The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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Since the days of Reconstruction and the scandals of the Grant Administration, civil service reform has been a reliable plank in anyone's party platform. The "best people" have embraced it almost as a religion, claiming that it is the solution to every evil in government, while radicals have sneered that it is a false issue, a handful of dust thrown in the eyes of America. Still, every practical politician has had to pay it at least lip service, until now it has become a political cliche. Thus relegated to an obscure corner of the political circus, civil service reform is none the less active as a quiet, unobtrusive agency of the government. A welcome sign of its activity is the talk to be given here this afternoon by Mr. E.J. Stocking, Principal Examiner of the Civil Service Commission. Even more significant is the fact that in taking the initiative in arranging this talk, the Commission has reversed its past policy.
As old as the agitation for civil service reform is the idea that the service should try to attract young men from colleges. It was probably Henry Adams who began the lament that "gentlemen just aren't going into politics these days." That was in the Gilded Age, when capitalism gorged itself on the resources of the nation and made government its subservient tool. The real history of that Age lies in the annals of business, not the archives of government. So it was that men whom the business interests considered "safe" gained easy election to Congress, and the Senate was dubbed the "rich man's club." Naturally a host of intellectuals and liberals held up their hands in horror. Anglophiles among them looked across the sea and eulogized the English civil service, the tradition that the Oxford Union is a stepping stone to Parliament, the ease with which the English gentleman could assert his divine right to rule. While these commentators may have been swept off their feet by admiration for the English "genteel tradition," there is no doubt that they gleamed an idea from their observations: the colleges should be the happy-hunting ground for the civil service.
For many years there lingered on the hoary old gentlemen of the Union League Club, who saw in this reform the be-all and end-all of good government. Civil service passed through a period of fetishism, surely, but today it is firmly founded on common sense. It is now making the advances to the colleges, carefully tending its preserves. Mr. Stocking doesn't have any Senatorial togas in his suitcase for distribution to likely men, but he represents the leadership of an enlightened and smooth-working bureaucracy. His work keeps alive the spirit of reform that burst forth so enthusiastically after the Civil War, a spirit that should never be allowed to die.
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