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In defence of mandarins

The meritocratic mandarinate and its humanist culture cushioned mass democracy from the excesses feared by 19th-century liberals. Now the mandarins are in retreat will the nightmare of mobocracy come true?

By Michael Lind   October 2005

Pity the poor mandarin in a modern western democracy. In Britain, the senior civil servant is a figure of fun; the idea that the man in Whitehall might know best is regarded across the political spectrum as an absurd anachronism. In France, economic stagnation is sometimes blamed on the once-mighty énarchie, with the implication that France would be better off under the leadership of US-style MBAs. In the US, “mandarin” is a term of abuse reserved for members of the nation’s once-powerful northeastern establishment.

Is the democratic mandarinate of the modern west going the way of the premodern Chinese version?…

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