Friday, 2 September 2016

Machiavelli, Antony Jay & 'Yes Minister'

JOHN PLAMENATZ in his book on the selections from Machiavelli [1972] wrote:  'The saying is that who builds on the people builds on mud...'   Yet, with reference to Machiavelli, he added:  'rulers are at their worst when they are not responsible for how they rule'.  That, I suppose, means that when the rulers lack either physical (through elections) or moral side-constraints they perform badly. 

In August, an intellectual disciple of Machiavelli, Antony Jay died.  It was Mr. Jay who with Jonathan Lynn a colleague at Video Arts [a company he founded with John Clease] produced 'Yes Minister', which ran from 1980 to 1984, creating weekly predicaments between the Right Honary James Hacker (Paul Eddington), as a well-meaning head of the fictional Ministry for Administration Public Affairs, and his wily, smooth permanent under secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne).

This week, in an obituary in the New York Times, William Grimes described Antony Jay thus:

'Mr. Jay decided to shine a bright light on the dark machinations of government and the relationship between public officials and civil servants, a strange codependency in which the nominal powerful ended up as putty in the hands of their ostensible inferiors.'

The fact is that Mr. Jay not only wrote the television series 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister', but  wrote the books  'Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry Into the Politics of Corporate Life' [1967] and 'Corporation Man' [1972],in which he drew parallels between kings and business leaders.
How is it possible for alleged inferiors to capture power in situations such as 'Yes Minister' or in perhaps George Orwell's essay 'Shooting an Elephant' where Orwell serving in Burma as a military policeman feels himself impelled by a crowd of natives to shoot an elephant against his better judgement?  Orwell began the essay saying:  'In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.'
Straying outside parliamentary politics into the extra-parliamentary realm of the anarchists, when we consider '...a strange codependency in which the nominal powerful ended up as putty in the hands of their ostensible inferiors', I suppose that is not so very different from the relationship now existing between Dr. David Goodway, the 'Friends of Freedom Press' and the unauthorized body known as 'the Collective'.

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