Curzon on Government

Lord Curzon of Kedleston as Viceroy of India (wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago, Coming Anarchy posted this item Curzon’s Dunbar. I had no idea who Curzon was apart from being the nom de plume of one of the Coming Anarchy authors (you can find out more on Wikipedia). We went to my parents’ in Oamaru for Christmas, and Mum had boxed up some books for me to take back as part of her project to declutter the house (project completion date sometime around 2030). As we were flying, I only grabbed a small selection for my check-in bag and one of those was Curzon – End of an Epoch (Leonard Mosley, Readers Union, 1961)

…His attitude towards the common people was that of a benevolent patrician. He did not even believe that Englishmen, let alone Scotsmen, Welsh, Indians and other lesser breeds, had earned the right to equality with those who had spent their lives and their brains in learning to rule them. To the masses he was fitting himself to control and direct he determined to bring food sufficient for their needs, the opportunity of health and decent lives, and every freedom thery desired except the freedom to rule themselves. To Balfour’s dictum that ‘people only too often prefer self-government to good government’ he had on one reply: ‘More fools they! They should not be encouraged to encompass their own doom’…

Curzon also voted against a move in the House of Commons to give Members of Parliament a small salary “…it will bring into the House shallow and ambitious careerists bent on making a business of the duties and obligations of Government…” One wonders if this is what eventually led to Pournelle’s Iron Rule of Bureaucracy:

…in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions…

Hands up anyone who HASN’T seen any the cancerous application of this rule across national and local government…

But anyway, Curzon’s thoughts on global governance seemed quite topical as we slap a few more billions worth of Band-Aids on Haiti, knowing full well that once the current disaster is cleaned up, it will revert back to type in less than a year; as the number of failing and at-risk states continues to rise; as more and more experiments in self-government flounder in unimaginable debt and growing populations dependencies; as we focus more on the ‘now’ than the future…

One of the topics for discussion in the recent Cheeseburger Gothic discussions on the next iteration of the Axis of Time Birmoverse was how a forewarned timeline might manage post-WW2 colonies, in particular those sitting on resource deposits. I wonder if the Anglosphere (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, possibly South Africa and Rhodesia) might not have adopted a more ‘involved’ strategy where colonies become ‘territories’ under control? Of course, this is just blatant Imperialism but, when you sit down over a good coffee and think about it, how many of those former colonies are better off under their own rule? I’d suggest that success stories like India, Singapore and Malaysia are very much the exceptions and the Haitis, Zimbabwes, and Myanmars are very much the rule.

Are we getting to the point where aid now comes not so much with conditions but with escalating forms of compulsion and accountability? I asked the same question on To the Stars… but regarding global warming – at what point do protests and sanctions become compulsion for the greater good…? Maybe not so much the global nanny-state but certainly stepping towards benevolent dictatorship…or just do haves unite in self-interest and let the have-nots, specifically the won’t-help-themselves to their own devices. Sooner of later we need to start making some tough calls as no nation can afford to repeatedly bail out those who can not succeed…in other words, let’s start getting real. How real it is to expect that we will be able to do much about small island nations that are slowly disappearing beneath rising waves (regardless of cause)? Build a Waterworld-like wall around them – noting that the original sank anyway…?

Perhaps Curzon was right after all and it is time to start learning from a century of mistakes; however well-intentioned, mistakes nonetheless…is it now time to start developing rulers once more…?

4 thoughts on “Curzon on Government

  1. What’s this, you hadn’t heard of ME, Lord Curzon, and my many exploits?

    Some of my key accomplishments, and the nexus of my relationship with Younghusband, were laid out in previous blog posts in the first few years of the blog:


  2. “success stories like India, singapore and malaysia are very much the exceptions”

    Mr. o’Neill: I beg to differ. I can’t see how India & malaysia are success stories at present with all the endemic corruption & general incompetence, but of course they’re still in better shape than all of ’em Haitis, Zimbabwes, Myanmars combined.

    Funny how some ’em populations actually believed that things would be better off when the foreign imperialists leave. In retrospect, not so after all.


    • Corruption and incompetence are judgmental terms…all in all the economies of both India and Malaysia are relatively stable and growing and, as you say, they are not glaringly in need of ongoing external props like the countries you cite…I think we are more in agreement than differing…


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