Political scientists (IV)


Isaiah Berlin’s consideration of political judgment.

The quality I am attempting to describe is that special understanding of public life (or for that matter private life) which successful statesmen have, whether they are wicked or virtuous—that which Bismarck had (surely a conspicuous example, in the last century, of a politician endowed with considerable political judgment), or Talleyrand or Franklin Roosevelt, or, for that matter, men such as Cavour or Disraeli, Gladstone or Ataturk, in common with the great psychological novelists, something which is conspicuously lacking in men of more purely theoretical genius such as Newton or Einstein or Russell, or even Freud. This is true even of Lenin, despite the huge weight of theory by which he burdened himself…

What is it that the Emperor Augustus or Bismarck knew and the Emperor Claudius or Joseph II did not? Very probably the Emperor Joseph was intellectually more distinguished and far better read than Bismarck, and Claudius may have known many more facts than Augustus. But Bismarck (or Augustus) had the power of integrating or synthesizing the fleeting, broken, infinitely various wisps and fragments that make up life at any level, just as every human being, to some extent, must integrate them (if he is to survive at all), without stopping to analyze how he does what he does, and whether there is a theoretical justification for his activity. Everyone must do it, but Bismarck did it over a much larger field, against a wider horizon of possible counts of action, with far greater power—to a degree, in fact, which is quite correctly described as that of genius. Moreover, the bits and pieces which require to be integrated—that is, seen as fitting with other bits and pieces, and not compatible with yet others, in the way in which, in fact, they do fit and fail to fit in reality—these basic ingredients of life are to a sense too familiar, we are too much with them, they are too close to us, they form the texture of the semiconscious and unconscious levels of our life, and for that reason they tend to resist tidy classification.


Political scientists (IV)

  1. Careful, dude, "good judgment" is considered an oxymoron among your po-mo readership.

    You're being a bit vague here; can someone fluent in Passive-Aggressive explain to me what this post is about? It seems a veiled slam against Iggy, but since that would be a first here at Beyond the Commons, I might've misunderstood.

    Speaking in epigrams and being a rich kid fortunate enough to be educated at the best schools does not equal intelligent, and Iggy is the perfect example of that. His judgment – his ability to think rationally about a given situation and formulate an intelligent response – stinks, to put it bluntly

    • "You're being a bit vague here; can someone fluent in Passive-Aggressive explain to me what this post is about?"

      Its isn't about anything. It's just designed to get the sneering post-literate cynics a-frothing.

      If it really it has to be about anything, it has nothing to do with present circumstances involving elites whose mediocrity I believe is exceptional and can in no way be compared to anyone mentionned by name in that post.

    • Did you bother to read what Berlin said here? Political judgement is an ability to synthesize and integrate info…it does not convey lack of intelligence or inablilty to think rationally in those who may not have such judgement…moreover having the judgement isn't by any means a badge of virtue…Bismark being a prime example.
      I wonder if someone more familiar with Berlin's thinkng than i am could say whether he believed good pol judgement could be acquired over time by those who appear to be slow learners…or is it a gift? I'd say the evidence is it could be both gift and acquired…there are plenty of examples of pols who started out disasterously, but showes an ability to learn from their mistakes…Chretien and Harper being a couple…others don't appear to catch on at all [Dion] or maybe they weren't given enough time, or luck, or good enough political friends.

      • If I am not mistaken, I believe that Berlin was influenced by an Aristotelian train of though concerning his virtue-which means that he would have given credibility to experience.

  2. Didi Mr. Wherry just "take a knee" before King Harper?

  3. So Harper is a natural and Iggy is stuck in his own head.

    We've heard variations on this theme for quite awhile now. Strange to here it from a Lib booster like Wherry though !

    As a bonus bit of irony – Iggy wrote a biography about Berlin and considers the man an influence.

    • "Iggy wrote a biography about Berlin and considers the man an influence. "

      Read that from a Tweet, did ya?

  4. ??

    I've read most of Ignatieff's writing.

    You do realize that at one point he was an Iraq war supporting/Afghan mission extending NeoConservative that many of us on the right quite enjoyed ?

  5. My goodness, this string of blogs really is a Rorschach test. He chooses an excerpt from a political writer that ought to provoke contemplative, reflective thoughts about the state of politics and the next thing you know delusional, indulgent interpretations come flying out of the woodwork.

    I know it's fashionable to go off the meds every once and a while, to clean out the cobwebs, but if this is the result, I'm not sure it's worth it.

    • ??

      Its called editorial control. People don't choose random passages for no reason. One assumes it has some relevance to today's situation.

      Drawing the implication that Harper is a natural and Iggy lives in his head is a perfectly normal thing to occur upon reading this.

      • Hey, you recognized yourself.

  6. Fascinating excerpt Aaron.

    Isn't it interesting that somone as seemingly intellectually limited as Mackenzie King seemed to have a surplus of good political judgement, whereas a talented man of ideas such as Dion – much as I admire him – really seemed to lack it. It does seem to be a distinct type of intelligence.

    Jury's still out on Obama.

    As for Harper, I think his judgement is wildly overated. You saw that during the lead up to the coalition crisis and in various other missteps over the years (accusing Paul Martin of supporting child molestors, the arts gala comments during the 2008 campaign, siccing the attack dogs on Richard Colvin, etc.) The main thing he has going for him is singlemindedness. He has his sights fixed on only one goal: political survival and extending his time in office as long as possible. He never really loses sight of that and it gives him an advantage over less-focused oppoents. That plus the fact there are 4 parties to the left of him splitting their votes of course.

    • King – intellectually limited?

      William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG (December 17, 1874 – July 22, 1950) was a Canadian lawyer, economist, university professor, consultant, civil servant, journalist, teacher, and politician

      • A better example might be Duplessis…although i'm not sure what qualifications he had. But he was certainly a political operator…although hardly an ethical one.

      • I'm just saying he was not the most imaginative thinker out there. Ever read a transcript of a King speech? Plodding is the word that comes to mind.

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