Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Cynical Reflection on a Well-Turned Phrase

While reading "The Mission of Father Maciel," Alma Guillermoprieto's no-holds-barred exposition on the scandalous life of Marcial Maciel in the latest New York Review, I came across the following sentence:

Uneducated and mendacious, Maciel nevertheless had a genius for politics, and for personal relations.

Given that, by this point in her text, Guillermoprieto had established those opening adjectives as thoroughly warranted, I could not help but wonder if her use of "nevertheless" was appropriate. Could that "genius" for politics and the broader domain of personal relations have been a product of his mendaciousness and lack of education? Could this be the "dark side" of Isaiah Berlin's "Political Judgement" essay (which, coincidentally, also appeared in the pages of The New York Review)? Berlin's point was, of course, far more innocuous than Maciel's behavior. He argued that the many subtleties of a rich educational background might actually "do more harm than good by interfering with other factors that might contribute to more effective judgment" (my words, not Berlin's). He overlooked the possibility that baser motives could be a dominating factor, turning to figures like Otto von Bismarck for positive models without taking more negative examples (such as, say, Joseph Stalin) into account. Had Berlin lived to read Guillermoprieto's article, what would he have concluded about the "political judgment" of Maciel?

No comments: