Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Deep State Past and Present

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

All great empires of the past created deep states.

The permanent bureaucracies and elite hangers-on adapted as imperial conditions dictated. Imperial Spain’s El  Escorial outside Madrid, the courts of Renaissance Venice, and Byzantium’s Constantinople, or the thousands who lived at 18th-century Versailles, were all thronged with court functionaries. They were the embryos of nonstop dramas of intrigue and coups, and often immune to periodic changes even in autocratic heads of state.

The Byzantine emperor Justinian savagely curbed the influence of his bureaucratic opponents only through the infamous slaughter of the Nika riots of AD 532. The key for the deep-state careerist was always survival, even more than public service. The ubiquitous fifth-century B.C. Athenian Alcibiades was variously an Athenian democratic imperialist, a suspected oligarchic sympathizer, a wanted outlaw of the Athenian state, a turncoat working for Sparta, a returning Athenian democrat, and an aristocratic exile under the protection of Persia — the common denominator being a manipulative skilled survivor of the politics of the Greek city-state.

Similar was the much later example of the “versatile” French minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. Talleyrand for more than 40 years was a fixture of the permanent Paris court and thus in succession an advocate and betrayer of the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the restored monarchy. His loyalty was to the career of Monsieur Talleyrand rather than to France, much less to monarchy, the revolution, republican government, or dictatorship.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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