Varys the Trustworthy Eunuch

From Chapter One of Introducing Public Administration, Eighth Edition.

 

‘For more than 2,000 years and into the twentieth century, eunuchs-males with their external sex organs amputated- were the public administrators of choice. Why? Because their missing parts meant that they could be trusted- first with the ruler’s wives and concubines, and then with other administrative chores. Eunuchs proved to be particularly effective as loyal administrators. As slaves usually long removed from any family, they knew that the only way to thrive was to do well by the only people who could enrich and protect them. The eunuchs formed a kind of civil service system. Entrance was typically limited to captured slave boys from the edge of the empire, who were castrate by the thousands. While a large percentage died from crude surgery, the survivors were put into service as court eunuchs. There they could work their way up to the highest level of administrative responsibility. Eunuchs grew to be the servant class most trusted by the rulers of ancient Syria, Persia, China, and Rome. In a era strife with nepotism (hiring of relatives), they were immune from such influences. While Christian Byzantium made extensive use of eunuchs in government posts, Western Christendom did not.

 

The last of the traditional bureaucrat-eunuchs were still to be seen in imperial China and the Ottoman Empire only a century ago. Thus for most of recorded history administration by eunuchs was a ‘normal’ means by which states managed their affairs. The advantages they offered- absolute loyalty and apathy- are not to be sneered at. Fortunately today there are ways to instill high standards of ethics in government officials without sending castration technicians to visit the bureaucrats of Washington, Whitehall, and the Kremlin.’

 

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