Review of “Parkinson’s Law” by C. Northcote Parkinson

"An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along." – Evelyn Waugh

The same is true of a political scientist. Instead of the bullshit theories from our progressive political scientists of today, reactionary ones would give us books that begin thusly:

To the very young, to schoolteachers, as also to those who compile textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs, the world is a more or less rational place. They visualize the election of representatives, freely chosen from among those the people trust. They picture the process by which the wisest and best of these become ministers of state. They imagine how captains of industry, freely elected by shareholders, choose for managerial responsibility those who have proved their ability in a humbler role. Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on the other hand, with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. Solemn conclaves of the wise and good are mere figments of the teacher’s mind. It is salutary, therefore, if an occasional warning is uttered on this subject. Heaven forbid that students should cease to read books on the science of public or business administration–provided only that these works are classified as fiction. Placed between the novels of Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells, intermingled with volumes about ape men and space ships, these textbooks could harm no one. Placed elsewhere, among works of reference, they can do more damage than might at first sight seem possible.

Dismayed to realize what other people suppose to be the truth about civil servants or building plans, I have occasionally tried to provide, for those interested, a glimpse of reality.

It basically stays this good for the rest of the book.

On picking a Prime Minister:

Let us suppose that the post tobe filled is that of Prime Minister. The modern tendency is to trust in various methods of election, with results that are almost invariably disastrous. Were we to turn, instead, to the fairy stories we learned inchildhood, we should realize that at the period to which these stories relate far more satisfactory methods were in use. When the king had to choose a man to marry his eldest or only daughter and so inherit thekingdom, he normally planned some obstacle course from which only the right candidate would emerge with credit; and from which indeed (in many instances) only the right candidate would emerge at all. . . . All that is required is to translate the technique of the fairy story into a form applicable to the modern world. In this, as we shall see, there is no essential difficulty. The first step in the process is to decide on the qualities a Prime Minister ought to have. These need not be the same in all circumstances, but they need to be listed and agreed upon. Let us suppose that the qualities deemed essential are (i) Energy, (2) Courage, (3) Patriotism, (4) Experience, (5 )Popularity, and (6) Eloquence. Now, it will be observed that all these are general-qualities which all possible applicants would believe themselves to possess. The field could readily, of course, be narrowed by stipulating (4) Experience of lion-taming, or (6) Eloquence in Mandarin. But that is not the way in which we want to narrow the field. We do not want to stipulate aquality in a special form; rather, each quality in an exceptional degree. In other words, the successful candidate must be the most energetic,courageous, patriotic, experienced, popular, and eloquent man in thecountry. Only one man can answer to that description and his is the only application we want. The terms of the appointment must thus be phrased so as to exclude everyone else. We should therefore word the advertisement in some such way as follows:

Wanted– Prime Minister of Ruritania. Hours of work: 4 A.M. to 11.59 P.M. Candidates must be prepared to fight three rounds with the current heavyweight champion (regulation gloves to be worn). Candidates will die for their country, by painless means, on reaching the age of retirement (65). They will have to pass an examination in parliamentary procedure and will be liquidated should they fail to obtain 95% marks. They will also be liquidated if they fail to gain 75% votes in a popularity poll held under the Gallup Rules. They will finally be invited to try their eloquence on a Baptist Congress, the object being to induce those present to rock and roll. Those who fail will be liquidated. All candidates should present themselvesat the Sporting Club (side entrance) at 11.15 A.M. on the morning of September 19. Gloves will be provided, but they should bring their own rubber-soled shoes, singlet, and shorts.

Observe that this advertisement saves all trouble about application forms, testimonials, photographs, references, and short lists.

Anyway, I linked to the whole book above. It’s free. Enjoy.

7 Responses to Review of “Parkinson’s Law” by C. Northcote Parkinson

  1. James_G says:

    Scribd version of the book.

    Also, a woman liked this? I may have to reconsider my views on marriage.

  2. Nick Steves says:

    Foseti, do you suppose Ms Givens reads your posts? It is really quite dangerous, under the current regime, to “like” you… at least using what appears to be a real name.

  3. dearieme says:

    People my age read ol’ C Northcote in their youth. Very instructive and plenty of chortles.

  4. dearieme says:

    I’ve just read through his chapter on retirement age. Much the best thing on the subject that I’ve ever see. How many lectures does HBS need to impart equivalent wisdom?

  5. […] Review of “Parkinson’s Law” by C. Northcote Parkinson […]

  6. […] belief that people will act as we would wish that they would act, people tend to start dying. As Parkinson put it: Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on […]

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