Wednesday, May 30, 2018

E.H. Carr and William Haggard

One of the classics one becomes familiar with studying International Relations is E.H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis, widely considered the starting point for modern "realist" thought.

Appropriately the book is no narrow discussion of billiard-ball-type politics among nations, considering a good deal else, with one issue I find myself returning to every now and then what Carr referred to as the problem of the "Intellectual and the Bureaucrat." The intellectual inclines to theory, reasoning, principles, and what is good and right, and it is from this that their tendency to be involved with radical movements derives.

The bureaucrat--the civil servant--by contrast, "recoils from written constitutions and solemn covenants, and lets himself be guided by precedent, by instinct, by feel for the right thing," a feel guided by experience that leads them to claim "an esoteric understanding of appropriate procedures . . . not accessible even to the most intelligence outsider," and the superiority of bureaucratic experience and training to the most brilliant intellect or refined theoretical understanding in these matters. And whether one sees this as self-serving, obscurantist nonsense or not, it carries carries serious political implications. That "practical practice" by which they set such store "easily degenerates into the rigid and empty formalism of the mandarin," with "politics an end in themselves," adding to the implications inherent in their position. More than just about "any other class of the community," the bureaucrat is "bound up with the existing order, the maintenance of tradition, and . . . precedent as the 'safe' criterion of action.'"

Recently recalling Carr's comment on this "antithesis" I found myself thinking of William Haggard's Colonel Russell novels. I can think of no other works of spy fiction that treat the opposition between the two types so directly or extensively. Nor of any that, in treating that opposition, is so vehement in taking a side.

Where political life is concerned, Haggard is as hostile to intellectuals as anyone you might care to name. In Slow Burn Haggard had the latter to say of scientists:
Take a clever boy . . . and put him into a laboratory for the next seven or eight years. What emerged inevitably was a materialist . . . a man who would assume without question that the methods of science could be applied to human societies.
In short, in the eyes of this particular right-winger, they were a bunch of damned crypto-Communists, all too likely to turn traitor. And indeed, one of them (not just a leftist, but "no gentleman" either) did prove to be the traitor Russell spent the novel ferreting out.

In The Power House, Haggard bashes a type of intellectual to which one would expect him to be even more hostile, not the physicist who dares have an opinion about politics, but those whose principal concern is the social, economic, political order, in his depiction of the hapless Labour MP Victor Demuth. A "fossil," espousing "doctrines as archaic for a modern left-leaning party as the Divine Right of Kings was now archaic to the Right," Russell held the man's attitudes to be a mark of deep personal failure, resulting from deep defects of what a certain sort of pompous person would call "character." Despite a background of great privilege, which combined with a genuine intelligence and determination "equipped [him] to compete at any level he'd cared to aim at," the Prime Ministership included, a lack of confidence and inclination to "flinch from conflict" made Demuth "slip . . . into the security of protest" instead.1 Ineffectual protest because, as another character in the novel reflects, "The Time of the Left would come perhaps, but it wouldn't be . . . the intellectuals, the professional washed-out rebels, but ruthless and determined men" who made it happen, ruthless and determined men who, whatever else they happened to be, would not be mere intellectuals.

By contrast Haggard's hero, Colonel Russell, is the consummate civil servant, and not merely by virtue of his title or pay grade, but his being an administrator who, unlike most spy chiefs in spy novels, actually administers, and plays his main part in the story by administering. However many times Fleming calls Bond a civil servant, what we usually see is Bond playing commando. And even as he ascended to a fairly senior level in Central Intelligence, Jack Ryan's adventures tended to have him caught up in heroics of some kind or another--in Clear and Present Danger this Acting Deputy Director of the CIA personally flying down to Colombia in a Pave Low and manning a minigun with which he mows down drug cartel soldiers in the course of rescuing an American special forces team inserted into the country. (I repeat: Deputy Director shooting lots and lots of people with a gatling machine gun as if he were Arnold Schwarzenegger.) Such black bag work and gunplay as the Haggard stories offer, however, Russell leaves to others, while he navigates the system, and in doing so "saves the day" in dramas that, like no other, celebrate the Bureaucrat as Hero.

Of course, in continuing his series over the next few decades Haggard did eventually start playing up the action, with Yesterday's Enemy an example of this. Still, this is how they started, and tended to run. In Yesterday's, certainly, what drew Russell into his more conventional spy adventure was in fact his old, legendary reputation as Super-Bureaucrat Extraordinaire.

In hindsight, it is an additional way in which these largely forgotten books were and remain unique within this genre.

1. To round out the right-wing cliche, we also see the upper-class leftist portrayed as a snob and a bigot, disliking his niece's suitor, allegedly, for his being in the casino industry, unintellectual, Catholic and therefore "a reactionary fascist beast."

My Posts on William Haggard
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)

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