Monday, August 11, 2014

The Game Of Hypocrisy


- This Cambridge guy, he writes for the London Review Of Books, you know him I guess, he wrote a book about hypocrisy* a few years ago. I was wondering what you think of him.
- Do I think he is a hypocrite?
- Do you? He says hypocrites are not simple liars, but people who pretend they have a certain character and then act out of character.
- And he means people who pretend to be of good character and act bad.
- Yes.
- And to be of good character is to act on a general principle considered to be good.
- Yes.
- And he argues that people in public life, politicians, must be hypocrites, because it is not possible to accomplish anything in politics by always staying in character.
- You've read the book then.
- Yes. The politician is not simply a liar, because the politician's job in a democracy is to represent. They get the job by saying they will represent in accord with certain principles. And we say they are hypocrites when they act inconsistently with those principles, which inconsistency is necessary to get anything practical done in politics which is always a matter of compromise.
- That's what he argues. Do you agree?
- I think his definition of hypocrisy is wrong. We are not born into a world that allows us to get everything we want immediately and all at the same time. We can get some things but must give up others. Declaring we want all those good things, and not being able to get them, for ourselves or others, does not make us hypocrites.
- What does then?
- Lying about what we want.
- Thomas Jefferson praising the brotherhood of man and himself being the master of slaves is not a hypocrite if he claims he really doesn't want to be a slave master?
- If he admits his keeping slaves is wrong, no, he's not. His character is faulted. He'd rather not, but he's not strong enough to live up to what he believes is right.
- Can't every politician make the same claim?
- Let's go back to your Cambridge Professor of Politics who writes for the London Review of Books. He argues in another book...
- You've read it?
- Yes. He says people in the American democracy are childish, inconsistent and unrealistic, because they have been fortunate enough to take democracy for granted. They play politics under the parentage of the safe functioning of democracy. The general character politicians are hypocritical about is offered to the people to vote on, as character type is all they are willing to divert themselves from their private games to pay attention to.
- But you think that politicians are not the Jefferson kind of hypocrite who really believes in good and compromises out of human weakness. They are hypocrites who are not of the character they claim to be at all. The character represented to the people is what is false, and the hidden exceptions express their true nature.
- Right. There is long tradition in philosophy of politics putting into effect a shadow or representation of the truth, of the necessity of compromise with real present conditions. It is sort of obvious when you think about it. To always tell the truth, even when it is not opportune, is to make an end in itself of truth telling, of making a show of truth telling. That means putting truth telling ahead of making life good, when good life is the object of good character. A public character of truth telling, when that is inconsistent with real good character, is hypocrisy.
- Your kind, not the professor's. Pretending to a character one doesn't really have.
- Yes. The professor doesn't make the distinction. The democratic politician is like the democratic public, childishly playing, playing the role of politician. They don't have character any more than a child has character. They've found a game to play that for them is most fun and they play it for all it is worth.
- If the parent of the people is their democracy, who is the parent of the politicians?
- Who else? The people.
- Who elect them and let them play their games. But if politicians are just big kids like the rest of us how can we accuse them of being hypocrites? They just want to play.
- What game are they playing?
- I see. The game of hypocrisy. I suppose that's also your answer to my question about this Professor of Politics at Cambridge, writer for the London Review of Books, whether or not he is a hypocrite. Because he fails to distinguish between having good character and not in his definition of hypocrisy, he himself is just playing the part of good character, a searcher after the truth of politics. He's not really interested.

Further Reading:
There Is No Conspiracy Because There Are No People
Liars & The Free Market
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
The Game Against The Game
* Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, David Runciman


- Now the story really gets interesting.
- What story?
- The story of how hypocrisy develops.
- Does hypocrisy develop?
- You decide. The Cambridge Professor of Politics, writer for the London Review Of Books, says he admires George Orwell, but he dismisses Orwell's socialism, his wish to organize society making a first principle human happiness, not property, as unrealistic. In fact, says the professor, Orwell's depiction of totalitarianism shows we are better off accepting hypocrisy in politics since the alternative of honesty is worse, the alternative to democratic hypocrisy is the honesty of totalitarianism.
- Where does he get the idea totalitarianism is honest?
- Because it openly is after power. And the language of totalitarianism is honest in being openly meaningless. It doesn't state anything meaningful to be hypocritical about.
- Is he serious?
- Serious as the democratic hypocrite he recommends we all be can be.
- But totalitarian governments don't exercise power for the sake of the people as they pretend but for the sake of the leaders.
- Of course. The professor doesn't want to know that. He wants to remain a favored child playing politics, and that requires the secure parentage of democratic stability. Orwell's social ideas challenge that stability so are rejected out of hand.
- The professor wants to go playing undisturbed.
- Yes. A hypocritical attitude towards public life creates a distance between people, an unreality. That distance blocks the development of politics based on people liking each other, actually living with each other. Totalitarianism isn't honest about relations between people. Assuming the democratic hypocrisy so admired by the professor, it says to the people: you can play for all you are worth, go ahead seek the power you want, but understand that power of government tells you what you can play and allows that you can play at all. Orwell's "double think", "war is peace" for example, says play war, but remember it is really only play, it really is peace, if the government wants you to play that game instead, it's not up to you.
- Totalitarian language has meaning. It says, go ahead and play, it's all about power anyway, but remember hypocrisy is fun but when all is said and done it's us, the government who are your parents and we say what goes, what really goes. If you don't listen, there's always the fall back to physical force. You see, we've invented something new, a perfected form of politics. A tyranny is dictatorship maintained by force, theocracy is dictatorship maintained by tradition, but our dictatorship is neither, but rather a development and the destiny of democratic hypocrisy.

Further Reading:
The United States And Totalitarianism