The Whitehall Factor: The Role of the Higher Civil Service 1919–39

  • Max Beloff


In any period of history the role of the civil servant is bound to attract less notice from the historian than the doings of statesmen. Statesmen fill the centre of the public stage; in modern times they face the electorate and seek to impress their personalities through the press. Their doings form the staple of contemporary chronicle, and after their retirement (and sometimes sooner) they publish memoirs or are the subject of biographies. The political history of an era is usually written first of all from the public record; only when the archives become available is it possible to write administrative history and even then the personal characteristics of civil servants which may well have affected the advice they gave and their patterns of work may well find little reflection in official papers that are written according to set forms and with some affectation, at least, of impersonality. Few civil servants in modern times are likely to have much time for personal correspondence and few are likely to be diarists. We are not likely to find that a twentieth-century Samuel Pepys has been occupying a Whitehall desk. In this, of course, civil servants differ from diplomats whose absence from their home base is more likely to encourage correspondence and even the keeping of diaries.1


Foreign Policy Civil Servant Labour Government Financial Policy Political History 
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  1. 5.
    See G. K. Fry, Statesmen in Disguise, The Changing Role of the Administrative Class of the British Home Civil Service, 185.E-1966 (London, 1969) pp. 56 ff.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Z. S. Steiner, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898–1914 (Cambridge, 1969) p. 171.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    David Carlton, MacDonald versus Henderson: The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government (London, 1970) p. 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 13.
    See Stephen Roskill, Hankey, Man of Secrets, 3 vols (1970–4).Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    Bentley B. Gilbert, British Social Policy, 1914–1939 (London, 1970).Google Scholar

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© Max Beloff 1975

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  • Max Beloff

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