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The new age of Czarism (and of Czar Czarism)

Nobody who has read The Road To Serfdom will have been in the least surprised at the increased use these days of the word “Czar” in political discourse. It signals the quite deliberate, conscious and explicit demand for governmental tyranny, not for its own sake, but to cut through all the crap deposited everywhere by previous government officials. Czarism signals the demand that government cease playing even by its own rules, let alone anyone else’s.

To dig a bit deeper into the subject I tried typing “czar” into Google.

I actually didn’t get as many different Czarships as I was hoping for. Not really hoping, you understand, but hoping for the purposes of this posting. I had in mind a posting along the lines of this one, which lists all the different ways in which “the public needs to be educated“. Googling reaped a rich harvest with that one. But czardoms proved to be in relatively short supply. So, in a way, I have good news to report. Not as many czardoms as you might think.

I found this Privacy Czar and a call, reported on here, for him to be replaced by the current US administration. And inevitably there is this personage, who is genuinely scary of course, to be laughed and sneered at only as part of the deadly serious business of running him out of office and abolishing his job, and strangling the fatuous ambitions it is based on.

There is this cybersecurity czar. Apart from that, very little, apparently. Is there a list of czardoms somewhere that I have missed?

In other words, and I’m really very pleased about this, truly, what I actually discovered was what these people at the Cornell University Computing Science Department, way ahead of me, had long ago spotted, which is that czardom in your average democracy is usually only a word, not to say a poisoned chalice. A czar is a commissioner, an under-secretary with special responsibility for, a “co-ordinator”, a gopher, with a grander and scarier sounding title than those, but with none of the means on his desk actually to solve the problem he has been put in charge of, which in any case has only reached the czar stage because it is insoluble.

The Cornell computerfolk would seem to have been watching all this, because they’ve taken to calling their own functionaries “czars” also.

In their case the insoluble problem is somewhat different to those confronted with czardom by your average government. Their problem is to get people to do boring things without being paid anything. And it seems that the thrill of being a czar doesn’t work any better there than elsewhere, as they foresaw.

Replacements have been requested for the following czarships. If you are interested in taking up one of these positions, or would like to have a position listed as available, please contact either the current czar listed for that position or the Czar Czar. Please remember that it is the current czar’s responsibility to find a replacement when they wish to give up a czarship, though the Czar Czar can offer suggestions of people who might be available to fill the position.

Czardom as slavery! You have to find some other poor sap to do it before you are allowed to stop. It would seem that the current Colloquium Czar is anxious to replace himself. He’s got fed up with doing this.

The Colloquium Czar unlocks the lecture hall for the weekly department colloquium and makes sure that any overhead projectors or other equipment that is needed is available. They also close up the room after the colloquium is over.

Well, at least the job is doable, for as long as you can stand doing it.

But of course, having to replace yourself is only a rule, which can be Cut Through like any other piece of Red Tape. The people in charge of these arrangements can’t actually do anything if the slave simply buggers off the plantation while neglecting to entice any other slave to perform his ex-duties. And if there are no volunteers in the first place, what do you do then?

The following czarships are no longer active, due to lack of interest or judgment that they are no longer needed. If you would like to see one of these czarships reactivated, contact the Czar Czar.

That has to be the job description of the century so far:

The overseer of the czarships, the Czar Czar maintains the current list of czarships and their corresponding czars. In addition, they keep track of any information about performing particular czar duties. If a czar wishes to retire from their position, the Czar Czar can help find possible replacements.

The name of the current Czar Czar is Stephen Chong. I know, he/she should be called “Gabor” – glad we’ve got that out of the way. But how long before a “Czar Czar” pops up for real, in a real public sector, somewhere?

Seriously, I congratulate these Cornellians (?) for having (a) spotted something seriously funny and funnily serious going on out there in the real world, (b) deciding to take some appropriate piss out of it, and (c) doing so by having some fun with their own arrangements, thereby proving that they are not taking themselves and their own activities over-seriously either.

A true understanding of the world? A sense of their own relative unimportance in that larger scheme of things? A sense of humour? Can they really be students at all?

19 comments to The new age of Czarism (and of Czar Czarism)

  • I would think that anyone who took that “Czar czar” job would risk being ridiculed as “Czar czar Binks”.

    Sorry, it’s all just so tragic that I had to poke fun at it, the alternatives being too horrible to contemplate.

  • Edmund Burke

    David, supposing they were of Hungarian origin. Imagine Czar Czar Gabor.

  • kTheodopoulos Pherecydes

    “Drug Czar”; that did it.

  • Tony H

    Researching something this afternoon I came across a (Miami Herald?) reference to a meeting in Florida about pharmaceutical drug abuse and internet prescription, that apparently included some guy described as “Florida drug czar”…

  • Bart

    You might also want to try the tsar spelling.
    I am a little supprised that you did not find more references as well.

  • rkb

    Many ordinary people in Tsarist Russia looked to the Tsar as “little father” (a term of affection) because from time to time he would intervene on their behalf against the boyars (nobles). Since most of the people had little interaction with the Tsar, but were at the mercy of some noble or other almost daily, this role was invested with sufficient support to allow the Tsar to counterbalance the power of the boyars.

    I think that’s exactly the implicit role for all these proposed ‘tsars’ in modern governments. Of course, the real need is to get rid of the power of the entrenched bureaucrats rather than appoint a higher one to manage them.

  • Comments Czar

    Just a reminder, please keep your comments on-topic and cordial. Also, and it should go without saying by now, that any derogatory comments directed toward the Czar Czar, or any other Czar will be reported to the Disciplinary Czar.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Does anybody know how English got the spelling “czar”? It really ought to be spelt “tsar”, and pronounced as it is spelt. (Well, technically the Russian has a palatalised r, but I don’t want to get into the details of palatalised vs. unpalatalised consonants. It’s more than my bad accent can handle, anyhow. 🙂

  • And don’t forget that the Russian came originally from the latin caesar. The first Russian Czars/Tsars were calling themselves Caesar, with some suitable bullshit line of descent involving the usual suspects (Holy Roman Empire, which was of course none of the three!)

  • Dave Schuler

    To completely suck the humor from this blog entry, in the context of the U. S. government “czar” appears to be equivalent to “matrix manager” or maybe “minister without portfolio”–an “executive” position whose responsibilities straddle a number of departments. Due to departmental infighting and turf battles these “czar” positions frequently are effectively powerless–an ironic usage since the real Tsar represented power without check.

  • Dale Amon

    Brian: Students that don’t take themselves seriously? You must never have lived in a Computer Science Department. Believe me, it can get seriously silly 🙂

  • Chris

    The Russian claims to Roman succession came through the Byzantine Empire, not the Holy Roman; Ivan III married the niece of Constantine XI Paleologus,

  • Ian

    Is Czar Czar Gabor the person responsible for making sure students attack the police ?

  • ed

    What I want to know is why are we using a Russian term to begin with? Why can’t we use something else? I personally like Dictator or Tyrant. I really like that. Drug Tyrant. Politeness Tyrant. Tea-time Tyrant. Any other terms out there that might work?

  • I’m glad to see you enjoy our little volunteer system metaphor. I was the department’s Czar Czar for several years before Steve took over, and I assure you we do have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Hey – if you’re going to ask someone to do a thankless job, at least you can give them a grandeous title.

    And, really, having “Coke Czar” (yes, a real czarship) on your resume is a way better conversation starter than “Soda Machine Restocker”.

  • Another term which is also insidious but of course in a different way is “war lord.”

    It elevates people who are nothing but hoodlums and gangsters to aristocratic heights and give them a mythical, romantic air.

  • If I ever end up leading hoodlums, I plan on insisting that I be called a warlord. Warlord Armitage. Sounds kinda post-apocalypic, doesn’t it?

  • ed

    “Warlord Armitage”?

    Sounds like an anime about murderous rampaging robots in a futuristic world where machines rule men and lots of people get spanked.

    Hmmm. Sounds good to me. 🙂

  • ed;

    I’ve always been curious about just how Armitage ended up as the name of an anime (it being my last name and all), but too lazy to go out and find out for myself. Perhaps you could explain it.