In my ongoing obsession with cities as alternative or intermediate sources of quasi-sovereignty, useful buffers between the individual and the state, and in general institutions that can promote human thriving, I was fascinated to read this article on Benjamin “Jihad/McWorld” Barber’s upcoming book, If Mayors Ruled the World.
My own mayor, Mike Bloomberg, digs this way of thinking bigtime: I can’t find the reference, but I remember hearing early in his first term that he’d had a little mutual self-congratulation moment with London Mayor Boris Johnson, in which he celebrated the two cities’ special relationship, and compared the two men– himself and Johnson– essentially to Medicis, rulers of Renaissance city states. Intriguingly creepy.
The idea– the part that appeals to me– is that, because cities are smaller than nations, with more compact borders and clearer interests, it makes more sense for a single person to have significant authority over decisions of public import. Political power in a city is not the same proposition as political power in a batch of United States, in other words.
Which is why I was doubly fascinated to run into the fact that it was Yury Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow from 1992 to 2010 (when he was fired by a decree from Medvedev for, it was alleged, insulting Medvedev in a letter), who had been behind the revival of Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks as a way of reforming the bloated Russian civil service system.
I’ve been reading Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Love Them. She wrote, in an offhand reference, that
Moscow in 1998 was like Paris during the Restoration. The Caspian oil pipeline had drawn the largest foreign investment in Russian history. The city was overrun by speculators. Mayor Luzhkov resurrected Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks and plotted the construction of an underground city in the suburbs…
What?? Ok, we’ll leave the underground city aside for the moment. I did a little research, and indeed, Helena Goscilo, in an article in a compilation called Celebrity and Glamour in Contemporary Russia: Shocking Chic, writes disapprovingly that Luzhkov is one of those in modern Russia who
adhere[s] to national traditions in their professional spheres, eschewing genuinely modernist aesthetics… they… share with countless government functionaries a yearning to resuscitate aspects of the aristocratic past, including …the reintroduction of a Table of Ranks to formalize a hierarchy not only within the administrative bureaucracy, but also within other professional areas…
Well, I suppose if you’re going to have a bloated hierarchy, it’s more fun to have one that includes a history of shiny medals and elaborate mustaches… perhaps Mike Bloomberg will take a leaf from Luzhkov’s page, and we’ll have David Greenfield dressed in some kind of wonderful sky-blue hussar-like number at city council meetings. He already has a start on the requisite facial hair.
That’d be pretty cool.