Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the modern liberal state is the manner in which it has successfully concealed the seat of power. Before the advent of the modern bourgeois state, executive power was made visible in the person of the monarch and in his or her council of state and parliament, but in the construction of the bureaucratic nation state there is nothing obvious about where real power is to be found. Democracy creates the chimera of the delegation of power from the electorate to the elected representatives of the people in government. This, however, is only ever an illusion. It is a useful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless.
In a monarchy power may be manifest in the body of the monarch, but this power was always open to influence, and so political fortunes were made and lost in the complex world of court intrigue where power-brokers and magnates vied jealously for the ear of the king. This network of power in the democracy has merely shifted location, not to the new head of state (who comes and goes on the whim of the people), but inside the machinery of the state – the civil service. One might argue that the true winners of the Age of Revolution were the civil servants, the real political survivors.
This web, devoted to the maintenance of its power, managed to enter into the democratic system free from of any imposition of the constraints of democracy. No civil servant ever needs to win an election; their hold on power depends, as it always did, on their personal ability to navigate the intricate web of the power structure. Henry Kissinger is the best known example of this category of political animal. Kissinger, one time National Security Advisor and without doubt one of the most influential figures in US and global politics, never stood for public election and was never voted into office. His rise to power was through the military and the security services. As a senior diplomat with a formidable reputation he was appointed Secretary of State by Richard Nixon, a man over whom Kissinger enjoyed considerable influence.
It may seem remarkable to many that without a vote being cast someone could rise to the level to which Kissinger rose, directing US foreign policy during the Vietnam War and throughout that period of the Cold War, yet this is entirely normal of the bureaucratic state. What makes Kissinger so visible is that he became visible. For the most part the real power-brokers of today remain behind the scenes, or in the White House hidden in plain sight. Such people are the custodians of real power, and are the people responsible for the longer term strategic ambitions of the state – a responsibility no elected representative, on account of the brevity of their terms, could ever execute.