Friday, 24 April 2015

The reign of committees

Committees under whatever name, clubs, syndicates, &c., constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the power of crowds. They represent in reality the most impersonal and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny.

The leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility, and are in a position to do just as they choose. The most savage tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as those ordained by the committees of the Revolution.

Barras has declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its members at their pleasure. So long as he was able to speak in their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power. The moment this frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of personal pride, he was lost.

The reign of crowds is the reign of committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds. A severer despotism cannot be imagined.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

Government power sits in a vast number of committees, most members of which are unelected, many being outside the UK even though their deliberations affect our lives. Even if we drag ourselves to the polling booth in May, even if we persuade ourselves it is worthwhile, we still have such realities contend with.

To vote as effectively as possible we should probably vote for whoever promises to be the best committee member, the person most likely to sit on lots of them and say something sensible every now and then. In which case, political parties are best ignored – vote for the person most likely to be a moral and boringly enthusiastic committee member.

Moral? Strewth, where did that word come from?


Edward Spalton said...

Well, there are committees and committees.
All are subject to the temptation to become too big for their boots. I have a friend on an allotment holders' committee which might have become as tyrannical in a petty way under a highly manipulative chairman without her determined resolve not to be bullied and I have seen several thuggish attempts by ambitious people to do the same in other groups.

The manipulative mini Macchiavellis of right or left, or just of inflated ego, are exceedingly cunning and often run rings around the rest.

Sackerson said...


A K Haart said...

Edward - yes, the strong characters run things at all levels. The committee becomes their power base, or one of their power bases.

Sackers - I often wonder if the EU is becoming an irrelevant problem.

Edward Spalton said...

The strong, straightforward characters are not usually a problem. Committee structures are designed to cope with them and members will usually respect one who is genuinely working for the aims of the group- whatever they are - or put a brake on them, if they feel they are going too far. The straightforward ones accept this and usually try again later. If they have a record of good service, they may eventually get their way.

It is the strong, supple manipulators with ulterior agendas who create the problems and poison the well. I have seen them ruthlessly at work. When they succeed, members of principle often leave and give them a free run. Dealing with such people was not what they joined for. Some people join committees for a cause and to get things done, some just like to be in the know and some love committee politics as a power game which they play ruthlessly with little or no regard for the aims of the group or the interests of its members. When their ambition wrecks it - well, it was a committee decision with no individual responsibility.- Rather like our government,actually!

A K Haart said...

Edward - we don't need many manipulators to poison a large number of committees.

Demetrius said...

I hate committees.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - so do I.