Government: A ‘Whisky Priest’

There has been a lot of air about the fight between the Indian government and the civil society on the battlegrounds of the anti-corruption ‘Jan Lokpal Bill‘ (citizen’s ombudsman bill). The swords too are nicely named: ‘stability’ and ‘morality’, and as with all swords, they are double-edged!

With neither side backing down, nor moving substantially forward, behind-the-scenes meetings and under-the-cloak deals being carried out every minute, its the classic stalemate that has plagued the world ever since the Greeks coined the word ‘democracy’, a brilliant concept spoilt by an ego-centric populace. Well, its no point blaming the Greeks anymore if recent history is anything to go by, they are more than suffering from the consequences of dealings under the economic part of that ideology.

Standing on the sidelines, though, I have tried to understand its gravity. While watching an episode (‘The Whisky Priest‘) of the extremely popular 1980’s British comedy TV series ‘Yes Minister’, I came across a dialogue sequence which made things clearer. The scene is question is after the minister, Jim Hacker, receives information about underhand dealings between British arms suppliers and middlemen and Italian red terrorists. He wishes to raise the issue with the Prime Minister and in that vein mentions his desires to his permanent under-secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a hard-core civil servant. Appleby advises him against opening ‘a can of worms’. This is what transpires after that advice, and it will give the reader a very good idea about the perpetual state of any government and civil service establishment on the Earth.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Government isn’t about morality.

Minister Jim Hacker: Oh I see, what is it about then?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stability. Keeping things going. Preventing anarchy. Stopping society falling to bits. Still being here tomorrow.

Minister Jim Hacker: What for? What is the ultimate purpose of government, if it isn’t for doing good?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister, government isn’t about good and evil, it is only about order or chaos.

Minister Jim Hacker: And it is order for Italian terrorists to get British bombs, and you don’t care?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [disdainfully] It is not my job to care, that’s what politicians are for. My job is to carry out government policy.

Minister Jim Hacker: Even if you think it is wrong?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, almost all government policy is wrong….. frightfully well carried out!

Minister Jim Hacker: Humphrey, have you ever known a civil servant to resign on a matter of principle?

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [surprised] I should think not! What an appalling suggestion!

Minister Jim Hacker: For the first time I fully understand that you are only committed to means, and not to ends.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, as far as I am concerned, minister, and all my colleagues, there is no difference between means and ends.

Minister Jim Hacker: If you believe that Humphrey, you will go to hell.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [smiling] Minister, I had no idea that you had a theological bent.

Minister Jim Hacker: You are a moral vacuum, Humphrey.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: If you say so, minister!

As Stan Lee of the Marvel Comics fame would say, “nuff said!”

(P.S. Follow the link to understand what the term whisky priest means.)

6 thoughts on “Government: A ‘Whisky Priest’

  1. Plato (Socrates) coined a term – Philosopher King – for the ruler. Further, about Aristocracy (Roman senate) Vs. Democracy, while a state accepts Democracy (a vote for everyone) it is on the path for governance by mediocre. First, Aristocrats and Intellectuals are carefully sidelined. In the end, Democracy is run by mediocre alone by carefully alienating all intellectuals and aristocrats. In our context, Phase 1 is complete Reversal appears to be difficult until masses learn not to elect mediocre.

    • That’s some nice information! What you mention is the inherent weakness in the otherwise utopian concept of democracy, its moral well-being is tightly linked to the moral setup of the participant people. Human morality, in absence of proper intellect / education / will power, is hardly rock-solid, and that results in the promotion of illegitimate ways to acquire power and then use it against the same people who got you elected. Oligarchy, as they say, rules supreme in the end. Aristocracy (and ‘ignorance’) is born and thrives on this oligarchy, whether the original foundation was democracy or feudalism.

      In the light of this argument, when most of the ‘leaders’ (so called) in the fray are mediocre, immoral and corrupt themselves, whom do we vote into power? In any case, even people with seemingly genuine and sincere intentions loose their rationale when they acquire total power – Napolean Bonaparte is a case in the point, not to speak anything of Adolf Hitler (who was elected as a matter of fact) or Joseph Stalin.

      A reversal is possible, but it would require events like the ones we saw in the Middle East recently which, lets face it, were unsavory. I wonder if the Greeks foresaw this situation!

  2. Nikhil a good post as usual 🙂

    A function of government is to bring about order in chaos I do agree to that. But just look around to what is happening in India right now, is our government bringing about an order in chaos or is it creating chaos.If you really give a thought to why are all parties unanimously against the Jan Lokpal Bill draft by Anna Hazare et all; you will realize that the reason is that the bill brought in that fashion will curb the intentional chaos all our leaders have generated for their own primary benefit. I feel disheartened, angry at the lack of respect for the common man that our leaders have been showing all along. Is this really democracy or merely a “titular” democracy.

    • Thanks Bhakti 🙂

      Continuing from my reply to the previous comment, this is hardly democracy in its original meaning, its more like oligarchy, where a small group of people have the complete control of an organization or a country. Its pseudo-feudalism, and the ironic part is that we’ve elected these as our representatives to the nation’s assembly. Maintaining law and order in the country is a huge task, and the government has played its part fairly well over the years (apart from a few distasteful incidences), but the fear of accountability is so massive sometimes that a person can go all out against the idea itself, which is exactly what happened when they left out the Prime Minister’s office and higher judiciary from the Jan Lokpal Bill ambit.

      In Marathi, we have this saying: “Kar nahi tyala Dar kashala” (he who has not committed a crime has no fear of retribution). However, to expect morality to work its magic is asking too much of its inconsistent nature, and history is littered with examples of this point.

  3. Right now the role of government is being debated in US, in quite a few countries in Europe and in the Middle East too –may be I should add all over the world as the moral, economic and environmental damages are being assessed and discussed!!!

    • Its high time it was assessed, don’t you think? The accountability factor and passing-the-buck principle is a question of debate now, but its ironic how long these topics have been allowed to be dormant. Maybe the governments of the world (and the respective nation’s economies and GDPs) would have been in a better shape had this been discussed earlier; the events and protests in the Middle East are definitely a case in the point.

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