Author: Crispin Sartwell

Leaders Are Worse Than Average

“Power corrupts,” as the saying goes, and a corollary is that, other things being equal, the more power, the more corruption. That’s the sort of common wisdom or deep cliché that would lead one to speculate that political leaders are likely to be morally worse on average than the populations they govern. But perhaps the explanation runs the other way: It’s not only or not even primarily that power corrupts, but that corrupt people seek power, and the most effectively corrupt are likeliest to succeed in their quest. In every political system, one hopes that the cream rises, that the rulers or governors will be the best and the brightest. Leaving aside the “brightest” for a moment, I’d like to focus on the “best”: not best in terms of the most qualified or experienced, but the morally best, the most decent or admirable, the people with the most integrity. I don’t think that, by and large, that’s who has the political power, or ever did, really. Our being led by bad people is a quite …

Politics and Rationality: On the Uses and Limits of Science

How rational is your politics, and how rational could or should politics be, in general? What is, and what ought to be, the role of reason and of science in policy-making or in campaigning? To answer such questions in a reasonable or scientific way, it would first be necessary to define such terms as “rationality,” “reason,” and “science.” That’s a nice Socratic-style challenge, anyway, and I’m not confident that people mean anything very clear or specific by them on most occasions. And, whatever they mean, the things themselves—conceived as faculties in people’s heads or as a series of procedures or guidelines for how to gain knowledge—have little to do with why anyone has the politics they do. People who think their own politics are rational and those of their opponents irrational (that is, more or less everybody) are engaged in a self-congratulatory self-delusion. A traditional account of the faculty of rationality might be that it encompasses the canons of deductive and inductive reasoning and perhaps the scientific method (which it then is incumbent on the …