Tuesday, April 05, 2022

If it hasn't been done someone should write a history of bureaucracy looking beneath the mechanics. Weber the historian is more interesting than Weber the prognosticator. 

For twelve centuries social rank in China has been determined more by qualification for office than by wealth. This qualification, in turn, has been determined by education, and especially by examinations. China has made literary education the yardstick of social prestige in the most exclusive fashion, far more exclusively than did Europe during the period of the humanists, or as Germany has done. Even during the period of the Warring States, the stratum of aspirants for office who were educated in literature—and originally this only meant that they had a scriptural knowledge—extended through all the individual states. Literati have been the bearers of progress toward a rational administration and of all 'intelligence.'

As with Brahmanism in India, in China the literati have been the (decisive exponents of the unity of culture. Territories (as well as enclaves) not administered by officials educated in literature, according to the model of the orthodox state idea, were considered heterodox and barbarian, in the same way as were the tribal territories that were within the territory of Hinduism but not regulated by the Brahmans, as well as landscapes not organized as polis by the Greeks. The increasingly bureaucratic structure of Chinese polities and of their carriers has given to the whole literary tradition of China its characteristic stamp. For more than two thousand years the literati have definitely been the ruling stratum in China and they still are. Their dominance has been interrupted; often it has been hotly contested; but always it has been renewed and expanded. According to the Annals, the Emperor addressed the literati, and them alone, as 'My lords'  for the first time in 1496.

It has been of immeasurable importance for the way in which Chinese culture has developed that this leading stratum of intellectuals has never had the character of the clerics of Christianity or of Islam, or of Jewish rabbis, or Indian Brahmans, or Ancient Egyptian priests, or Egyptian or Indian scribes. It is significant that the stratum of literati in China, although developed from ritual training, grew out of an education for genteel laymen. The 'literati' of the feudal period, then officially called puo che, that is, 'living libraries,' were first of all proficient in ritualism. They did not, however, stem from the sibs of a priestly nobility, as did the Rishi sibs of the Rig-Veda, or from a guild of sorcerers, as did in all likelihood the Brahmans of the Atharva-Veda.

In China, the literati go back, at least in the main, to the descendants, probably the younger sons, of feudal families who had acquired a literary education, especially the knowledge of writing, and whose social position rested upon this knowledge of writing and of literature. A plebeian could also acquire a knowledge of writing, although, considering the Chinese system of writing, it was difficult. But if the plebeian succeeded, he shared the prestige of any other scholar. Even in the feudal period, the stratum of literati was not hereditary or exclusive—another contrast with the Brahmans.

"It has been of immeasurable importance for the way in which Chinese culture has developed that this leading stratum of intellectuals has never had the character of the clerics of Christianity or of Islam, or of Jewish rabbis, or Indian Brahmans,..."

The bureaucracy of poets and literary critics is closer to the rule of lawyers than the rule of philosophers, who by definition are descended from theologians. Again...

The passage above is the result of the fact that I knew if I wanted to make a generalization about the modern idea of bureaucracy relating to China I should check Weber. I'm an amateur and a sloppy scholar, but I knew what to search for, and I've used Weber's words make my point.

Now I guess I should look up Foucault on bureaucracy under monarchy and liberalism. I'm not assuming he said anything directly, and I'm not sure I care. I'm interested in thick descriptions of thick culture.  My first scribbling on this are in the margins of my copy of Eisenstein's Film Form that I bought in 1984. Eisenstein was desperate to build a conventionalism in post-revolutionary Russia to match the conventionalism the revolution had destroyed.  He wanted to add meat to the bones of ideology. I was repeating myself in 2003. The writing is sloppy but it makes the point. Bureaucracy can be a thick mode of performance.  The justice system is a bureaucracy. etc. etc. Weber's misery is based on an his delusions.

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