Politics

“Combat autour d’un sou” (Battle over a penny) by Étienne Dinet, oil on canvas, 1889.

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

“The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.”

“By the powerful we mean, of course, those who are able to realize their will, even if others resist it. No one, accordingly, can be truly powerful unless he has access to the command of major institutions, for it is over these institutional means of power that the truly powerful are, in the first instance, powerful. Higher politicians and key officials of government command such institutional power; so do admirals and generals, and so do the major owners and executives of the larger corporations. Not all power, it is true, is anchored in and exercised by means of such institutions, but only within and through them can power be more or less continuous and important.”

“The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers. The popular mind, unaware of the fine distinctions of the statesman’s thinking, reasons more often than not in the simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil.”

“This ambivalent epitaph would no doubt have pleased the statesman, who achieved vast successes by ignoring and indeed transcending, the essential pieties of his age.”

“A statesman can always escape his dilemmas by making the most favorable assumptions about the future; one of his tests is his ability to protect against unfavorable and even unforeseen contingencies.”

“For the holy are susceptible to to evil, even as you and I, signori; they too are helpless before sin without God’s aid… and the holy can be fooled by sin as quickly as you or I, signori. Quicker, because they are holy.”

“From enthusiasm to imposture the step is perilous and slippery; the demon of Socrates affords a memorable instance of how a wise man may deceive himself, how a good man may deceive others, how the conscience may slumber in a mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud.”

“It is essentially an uncertain affair, full of ambiguities and imponderables. Politics is not a matter of structure and process, neatly defined, but rather a drama of human beings, responding to and attempting to affect the behavior of one another. As Dahl reminds us, even with all our analytical sophistication politics remains an art. The unknowns are so numerous that a ruler’s choice of one course as against another depends in substantial part upon his own inner dispositions and his own conceptions of the reality in which he deals.”

“Good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the policies they inspire. What is important to know, if one wants to understand foreign policy, is not primarily the motives of a statesman, but his intellectual ability to comprehend the essentials of foreign policy, as well as his political ability to translate what he has comprehended into successful political action. It follows that while ethics in the abstract judges the moral qualities of motives, political theory must judge the political qualities of intellect, will, and action.”

“Politics is too often regarded as a poor relation, inherently dependent and subsidiary; it is rarely praised as something with a life and character of its own. Politics is not a religion, ethics, law, science, history, or economics; it neither solves everything, nor is it present everywhere; and it is not any one political doctrine, such as conservatism, liberalism, socialism, communism, or nationalism, though it can contain elements of most of these things. Politics is politics, to be valued as itself, not because it is ‘like’ or ‘really is’ something else more respectable or peculiar. Politics is politics. The person who wishes not to be troubled by politics and to be left alone finds himself the unwitting ally of those to whom politics is a troublesome obstacle to their well-meant intentions to leave nothing alone.”

“It is a curious thing, but it is true, that the legalistic approach to world affairs, rooted as it unquestionably is in a desire to do away with war and violence, makes violence more enduring, more terrible, and more destructive to political stability than did the older motives of national interest. A war fought in the name of high moral principle finds no early end short of some form of total domination.”

“Public opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics.”

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“Suppose in 1940 you had taken a Gallup poll, in England, on the question ‘Will Germany win the war?’ You would have found, curiously enough, that the group answering ‘Yes’ contained a far higher percentage of intelligent people – people with IQ of over 120, shall we say – than the group answering ‘No’. The same would have held good in the middle of 1942. In this case the figures would not have been so striking, but if you had made the question ‘Will the Germans capture Alexandria?’ or ‘Will the Japanese be able to hold on to the territories they have captured? ’, then once again there would have been a very marked tendency for intelligence to concentrate in the ‘Yes’ group. In every case the less-gifted person would have been likelier to give a right answer.”

“[. . . ] it is not always when things are going from bad to worse that revolutions break out. On the contrary, it oftener happens that when a people which has put up with an oppressive rule over a long period without protest suddenly finds the government relaxing its pressure, it takes up arms against it. Thus the social order overthrown by a revolution is almost always better than the one immediately preceding it, and experience teaches us that, generally speaking, the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways.”