Penultimate post, mentioned the central role of middle management in enforcing the desires of the hypercompetitive. Especially in enterprises not governed by the desire for money, middle management is filled with people who in previous ages would have been courtiers.
Robert Bolt captures the nature of courtiers in A Man for All Seasons. The central theme can be framed: how Thomas More is not a courtier. To illustrate this, various courtiers at various stages of their climb are introduced and examined.
Sir Richard Rich, who plays his friendship with More into a position as Attorney General for Wales by perjuring himself to get More convicted, follows the near-ideal path for courtier: parlays his relationship to More into a position under Cromwell and betrays More to get the Attorney General for Wales gig. Rich gains Henry’s trust by showing his willingness to do whatever it takes (e.g., after the official torturer had reached his limit, personally torturing a 25-year old woman on the rack to the point where, screaming in agony, all her joints were ripped apart. She had to be carried to the stake upon which she was burned to death, as any attempt to move was agony.).
He becomes the go-to guy for dirty, messy business, such as the dissolution of the monasteries, which he brutally prosecuted. He managed to ride out the change from Henry through Catholic Mary – even helping with the Restoration! – and back through Elizabeth. He was the perfect Useful Man who could survive any mere change in religion or ideology. Under an assortment of Kings and Queens, he held an string of ever more powerful and lucrative positions, ending up as Baron Rich and Chancellor. He died a very wealthy man, of old age in his bed.
The Oracle Wikipedia reports: “Since the mid-16th century Rich has had a reputation for immorality, financial dishonesty, double-dealing, perjury and treachery rarely matched in English history. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called Rich a man “of whom nobody has ever spoken a good word”.
If you are wondering what middle managers of various flavors (*cough* Fauci *cough*) dream of, look at the career of Baron Rich. Relative nobody who plays his cards right, checks his scruples (if any) at the door, his finger constantly in the wind, lips always planted on the correct hindquarters, accumulating power and wealth and destroying enemies along the way, and manages to kept free of any loyalties that might get him killed when the people on the top change.
The reality, of course, is that the bulk of the courtiers end up jumping in the mud with Henry (see first picture) as they attempt to be useful and appear loyal and eager, and just get muddy – no titles and wealth for you! Two scenes later, Henry takes the boats and leaves the uncooperative Thomas in a huff, abandoning all those muddy courtiers to find their own way back to the palace. It’s a very real scene in a movie full of real scenes.
Machiavelli, after describing the murder and mayhem a new prince will need to visit upon hic competitors and potential competitors, tells his padawans they need not be concerned with finding men willing to do things like murder the entire families of his rivals: they will always be at hand. As in almost everything he writes, Machiavelli is letting history be his guide.
So, to tie it all together: the upper echelons of government and business are manned by hypercompetitive people, a disproportionate number of whom are out and out sociopaths; the next level down is people by career bureaucrats, middle managers, modern courtiers. Of course, there is some bleed-over – occasionally, a courtier makes it to Baron; occasionally, a hypercompetitive person gets stuck in middle management. But, in general: we are ruled by sociopaths and courtiers. Thus, it has (almost) always been.
Two notes: first, don’t mistake titles for power. Sometimes, a President or Pope is just a figurehead, sometimes a seemingly unlikely person is the power. You can be a Director of this or that, say the CDC, and still be, essentially, a courtier. Second, the aching eagerness with which courtiers try to anticipate and enact the desires of their lords creates a perfect system for mindless compliance and vigorous enforcement: once the courtiers figure out what they think the boss wants, then anyone who doesn’t go along is an enemy, an existential threat. A courtier wants to be useful to his lord, want to prove that he, more than anyone, is doing what the lord wants.
The sickening power struggles that are characteristic of courts and bureaucracies make concerted actions and brutal repression inevitable – without any sort of conspiracy, as normally understood, involved.
(This, btw, is why I harp on the lack of a purge after Fred Roti’s conviction – sure, the overt kingpin was removed, but the courtier mechanism he and his predecessors had constructed over decades remained. That mechanism – machine, if you will – then produces – what, exactly? A President and all his key cabinet members? Who can be expected to behave how, exactly?)