him look as if he’s joined forces with you, while diluting his voice with the voices of your allies.
I shall now pause while my Gentle Readers think about the application to the upcoming election.
An insurgency’s victory is usually a tentative, conditional thing. The insurgents seldom completely destroy the power structure they fought to replace. This is especially significant for electoral upheavals in large administrative states.
Ronald Reagan’s smashing defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980 was trumpeted as heralding a new era, one that would see the reversal of much that had gone before. It was not to be. What’s recently been termed the “deep state” proved almost completely immovable by the Reagan forces. Federal bureaucrats were too numerous, too deeply entrenched, and too determined to have things remain as they were. The relative handful of appointees that strained to redirect the giant executive agencies found that their power was largely illusory. The federal government continued to grow. By headcount, the federal executive branch was 13% larger in 1989 than it had been in 1980. By expenditure, it was nearly twice as large.
I’ve written about the dominant dynamic once this year already. Please refer to that earlier essay rather than force me to lengthen this one beyond your endurance.
Outsitting the elected administration became possible with the institution of Civil Service rules that protect bureaucrats’ tenure. Bureaucrats are aware of the relatively regular alternation of federal dominance by the major parties, and exploit it to their benefit. As the executive branch has swelled, it’s become ever more resistant to external pressures to change. Add to their more assured tenure the bureaucrats’ ability to “hide the keys:” i.e., to render the operation of their agencies utterly impenetrable to an outsider. The bureaucrat’s greatest triumph consists in persuading the incoming political appointee that “I’m your man, but you have to understand how things are done here.” Once the appointee becomes dependent on the bureaucrat, their actual power over affairs is exactly the reverse of their apparent power. It’s a subtle form of “divide to weaken” in which despite appearances to the contrary, the appointee effectively joins the bureaucracy.
The dynamic extends all the way to the White House. Let’s imagine – it’s beginning to seem likely, actually – that Donald Trump triumphs on Tuesday, that the GOP maintains control of both houses of Congress, and that Trump appoints a “dream team” of impeccable Constitutionalists to his Cabinet. What reason have we to believe that Trump would have any greater ability to command those millions of entrenched, supercilious, power-and-security-loving Civil Service bureaucrats than did Ronald Reagan?
The upcoming election is important, but its verdict will not be absolute. What it can do, let it do: disturb the bastions of the political elites to the maximum possible extent. But more will be required if we’re to have more than cosmetic change.
In brief, the corridors of power must be emptied. The incoming Reagan Administration gave this a mighty effort, well described in Martin Anderson’s book Revolution. Yet it was not successful – because the “deep state” succeeded in co-opting those who had come to reform it. The newly elected officials and their high-minded appointees gradually succumbed to “the way things are done around here,” and so lost their opportunity to right the course of the ship of State. As I mentioned above, the bureaucracies continued as they were, the government continued to grow, and at the end of the Reagan Interregnum Big Government was larger and more powerful than ever.
The Civil Service Acts are key to the matter. Whether they can be repealed or amended at this date is uncertain; the millions of federal employees constitute a formidable political force in their own right. But nothing else, short of several million wholly unprecedented resignations, offers any prospect for improvement.
Regardless of their representations to the contrary, the political elites – the strategists, kingmakers, and power brokers of the existing Washington milieu – are in league with the bureaucrats. Expect them to resist any significant changes to the Civil Service’s protections. Expect them to fight like a lioness protecting her cub against anything that would endanger the status quo. For should the bureaucracies turn against them, they’d have to go back to more or less honest labor. They will not cooperate with a Trump Administration unless compelled by overwhelming popular pressure – pressure that must persist well beyond the election.
Come Tuesday, the face of the federal government might well change dramatically. But unless we can prevent the existing elites and the bureaucrats from co-opting the incoming officials, the change will be limited to a bit more rouge and a new shade of lip gloss.
Have a nice day.