Sunday, November 23, 2014

Skidelsky's Futile Gesture

It is hard for anyone who still attaches value to reason not to feel sympathetic with the punchline of Robert Skidelsky's latest column to appear on the Facts & Arts Web site:
But democratic countries need symbols of the extraordinary if they are not to sink into permanent mediocrity.
The title of Skidelsky's article is "Philosopher Kings Versus Philosopher Presidents;" and it basically praises the virtues of Ireland having a President, Michael Higgins, who is a poet who also happens to be well-versed in philosophy. Unfortunately, Skidelsky seems to overlook that, even in democratic countries, power lies within the practices of politicians. (Skidelsky cited Higgins quoting Max Weber, but even Weber recognized that particular inconvenient truth.) Politicians, in turn, thrive most successfully is a social world dominated by that "permanent mediocrity." I believe it was The Capitol Steps that came up with a song about supporters of Ronald Reagan that included the line:
The unexamined life is quite all right with us.
To be hyperbolically blunt, politicians gain office through large chunks of the population who cannot even spell Weber's name, let alone tell you anything about him; and they see no reason why this should be a problem. This is probably why Hegel preferred the philosopher king to a democratically elected president, philosopher or not. Unfortunately, he never really addressed the question of how a philosopher king would rise to a position of leadership.

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