Dick Cheney’s recent caterwauling made me stop to think how Cheney got to be Cheney in the first place.
Some men build great nations. Some rise within nations already thriving and rise to powerful positions. But others attain positions of modest power, and expand the power of the post they’re in, while they’re actually sitting in the chair itself. It is this last category that fascinates me: men who work within the system to create an empire.
Early on, Pope Gregory the Great, in the 6th century, successfully asserted the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the rest of the Christian world, and expanded Saint Paul’s effort to build a well-run church and spread the word to all Europe through missionaries. He made the Papacy matter. Henry Plantagenet did the same for the English throne: he brought the law and the nobility of England under his control by means of a very clever program of legal reform (as well as a long string of military and political successes), becoming the first truly powerful English King of the Middle Ages.
Ambition drove Andrew Jackson to greatly expand the powers of the Presidency; and ambition impelled Henry Clay to do likewise for the position of Speaker, and Marshall for Supreme Court Justice. Senate Majority Leaders were regularly humiliated by committee chairmen until the incredibly ambitious Lyndon Johnson came along and made himself into the most feared Majority Leader in history. J. Edgar Hoover did the same for the position of FBI Director, and H.R. Haldeman did the same for the post of White House Chief of Staff. In the heat of the Cold War, Allen Dulles made the post of CIA chief a pivotal one, aided by the fact that his brother was Secretary of State.
A weak president can pave the way for ambitious men to broaden their portfolios: only under an intellectually challenged, detail-averse president like George W. Bush, could Dick Cheney assume unprecedented powers for the Vice Presidency, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld control not only military policy but also U.S. diplomacy, rendering two successive Secretaries of State impotent.
So to return to my original point, it was Bush’s stupidity which allowed Cheney to grow into such a Frankenstein monster that he and his views still dominate the Republican party today, even though both he and his ideas are full of crap.
The men I’ve mentioned seized their opportunities, capitalized on power vacuums and managed to build their empires in such a way that there was very little oversight. Almost all were feared.
Then there are a few who made their positions powerful through less forceful means. Let’s look at the position of corporate executive: one could argue that the person who made the position of CEO mean what it means today, was a woman. The Krupps began as 15th-century guild merchants; their rise to power was a bit unseemly -- they got their start by buying up the properties of people who had died of the plague and then branched out into arms manufacturing. In the 18th century one of the Krupps married a girl named Helene Ascherfeld and then died; the widow proceeded to diversify into mills, mines, forges and other investments. She was one of the first, if not the first, chief executives of a diversified business conglomerate.
And likewise, the position of bank executive: Mayer Rothschild managed to do what few Jews had managed to do before him –- amass a sizeable banking fortune and keep it from being confiscated by the goyim. But it was his son, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who essentially financed the British half of the Napoleonic wars, and branched out into a gigantic network of agents, shippers and the like.
Something to think about when you’re out on the job market. Look at a prospective job (if you’re lucky enough to find one unfilled), and ask yourself not what the job is now, but what you could make out of it. Few of the people I’ve listed here were dazzling intellects, and their luck was streaky for the most part, but they all had drive.
Monday, 1 June 2009
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