Monday, August 31, 2015

Principle and Politics - a military parallel

In a debate on social media yesterday one of my friends from University days, Mark, Solomon suggested that what all the people Tony Blair identified as "parallel universe" politicians - Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn , the SNP, Syriza in Greece and Marine Le Pen - have in common is that although he strongly disagrees with many of their opinions, they all have principles. He suggested that a percieved lack of principles and consistency in politicians is one of the main things which is destroying trust and engagement among the electorate and that he would prefer people with principles he disagreed with to those with none.

Leaving aside for the moment that I don't actually agree that all the people on Tony Blair's "parallel universe" list have principles - in my opinion some of them are even worse than Blair is - that does raise an interesting point, one to which there is no simple answer.

Of course, we would all prefer to see people in power who are intelligent, have principles, and whose principles we agree with. But in an imperfect world that's not always going to be the case.

During my time as a councillor, especially when in opposition or on a "hung" council I often had to work with people from other parties. At different times both pragmatism and principle were helpful to getting things done for that people we were elected to serve, which supports the view that there is no right answer.

In general, opposition councillors with high integrity (particularly if one of their principles was sticking to their word) even if they also had low pragmatism or a significantly different worldview, were easier to deal with than opposition councillors with low integrity even if the political difference to the latter group was lower. For that reason I have sometimes (not always) found it easier in the public interest to work with Labour councillors than Lib/Dem ones.

So far that lines up with Mark's opinion. But I've found there is a point beyond which this does not apply and I want to give a military analolgy.

General Baron Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, who was head of the German Army just before Hitler came to power, is supposed to have said that

"I divide officers into four classes -- the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately."

I think there is a parallel here with politics, but for "industrious" read "principled" and for "lazy" read "pragmatic" and add consideration of "moderate" and "hardline" which will often but not always coincide with "pragmatic" and "principled."

There is nearly always a contribution to be made in politics by those who are clever. Depending on the circumstances, the nation may need intelligent leaders who are more principled or more pragmatic, more or less hardline.

Those who are not as intelligent may still have a part to play if they are willing to learn and willing to adapt.

But there is a category who are as dangerous to the body politic as those who General von Hammerstein-Equord called "stupid and industrious" are to an army.

That category is those who are stupid, hardline, and principled, or to give them the name they deserve, fanatics.

A party whose leadership is captured by fanatics has a problem: a nation where fanatics gain power has a serious problem.

So my answer to Mark Solomon is that principles are usually an excellent thing, but when they are combined with stupidity and hardline views, they can make matters worse.

I look at the views espoused by Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, the SNP, the Front Nationale in France, and Syriza. I look at their supporters. I see principle combined with views which often seem to ignore evidence and rationality and which range from hardline to outright extremism. I see people who might as well be shouting "stop the world, I want to get off."

1 comment:

Jim said...

You are looking to apply skin cream to keep the spots at bay, overlooking the underlying problem is measles.

Sure we can "elect" a better candiate rather then the wrong type type of person into office, to form a government which is pretty much a dictatorship for a fixed term...............

or

We could change the system so the absolute power can not fall to the wrong person, or group of people, and ensure that never again can a stupid and industrious person or group, (or indeed principled). Instead to cure the disease, will in fact wipe away the symptoms all by itself. to remove the cause its a case of dividing the power back to its source, no one person with too much of it at any time, yet, no one ever powerless.

sound familiar?