So the NY Times is proclaiming that Obama is thinking about creating an ‘Ebola Czar‘. One of the oddities of the modern American world, indeed, is a love of the idea of a “czar”: almost any time a major public issue arises (war, drugs, health care, urban policy, Katrina, Ferguson) there are calls, often completely unironic and bi-partisan in nature, to create a ‘czar’ to govern that issue.
Why does a putatively democratic, constitutional, secular order–which generally celebrates itself as the republican Rechtsstaat incarnate–feel the need to constantly call for the invention of a figure who by definition rises above all representative institutions and laws, and does so by “God’s grace”? I have always found this odd but insistent echo of Russian history in U.S. life to be baffling.
How do Americans understand the concept “czar”? Does it match what we, as historians, think about the meaning of the concept? (And here I recognize that not everyone may agree with what I just said about tsars, to use the more standard scholarly spelling.) What explains the particular hold the image of “the czar” has on the modern American political imaginary?
I thought I would open a thread here on this question. Any thoughts and discussion?