I’ve long detested the term “policymaker” as used in this sentence that I found by googling for the term:
The User Liaison Program disseminates health services research findings for State and local health policymakers in easily understandable and usable formats through interactive onsite workshops, teleconferences, distance learning programs, and research syntheses.
I understand the need for legislators, judges, and executives in our system of government. I am not particularly fond of government bureaucrats, but I accept the fact that we need them. But how did these beings called “policymakers” ever weasel their way into our society? Why can’t we just eliminate those positions, and let the practitioners be rehabilitated? Then we wouldn’t need “usable formats” and “interactive onsite workshops.” Life would be much more pleasant.
I’ve been tilting against that windmill for some time, but now I see I am not alone! I was about to throw out the April 21 issue of the The Weekly Standard, when I found an article abut Michael Oakeshott that I hadn’t finished reading. I had heard of the guy before — some conservatives seem to talk about him a lot — but hadn’t read anything of his, and still haven’t. The following has got me interested, though:
The lectures are worth reading in their own right, but Oakeshott’s admirers will appreciate them primarily for the elaboration they afford to some of the points he made in his anti-Rationalist essays. In two of those, he distinguished between the word “ruler,” the medieval term for a sovereign or head of state, and the word “leader,” which we now use to describe political officials of whose strength or charisma we approve.
The former, says Oakeshott, carries the idea of adjudicating disputes and otherwise maintaining order; the latter suggests the teleological impositions of the modern state. “Rulers” want enough money to fight wars and as few internal disputes as possible; “leaders” want to take the state in a certain direction and must persuade majorities to let them. The transformation began, says Oakeshott, when, in the early modern era, the medieval distinction between adjudication and policymaking began to fall away.
For medieval rulers, policymaking had been confined almost exclusively to foreign policy: the making of treaties, declarations of war, and so on–powers, by their nature, unlimited. But in time, governments began to pursue policy with respect to their own population.
A modern state is a ‘policy’ state; and this, in its extreme, is a ‘police’ state. For what constitutes a ‘police’ state is not the ‘knock at the door’ (that is a minor detail), but the pursuit of policy by a government in relation to its own subjects.
Unfortunately, that’s as much as the article has to say about it.