Many people are still haunted by the idea, which dates back to the preliberal era, that a certain nobility and dignity attaches to the exercise of governmental functions. Up to very recently public officials in Germany enjoyed, and indeed still enjoy even today, a prestige that has made the most highly respected career that of a civil servant. The social esteem in which a young “assessor” or lieutenant is held far exceeds that of a businessman or an attorney grown old in honest labor. Writers, scholars, and artists whose fame and glory have spread far beyond Germany enjoy in their own homeland only the respect corresponding to the often rather modest rank they occupied in the bureaucratic hierarchy.
There is no rational basis for this overestimation of the activities carried on in the offices of the administrative authorities. It is a form of atavism, a vestige from the days when the burgher had to fear the prince and his knights because at any moment he might be spoliated by them. In itself it is no finer, nobler, or more honorable to spend one’s days in a government office filling out documents than, for example, to work in the blueprint room of a machine factory.