The Doubter’s Companion: Courtiers

“Courtiers: Instantly recognizable. Unchanged throughout history. These individuals live in the half-light, chasing power without purpose, prestige without responsibility. They travel in the shadow of those who have responsibility.

There are more courtiers in Western society today than perhaps at any other time in any other society. More even than in imperial China. It isn’t simply the crowds of White House staff of their equivalents around the presidents and prime ministers of other countries who count in this class. There are the lawyers, consultants, PR experts, and opinion-poll experts. They exist throughout the public and the private sectors and yet are no more than superficial decoration.

A corporatist society itself turns every technocrat who wishes to succeed into a courtier. Such highly structured systems find it almost impossible to reward actions over methods. And the corporation excludes the idea of individual responsibility. They are breeding grounds for those who seek power through manipulation.

The popular image of the courtier involves elaborate court dress, But the Jesuits were the most successful manipulators of power and they appeared in an anonymous uniform, similar to that of our discreet contemporary technocrats.”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

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