Saturday, June 06, 2009

Obama out "czars" the Russian Empire

You may recall I'm no fan of appointing "czars" to head up various government positions.

Ok, look. "Czar" is a derivation of the imperial title of Caesar. It makes about as much sense to be appointing Czars in America as it would to appoint Kings or Dukes. Indeed, the revolutionary founders of this nation as children dreamed of being Roman statesmen and considered the ending of the Roman Republic by Julius Caesar to be one of history's greatest tragedies - and Ceasar one of history's greatest villains! From Thomas Paine by Craig Nelson

The Roman Republic was so idolized, in fact, that the moderns considered Julius Caesar (who, they believed, ended it) one of the greatest villain in world history, a tyrant so vile that the most painful epithet hurled at Washington during his tumultuous second term as president would be "American Caesar!"
These founders decided against regal titles for the new nation's elected officers in order to signify a move away from aristocracy towards democracy and meritocracy: a proposal of a title of "czar" - and most especially a war czar - for any position would have been unthinkable, blasphemous.

This stuff is important because it conditions the way we think about ourselves in relation to government and its function; we shouldn't be getting used to the idea of having people with the title of an emperor running various aspects of the federal government. The WSJ notes that 'the problem is that "czars" are meant to be all-powerful people who can rise above the problems that plague the federal agencies, he said, but in the end, they can't.' The "problem" alluded to is one of functionality, that the czars aren't able to do their jobs, but to me the real and larger problem is that we've gotten to a point that we're expecting "all-powerful" persons to solve problems in the first place. That's the sort of expectation that has its place under autocratic rule of priests and monarchs, not democratic rule of Law and Reason.

The article also states that the rise of the "Czar" is concomitant with the centralization of governmental power in the office of the presidency; a problem which Gene Healy wrote about at length in The Cult of the Presidency.
This Reason article details the run-away appointment of czars by the current administration.

President Barack Obama is taking the practice of naming czars to new heights. As Foreign Policy points out, with the selection of "border czar" Alan Bersin, the Obama administration surpassed the Romanovs in its production of czars. It took those old Russkies 300 years to produce 18 czars. It took Obama less than 100 days.

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