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- "It's all papers and forms, the entire civil service is like a fortress made of papers, forms, and red tape."
- –Alexander Ostrovsky
- "The taxpayer - that's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination."
- –Ronald Reagan
Historical Context Edit
“Civil Service” is a relatively new term to describe a relatively old concept – a bureaucracy composed of trained officials to “efficiently” run the government (since the overworked monarch obviously couldn’t be expected to do it him/herself). The phrase was first bandied about by the British administration in India and popularized by Sir Charles Trevelyan a century ago when Great Britain established an examination for those who wanted to serve the Crown (other than in the military that is).
The origins of a civil service can be traced back to China (they did invent paper, after all). The Qin dynasty established the first centralized Chinese empire, and thus the need for a bureaucratic administration. Recruitment into the civil service was based on recommendations from local officials, and in 124 BC the Han Emperor Wudi established an imperial university to train and test would-be officials. By the time of the Tang dynasty appointment decreasingly relied on recommendation and increasingly on examination. The whole system expanded during the reign of Wu Zetian and reached its apex during the Song dynasty. The examination tested the candidate’s memorization of the Nine Classics of Confucianism and his ability to compose poetry and use calligraphy … obviously it helps if bureaucrats can read and write.
In the West, it was the well-organized Romans who set the standard for successive bureaucracies. By drawing upon the educated equestrian class, drafting them into responsible positions in his administration, Emperor Augustus founded the imperial civil service. Their business background made them particularly suited to run the far-flung provinces and make sure that Roman rule didn’t waver. By the time of Claudius, equestrians could reasonably expect a fine career – eventually becoming a procurator (“agent of the emperor”) and then a prefect, who might serve abroad or at home, in charge of anything from the fire brigades to the grain supply. While details vary across the centuries since, things haven’t changed much in the civil service since.