To Save America, Abolish the Civil Service

Michael Walsh30 Jan, 2023 6 Min Read
Plus ça change...

Over the past few months, we've been considering the wholly negative history of the so-called "Progressive"-era constitutional amendments, none of which did anything to improve the nation but did much to undermine its founding principles. Until the end of the Civil War, the constitution had only been amended twice since the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791: the obscure, jurisdictional 11th Amendment, (1795), which had to do with lawsuits involving state and federal courts, and the 12th, (1804), which partially clarified the procedures for presidential elections. Then, between 1865 and 1870, came the three Reconstruction amendments, abolishing slavery (except as a punishment for a crime, such as a prison chain gang) and giving African-Americans citizenship and voting and other rights.

And then after a 43-year break, came the Progressive Era and its assault on Americans' money and personal freedom, the radical changes in how the Senate is selected, Prohibition of a formerly legal substance, and finally the extension of the franchise to women, in defiance of all historical norms going back to the ancient Greeks, on the theory that it wasn't "fair." All have been proven disasters.

It's not just the constitutional amendments that have contributed to the decline of the Republic, however: it's also the actions of an ever-burgeoning federal government, which has simultaneously abandoned its core fiscal, executive, judicial, and legislative responsibilities, and extended its intrusive reach into almost every facet of our existence via the creation of the regulatory agencies, which now essentially control every aspect of a citizen's public and private life.

Created by Congress, often at the urging of the president, these independent, immortal bureaucratic golems are a second form of government that co-exist with the constitutional system most Americans think we have. Being "independent," they are at once legislative in function but also judicial in essence: their wishes have the force of law (often written by themselves), tried before administrative law judges, and enforced at gunpoint by their private police forces when necessary. They are effectively beyond the direct supervision of all three legitimate branches of government, to the extent that they now form a fourth branch of government.

Who's in charge here?

Like most things involving the feds, they are largely staffed by members of the Civil Service -- nearly three million employees and counting. Many, if not most, belong to one of some one hundred civil-service unions, through which they bargain with the IRS-funded government regarding their wages and working conditions; you, the taxpayer, have no say in the matter. So it's no surprise that over the past hundred years, jobs in the "public" sector now pay better and have greater benefits, including more time off and greater job security, than do jobs in the private sector. So what if it's become the employer of last resort for a significant portion of the population? They vote, en masse, for the folks who pay them.

Like much of the legislation of the "Progressive" era, civil-service "reform" began as a Republican idea. Until 1871, the "spoils system"—instituted by Thomas Jefferson and expanded by Andrew Jackson— had obtained. Incoming administrations staffed their own departments, generally along party lines; patronage jobs were rewards for having supported Candidate X. The old bums were thrown out and the new bums rushed in.

That couldn't stand, of course, and so the United States Civil Service Commission was formed during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant in order to select government employees on the basis of merit instead of connections. It lasted two years, until its funding ran out. Succeeding Republican presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield, agitated for its restoration, but Garfield's assassination by a lunatic patronage seeker in 1881 after just a few months in office, halted the notion. However, in 1883, Garfield's vice president (and now president) Chester A. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law, and there was no stopping it after that.

At first the Democrats hated the idea. As the Tammany Hall fixer, George Washington Plunkitt, wrote: 

This civil service law is the biggest fraud of the age. It is the curse of the nation. There can’t be no real patriotism while it lasts. How are you goin’ to interest our young men in their country if you have no offices to give them when they work for their party? Just look at things in this city today. There are ten thousand good offices, but we can’t get at more than a few hundred of them. How are we goin’ to provide for the thousands of men who worked for the Tammany ticket? It can’t be done. These men were full of patriotism a short time ago. They expected to be servin’ their city, but when we tell them that we can’t place them, do you think their patriotism is goin’ to last? Not much.

They say: “What’s the use of workin’ for your country anyhow? There’s nothin’ in the game.” And what can they do? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what I do know.I know more than one young man in past years who worked for the ticket and was just overflowin’ with patriotism, but when he was knocked out by the civil service humbug he got to hate his country and became an Anarchist.

This ain’t no exaggeration. I have good reason for sayin’ that most of the Anarchists in this city today are men who ran up against civil service examinations. Isn’t it enough to make a man sour on his country when he wants to serve it and won’t be allowed unless he answers a lot of fool questions about the number of cubic inches of water in the Atlantic and the quality of sand in the Sahara desert? 

When the people elected Tammany, they knew just what they were doin’. We didn’t put up any false pretenses. We didn’t go in for humbug civil service and all that rot. We stood as we have always stood, for rewardin’ the men that won the victory. They call that the spoils system. All right; Tammany is for the spoils system, and when we go in we fire every anti-Tammany man form office that can be fired under the law. 

When bad guys get what's coming to them.

Today they love it. Civil Service and unionized public employees offer the donkeys a far, far wider field for graft and corruption than the spoils system ever did. A permanent bureaucracy enjoying the perks of "public service" in perpetuity that consistently votes for the Democrats? What's not to like?

But who's to say Plunkitt was wrong? The metastasized growth of government and an unfirable Civil Service work force have functioned in symbiosis for nearly a century and a half, with the result being the toxic kluge in Washington that has permanently altered the balance of power between Citizen and State. With everything subject to "regulation" at the whim of an unelected drone who can call down the wrath of the administrative state upon your head with the touch of a button, what chance does even an honest man have against this "work force"? Which is, in any case, lots of force and damn little work other than shakedown artistry.

It brings to mind the bill of particulars against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, particularly this one: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” The colonists, having not approved the imposition of new military courts and customs officers via their legislatures, rose up in arms against this and the other counts of the indictment that justified the overthrow of the Crown in the colonies.  

Today's Americans, however, are made of decidedly lesser stuff. As the Covid Hoax and the nearly unopposed fascist lockdowns imposed by governments around the world without a shred of evidence that "Covid-19" posed any extraordinary existential threat have recently demonstrated, our citizens no longer have the gumption to say no to government, having bought into the Marxist notion that government is in and of itself the highest form of human endeavor as well as the final authority, and that nothing must go unobserved or unregulated by the Panopticon

What was so bad about the spoils system? Had Donald Trump and some even halfway decent advisors—not Javanka—had free reign in the early days of his administration, the Swamp would have been drained overnight and, en passant, the election of 2020 might have been won. Was the spoils system perfect? Of course not. But the perfect can never be the enemy of the good, and sometimes the arc of "progressivism" needs to be reversed—by any means necessary, as our friends on the Left like to say—pounded into scrap metal and buried on the ash heap of history. This is such a time. 

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022, and of the forthcoming Against the Corporate Media. Follow him on Twitter: @theAmanuensis


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18 comments on “To Save America, Abolish the Civil Service”

  1. None of this would have happened without the ascendancy of women into positions of power in government, academia, corporate America, and even the clergy.

  2. T is not the civil service system as envisioned that is the problem, it the affirmative action system that now exists combined with the monstrous expansion of unconstitutionally seized roles by the government. Social security, health care, mortgages, student loans, trade, environmental controls, workplace safety?

    Right there between the causes guaraneteeing a minimum annual wage and the one guaranteeing your mansion in await.

    Reduce government expenditures to no more than 5% of the GNP; eliminate national debt except with a declaration of war followed by repayment within 15 years; eliminate government contracting of services unless within the 5% limit. Make all national budgets subject to the approval of the public.

    Finally, any departure from these rules would mean the removal from office, a fine equal to 100 times the expenditure amount and ten years in prison.

  3. "Fighting against an army is one thing: but for admitting that I am not ready to pick up my rifle and shoot my niece earns me the accusation of being in "the surrender caucus."
    I call BS. Sterner stuff? Who are we supposed to be shooting - our civil service neighbors?

    Okay, then answer us this: we all are probably gracious enough to acknowledge that the civil service minions of such agencies as the FBI, DHS or the BATFE don't SET the God-awful policies of each bureau. But WHO carries out the invariable resulting policies? WHO arrests innocent citizens who, at the assurance of the BATFE (for example) that it was legal, purchased pistol braces without a tax stamp? WHO breaks down the door and, at gunpoint, rips Elian Gonzales from his relatives' arms? Your niece, perhaps? Oh, no, of course -- she just SUPPORTS the stormtroopers -- she just works in accounting and finance, after all. So that makes her innocent, then? I mean, she just ordered the firearms; she didn't LOAD it full of ammunition and it wasn't her hobnailed boot that kicked in a door for any reason that these agencies deem necessary, right?

    I call BS. You work for these unjust entities? Then you TACITLY ENDORSE AND ENABLE their behavior. I don't care that you need the money or that, wow, they have such great bennies for so little effort. It DOESN'T MATTER that "if I don't take the work, then someone else will." WHERE is your sense of morality? YOU know what they're doing and you KNOW it ISN'T right. EVERY ONE of them has to cut what morality that they have out of their brains to enable themselves to "overlook" the injustice that these agencies inflict. Obviously, they don't have a problem with that, the government continues to oppress me thanks to these unanswerable agencies weaponized against me, but it's WRONG to consider them the enemy? Really?

    NO ONE rationalizes their fat pensions -- and by direct implication, the actions of their given bureaus -- better than government employees. NO ONE. That's what's bloody GREAT about bureaucracies (/sarc) -- it's NEVER YOUR FAULT; it's always someone else that's the stormtrooper.

    The one of fundamental problems of it all is that if, somehow, the populace thinks that it can justify the establishment of a government bureau (and most of the time, they shouldn't rationally be able to), it should be under the DIRECT administration of Congress. It's THEIR job -- not some "independent" bureaucracy with (as was pointed out) judicial, legislative AND executive authority. This is an ad for governmental abuse and it's simply a matter of time before (like now) it's weaponized. Congress is SUPPOSED to be a DIRECTLY responsible to The People and THAT is supposed to PREVENT this weaponization. The administrative state ruins this and, like the example above, enables Congress to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities and, when convenient, "play dumb". That's no way to run a legitimate government.

  4. Another article titled "Dems want 8.7% pay hike for fed employees..."

    This is illustrative of what the federal employee unions like AFGE are primarily useful as: Conduits to funnel money to dem pols who then pressure agencies to give perks to the members. Otherwise, aside from the occasional defense of employees who bear the brunt of inept managers wanting to fire or punish them without knowing the rules, the union is pretty useless, particularly since the employees can't to the one thing that makes a union significant: Strike. And too many union officials improperly used too much time, way beyond that allowable, to work on union business instead of their job descriptions.

  5. Public employee unions are an abomination. 'Nuff said.
    Simple solution to the Civil Service conundrum: eliminate Civil Service designation for any position with supervisory (salary, promotion, or disiplinary) responsibility for more than 100 employees.

  6. Let's make this a little easier, just decertify all government employee unions and make it so Congress has to pass a law to reinstate them and it can't be done by executive order.

  7. Is it time to return to the discussion of what is an unconstitutional constitutional amendment, not unlike the temperance assault?

  8. I do not know enough about "classic republic breakdown" to be sure the Chinese dynasty collapses are a guide (though they certainly seem analogous), but in China, when the government jobs become better than the private jobs, that seems to have always been an earlier indication that the dynasty's days were numbered. Granted, the number at times was fairly large, another factor that suggests my analogy here may be misplaced.
    But I doubt it is.

  9. "Today's Americans, however, are made of decidedly lesser stuff."
    I see such sentiments all over the place, culminated in the observation "The Founders would've been stacking bodies by now." But is that true? The colonials did not war against the citizens, even though many (majority?) of the citizenry were Tories. The Founders were "stacking the bodies" of the occupying British military forces, not their fellow citizens. It wasn't until the Civil War that we truly saw the brother-against-brother warfare that sentiments such as the one expressed above seem to yearn for. Yes there have been riots and uprisings and strikes and such that were put down with force - generally government military or militia forces, not by civilian citizenry clashes. Fighting against an army is one thing: but for admitting that I am not ready to pick up my rifle and shoot my niece earns me the accusation of being in "the surrender caucus."
    I call BS. Sterner stuff? Who are we supposed to be shooting - our civil service neighbors?

  10. Here, here Mr. MW, your wisdom re enforces those that see and know that we can no
    longer go along to get along and hard choices are not so hard to make anymore if you
    love America and it’s founding principles as in ‘ they will see what we tried to do and
    make it better.’ Your book on why men fight is fine...
    Perhaps you know the experienced gentleman whose muse is Hemingway that took
    his family while his son skippered the sailboat on a cruise through the Greek Isles this
    past year a wrote about it and other observations on a weekly basis this past year. My
    computer disappeared his info and I miss his take on people.
    Regards, Bill

  11. The people these days are afraid to say no to anybody or anything. They do not have the gumption to say no to drug addicts living in their streets or to say no to wildly overpopulated animals who kill their pets and attempt to kill their children.
    This will kill us.

  12. Which should be done first: abolition of Civil Service or recission of EO 10988? Also, because I'm not a lawyer would it take anything more than another EO to rescind 10988?

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