Now you take Philip Augustus, king of France. They laughed when he sat down to reign.
But 40 years later, a million bureaucrats later, and iddly-trillion francs later, they did not laugh.
Thus the modern state was born.
He, first of all, invented sedentary bureaus (instead of wandering royal courts) to run the government.
"And I thought," writes a wit of Johns Hopkins University, "you should note the octacentennial of bureaucracy."
He was only 14 when they crowned him at Rheims, the champagne capital, on Nov. 1, 1179. But he was pig-headed -- steady-minded, if you prefer -- even beyond the norm of teenagery. He kept his eye on glorie and the power of France and her king.
He inherited a second-rate feudal barony and left it the dominant power of Europe. He was the glory of his generation, needless to say, and none too prissy of conscience.
He quadrupled the size of France. He did wonders for the royal treasury. He took some stray scholars and left us the University of Paris.
He married prudently except the second of his three marriages -- to that Danish princess he set aside after 24 hours of married life "for a personal reason."
The Danes, the pope and the princess all took umbrage for various reasons and all France was denied Christian burial and much else by the church.
But Philip worked it out. He was splendid at coming to terms when necessary and splendid at bulling ahead when feasible.
He was a very perfect knight. He established Paris as capital, the first significant capital for France, and set up a financial bureau to which agents reported three times a year. He sent judges around the boondocks who not only dispensed excellent justice but brought back valuable tidbits of use to the crown.
These new bureaus soon bypassed the power of great nobles and prelates who formerly ran things. Philip's bureaucrats were of humbler origin. They owed their jobs to Philip, not to the bishop of Beans. It made a differnce.
And now let us praise the sons of Philip's bureaucrats, still amongst us in this capital and still of glory.
Butts of mockery to all. Until, of course, you need records of your time spent in New Guinea or an answer to the rice production of Dimwitsy Bayou.
It can take time, yes, to get to the right bureaucrat. But one thing you never hear from the American bureaucracy is:
"We don't have it. We threw it away."
They have it.
Why don't we have monuments? Including one to Philip: father of the Department of Agrihew and Commerfensury.
AND NOTE: Novice bureaucrats still learning the ropes will wish to acquire "The Register of Philip Augustus," soon to be published in Paris, a compilation of those pioneer bureaucrats records. In which, no sooner do the mustard-makers of Dijon get their charter than Paris knows it.
No sooner does the Chateau de Cerise-flambeau sport a new tower than the tax desk begins to drool.
That sort of thing (the examples are merely suggestive of the contents) is goof for bureaucrats to know. The compilation of the register is the loving and scholarly labor of Dr. John W. Baldwin, professor of history at Hopkins, Francoise Gaspari and Michel Nortier, scholars of France. L'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres will publish the register in its Chartes et Diplomes series.
Some there be, right here in this capital, who hardly need to read the works of mere pioneers, of course, but the register would make a fine gift for any child who shows signs of becoming (someday) deputy assistant secretary for development in the Bureau of Lactic Centrifugy, Cheddar Section.