Alan Keyes
Trump change: 'Personnel is policy'
God's truths apply to the proper administration of government
By Alan Keyes
November 29, 2016

"A sound Conservative government," said Taper, musingly. "I understand: Tory men and Whig measures." (From "Coningsby" by Benjamin Disraeli, Book 2, Chapter 5)

When the administration of government is grounded upon principles, clearly communicated and understood, all that is lacking is to appoint individuals firmly committed to respecting and implementing them. In such context, it can truthfully be said that nothing is more pertinent than the old maxim "Personnel is policy." Clear purposes and goals are just so much lip service unless people are assigned to the positions most critical to putting them into action.

But in our era, unprincipled pragmatism holds sway. Because this is so, the calculus of relative force becomes the shifting ground of action. In human affairs, this means the force of passionate interests on which the administration of government rides like a cork floating on the tide, or better yet, like a surfer with the skill to ride the edge of cresting waves. With the goal of action largely predetermined, at any given moment, by the wave's vector, what matters most is simply how long one remains upright, successfully riding the wave.

So, when unprincipled pragmatism is the rule, the challenge of administration is, as it were, to remain in touch with the wave, shifting this way and that in accordance with its undulations. Translated in terms of government and politics, this means constantly repositioning oneself as the advance of public passion requires. Success is not measured in terms of some external goal or destination. Rather, it consists in maintaining the closed system of interaction between rider and wave, by whatever means necessary.

From this perspective, personnel decisions are not taken in respect of firmly established principles. They are taken in accordance with what is required, at the moment, to stay upright on the waves of public passion. The waves may vector to the left or the right, depending on one's vantage point. To remain upright, one takes on the form that best corresponds to the momentary inclination of public sentiment. There are no stars. There is no shore. Only the restless activity of the waves, and the imperative of survival – which is to ride them out, come what may.

This may very well require, at any given moment, riding the wave in one direction while leaning in another. Hence the relevance of Taper's ironic definition of a "sound conservative government." Of course, people taken in by appearances at any given moment may take the apparent inclination of the rider as a reliable indication that things are moving in their direction. But like the flow of water in the hollow of a curling wave, the way the rider appears to lean does not necessarily correspond to the way the cresting wave is heading. In the end, the water that supports his move in one instant may be swept, willy-nilly, in the opposite direction.

All this assumes, of course, that the vector of the wave, at any given moment, is simply a matter of happenstance. But is this so? In America today, particularly among our elites, there are many who hold that it is. They believe that human affairs, and indeed the activity of the whole universe, are ultimately subject to chance and that this is true even when, in any given moment, these things take on an appearance of orderliness. Othello's lament ("Chaos is come again...") is the repetitive plaint of all existence, which has no choice but to endure the consequences.

Though these Americans tend to forget it, the key premise of our way of life, and especially of our citizen lives, contradicts this keening desperado vaunt. That premise holds that chaos is not the consequence of our willing or unwilling determination. It is rather the assumption of being apart from the determinations of our Creator, an assumption we are (or ought to be) too circumspect to bear, except by God's permission.

The momentary orderings we are capable of understanding, and which we imitate somewhat in our conceptions, derive their form and substance from His Being, prior to Creation. On that account, the relative worth we can perceive in things is measured by the measure of His infinite worth, which He imparts to all without necessary limitation, so long as we respect the generous bond by which He frees us from oblivion, the lineaments that reveal us for what we are.

Thus, endowed with existence by our Creator, we are, in principle, of equal worth. But as the true measure of worth is infinite, so are the possibilities that arise in us on account of it. Our finitude is freedom, except in one respect, which is the respect we have to give to the Word that is the agency of God's Creation. That Word, and the observance of it, is the condition and rule by which we live (the law of our nature). It is not a matter of choice because it is the choice that establishes the condition for all our choices.

This understanding of things utterly contradicts the God-denying nihilism that is the heart of unprincipled pragmatism and gives rise, instead, to the premise that maintaining power (i.e., the capacity to do things) is not the overriding aim and concern of just government. The aim of just government is to respect the intention of God for our existence, as it is communicated to us by and through the laws by which He constitutes and informs our nature.

This is the context in which the maxim "Personnel is policy" is critically relevant to the administration of government in the United States. The paramount concern is not simply with how people are inclined to deal with the events and passions of the moment. It is rather to make sure of their capacity to understand and apply the truths by which God informs us of what is right, and their commitment to do so.

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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