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Political hypocrisy


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A Paper which discusses the concept of Political Hypocrisy from a number of different perspectives including that of magical realism for the first time. It focuses on approaches taken by David Runciman: Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, John Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie:The Truth About Lying in International Politics, Peter Oborne: The Rise of Political Lying, Michel Foucault: Truth and Power, Colin Crouch: Post-democracy, Martin Jay: The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics, Sophia Rosenfeld: Hypocrisy in American Political Attitudes

Published in: News & Politics
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Political hypocrisy

  1. 1. Political Hypocrisy: Magical Realism and the Death of the Political Actor by Ged Mirfin
  2. 2. All politicians are hypocrites! This has become the stereotypical view of politicians at both a national and a local level unfortunately. The problem in a nutshell is that the people increasingly distrust the political system they’re part of. Political hypocrisy they feel has become so rife that it is harder to find an example of genuine and really sincere politicians than it is the obverse. The reason why the general public is so incensed about political hypocrisy is that it has such a huge impact on our daily lives. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the world, especially in politics, but is it really so bad? Is it one of the worst kinds of vice or just a necessary evil? Hypocritical behaviour bothers us so much in large part because we want to take people’s words and actions as representative of their character. Hypocrisy reveals startling inconsistencies between behaviour and character. Worse still hypocrisy is the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing real character or inclinations, especially with respect to religious and moral beliefs. Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one's own expressed moral rules and principles. According to British political philosopher David Runciman, "Other kinds of hypocritical deception include claims to knowledge that one lacks, claims to a consistency that one cannot sustain, claims to a loyalty that one does not possess, claims to an identity that one does not hold.". American political journalist, Michael Gerson, meanwhile, says that political hypocrisy is "the conscious use of a mask to fool the public and gain. Indeed the original Greek word hypokrites, literally translated, means “impersonating from underneath”. Hypokrites was a stage actor who narrated each drama by impersonating its characters underneath masks and costumes: a pretender. Hypocrisy is feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. At its heart is the notion of pretence pretending to be what one is not with the intention to deliberately deceive. Dissembling is not the art of lying it is the
  3. 3. art of spinning a yarn – a false narrative, as I will discuss later. The key manifestations of hypocrisy not surprisingly read like character traits: sanctimoniousness, smarminess, unctuousness, unction, oiliness,, oleagiousness. Hypocrisy derives from the Greek word. Hypokrisis, meaning ‘to play a part’, hypocrisy is very much the ancient art. Literally, as it happens, since the original Hypocrites were, in fact, classical stage actors. Its theatrical origins shed some light on the concept. Hypocrisy s not simply lying. Hypocrisy is, rather, a question of character, or better still, a question of whether the persona constructed, the role one plays, provides a false impression of one’s actual beliefs and practices. The portrayal of politicians as political actors is important when it comes to understanding the changing nature of the political stage they are on. The Third Industrial Revolution in which advanced computers and software are invading the last remaining human sphere- the realm of the mind. I’m not suggesting that Cyborgs are replacing living and breathing human beings, although the robotic performance of some politicians does make you wonder, but rather the digital and on-line world has become increasingly removed from the real world to such an extent that politicians are now becoming separated from their digitised self which they are unable to control because it is in the hands of the army of technicians who work within the electronic media. Hypocrisy is therefore becoming less of a conscious life-style choice and more of an unconscious stream of dreamscapes brought to life by graphic artists, web designers and on-line PR specialists. Where does one world finish and another start? That is why what is understood by hypocrisy is so difficult to typologise. Even so there is surprisingly little written on the subject of political hypocrisy anyway despite the fact that citizens frequently erupt in anger when they discover their leaders have lied to them. No sphere is more thoroughly stained with double standards than the political. Barely a week passes without a story of an ostentatiously upright MP’s extra-marital affair or a
  4. 4. seemingly upright MP receiving a brown envelope or corporate hospitality in return for asking questions on behalf of a private sector client about public sector funding. Whether it’s a do- gooding narcissist, a moralising adulterer, or an austerity-preaching hedonist, the virtuous posture rarely travels unaccompanied by a contradictory reality. Private vice, it seems, is the permanently exposed underbelly of contemporary politics. In return, the pervasive whiff of hypocrisy provokes an understandably cynical response: politicians – you can’t trust them. Perhaps lying seems like such an amorphous concept that it is difficult to study, or maybe scholars have shied away from a subject because of its contentious and problematic nature. Magical Realism What is abundantly clear is that political hypocrisy is so rife in modern society that the electorate has become increasingly disenchanted because it is impossible to make a legitimate choice any more between meaningful alternatives. That disenchantment has manifested itself in an exponential decline in political deference. Are we witnessing the decline of principled politics? If so, then the ultimate destination of political travel is not just fake news replacing real news but fake politics replacing real politics. If politicians can no longer say what they mean and mean what they say then there is a danger of the underlying superstructure of political narrative breaking down and its replacement by a magical realist world in which nothing is ever quite what it seems any more. Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe".Magical Realism is characterized by the bending of reality and melding it with superstition, old wives’ tales, and exaggeration to dramatic effect. Divergence between fact and fiction, real and unreal becomes immaterial. In such a world anything becomes possible. At the heart of magical realism is the
  5. 5. notion of fantastical events in an otherwise realistic setting: Brexit and the End of Austerity? Magical Realism may seem purely mythical, but beyond the purpose of entertainment and stretching the imagination, it also contains astute observations of the social and political conflicts. Political fantasy exists side by side in real world settings - the chimerical, abstract, fantastical, unbelievable are presented as an easily attainable destination just around the next corner or over the next hill when of course there is ultimately an element of mythical shangri- lah which politicians are forced to describe because the common everyday reality is a far less appealing and ultimately disappointing destination. A bit like the seaside on a wet windy day when all the shops are closed and the prospect of a go on the rides or a walk on the pier lacks the enthusiasm it has on a scorching hot day when the sun is out. This is why politicians increasingly resort to “deliberate withholding of information and explanations about the disconcerting fictitious world". The gap between fantasy and reality is the hypocrisy of the bright glorious future versus the mundane disappointing reality. Such political hybridity - because that’s what it is - is critical to maintaining the political meta narrative or should that be meta fiction that encapsulates messy contemporary reality. The day that the mass public become immune to fake news and develop a heightened awareness of the hidden meanings contained in government messages will represent a significant tipping point in the ability of that government to educate or prepare an already mistrustful and suspicious electorate of some unpalatable outcomes. Telling the public they can’t have something is always far more difficult than promising to deliver them shangri-lah beneath the summer moon (Led Zeppelin - Kashmir). It is also far more dangerous. The consequences of no longer being able to rely on hypocrisy to the same extent has already been seen in several populist political movements in Europe.. Populism unbound as we have seen has delivered political change. Who knows what the result of populism bound will be?
  6. 6. It is at this point that the electorate will seriously begin to question whether they have chosen wrongly, and whether they should put up with leaders questioning his or her whole mandate or lack of it. Theresa May take note! The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess - political falseness has thus far not led to the resignation of a British Prime Minister. Even a Remain supporting Prime Minister can profess that Brexit means Brexit and seemingly get away with it. Thus far! Whether such contrariness is genuinely revealing of one's real character or actual behaviour is open to question. The late political theorist Judith Shklar: “It is easier to dispose of an opponent’s character by exposing his hypocrisy than to show his political convictions are wrong.” This is a message worth dwelling upon during every election. It is when that profession becomes evidently false - that point when political hypocrisy verges over into Political Lying that the problem is likely to occur. “How can you tell when a politician is lying? He moves his lips.” Is the joke. MPs who profess to honour the result of the Referendum but continue to Vote in Parliament to overturn the result of the Referendum and support Remain fall into this camp. This kind of behaviour is political pretentiousness of the highest water. The point at which such behaviour becomes thoroughly duplicitousness and two faced depends on the qualifications offered and the arguments offered to support such actions. This is why it is so very difficult and so very frustrating for the general public when it comes to assessing standards of hypocrisy because there are no universally accepted standards or benchmarks that one can refer to. It has been likened to fire in one hand and water in the other, mix them together and one gets a lot of smoke which it is difficult to see through.
  7. 7. Seen through the lens of magical realism it is possible to see political Hypocrisy as a tool for reconciling the irreconcilable views of different generations and epochs - in the case of Brexit the older parochial minded heavy industrial generation with the newer much more cosmopolitan minded post-industrial generation where never the Twain shall meet. Impossibly old traditions struggle against appallingly new modernity in which Public conceptions of good and bad policy rub up against Private conceptions of morality and self-interest right or wrong with the resultant Public Anguish being seemingly more garish and extreme than any previously reported Popular Conceptions. This isn’t a dialectic that is reconcilable. Ultimately Tradition or Modernity will triumph. Politicians are having to play a dangerous game. Hitching their horses to one historical force or the other is playing a dangerous sport. Unless they are talented political circus riders jumping with agility from historical horse to another with skill and lightening agility they are likely to be crushed beneath the hooves of the galloping masses, badly damaged and never to rise again. The Death of the Political Actor The emergence of the actor politician able to weep insincere crocodile tears on the political stage is no coincidence. Legend has it that a crocodile shed tears and moans in order to lure passers-by into its clutches, and then, still weeping devours them. Indeed the ability to pretend or weep tears of sorrow when policies fail and have to be abandoned in front of a packed house containing an invited audience who have paid to see a scene delivered in a particular way is becoming a key part of their political actor apprenticeship. Only the leading figures on the political stage are able to pull it off with anything like the confidence required and not disappoint their audience. Those who don’t or can’t exit their stage like David Davis and Boris
  8. 8. Johnson before the reviews of their performance by the critics damage their reputation and public profile. Those that stay on the stage too long like Theresa May become far less popular with the danger of being seen by future historians of the political stage as great but fundamentally flawed actors or reduced to bit Part players because they were unable to handle the big roles. David Runciman: Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond David Runciman who is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, Professor of Politics, and a fellow of Trinity Hall in his book “Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond” (2008) asks the meaningful question: What kind of hypocrite should voters choose as their next leader? The question is utterly cynical but, as Runciman suggests, it is actually much more cynical to pretend that politics can ever be completely sincere. argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics--the most dangerous form of political hypocrisy is to claim to have a politics without hypocrisy. Runciman does not so much defend hypocrisy per se as delineate its benign forms from its malign. In other words, at times a certain amount of dissembling on the part of our political representatives might actually be desirable; at other times less so. Runciman however argues that there is a special kind of dishonesty associated with misrepresenting oneself entirely in one’s political capacity. Instead of vainly searching for authentic politicians, therefore we should try to distinguish between harmless and harmful hypocrisies and worry only about the most damaging varieties. For Runciman, though inherently unattractive, hypocrisy is also more or less inevitable in most political settings, and in liberal democratic societies it is practically ubiquitous No one expects any sort of integrity in their politicians any more. Does this signify a
  9. 9. societal breakdown. In an advanced industrial society? For some it does. For others it is a natural consequence of the increasingly fraught and complicated nature of the political process. The book addresses the problems of sincerity and truth in politics, and how we can deal with them without slipping into hypocrisy ourselves. Runciman tackles the problems through lessons drawn from some of what he calls the “great truth-tellers in modern political thought” including - Hobbes, Mandeville, Jefferson, Bentham, Sidgwick, and Orwell - and applies his ideas to different kinds of hypocritical politicians from Oliver Cromwell to Hillary Clinton. Runciman catalogues the sheer variety of the kinds of lies, functions of lies and conceptions about lying before making a case for the benefits of lying in certain circumstances. He argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics, but without resigning ourselves to it, let alone cynically embracing it. We should stop trying to eliminate every form of hypocrisy, and we should stop vainly searching for ideally authentic politicians. Instead, we should try to distinguish between harmless and harmful hypocrisies and should worry only about its most damaging varieties. He poses the question - What are the limits of truthfulness in politics? And when, where, and how should we expect our politicians to be honest with us, and about what? Runciman’s aim is to demonstrate that the people don’t always know what’s in their best interests, and some lies from on high are actually perpetrated for the people’s own good, not the least of which is maintaining public order. For Runciman, the best guide for distinguishing between harmful lies and useful mendacity is the liberal tradition—the strain of modern political thought which he argues is most attached to the idea of politics as the realm of truth-telling and interpersonal trust. He argues that many political thinkers within the liberal tradition going back to Hobbes thought long and hard about
  10. 10. a problem that persists to this day: how much lying can we tolerate—and when, what kinds and why? Or as he puts it: “What sorts of hypocrites [do] we want our politicians to be?” He provides what he calls a “practical guide” (in his own words) for dealing with political hypocrisy in the modern era. The philosophy of Thomas Hobbes as one of the first Political Thinkers to confront the problem is particularly significant. Hobbes central insight was that “to rule in a modern state is by definition to play a kind of double role—that of the every man who is also the only person with real power.” For Hobbes, as long as this rule is understood and honoured, occasional lying or public concealment of one’s true nature or motives should be an accepted aspect of political life, whether one is playing the role of sovereign or subject. More to the point, given the fundamental truth that politics—especially political language—is an inevitably hypocritical business, the only genuinely troubling form of hypocrisy is a political leader’s insistence upon his own unwavering sincerity, which amounts to the thinnest of lies about the nature of power. In the absence of a sovereign power to arbitrarily, prescribe a moral code, there exists instead “the endless attempt by individuals to re-describe what they happen to prefer as virtue, and what others happen to prefer as vice”. The danger of ‘colouring’ is that the reality of political power, its sheer arbitrariness, is concealed as something morally justified. According to Hobbes, “If the moral arbitrariness of the state of nature produces the need for sovereign power, then the need for that power is the one thing that no one should try to hide behind the colourful language of vice and virtue. For the one thing that colour terms might mask is the fact of moral arbitrariness itself, ie, the fact that there are no virtues and vices.’
  11. 11. In his discussion of the nineteenth-century utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, Runciman returns to this concern with the hypocritical presentation of political power as morally sanctioned. Like Hobbes, Bentham despised the concealment of basic social facts of existence with what Runciman calls mere ‘babble’. This Bentham characterises as ‘insignificant’ language, be it ‘the meaningless jabber of professional jargon’, the contradictory use of meaningful discourse or ‘cant’: the sing-song consolation of pleasing, well-meaning words. As Runciman writes in his discussion of Orwell, ‘obscurantist language is most dangerous when it attempts to conceal the truth about political power’. Runciman’s concluding chapter on Orwell mounts a defence of the necessity of such concealment. Writing of the English alliance of democracy with imperialism, Orwell notes that the brute force implicit in the latter is blunted by the moral charade of the former. Imperialism without the mask of democracy would be fascism. For Orwell Democratic Hypocrisy was preferable to the truth of the total lie. These are, for Runciman, democratic fictions, the masks necessary to protect citizens from the arbitrary exercise of power. Runciman’s ideal politician, is an individual who is able to involve himself in the charade of politics, of moral posturing, of visionary pretences, whilst remaining detached enough to recognise it for the mask that it is. That person is a “self-conscious hypocrite who strikes a heroic, tragic pose; his is a reckoning with the disenchanted reality of the real world, where the exercise of state power demands the adoption of the leader’s charismatic mask for its popular assent.” In other words the Political Actor has to bridge the world of reality and unreality learning how to deliver his hypocritical monologue in both, stylistically adopting his lines to a black and white as well as colourful reality as Hobbes would have it.
  12. 12. We are reminded by Runciman that we exist in a a historical moment in which the exercise of political power lacks ideological justification. In consequence, the personality of the leader, his convictions and beliefs, assumes ever greater importance. And with this, the risk, indeed, the necessity of hypocrisy grows ever greater. Hence his conclusion: “What matters is not whether liberals are worse than they would like to appear, but whether they can be honest with themselves about the gaps that are bound to exist between the masks of politics and what lies behind those masks.” It is both a colourful and at the same time provoking thought. There are ‘no simple solutions’ he contends in his concluding remarks. But such a reckoning with the ‘complexity’ of political reality and unreality all too easily becomes reconciliation – a synthesis if you like between the unbelievability of political realism and the believability of magical realism. Runciman however is careful not to suggest that hypocrisy is the particular vice of any one segment of the political spectrum. Politics in the modern era therefore is partly becoming a matter of deception and compromise. Politics requires us to talk about complex issues as though they were simple, and to keep hidden from the public some of the nastier deals and compromises that enable us to get things done in communities made up of quarrelsome, naive and opinionated people. There is no question of a politics of pure uncontaminated sincerity. So, if hypocrisy is still a vice in the political realm, it has to connote something more complicated than just saying one thing and doing or believing another. Political credibility matters as I discussed in a previous meeting.
  13. 13. Indeed it can be argued that a certain level of hypocrisy is necessary in any party-political system. Parties and especially governments require their members to be publicly loyal to lines and leaders in whom, being human and therefore endowed with their own opinions, they do not always have faith. This public hypocrisy is needed for policy to be made and implemented; the private, negative kind of hypocrisy, in which politicians secretly denounce the ideas or people they praise in public, can also be virtuous too, since it can indirectly lead to policies being improved. Anyone who thinks about these things for a moment understands that political hypocrisy has its uses, and is anyway inevitable. The question is, how and where to draw the line between good and bad hypocrisies? The prevalence of deception however may be one of the great ironies of democratic politics. A foundational principle of liberal democracies is that they require transparency, accountability, and trust between representatives and the represented—not the webs of secrecy and lies characteristic of authoritarian regimes of the past. Yet politicians and elected officials rank right up there with used-car salesmen in terms of the public’s confidence in their words, especially when boasting of their own honesty and integrity. And lying—meaning an intentional deception of one sort or other, whether through phrases, gestures, actions, or even inactions and silences —seems to be more prevalent in politics than in almost any other area of public life. Populist Political Parties like UKIP start from the premise that politics has become, one big, immoral con. Fraudulent language and behaviour however are no more prevalent in contemporary society than anywhere else or at any other time; Machiavelli, after all, wrote the book on successful political lying in sixteenth-century Italian states.
  14. 14. Public Cynicism and the Populist Reaction Indeed overt mendacity may actually be harder to get away with now than in the past given the rise in scrutiny of public figures. Public Cynicism however results in a kind of Political Hypocrisy that is very costly. Public cynicism allows the costly hypocrisy of politicians to thrive. A renewed scrutiny of the many flavours and uses of mendacity in political life is taking place in academia. John Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie:The Truth About Lying in International Politics In his short book “Why Leaders Lie:The Truth About Lying in International Politics John Mearsheimer the R.Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, reiterated Hannah Arendt’s famous maxim that “truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues”. Is lying in international politics a shameful behaviour or a useful tool of statecraft? When is it good for leaders to lie to their own people? Is there too much--or too little--lying in international politics? John Mearsheimer answers these and other questions. According to Mearsheimer,, lying in interstate relations is actually considerably less prevalent, or dangerous, or even frowned upon, than might otherwise be assumed. More worrisome is when elected leaders spread falsehoods about international affairs and engage in fear- mongering on the home front. Such lies produce not only political debacles, Mearsheimer asserts, but also a culture of dishonesty in which trust in policy-makers and, potentially, democratic governance is undermined. When leaders lie to their own publics about foreign policy conduct, significant damage can result--particularly in democracies. “It is clear from the
  15. 15. historical record,” writes Mearsheimer, “that although lying is often condemned as shameful behaviour, leaders of all kinds think that it is a useful tool.” Mearsheimer defines lying as "when a person makes a statement that he knows or suspects to be false in the hope that others will think it is true. A lie is a positive action designed to deceive the target audience". He is primarily concerned with international lies-for-the-sake-of national interest, not lies for personal gain. On the other hand, the democratic state of law thrives and depends on trust, and so is ripe for abuse. Our politicians, more than autocrats, require the oxygen of public support for their policies, and so when it fails to appear, they are tempted to create it artificially. Mearsheimer categorises the lies our leaders tell us according to the effects they seek to achieve. More precisely, Mearsheimer identifies seven different types of international lies. A chapter is devoted to each of these lies explaining in more detail the nature of the lie, its intended audience, its motivations, and what outcomes are expected. He concentrates on four issues about international lies: The classification of types of lies; the motives for the different types of lies; the circumstances that make each type more or less likely; and the potential costs of lying. First, inter-state lies where the leader of one country lies to a leader of another country, or more generally, any foreign audience, to induce a desired reaction. By inter-state lies, leaders would acquire certain advantages or prevent other countries’ gain from their own. Second, fear mongering, where a leader lies to his or her own domestic public trying to create support for policies that might be unpopular without lies (think of the Iraq war) in order to amplify a threat they feel the populace would otherwise underestimate-to convey public about the seriousness of the menace. Third, strategic cover-ups, employing lies to prevent controversial policies and deals from being made known publicly where a country tries to cover-up botched policies using lies for the purpose of national, not
  16. 16. personal, interest in order to limit the international fall-out from other states. This form of international lying takes place mostly in democratic states where debates are blatant. Fourth, nationalist myth making;. These are stories about a country's past that portray that country in a positive light while its adversaries in a negative light. This is where the leader of one country lies to a leader of another country, or more generally, any foreign audience, Nationalist myth making Mearsheimer argues is designed to induce a desired reaction. reinventing the historical record in order to bind their populations with a guiltless national identity. Nationalistic myth is also one of the paramount means for leaders to delude citizens’ minds by enhancing perpetual social cohesion. Fifth, liberal lies, are given to clear up the negative reputation of institutions, individuals, or actions, embellishing their government’s often illiberal methods with idealistic motives. This is where a lie is used to counter accusations that an action is contrary to liberal norms such as international law; social imperialism, which "occurs when leaders tell lies about another country for the purposes of promoting either their own economic or political interests or those of a particular social class or interest group"; and ignoble cover-ups, "when leaders lie about their blunders or unsuccessful policies for self-serving reasons". He also emphasizes that there are two other kinds of deception besides lying: "concealment,” which is where a leader remains silent about an important matter, and "spinning," which is where a leader tells a story that emphasizes the positive and downplays or ignores the negative. Mearsheimer explains the reasons why leaders pursue each of these different kinds of lies. He argues that international lying can have negative effects, and there he emphasizes "blowback” which is where telling international lies helps cause a culture of deceit at home, and "backfiring," which is where telling a lie leads to a failed policy. Each category of lie - and he makes clear that these initial categorisations are the start rather than the end of the research process are illustrated by historical examples. Instead of focusing on finding perfect definitions, Mearsheimer develops categories to help manage the different forms lies can take. The categories are specific in design,
  17. 17. but flexible enough to encompass a variety of cases. Mearsheimer argues that leaders lie to foreign audiences as well as their own people because they think it is good for their country. His two main findings are that leaders actually do not lie very much to other countries, and that democratic leaders are actually more likely than autocrats to lie to their own people. According to Mearsheimer, “The public, by and large, trusts its leaders not only to tell the truth, but to get the job done. When they don’t get the job done, they get punished, and when they don’t get the job done and it comes out that they lied, they’re in really serious trouble. If you’re going to tell a lie, make sure the policy.” Indeed the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, had a saying: “For the people. Despite the people.” Mearsheimer argues that leaders are most likely to lie to their own people in democracies that fight wars of choice in distant places. He says that it is difficult for leaders to lie to other countries because there is not much trust among them, especially when security issues are at stake, and you need trust for lying to be effective. He says that it is easier for leaders to lie to their own people because there is usually a good deal of trust between them. Mearsheimer demonstrates how if a leader lies to sell a policy that works, people are unlikely to care all that much. If the policy turns out to be a failure, in the initial period following the general public will be furious, shocked at the deception played upon them. In no time at all however, they will implicitly trust the government once again. “There’s no question that once a President lies, people are then quite jaded in how they look at the President,’ he says. “But that quickly wears off. Trust reassert itself. And then people are vulnerable all over again.” Mearsheimer reaches the conclusion that, “In large part because most people don’t have much choice but to trust their own government, because their own government its tasked with protecting them.” The problem is that Politicians nowadays treat the electorate like medical orderlies treat Alzheimer’s
  18. 18. patients, telling them anything that will keep them subdued. It doesn’t matter what untruths the people are fed because they will not long remember. But in politics, forgotten falsehoods almost guarantee new treachery. The rise of democracy has enabled politicians to convince citizens that government poses no threat because they control its actions—or so the myth goes. This is part of the reason for the rise of populist political parties in both Western Europe and the United States. Lies subvert democracy by crippling citizens’ ability to rein in government. Citizens are left clueless about perils until it is too late for the nation to pull back. Unfortunately, Why Leaders Lie does not provide a clear standard for judging official deceit. Should we presume that “good government” is when politicians lie to the people for the public benefit and “bad government” is when politicians lie for selfish interests? How can we distinguish between the two? We have to trust politicians to tell us which is which. What about the ethics of lying? What about condemning leaders who lie? Does the end justify the means? If the end is the “national interest” what is that and should we always promote it? Is the ability to lie a virtue for a leader? If the state is an evil one, is promotion of its statecraft a good thing? Political lies are far more dangerous than most political scientists recognize. Big government requires Big Lies—and not just about wars but across the board. The more powerful centralized administration becomes the more abuses it commits and the more lies it must tell. The government becomes addicted to the growth of its own revenue and power—and this growth cannot be maintained without denying or suppressing the adverse effects of Leviathan’s growth. The more power government seizes, the more easily it can suppress the truth. But if people are content to be deceived, elections become little more than patients choosing which nurses will inject their sedatives. If the citizenry does not punish liars, then it cannot expect the truth. And the more arbitrary power the U.S. presidency possesses, the more it attracts the type of
  19. 19. politician who will not hesitate to lie to capture office. And therein lies both the problem and the explanation of why failure to deliver a meaningful Brexit may result in the emergence of a much powerful populist movement in Britain that spans both left and right. Mearsheimer therefore explains the reasons why leaders pursue each these difference kinds of lies. His central thesis is that leaders lie more frequently to democratic audiences than to leaders of other states. This is because International Lying can have negative effects including blowback and backfiring. Blowback is where telling lnternational lies helps cause a culture of deceit at home. Backfiring is where telling a lie leads to a failed policy. He also emphasizes that there are two other kinds of deception besides lying: "concealment,” which is where a leader remains silent about an important matter, and "spinning," which is where a leader tells a story that emphasizes the positive and downplays or ignores the negative. Mearsheimer does not consider the moral dimension of international lying; he looks at it simply from a realist perspective. He rightly focuses on the more morally ambiguous realm of lying in the national interest. According to Mearsheimer, sometimes Lying is a useful tool of statecraft and there are going to be cases when it makes good sense to lie to your own people. One always needs to be aware however that lies can backfire. This is the blowback effect, where when you lie to your own people about foreign policy you run the risk that you’ll soon be lying to them about other aspects of policy, and lying will become routine and undermine the trust that’s necessary to make the country function. Once it’s known that a particular leader has told a lie, especially an important lie with significant policy consequences, he or she in a sense opening Pandora’s Box. It can take on a life of its own. So ultimately for Mearsheimer the lesson is: Lie selectively, lie well, and ultimately be good at what you do."The fact is,”according to
  20. 20. Mearsheimer, “that strategic lying is a useful tool of statecraft.” so a blanket condemnation of Lying is unrealistic and unwise. Mearsheimer’s identification of the key pitfall of state dishonesty as the corrosion of trust in public debate invites an analogous retort: it suggests that what we need is not more honesty but better cover-ups. If lies are well told and perfectly concealed, trust in public debate would in fact prosper. Of course, this is exactly why leaders are so tempted to lie; although they know that generalised duplicity would pollute the deliberative ecosystem, there is no reason to believe that a particular instance of lying will be discovered. Of course, leaders need to set an example of honesty and integrity for their organizations. (They shouldn’t lie for selfish reasons.) But part of the art of leadership is knowing when lies have to be told, and being able to distinguish those deceptions — the ones created for unselfish reasons —from the purely self-serving kind. leaders lie because leadership at times requires deception. “It is clear from the historical record,” writes Mearsheimer, “that although lying is often condemned as shameful behaviour, leaders of all kinds think that it is a useful tool.” Of course, leaders need to set an example of honesty and integrity for their organizations. (They shouldn’t lie for selfish reasons.) But part of the art of leadership is knowing when lies have to be told, and being able to distinguish those deceptions —the ones created for unselfish reasons — from the purely self-serving kind. Not all lying is virtuous, of course. The many falsehoods the Bush & Blair administrations told in the run-up to the Iraq War were very damaging to both the U.S. and Britain alike, ensnaring them in an unnecessary war and fostering cynicism and distrust among both the Americans and
  21. 21. the British. What differentiates noble lies and ignoble ones, Mearsheimer writes, is their success. Double-dealing is a tricky gambit. Political scientist Robert D. Putnam has likened the foreign policy process to playing two board games at the same time, each at a different table. Sitting at the table that represents domestic politics are advisers, union leaders, rival politicians, and so on. (In autocracies, a combination of generals, relatives, and radicals might take their place.) The second table represents international politics, and gathered around it are other heads of state. The challenge for the leader shuttling between the two is to make moves that satisfy those at the domestic table while fending off threats at the international table. The game becomes much easier if foreign policy decisions are obscured from the domestic audience. A ruler who says yes to the United States without being labelled a stooge can enhance his position internationally while holding on to power at home. Although Mearsheimer does not say so, duplicity is becoming harder to practice. Leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to send one message to foreign powers while telling their own people something else. Both David Cameron and Theresa May have become caught in this narrative void as regards the European Union. The day-by-day erosion of the British government's narrative monopoly is a case study in the difficulties of media management in a modern-day democracy. Advances in communications technology and democratic representation have steadily accelerated the free flow of information and tied the hands of governments hoping to dam it. This is partly good news, since governments will find it harder to bamboozle their people into accepting bad policies. "Whenever leaders cannot sell a policy to their public in a rational-legal manner," Mearsheimer writes, "there is a good chance that the
  22. 22. problem is with the policy, not the audience." Lying, it transpires, is the vice of the accountable. Whereas those with the power to flout rules achieve their ends by other means, those constrained by the law must resort to deception. It is also, in the words of La Rochefoucauld, “the tribute vice pays virtue”; unlike threats and coercion, those who lie implicitly reaffirm the value of truth, and those who lie about the principles their actions embody simultaneously reaffirm the value of those principles. The prevalence of lying in our political class emerges as a somewhat perversely comforting thought —it demonstrates that they have no other means of getting what they want, and that at least when we detect it, we can bring its perpetrators to justice. False Consciousness Furthermore, although it may be that definition for descriptive purposes is inherently useful it distorts things when it comes to the moral dimensions of lying. Negative repercussions will crop up when deceits are rife or over the top, no matter how noble the lies might seem. The selection of the initial definition therefore may rule out, or make more difficult to understand, what makes a lie wrong, when it is wrong. The intention to bring about certain consequence of political lies is wrong. The wrongness of the intention is a function of the badness of what it tries to bring about--false belief or consciousness. The fact elites can be so widely successful in deception to an extent is supported by the concept of false consciousness, a Marxist notion, used mainly by Engels, and similar studies of other members of the Frankfurt Critical School such as Adorno, Horkheim, and Marcuse on the topics of manipulation, power- and social structures, and group behaviour.
  23. 23. Peter Oborne: The Rise of Political Lying The idea of false consciousness has been taken up by Peter Oborne in his book “The Rise of Political Lying” in particular in a Chapter (6) entitled “Construction of the Truth”. False consciousness is a concept which has been further elaborated on through the French postmodernist school of philosophy which flourished in the 1970s and appears to have become mainstream in several leading University Politics Departments. The 'post-modernists’ corrosion of the notion of objective reality, is particularly associated with the writings of the philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Foucault argues in his book, “Truth and Power”, that Truth only makes sense as part of a wider system of politics. He argues, “Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. Truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.” In effect for Foucault, Truth is no more than the effect of the rules of political discourse. For Foucault therefore as all discourses are equally valid including a discourse based on lying Truth was there to be created through lying. For Foucault this should not be viewed as particularly surprising, illogical, self contradictory or unfathomable because it has to be remembered that ultimately Truth has to be seen as part of the effect of power relations, the ultimate expression of political dominance maintained by the perpetuation of an ongoing narrative or fiction. What politicians who lie have done is to construct a plausible narrative or story. Truth can be verified but a truthful narrative based on lies can be manufactured. The problem is that manufactured narrative has come to dominate the news to such a degree that it is no longer possible to tell the difference between what is false and what is real. Political reality, according to Peter Oborne is no longer something that exists ‘out there’ which is checkable and subject to independent
  24. 24. verification. On the contrary it has become something that can be shaped and used in the ongoing battle for power. Reality is something that can be created (as well as destroyed) as part of an all pervading narrative which is difficult to refute. Truth has become something that can be constructed The unintended consequence of post-modernist philosophy is thus devaluing of the content of a statement against its context. Oborne quotes Charles Leadbetter who wrote, “ about constructing narratives that make sense to people: stories that encompass their identities, aspirations and fears, and the policies that reflect them.” Yet as Leadbetter further points out, “it is in these Central tasks that politicians seem at times to be most deficient.” Has the demand by Party hierarchies for strong political narratives meant that a tipping point between the Politics of Truth and post-Truth politics has been reached. Post-Truth is distinguished from a long tradition of political lies, exaggeration and spin. What is new is not the mendacity of politicians but the public’s response to it and the ability of new technologies and social media to manipulate, polarise and entrench opinion. Colin Crouch: Post-democracy In his 2004 book Post-democracy, Colin Crouch used the phrase "post-democracy" to mean a model of politics where "elections certainly exist and can change governments," but "public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals expert in the techniques of persuasion, and considering a small range of issues selected by those teams." The problem for Crouch is that Political Parties have very largely ceased to engage in any direct sense with voters. The new elite talks a private language of its own which is little understood by the general public and has private interests of its own which are inaccessible to that same general public. Surrounding themselves with an array of bit-part actors who use their
  25. 25. special communications skills to mislead and cheat manufacturing a series of images of the current leadership whether that be of the left or the right for public consumption. They help create in other words a magical realism that is so convincing it is difficult to see as a false reality. What this does is to make the political leadership's intentions even less clear. It is the ultimate deceit achieved through political subterfuge. That is why it has been easy for advisers to treat the whole of perceived reality as one enormous fabrication to bolster and support the image of the leaders they serve. According to Oborne, such an approach can bring short-term political advantages but in the long-term this means that the electorate largely ceases to participate in the political process. This is dangerous. The populist backlash therefore should not come as a surprise. Oborne writes, the population, “has been reduced to the role of dupe or victim, to be manipulated by the expert media and communications manipulators”. Oborne points out that this is the complex new world where fact and fiction merge. He goes on to demonstrate how what he calls, “the abolition of truth” in politics is a phenomenon which manifests itself in other spheres like the public reporting of show business, pop music, football which have become more about the creation and display of elaborate fictions – dominating all British mainstream media. PR Agents cheerfully admit to deceit and fabrication in producing hopelessly distorted or false copy. Politics is increasingly based on contrivance and artifice from showbiz. Political figures become trivialized and hollowed out like characters in a soap opera. Politics has become a form of entertainment rather than the transmission of discoverable truth. Political success falls to the party or individual that can most successfully create and sustain its own version of the truth in the age of mass communication. Lying by political leaders has now become a sophisticated art supported by information operations conducted through campaigns on print, electronic and social media. The rise of social
  26. 26. media has certainly changed the communication process and allows misinformation/disinformation to spread more rapidly and without a reality fact check. On the other hand it provides more channels to refute lies and spin. Fake News To those absorbing post-truth, what matters is how sincerely the speaker, writer or politician presents his claims; and if the claims back up what you already believe, then they are bound to be true. Never mind the evidence, one way or another. And if someone is foolish enough to challenge you, all you need to do is say that you're offering alternative facts. If that doesn't work, accuse your challenger of fake news. This is why the debate about what is and what is not fake news has become so antagonistic and conflictual between the purveyors and receivers of Political lies on both sides. Political lies are bad because they result in false beliefs. We need true beliefs to promote our welfare and avoid harm. The Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq should remind us, lest we need it of the very worst state of false belief. We value honesty as a virtue. The importance of this access to the minds of politicians should provide prudential as well as moral reasoning, It is very fascinating though, leaders lie to a very broad domestic, and international audience, and, if believed, posses the power to determine the reality of everyone. The problem is that Moralists tend to see every political lie, no matter how minor, as an ethical crime. Either it compromises the integrity of the individual in question, or it undermines
  27. 27. democratic values and fosters a culture of deception and mistrust. As Mearsheimer points out, to accuse someone of lying in our contemporary ethical climate is so strong an allegation that euphemisms (think of “less than forthcoming” or “not entirely straightforward”) are often used to intimate that a person is being dishonest. Cynics, see lying politician as the embodiment of a fundamental truth about politics. There are a few however who insist that not all types of lying are alike. Moreover, tolerance for a little political mendacity, especially of the right kind, may not be such a bad thing when you consider the alternative: a politics of coercive truth-telling and sincerity, of little red books, groupthink and purges. Martin Jay: The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics In his book The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics the intellectual historian Martin Jay, who is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California–Berkeley, argues that the debate about political Hypocrisy tends to vacillate between moral outrage and amoral realism Jay holds that there are two general views about the morality of lying: “Two general camps, have been perennially opposed: rigorous absolutists or deontologists, who denounce lying in itself as an intrinsic evil to be avoided at all costs, and consequentialists or contextualists, who are concerned with the practical impact of lying, whether or good or bad (p. 48).” He argues that there are those absolutists who don't get the distinction between a "fact" and a "lie” and that this is where most get hung up in our world of political correctness and wanting to make our politicians blameworthy. Jay attempts to avoid framing of the debate over lying and politics in this manner by examining what has been said in support of, and opposition to,
  28. 28. political lying from Plato and St. Augustine to Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. Jay attempts to demonstrate that each Political Thinker’s series of argument correspond to a particular conception of the political realm, which decisively shapes his or her attitude toward political mendacity. He then applies this insight to a variety of contexts and questions about lying and politics. He concludes by asking if lying in politics is really all that bad? According to Jay some think that "the political" is a realm in which lying and cheating are routine and accepted. Jay, however, thinks that this view is incoherent since lying requires that one violates norms requiring that one speak truthfully. It seems likely that conventional norms and expectations about honesty and truthfulness in the political sphere vary from society to society. Jay agrees; he says that American culture is particularly opposed to Machiavellian duplicity. Although Jay is sanguine about liberal institutions as safety valves his aim is also to move away from moral absolutism in the realm of political life without compromising democratic ideals. He points out the obsessive concern with publicity, sincerity and the “zeal for truthfulness” which has characterized Western modernity since the late eighteenth century. A Rousseau-like commitment to honesty in its many forms has endured to become a hallmark of modern democracy, where, as Jay notes, quoting La Rochefoucauld, “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” But as Rousseau also writes:, “If the obligation to tell the truth is founded only on its usefulness, how will I make myself the judge of this usefulness? Very often, what is to one person's advantage is to another's prejudice; private interest is almost always opposed to public interest (p. 61).” That is why Rousseau advocated the triumph of the General Will - subservience of the citizen to the all powerful absolutist state whose version of the truth
  29. 29. supersedes that of the individual even when it is based on hypocrisy because it’s truth is superior to that of the citizen. Jay is particularly concerned at the emergence of the modern democratic state. Technocracy he fears as one more (doomed) effort to isolate the absolute, unvarnished truth and put it in the service of a pure democratic politics. Is this perhaps why populists are so attached to answers derived from the people’s common sense. Both promise today, according to Jay, in different ways, to solve the problem of phoniness and deception in politics once and for all. Yet the political lie has not only endured but prospered. So what is to be done? Jay thinks the classical liberal intellectual tradition, with its insistence on the ideal of rational consensus, holds few answers. He is more warmly disposed toward those theoretical stances that acknowledge the various fictions at the core of each and every political vision. That category includes the strain of recent thought that sees politics itself as a form of theatre in which masking and a certain amount of dissimulation and hypocrisy are vital, whether in forming coalitions or simply in preserving the illusion of representation. Precedents extend all the way back to Hobbes’s great insight about the king’s double act as the ruler and as one of the people. Mainly, though, Jay sides with modern republicans like Arendt who, while denouncing certain kinds of lying, found a way to make principled defences of others. Jay follows Arendt closely in stressing the potential value of lying from below—that is, prevarication on the part of private individuals in an effort to resist the inquisitorial authority of
  30. 30. the church or state.- citizens challenging various democratically endorsed surveillance techniques. From this perspective, lying can sometimes look like a way to encourage a better future. Like Runciman, Jay ultimately emphasizes the value of pluralism of opinion, debate and rhetoric, even at its most misleading, over the search for perfect truthfulness. For Jay the best strategy for exposing the most damaging kinds of untruth is to sustain a free press, an independent court system and the open academic culture of our universities—and to try to simply live with it. For Runciman in a climate of round-the-clock news reporting, with its vicious circle of lying and “gotcha” coverage, journalists are often the willing purveyors of hypocrisy For Mearsheimer all we can do is to hope that we can eventually vote the worst offenders out of office. It seems that “truthiness,” serial hypocrisy and their close cousins are the price that must be paid for democracy. Sophia Rosenfeld: Hypocrisy in American Political Attitudes Sophia Rosenfeld, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania is author of “Hypocrisy in American Political Attitudes” which illuminates and defends, attitudinal hypocrisy within the personal politics of Americans. The book argues that the wielding of conflicting attitudes is a necessary characteristic of American politics.
  31. 31. According to Rosenfeld, "Fake news, wild conspiracy theories, misleading claims, doctored photos, lies peddled as facts, facts dismissed as lies—citizens of democracies increasingly inhabit a public sphere teeming with competing claims and counterclaims, with no institution possessing the authority to settle basic disputes in a definitive way.” How do we know if something is true? Our options are limited. We can place our trust in experts, institutions, and publications that, governed by some form of peer review, promise the results of patient study and methodological rigour. Or we can depend on answers derived from our own lived experience? The problem is being intensified, according to Rosenfeld because of the very role of political leaders, along with broadcast and digital media. Adopting a historical perspective Rosenfeld explores a long standing and largely unspoken tension at the heart of democracy between the supposed wisdom of the crowd and the need for information to be vetted and evaluated by a learned elite made up of trusted experts. What we are witnessing now, under the pressure of populism, she argues, is the unravelling of the détente between these competing aspects of democratic culture. President Trump began his Election Campaign for President, according to Rosenfeld, as the embodiment of a familiar kind of right-wing, common-sense populism. Instead of deference to well-trained scientists, academics, journalists, and even governmental authorities, he touted the true wisdom of “the people.” In place of fancy studies built on research, data, and modelling, he promised plain-spoken, off-the-cuff reports on the state of our world and obvious, practical solutions to our problems.
  32. 32. One of the consequences of the tangle of distortions, deceptions and fabrications that prepared the way for the declaration of war on Iraq in 2003 has been a renewed scrutiny of the kinds and uses of mendacity in political life. Some have reflected on lying itself reconsider its effects on modernity. Truth, she argues, in the absence of any real logic or proof what constitutes truth is based on a gut feeling. For Rosenfeld therefore it is important to distinguish between the lies told by candidates and political parties during electoral cycles – the misrepresentations of self and the misrepresentation of the world at large by those already in power. The U.S. Senator, Ron Paul labels “serial hypocrisy” as preaching one thing on the campaign trail and practicing another in private life. Personal hypocrisy is just one type of dishonesty common among politicians more worrisome, according to Rosenfeld, is a special kind of dishonesty associated with misrepresenting oneself entirely in one’s political capacity. For Rosenfeld a foundational principle of liberal democracies such as the United States is that they require transparency, accountability, and trust between representatives and the represented and lying—meaning an intentional deception of one sort or other, whether through phrases, gestures, actions, or even inactions and silences—seems to be more prevalent in politics than in almost any other area of public life, with the possible exception of advertising and this is a cause for concern. Rosenfeld argues that the risk of deploying such rhetoric in the public arena, though, is not just that we end up with simplistic responses to complex problems. For her, by undermining faith in traditional sources of intellectual authority, from the major news outlets to Respected National Bodies and the CIA, common-sense populists recast all those who participate in the “knowledge
  33. 33. industry” as biased enemies rather than objective analysts working in the interest of the common good. And when counter-evidence provided by reputable fact-checkers is read as just more propaganda, it not only becomes that much easier for political leaders to lie with impunity. Many people will decide their only option is “self-investigation” in their own instinctive read on things—just as those engaged in pulling the wool over our eyes hope they will do, according to Rosenfeld. Now, however, Trump has taken his approach to the truth in a new and even more worrying direction. Now, according to Rosenfeld, increasingly, he is insisting on supposed truths that are easily and convincingly refuted by anyone with the ability to see or hear. In the context of democratic politics, faith in information provided by key institutions, including government agencies, academies of science and a free press should temper the impulse to trust exclusively one’s own experiential sense of the world. The problem for Rosenfeld, paraphrasing Hannah Arendt is what happens when all institutions are compromised and forced to promote only the ruler’s warped view of reality? What happens, in other words when the fantasy world of magic realism replaces the view of the real world in the eyes of the those who are watching? It is both an enticing question and a powerful warning! For Rosenfeld this is a terrifying development from the perspective of both politics and epistemology. An angry, simplistic common-sense populism, is being advanced by an anti-elite which aims at trampling down an independent, non-expert reading of the world appears to be taking place. The danger is that it is undermining, possibly in lasting ways, the ability of the public to counter preposterous claims. It is an anti- intellectualism writ large. Has the role of Rupert Murdoch-owned media, both in the US and the UK also contributed to the malaise? Instead of functioning as part of a system of checks and balances, it can be argued, those media outlets now operate in symbiotic lock-step with
  34. 34. hypocritical politicians. The debate about the extent of News International's influence is contested but at the very least it muddies the waters of political discourse by casting doubt on facts, reason and morality. Concluding Remarks: How to Reclaim Moral Credibility? So, where does this leave us? Psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote that “a little less hypocrisy and a little more self-knowledge can only have good results in respect for our neighbour; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.” We have become so accustomed to political exaggerations that we are not offended at specific lies. We should be offended. Hypocrisy is lying when the liar knows the truth. The question is: How to Reclaim Moral Credibility? The best strategy for exposing the most damaging kinds of untruth is to sustain a free press, an independent court system and the open academic culture of our universities—and to try to simply live with the rest. Is all we can hope for, however, to hope that we can eventually vote the worst offenders out of office. It seems that truth, serial hypocrisy and their close cousins are the price that must be paid for democracy. What is new however is the degree of public cynicism that we face in today's brand of populist politics. Calling out hypocrisy rarely inspires consistency or truth in politics. Both the Left and the Right therefore need to start fighting for ideas again. When we do, we can elevate the dialogue by focusing on evidence and reason and not calling out one another for hypocrisy. We also need to determine what is good and bad political hypocrisy, and what a tolerable and
  35. 35. even desirable level of it might be. Calling out hypocrisy in people who want to be consistent and principled can be an effective tactic, but unfortunately, politics is hostile to both consistency and principles. Ultimately we would prefer a contest of stated beliefs, values and principles. Whether politicians lean Left or Right, we prefer those who have integrity and who don’t seek approval for virtues that don’t exist. Political Tribalism therefore explains much of our ill- tempered political and media discourse. Theatrical Tribalism does not have any role in ensuring political accountability. Such thinking allows us to explore the notion that political hypocrisy is not a necessary evil exactly, but that, in certain of its forms, it is simply necessary. It does not matter whether or not our politicians are all wearing masks, if that is what is needed to make our form of politics work. What does matter is if people are hypocritical about that. In this sense, the private passions and beliefs of public figures ought to be the least of our concerns. According to Runciman, “A tolerance of the disjuncture between the socially necessary demands of public virtue and the reality of private passions prevents one from succumbing to the self- deception of the tyrannically virtuous.” This is as good a quotation to end on as any other in relation to this subject. As Runciman further points out this is a useful rejoinder to the ethical postures and soul-bearing routines of contemporary politicians, for whom the mask is taken for the man. What we do not know is when we are facing the actor and when we are facing the real person? II would not like to think that we encouraged the moralisation of politics, a transformation of public roles, of political masks into displays of self-righteous sincerity thereby dressing up the exercise of political power in ethical terms encouraging the introduction of a kind of self-abnegatory politics based on the forced introduction of high ethical codes of conduct. This would lead to its own sanctimoniousness – not least the question of who would draw up these codes and who would be responsible for supervising them and penalising those who broke the rules. Recent events in Westminster regarding the treatment of MPs from either
  36. 36. side who have fallen out with their Party Leadership and have been threatened with deselection have not filled me with confidence. Can these inconsistencies ever be good? Yes they can is the answer. Acting hypocritically can even be virtuous. Being politically authentic with all the self contradictions that involves is a powerful change agent. At the same time it is possible to concede that there are at least some situations in which hypocrisy is bad. So how do we know when and how much hypocrisy is permissible? To strike the right balance, politicians need that all-too-rare virtue of moderation. We shouldn’t expect some formula or set of rules that guarantees right conduct if we act in accordance with it, however. That is why ethics are in end ultimately “situational” depending very much on the political context in which one finds oneself. At the end of the day hypocrisy is sometimes expedient. It is a vice but ultimately one has to be true to oneself and ones principles, if one has any of course. In the end the public will have to judge themselves whether the hypocrisy one exhibits is a sign that one is virtuous or a villain. Ged Mirfin