Do we really want political leaders with vision? Now that it’s leadership speculation season again, every speech or media appearance by a Labor politician is seen as an audition for the leadership. Supporters are looking for someone with big ideas, passion, and a vision for our future.
As Andrew Norton notes, Kevin Rudd is turning to British conservative thinker Michael Oakeshott for ideas. Oakeshott had plenty of ideas but none of them were big or visionary. Instead, he thought that political leaders should be boring:
To some people, ‘government’ appears as a vast reservoir of powers which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it. They have favourite projects, of various dimensions, which they sincerely believe are for the benefit of mankind, and to capture this source of power, if necessary to increase it, and to use it for imposing their favourite projects upon their fellows is what they understand as the adventure of governing men. They are, thus disposed to recognize government as an instrument of passion; the art of politics is to inflame and direct desire (p 431-432).
This was exactly the kind of politician Oakeshott abhorred. He wanted leaders who shared his conservative disposition:
The man of this disposition understands it to be the business of government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men and ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down. And all this, not because passion is vice and moderation virtue, but because moderation is indispensable if passionate men are to escape being locked in an encounter of mutual frustration (p 432).
This is the opposite of Mark Latham’s passionate hatred of his political opponents and their policies. It is also a warning against exploiting fear and conflict during election campaigns. Too much talk about ‘us’ and ‘our values’ heightens the contrast with ‘them’ and their rejection of our values.
How Oakeshottian does Rudd want to be?