All guild professions are blind to their own worldview, but holy guacamole are academic historians bad even by those pathetic standards. Let me give you an example. Bear with me, it gets relevant towards the end:
Sir Ian Kershaw was broadly right about how the Third Reich operated. He says Nazi functionaries were “working towards the Fuhrer.” In other words, the Fuhrer — the idealized, mythologized leader, not Adolf Hitler the individual — made it known that “National Socialism stands for X.” Hitler was famously averse to giving direct orders, so that’s often the only thing big, important parts of the government had to work from — the Fuhrer’s* pronouncement that “National Socialism means X.” It was up to them to put it into practice as best they could.
This had several big advantages. First, it’s in line with Nazi philosophy. The Nazis were Social Darwinists. Social Darwinists hold that “survival of the fittest” applies not only to humans as a whole, but to human social groups as well. Any given organization, then, must exist to do something, to advance some cause, to reach some goal. Ruthless competition between groups, and inside each group, is how the goal works itself out (you should be hearing echoes of Hegel here). The struggle refines and clarifies what the group’s goal is, even as the individual group members compete to reach it. The end result gets forced back up the system to the Fuhrer, such that, dialectically (again, Hegel), “National Socialism means X” now encompasses the result of the previous struggle.
With me? If that’s too abstract, think of the murder of Thomas Becket. “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Or, if you prefer, the more “correct” version, which is actually a better illustration of the principle: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Now, was that Henry the man speaking, or Henry the King? The man, I submit, didn’t actually know what he wanted — his grief at Becket’s murder was real — but it was pretty clear what The King wanted. And, of course, the King had to deal with the fallout — Henry the man could rend his clothes in private, but Henry the King had to take real, big, consequential actions as a result.
As with philosophy, “working towards the Fuhrer” fit well with German military culture. Auftragstaktik is a fun word that means “mission-type tactics.” In practice, it delegates authority to the lowest possible level. Each subordinate commander is given an objective, a force, and a due date. High command doesn’t care how the objective gets taken; it only cares that the objective gets taken. Done right, it’s a wonderfully efficient system. It’s the reason the Wehrmacht could keep fighting for so long, and so well, despite being overpowered in every conceivable way by the Allies. The Allies, too, were constantly flabbergasted by their opponents’ low rank — corporals and sergeants in the Wehrmacht were doing the work of an entire Allied company command staff (and often doing it better).
Consider the career of Adolf Eichmann. In the deepest, darkest part of the war, this man pretty much ran the Reich’s rail network. Say what you will about the Nazi’s plate-of-spaghetti org chart, that’s some serious power. He was a lieutenant colonel.
The final great advantage of “working towards the Fuhrer” is “plausible deniability.” Let’s stipulate Atrocity X. Let’s further stipulate that we’re in the professional historian’s fantasy world, where every conceivable document exists, and they’re all clear and unambiguous. It’s be a piece of cake to pin Atrocity X on someone… and that someone would, in all probability, be a corporal or a sergeant. Maybe a lieutenant. What you wouldn’t be able to do is trace it up the chain any higher. Everyone from the captain to Hitler himself could / would give you the “Who, me?” routine. “I didn’t tell Sergeant Schultz to execute those prisoners. All I said was to go secure that objective / defeat that army / that National Socialism means fighting with an iron will.”
And now, at long last, the point: Kershaw really deserved that “Sir” for “working towards the Fuhrer.” Lots of subsequent historians have done outstanding work with it. But since the whole point of studying History is to relate stuff to other stuff, why in the world haven’t we applied this insight to other governments? I know that the Nazis are a unique, one-off evil to the hoi polloi, but c’mon, people, we’re professionals. Surely there are some other groups that work like this?
I know, I know, the current head of the American “government” is Donald Trump, and as much as the Left loves comparing him with Hitler, he’s no dictator (more’s the pity). But see above: “The Fuhrer” is a role, not a man. So let’s change the names. Call it… I dunno…. “Working towards #Woke.” That explains a lot about American government in The Current Year, no?
As every student of World War II knows, at some point the decisions of Adolf Hitler — the individual man — became pretty much meaningless. For convenience’s sake I’m picking February 2, 1942 (final surrender at Stalingrad), but it doesn’t really matter much, since after that events were going to take their course. In 1942 he could still move some real divisions around, but effectively that “Hitler finds out about” scene from Downfall was his everyday reality. The Fuhrer was still in complete control, but Hitler the man was all but powerless.
So, too, with the American government. It doesn’t really matter who the President is. Obama, obviously, was more #Woke than Trump, but did Obama have any more control over “his” bureaucracy than Trump does over “his”? Does anyone? I don’t think anyone has photoshopped Nancy Pelosi into that “Hitler finds out about” scene, but that’s pretty much all I could think about while watching the “impeachment” sham. How the fuck did it ever come to this? Which department head over at State decided to let some fat Ukrainian-Jewish lieutenant colonel run our foreign policy? (Jesus, history really does repeat itself as farce). Who in the Hoover Building gave mid-level nobody Peter Strzok the authority to work on an “insurance policy?”
The answer, of course, is: No one. Just as “The Fuhrer” is a myth created dialectically by individuals “working towards” him, so #Woke is an animating philosophy that constructs itself as it goes by the individual actions of bureaucrats. Only Obama’s sheer goofy laziness kept him from finding that out the hard way. Had he actually done any presidentin’, he would’ve quickly discovered that the bureaucracy wants what it wants, and if it wants something different than its putative “leader” wants, well, too bad for him. There’s a reason all the “Obamacare” legislation was written by Prudential….
Extend it further. Robert Conquest famously said that all organizations not explicitly, constitutionally right-wing will eventually become left-wing. Which is funny, but false, since the explicitly, constitutionally right-wing ones do too (hello, National Review!). The reason for this is that the Social Darwinists were right: When you come right down to it, organizations, like people, recognize no higher imperative than the continuation of their own existence.** Right-wingers acknowledge at least the theoretical possibility of eliminating organizations that no longer serve any other identifiable purpose. Left-wingers don’t, so everyone in every organization is functionally a Leftist where that organization is concerned.
Extend it further yet. A startup business exists to make a profit. Get it past a certain point, though, and behold Social Darwinism in action — profits don’t matter; continuing in existence does. Past a certain further point, and organizations develop a mind of their own, usually miles out in left field. So you get the Rise of Girl Skywalker. E.g. Carly Fiorina. Remember her? WordPress doesn’t (it puts a red misspelling squiggle under “Fiorina”) but for a brief moment there she was Teh Tech Hotness. She ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground faster than a pissed-off kamikaze on meth… and parlayed that into a Presidential bid.
That HP still exists, sort of, as an organization is immaterial, as is the fact that industrial plants with the “HP” logo on them still churn out the occasional computer. The point is that in a rational world, Carly Fiorina couldn’t get hired as a janitor, for fear that the push for “full female representation in sanitation engineering” would make all the building’s toilets simultaneously explode. And yet, she ran for President, and more than a few fools actually voted for her.
Organizations are what they are. It’s the culture that matters. Our culture is #WokeAsFuck, so our organizations must be, as well. Kershaw identified something real and valuable about human organizational behavior, but since historians are all idiots — and Leftists, but for once the Venn diagrams don’t completely overlap — nobody applies it outside that tiny niche field.