What hypocrisy!

Last night’s Late Night Live had a teriffic interview with David Runciman, Lecturer in politics, Cambridge University, UK. Theorising one of the most talented and in my view ultimately tragic polititians of our age Tony Blair, Runciman wrote The Politics of Good Intentions: History, fear and hypocrisy in the New World Order, Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2006.

His idea? That hypocrisy is a necessary part of democratic politics – and by implication all politics other than the politics of an absolute ruler (and maybe even there). But he argue s (following Hobbs) that there are two kinds of hypocrisy. The first is the everyday gerden variety of hypocrisy of pretending to be a better person than you are. We all do it. Some of it is just good manners, but some of it is a bit worse than that. Politicians pretend to be more pious than they are (at least the ones who market to the religious) more sober, more reasonable, more considerate and so on. This is not only inevitable but at least to some extent is the upshot of their doing their job well.
Then there’s another kind of hypocrisy which involves a kind of overarching insistance on one’s own good intentions. This is Blair’s hypocrisy. Runciman also says it’s Bush’s but I’m not so sure that’s true. Bush does insist on his good intentions, but I don’t think his pretence of good intentions is anything like as important to him as Blair.

In any event, the upshot of this second kind of hypocrisy is that it leads ultimately to something far worse than your everyday garden variety of political hypocrisy (which is different standards in different situations). It leads to a kind of self-delusion in which things that might call into question the cause on which The Great Leader has staked his good intentions are ruthlessly excluded from consideration.

There’s a sense in which this is true of lots of politicians, and for that reason it is not that interesting. But Blair is surely a remarkable example of what Runciman is talking about and Runciman suggests, I think rightly, that he is an vibrant (virulent?) example of something new. Where there’s a sense with Howard or Bush that they are going through the motions and don’t fully have their heart in their protestation of good intentions, Blair has what Runciman termed his ‘masochist’ sessions where he goes into the lion’s den to confront his accusers and answer their accusations. Runciman later discovered that that’s what Blair calls them too!

Anyway, I heartily recommend you grab the podcast and listen away. And I hope the ABC will produce a transcript as I found it a very interesting chat.

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5 Responses to What hypocrisy!

  1. Rob says:

    I’m baffled. What on earth are you trying to say there, Nicholas?

  2. Sorry I didn’t make myself clear to you. Listen to the program or read a review of the book.

  3. Gaby says:

    Thanks for the tip, Nicholas. It certainly was a good listen. And I was doubly pleased as the first half was on interview with Paul Ginsborg on the current state of “il bel paese”, Italy. He has written two excellent histories of contemporary Italy, from 1945 to the present. And a very good book on Berlusconi. Highly recommended.

    I agree that Runciman’s interview was also very stimulating. His book seems to be well worth reading.

    I liked his tie ins to Hobbes and Orwell and their explication.

    His distinction of the corrosive form of hypocrisy from a more bengin, prosaic flavour is significant. It highlights the importance of being “sincerely” sincere, and not being wilfully blind in order to be able to maintain a claim to sincerity of motive.

    Although Hilary was touched on in the interview, Bill Clinton is probably the most egregious total amalgam of the two flavours of hypocrisy.

    What do you say Blair is tragic? I think he deserves his masochistic sessions. He can practice his party piece lip quivering, gulping, gesticulating, stuttering sophistry.

    By the way, what is the definition of a sadist?

    A person who is kind to a masochist.

  4. I think Blair is tragic because he has genuinely good intentions and as much political talent as anyone I’ve seen in politics (with the exception of Clinton) and has managed to get himself hopelessly lost indeed engulfed in the politics of trying to leverage some grand plan for international statesmanship off the US Administration which has proven itself to be mad, bad and dangerous to know.

    I think when he’s older and if he’s come to any greater (real) honesty than he seems to have now, Blair may sigh like LBJ “I blew it. The kids were right”. Another parallel with Vietnam.

    I’m not sure Bill Clinton is a particularly eggregious example of the bad kind of hyporcrisy. His worst lying was not to himself, but to others.

  5. Gaby says:

    I don’t feel competent to judge Blair’s “political talent” but the self-delusional hypocrisy and the hubris of grand “international statesmanship” in concert with W count somewhat against it. For me he is far from a “tragic” figure. Just another acor preening and strutting his hour…

    The statesmanship is pretty much in tatters after W’s recent “Condie’s going” rejection of Tone’s offer to shuttle to and “talk” in the Middle East.

    On a possible Blair volta face, I don’t know. Apparently, he has already lodged an appeal to, as Dave Allen would have it, his God. Case pending.

    On Clinton, I find Christopher HItchens’s portrait pretty devastating. I reckon Clinton would have exhibited all of Runciman’s flavours of hypocrisy. And huge self-referential self-delusion. How else could you time bombing attacks with requirements to give testimony, sworn or not?

    I heard Slick Bill talk at the World IT Congress here in Adelaide a few years ago. Certainly a brilliant talker, with an intimate and quasi-confessional but ultimately soporiphic style, who seemed to embrace the whole audience and you felt he was just talking to you. He talked and talked and
    said pleny o’ nuthin’ and zzzzzzzzz……

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