Inspired Bureaucracy

INSPIRED BUREAUCRACY
By GEORGE SYLVESTER VIERECK

Germany is an inspired bureaucracy. Her real ruler is the bureaucrat. His impress is everywhere. We generally associate the bureaucrat with the pedant. Frenchmen run to lechery. Americans incline to graft. Pedantry is the German vice. It might have become the national poison had not Wm. II injected the potent antidote of his individualism into the body politic. The men at the helm of German affairs today have maintained the Prussian tradition of strict adherence to duty. But their horizon has widened. Sustained, not ossified by routine, they follow the star of the new.

I have met four Ministers of State, four Ambassadors, one sovereign Burgomaster, “Excellencies” by the score, and Privy Councilors innumerable. Everywhere I found alertness and life. There was, on the whole, little “red tape.” If we elect a vital personality to office, and we feel that for once we have a man, not a marionette, we bubble over with enthusiasm and are loath to lose him even temporarily in the African jungle. In Germany every bureau has its Roosevelt. Few but the inner circle know their names. They claim no public credit for their achievements. Unadvertised and unsung, they plod away at their desks. But their plans are accomplished, their dreams projected.

A man of this type, a mind fascinating radio-active, was the late Friedrich Althoff. The Minister of Culture, to render the spirit, not the letter, of the original term, was the centre of his ceaseless radiation. Strenuous, autocratic, he ruled with an iron rod. It is said that the Kaiser himself made concessions to him that he would not have made to a fellow-sovereign. There was no grandiose scheme of reform in which he was not a participant. No vital idea was left orphaned and begging on the steps of his office. In his bureau the most vital educational idea of the century, the international exchange of intellectual commodities, stepped full-fledged from a professional cerebrum. Althoff adopted the waif; he nourished it and sustained it. Who was its father we shall never know. I am personally acquainted with at least four claimants to that distinction. If I give the palm to any I shall mortally offend the rest.

Applying the Napoleonic code, let us not, therefore, inquire into the paternité. It was Althoff, at any rate, who built the bridge for the foundling across the Atlantic. Every professor traversing the ocean is a living monument to this remarkable man.

Yet, so little known was this inspired bureaucrat outside of his circle that his death passed unnoticed by the American press. The first Kaiser Wilhelm Professor, John W. Burgess, had not heard of the occurrence until he received a letter from a mutual friend.

Althoff’s spirit still hovers over the Ministry, as Bismarck’s over the Foreign Office. If Bismarck consolidated his country’s political strength, it remains Althoff’s distinction to have conquered the New World intellectually; at least, two have opened to the German mind the citadels of our universities, where formerly only brave pioneers like Hugo Münsterberg and Kuno Francke had gained isolated footholds. Conquests of peace, unlike conquests of war, are of mutual benefit to conqueror and vanquished, and the gates of German universities swing graciously open to invaders from the American side. Althoff’s spirit abides in the American Institute founded after his death in the capital of the Kaiser. Surely bureaucracy has its victories and education its Bismarcks.


Our Commissioner of Education, our nearest approach to the German Kultusminister, is practically powerless. His German colleague has a firm grip on matters of religion, education and art. In the body politic the Ministry of Culture may be compared with the soul. The amount of work transacted in the humble building, situated, if I rightly remember, at the intersection of the Wilhelmstrasse and Uner den Linden, is hardly credible. From morning until night the anterooms are crowded with foreign visitors and professorial aspirants. I have seen the Man Higher Up still at work at half-past nine in the evening. His bureau is an intellectual telephone central, where all the wires converge. If we had a new idea we should never dream of inviting the co-operation of a government official. In Germany all new ideas are submitted to official sanction, and vital ideas are not often rejected.

The German professor receives his inspiration largely from the Minister of Culture. His position is curiously hybrid. He is part of the bureaucratic system, yet intellectually independent. Those who direct affairs at the Ministry are hidden from public sight. The professor, however, as the Man Higher Up explained to me, stands between them and the world. The modern German professor has nothing in common with the type made familiar to all through the Fliegende Blätter. He is a practical man, alive to the call of the age. There is nothing of the academic fossil about him. He is human, ambitious, and often a man of brilliant intellectual attainment. We labor under the impression that his remuneration is scant. We certainly underpay our professors. The income of the German professor I understand to be princely compared with that of his American compeer. In addition to his salary he receives a certain tithe from the students attending his lectures. Popular lecturers are known thus to have increased their stipends by from forty to fifty thousand marks in a single year. They are officers in that army of culture of which the Kultusminister is the commander-in-chief.

Not far from the Kultusministerium we find the Foreign Office. The cluster of buildings harboring this department may fitly be likened to the brain in the anatomy of the State. Here are conceived the political scores which, through the joint instrumentation of the Kaiser and his advisers, have made Germany the band-master in the Concert of Nations. It is not often that a false note is sounded. German diplomacy frequently combines, with the genius of Richard Strauss, apparent dissonances into harmonies effective and startling. I have stated before that, in the opinion of the super-wise, the Emperor’s interview in the London Telegraph was a brilliant stroke of diplomacy to be justified by future events. At the same time there seems no doubt that bungling was not absent from the matter. The fact in the case is that the fateful manuscript was slipped by mistake into the wrong portfolio. Some one was careless, one cog was out of place, and the whole machinery came apparently to a standstill. Not because it was poorly organized, but because it was so splendidly organized. In such an exquisite machine the slightest break is fatal.


The Foreign Office is almost rustic in its trappings. The sofas and carpets in the reception-room are positively shabby. No one who has ever seen the inside of the Foreign Office can maintain that Germany is not economical. A dentist’s waiting-room is Oriental in luxury by comparison. Still there is a certain charm in imagining that perhaps it was the ashes from Bismarck’s pipe that burned this hole in the carpet; that his Titanic back rubbed the bloom from that couch. No stenographer is employed in the political department. Never is the homely click of the typewriter heard! In Downing street the secretaries dictate their letters into the ear of the phonograph; in the Wilhelmstrasse high officials themselves write their letters out in long hand. Secrecy is bought at the cost of convenience. Quarters are crowded. Of comfort, of elegance, no trace. I feel that I could not work in such a place unless I were at least a privy councilor. If I were, surroundings wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t lose my self-respect even in the humblest abode, supplied by a parsimonious government, because, after all, I would myself be part of that government.

I wonder if such considerations account for the German system of titles? There is to us something funny in calling everybody by his bureaucratic title, because we are ignorant of the economic, ethical, æsthetic and social function of the thing. The Geheimrat, or Privy Councilor, and his varieties, people half the fashionable streets of Berlin. He is easily recognizable by his long frock coat and the distinction with which he carries a portfolio under his arm. Some privy councilors are apparently purely imaginary creatures. For a distinction seems to be made between “real” and “unreal” privy councilors. The former, the “wirkliche,” has entered the bureaucratic heaven; the mere privy councilor, like a soul unborn, hovers in the titular limbo. “Real” privy councilors are addressed “Your Excellency,” a title also bestowed upon high military officials, Ambassadors and Ministers. Rectors of universities and burgomasters of sovereign cities are called “Your Magnificence.”

Even outside the sphere of bureaucracy bureaucratic customs prevail. Social life is impregnated with its spirit. In addressing a person, you label him. The night watchman is Mr. Night Watchman. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Night Watchman. A colonel’s wife is Mrs. Colonel. A doctor’s wife, Mrs. Doctor, although ladies who have earned the title object to its use by females not so distinguished. The title, it seems, establishes a communion between husband and wife which even divorce cannot sever. I know of a lady who, when she parted from her husband, was Mrs. Lieutenant. When the rank of colonel was accorded to him she rose to the occasion. And I have at this moment in my possession her visiting card with the legend, “Mrs. General, Excellency.”

It’s rather hard at first to kowtow symbolically every time you open your mouth if you are a titleless stranger. Which reminds me of the young American who registered as Elector of New York, was received everywhere like a prince. My father happens to be president of various societies; he was introduced consequently to a lot of excellencies as “Mr. President.” He never got rid of the title. I am vice-president of a publishing company, and I have firmly made up my mind to adopt that title the next time I travel abroad. The porter will make innumerable genuflections as I enter the hotel, and there will be an awesome catch in the chambermaid’s voice as she brings me the coffee.


<typo fv:small-caps>BESIDES, as I have said, the subject has a distinctly economic aspect. Germany pays her officials better than we do. But she cannot afford to pay them nearly enough, considering that her most brilliant men enter her service. In fact, money alone could not pay them. And, being an economical lady, she compensates them with titles and decorations. It is cheaper to endow an official with a high title than to double his salary. The title, more than any amount of money, determines his social pre-eminence. If he be a poor man, no one expects lavish entertainments of him. The millionaire gladly trots up four flights to the humble dwelling of the Herr Geheimrat. And a cup of tea prepared in His Excellency’s kitchen goes to the head of the social climber like Asti Spumanti. When a German officer in moderate circumstances invites you to dinner, he doesn’t attempt to show off. His rank insures his social standing; he need not buy your respect with truffles or cannonade the castle of caste with a battery of champagne pops. These explanations were given me by a Minister of State whose honorable poverty exemplified the beauty of the system he expounded.

The bearer of a distinguished title will try to live up to that title. His social privileges entail social duties. German officers are not allowed to go out in civilian garb. The uniform alone affords moral protection. Places of evil association are barred to them. Their identity can be ascertained at a glance. Like the Alderman in a small town, they’ve got to be good. And there is always a stimulus in the hope of promotion: special merit receives special and visible recognition. We reward our millionaire philanthropists by cracking jokes at their expense. The comic press is their Hall of Fame. I am sure the fear of ridicule has tightened the purse-strings of many a bashful Carnegie. That is one of the reasons why I, at any rate, have never founded a museum.

The public is a doubting Thomas, and reputation in art and science is an indeterminable factor. A title, a decoration, assays a man’s worth. American society is afraid to receive the artist, and ignores the scholar. Germany lends the title of “professor” to distinguished artists, and, of course, to distinguished scientists. That is their passport. Great artists may dispense with it. Men of Menzel’s stamp need no passport beyond that of genius. Still their path is made smoother thereby. They are in less danger of being snubbed by inferiors. And, of course, in Germany, a title is a thing of very substantial value. A man who assumes a title he has not earned is a thief, and is punished accordingly. Professors of pedicure and clairvoyance are unknown in Berlin. Titles, while ungrudgingly given to those who have a right to them, are sternly denied to fakirs.

We may regard inherited titles as absurd, but titles earned by service are certainly sensible — one may even say, democratic. It’s the one chance of the burgher to get even with the nobility. While the system establishes a differential social tariff it creates no obstacle that cannot be overcome by merit. And as the soldier’s uniform lends patches of color to the street, the titles devised by bureaucracy brighten the salon. I don’t blame our heiresses for wanting to marry men of position and title. A simple baron sheds some lustre on social functions, and it is incredible what sparkle the presence of an Excellency lends to a lady’s “At Home.”


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