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.