Cornford’s ‘Microcosmographia Academica’ (1908) remains my favourite satire on academic politics. For those unfamiliar with it, it takes the form of being a guide to the young academic interested in gaining influence, and contains the warning, “…and may your soul (if you have a soul) find mercy!”
Despite being a little dated in parts, it contains rich seams of pure gold, and is equally applicable to those in academia seeking to engage government as to those striving for position within the ivory tower.
Chapters 6-9 are my particular favourites, and contain such gems as the below, whose form will be instantly recognisable to any habitual reader of Times Higher or Wonkhe:
“Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”
“The third accepted means of obstruction is the Alternative Proposal. This is a form of Red Herring. As soon as three or more alternatives are in the field, there is pretty sure to be a majority against any one ofthem, and nothing will be done.”
“Another argument [for obstruction of reform] is that ‘the machinery for effecting the proposed objects already exists’. This should be urged in cases where the existing machinery has never worked, and is now so rusty that there is no chance of its being set in motion.”