Point number 1: democracy is not the most efficient form of government. Point number 2: that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Efficiency can breed tyranny.

One of the major insults I remember being used against the Nazis during and after the 1939-45 War was directed at ‘German efficiency’. It was not a compliment, but was supposed to portray the Germans as machine-like, and consequently inhuman. The post-war Soviet Union was painted in a similar way. That was also the Mekon’s great flaw in the comic strip I referenced in my last post, originally appearing just a few years after the end of the War, and clearly modelled on Hitler and his robotic, jack-booted followers. The Mekon had been created by ‘Science’, searching only for efficiency, irrespective of any higher morality. Years before that we had the common image of the ‘evil scientist’ in popular fiction, and of the soulless ‘advanced’ civilisations from other worlds that threatened planet Earth in all those wonderful early Sci-Fi films. That this boasted ‘efficiency’ wasn’t really so efficient in the long run, when confronted with humanity’s untidier and laxer qualities, was usually the moral of at any rate the more ‘feel-good’ of these stories. Dan Dare always came out on top (and then usually let the Mekon free, for fear of compromising his own humanity). ‘Mr Hitler’ was no match for Dad’s Army – the epitome of the Briton’s supposedly softer kind of heroism. In the end humanity triumphed over ‘efficiency’; as it was bound to do, perhaps because it left more room for questioning and adapting to things. If Mr Hitler and Mr Mekon had had a more sceptical side, they might have been more successful, ultimately, than they were.

The slogan that won our last UK election was ‘Get Brexit Done’. What that was, basically, was a cry of impatience against the inefficiency  of the British electoral system, which had allowed the European question to drag on for so long. That ‘inefficiency’, of course, was due to the necessity of Brexit’s being subject to the ‘checks and balances’ that are supposed to be central to the British constitution (as well as to the USA’s); but ‘efficiency’ has no call for obstacles like this. Hence Johnson’s desire to ‘reform’ the constitution in order to undermine them: the delaying power of the House of Lords, for example, and the ‘interference’ of the higher judiciary; both of which are on his ‘To Do’ list for the next year or two. On top of that we have a ‘Special Advisor’ to Number Ten – the Mekon look-alike – who appears to view everything through the lense of ‘efficiency’; and, for a very short period (yesterday, to be precise), another – the young and callow Andrew Sabisky – whose views on eugenics and compulsory birth-control for the plebs seem to mirror closely those of the super-efficient Nazis, who also elevated scientific – or pseudo-scientific – solutions above a more generous morality.

Efficiency’s OK in its place. I quite like Swedish buses, for example, always turning up exactly on time. And I wouldn’t want to be operated on by an inefficient surgeon. But it can also be cold, heartless and mentally constricting, when applied to an essentially complex field, like national policy; and also, of course, wrong.


About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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