Monday, 29 September 2014

Snelund's Understanding Of The Civil Service

Poul Anderson, Young Flandry (New York, 2010), pp. 468-469.

The foundation of any government is an army of bureaucrats and functionaries who, every day:

operate spaceports and traffic lanes;
deliver mail;
maintain electronic communication channels;
collect and supply data;
oversee public health;
curtail crime;
arbitrate disputes;
allocate scarce resources.

Why "scarce," in the Terran Empire where it is said elsewhere that technology could make every being rich?

Snelund does not mention education. An advanced society needs a literate, numerate, healthy population. Hence, the public health which Snelund does mention. Even when crime is part of the economy, its curtailment is necessary, as crime bosses agree. Organized crime can operate only within an ordered society.

Fleet Admiral Hugh McCormac, self-proclaimed Terran Emperor, has seized control of several planets in Sector Alpha Crucis. Sector Governor Aaron Snelund plans to:

avoid direct space naval combat with the tactically superior McCormac;
but reject his Admiral's advice to wait for Terran support;
hit-and-run and harass commerce and industry in the rebel-held volume of space;
plant agents throughout McCormac's realm before it is strongly guarded;
persuade functionaries not to serve the rebellion enthusiastically;
exploit their timidity and conservatism;
bribe, threaten, assassinate or terrorize;
slow down McCormac's civil service, thus starving his navy.

It works. Flandry, spying, learns that:

"Manufacture, logistics, and communications were falling apart beneath Hugh McCormac. He had given up trying to govern any substantial volume of space. Instead, he had assigned forces to defend individually the worlds which had declared for him. They were minimal, those forces. They hampered but could not prevent badgering attacks by Snelund's squadrons. Any proper flotilla could annihilate them in detail." (pp. 492-493)

Snelund, able to outwork ten demons, has deliberately provoked the revolt, seeking only his own glory and enrichment. How would a rational society be able to get such a man to work not against but with and for others?


  1. Hi, Paul!

    I'm a bit puzzled by your puzzlement re the scarcity of resources. I thought it would be plain why some worlds in the Empire, both human and non human, would be wealthier than others. Recall the example of Shalmu and note how the people were modernizing themselves more slowly than other races would have. Because, for example, some would be less inclined than others to be ruthless. Also, modernization first requires being able to pay for it, and the accumulation of capital would take time.

    Aaron Snelund, compared to Leon Ammon, shows himself to be far worse than old Leon! Yes, Ammon wanted to be rich and powerful, to transcend being a mere gang boss, but the means he chose for attaining those goals worked for the benefit of the Empire. Snelund, just as able, chose means that harmed others and the Empire.

    A hard childhood on Venus may very well have warped and corrupted Snelund. But, if he had had a happy childhood then that in turn might well have led to him NOT developing the abilities and driving ambition which propelled him to reach so high and far. So, I don't know how Snelund might have become beneificial rather than harmful.


  2. Sean,
    Agreed that planets like Shalmu would take longer to develop.

  3. Hi, Paul!

    And I even quoted what Snelund said about the functions of the civil service in one of the papers I wrote in college! For all I know, I might have been one of the earlier cases of quoting the works of Poul Anderson like that. (Smiles)

    And education would, of course, be handled in different ways on many worlds, both human and non human.