Brahmandarins-Guest post by Nitay Arbel
In the wake of the 2016 elections, I coined the term “Brahmandarins” for the transnational ruling class. https://spinstrangenesscharm.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/trump-and-the-rage-of-the-brahmandarins/
Three years later, it is quite evident that the election of the populist Trump over the Brahmandarin Hillary was not an isolated phenomenon. In nations around the world, from Brazil to Britain, either populist revolts are threatening the stability of Brahmandarin regimes, or voters have put populists (real or perceived) in office.
But who are these “Brahmandarins” really? And why this portmanteau of “Brahmin” and “Mandarin”?
Traditional Hindu society knew hundreds of hereditary castes and subcastes, but all broadly fit into four major “varna” (“colors”, strata):
- Brahmins (scholars, clerisy)
- Kshatriya (warriors, rulers)
- Vaishya (traders, skilled artisans)
- Shudras (farmers)
- The un-counted fifth varna are the Dalit (“untouchables”, outcasts in both senses of the word)
Historical edge cases aside, membership in the Brahmin stratum was hereditary, even more so than in the nobility of feudal Europe. At least there, kings might raise a commoner to a knighthood or even the peerage for merit or political expedience: one need not wait for reincarnation into a higher caste.
The Sui dynasty in China, however, took a different route. Seeking both to curb the power of the hereditary nobles and to broaden the available talent pool for administrators, they instituted a system of civil service examinations. With interruptions (e.g. under the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan) and modifications, that system remained in place for thirteen centuries until finally abolished in 1904. Westerners refer to laureates of the Imperial Examinations (from the entry-level shengyuan to the top-level jinshi) by the collective term Mandarins. Ironically, this term comes not from any Chinese dialect but (via Malay and Portuguese) from the Sanskrit word mantri (counselor, minister) — cf. the Latin mandatum (command) and its English cognate “mandate”.
Initially, the exams were limited to the scholar and yeoman farmer classes: with time, they were at least in theory opened up to all commoners in the “four occupations” (scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants), with jianmin (those in “base occupations”) still excluded. The process also was ostensibly fair: exams were written, administered at purpose-built examination halls with individual three-walled examination cubicles to eliminate cribbing. Moreover, exam copies were identified by number rather than by name. For some fascinating background, see
as well as this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH5486n9lfs
In practice, the years of study and the costs of hiring tutors for the exam limited this career path to the wealthy. Furthermore, the success rate was very low (between 0.03% and 1%, depending on the source) so one had better have a fallback trade or independent wealth. In some cases, rich families who for some reason were barred from the exams would sponsor a bright student from a poor family. Once the student became a government official, he would owe favors to the sponsor.
Moreover, the subject matter of the exam soon became ossified and tested more for conformity of thought, and ability to memorize text and compose poetry in approved forms, than for any skill actually relevant to practical governance. (Hmm, artists or scholars in a narrow abstruse discipline being touted as authorities on economic or foreign policy: verily, there is nothing new under the sun.)
What do we have today, in the 21st century?
In theory, our elite is meritocratic: the “best and the brightest”, leading graduates from the most selective universities. France’s civil service perhaps comes closest to an idealized version of the Mandarinate, as I’ve discussed here. https://spinstrangenesscharm.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/the-memo-and-what-it-implies/
The French themselves, of course, joke about living in an “ENArchy”, a pun on the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration, idiomatically: National Administration Academy) of which so many senior bureaucrats are graduates. Unlike in Imperial China, one can be the son of a street sweeper or a shopkeeper and make it through the ENA on talent and eyebrow sweat. In practice, the ENA has become a by-word for an insular elite, concerned only with its own peer group and out of touch with broader society. Significantly, one of the bones Emmanuel Macron threw the Yellow Jackets protesters was a promise to close the ENA — his own alma mater…. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48059063
If one visits Europe nowadays and talks to an average middle-class person, there is a broad sense that the ruling class:
- has lost the plot
- is focusing on trivial issues to avoid having to deal with “elephants in the room” and to distract the public from them
- is manufacturing crises while ignoring real ones
- is focused only on the interests and sensibilities of people like themselves, and treats others like “sheeple”. “We are beinglived”, as the proverbial cab driver told me in Brussels.
Fair or not, politics is a game of perception. It may (sadly) be true that many people are willing to sell their birthrights for a mess of pottage (the way the biblical Esau did). These deals start coming apart, however, when the ruled perceive the ruling class as no longer in touch with events, and no longer able to hold up their end of the bargain. The notion of a “social contract” between ruler and subjects, and of the contract being abrogated when rulers are no longer holding up their end of the bargain, is made explicit in the Dutch 1581 “Plakkaat van Verlatinghe” of 1581.
In this Act of Abjuration (as the name is usually rendered) against the Spanish emperor Philip II, the Dutch lay out their grievances against the Spanish emperor, their attempts to seek redress, and their final decision to declare their independence. (Sounds familiar? No coincidence. https://news.wisc.edu/was-declaration-of-independence-inspired-by-dutch/ )
The Dutch language knows the priceless verb “doodzwijgen”, literally “kill something by keeping silent about it”. This has been a favorite tactic of European Brahmandarins for a long time— the near-media silence on the continuing Yellow Jackets protests is only the most recent example.
Manufactured hysteria about one or more distraction issues is another tactic — one that resembles flares fired by a fighter plane under attack by heat-seeking missiles. The US mainstream media, egging each other on in feedback loops, merely keep amping that technique up not just to 11, but to full potato and beyond.
Fortunately, in the internet age, the train of full media control has left the station. May it never return there.
*Nitay Arbel is (a friend and) an author, working on an alternate WWII:
On March 21, 1943, one man came within a hairbreadth of blowing up nearly the entire Nazi leadership.
In timeline DE1943RG, he succeeded.
Then the conspirators discovered that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the *easy* part.*