wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Norman Stone

Europe Transformed

In the Habsburg Monarchy, bureaucracy was deliberately used as a device for pre-empting minority nationalism. If sufficient Slovenes, Czechs or Poles were given State jobs, with a pension attached, they would have no incentive to pursue secessionist causes. Roughly a third of all students in Austrian universities therefore took law degrees and headed for jobs in the bureaucracy, for which a training in law (especially 'administrative law' or Verwaltungsrecht) was an essential preliminary. In other countries, the imperialist coalitions around 1900 had absorbed dissident young men in a drive for empire. The Habsburgs could not do this, for they were too weak. Instead, in the era of Ernst Korber (which ended in 1904) they spent government money building up government concerns, such as canals and railway lines. It all made for more bureaucracy and more law degrees.

In the more backward countries, such growing bureaucracy could be dangerous. It amounted to a social reiolution of a sort. The old 'notables'—landowners, for the greater part—began to lose their control of the countryside in the 1890s. The days when caciquismo ruled Spain, when a family of bosses (caciques) like the Pidals in the Asturias could run a locality, securing tax concessions, exemptions from conscription, post-office jobs and even 'fixed' trials for their clients, all in return for votes, were going: not least because by 1900 even larger estates were suffering from the rise in costs, and everywhere, without exception, were registering a perceptible fall in surface area. In Ireland, Spain, Sicily or Russia, whether the government attempted land reform or not, the great estates were in decline. In these parts, there was usually not much industry or commerce to revive the economy; more and more, government jobs were the only way ahead. In Italy, it was said, 'in the south, the only industry is power.' A government job, the prefect, the various hired thugs of the mafia or, in Naples, the camorra, were parasitical. In Russia, the police department was often part of the underworld. Anti-Semitism was tolerated and sometimes organized by the police, and it flared up in a context of declining great estates, in the western Ukraine or Bessarabia, the capital of which, Kishinyov, produced a notorious pogrom in 1903. In the province of Tver, a governor, Aklestyshev, actually did appoint men with criminal records to deal with the local representative council. The Irish Home Rulers became, in their enemies' eyes, a huge 'machine,' especially when English forms of local government were extended to Ireland in 1898. The city administration of Naples was dismissed fourteen times by government decree because of its corruption. There was a startling illustration of the problem in 1908, when the Sicilian city of Messina was wrecked by an earthquake and a tidal wave. From all over Italy and subsequently from all over Europe, money and volunteers arrived to restore the city and its stricken inhabitants. But the tons of goods and thousands of lire passed without difficulty into the hands of local 'bosses' and were sold off elsewhere.

In the west, the new bureaucracy also gained power, although that power could plausibly be represented as progressive. Senior civil servants could in effect dictate government policies, as was done by Morant at education, Llewellyn Smith or Askwith in matters of industry, or, in France, Arthur Fontaine at labour or Monod at education. In Great Britain, until shortly before this era, feudal institutions had survived: parish vestries, grand juries and quarter-sessions had been uneasily adapted to modern needs. The administrative reform, when it came, was too hasty and ill-thought-out, especially in its financing—the rating system, which was both oppressive and ineffectual. British towns did become healthier in this period, but the process really depended on their capacity to attract loans, which the city of Liverpool had pioneered in 1880, at a time of low interest-rates. In general, the expansion of bureaucracy in Great Britain compared badly with continental experience, since there was virtually no corpus of law to control the bureaucrats. In France (and, by extension, most other countries influenced by Napoleon) there was a droit administratif, over which the Cour des comptes presided. In England, the bureaucrats made it up as they went along, and could have gone much further than they did, only, in this era, they were held up by the extraordinary (in continental eyes) respect for property that English Common Law preserved.