Category Archives: ambitious mediocrities

Bungling, gutless May

Does a country get the leaders that it deserves? asks Dalrymple.

If so, what does the present political disarray say about Britain? Or is it that the conditions of modern democracy guarantee the ascension of ambitious mediocrities, leaders without powers of leadership?

From the first in the Brexit negotiations, Dalrymple writes,

Theresa May, the prime minister, who had already proved her weakness and incompetence at the Home Office, showed the vision of a Chamberlain.

He points out that it it should have been obvious to her that

it was essential, in fact a matter of life and death, for the European Union to make Brexit a disaster for Britain because, were it not, then that would be a disaster for the European Union.

A prosperous Britain outside the European Union

would have destroyed the EU’s raison d’être, which was already strongly under attack. Emmanuel Macron even said that if France had held a referendum at the same time that Britain did, the result would have been a bigger majority for leaving than in Britain.


was thus an opportunity for European politicians to demonstrate that, however unsatisfactory the Union might be, life would be worse without it.

May’s problem

was that the party she headed was itself divided on Brexit. It was here that leadership was most required and most lacking. Her weak idea was to try to satisfy both wings of her party by compromise, which predictably pleased neither. Now she pleases practically no one, but clings to power—or office, in any case—like a shipwrecked sailor clutching a raft.

Dalrymple notes that

the dangers facing the country as a result of this débâcle are enormous.

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

Mass murderer in a mediocratic age

Anders Breivik, writes Dalrymple, was 'an ambitious mediocrity. In that regard, at least, he was representative of his age, which has passed from meritocracy, the social ascension of the able irrespective of social origin, to mediocracy, the social ascension of the ambitious irrespective of their ability'.

Anders Breivik, writes Dalrymple, was ‘an ambitious mediocrity. In that regard, at least, he was representative of his age, which has passed from meritocracy, the social ascension of the able irrespective of social origin, to mediocracy, the social ascension of the ambitious irrespective of their ability’.

Legalised corruption in Britain

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 08.00.49The highly motivated idiocy of bureaucrats

The professionalisation of management in the public service, writes Dalrymple,

was one of Mrs Thatcher’s great legacies.

Tony Blair

took political advantage. The road was open to the creation of public-service millionaires.

Opportunities have been

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 08.03.56

Margaret Thatcher

systematically created for the economic benefit of ambitious mediocrities.

Margaret Thatcher’s belief was that

the motivation of a manager in the public service can beneficially be made the same as that of one in a private business.

James Burnham

James Burnham


even in large privately owned businesses, the interests of the managers have long since ceased to be identical to those of shareholders, a fact of which Mrs Thatcher appeared to be oblivious, and which helped to bring about the banking crisis.


was no match for the dimmest manager of Boghampton Social Services, once that manager was freed from the straitjacket of a salary structure and could pretend to be a businessman or woman, complete with strategic — never tactical — planning and business models, the development of which necessitated teambuilding weekends in country hotels and awaydays in pleasing locations.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 08.06.17Before management became professionalised, managers in the public service

had no vested interest, as they do now, in inefficiency and incompetence, in the insolubility of all problems and in the creation of new ones.

What is needed, says Dalrymple,

is amateur, not professional, management. No more awaydays, no more teambuilding, no more strategic planning, no more business models. Let bureaucrats be bureaucrats — in proper circumstances, a perfectly honourable if not high calling — not ersatz businessmen.


Rise of the untalented ambitious

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 07.12.00The deadly combination, writes Dalrymple, is

lack of talent and ambition.

Just as talent has

little connection to character, it also has little connection to intelligence, beyond the basic cognitive abilities necessary for the talent to flourish.

The ability, willingness, and desire to hate

are keys to success for untalented persons because they lend to their conduct a ruthlessness that it might otherwise lack. In the minds of the untalented ambitious, their own ruthlessness becomes not a rather unpleasant human trait, occasionally but by no means often justified by the moral purpose that it serves, but rather a sign of their own purpose’s laudable seriousness.

The Western world

is filling up with the untalented ambitious.

Why do the mediocre triumph?

Because, having little or nothing else to do, they can devote themselves to intrigue, backstabbing, and jockeying for power. In my own little career, I have often seen the genuinely gifted and morally upright pushed aside or thwarted by schemers and apparatchiks who viewed their betters with a mixture of fear and hatred.

An apparatchik

may be defined as a person who doesn’t mind how long a meeting goes on unless he has another meeting to attend. He is interested in power for its own sake, divorced from purpose though he claims to want it for the good of humanity, but has very sensitive antennæ for the power of others. When that power is strong, he retreats; when it shows a weakness, he pounces.

There are Hillary Clintons now

in all organisations, each according to his or her level. Some dictate the fate of nations and others decide on the most trivial of local matters, but their manner of proceeding is identical.