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Politcal Philosopy

The technocrat and the demagogue

Sina Odugbemi's picture

To recap and settle our terms, the populist demagogues now emerging as leaders of governments around the world have a peculiar way of operating. At the core of their practice is a truculent nationalism that defines a part of the political community as the ‘real’ people. They claim to govern in the name of ‘the people’, as defined. They use polarization deliberately, even when in government; they define enemies and rail against these unceasingly in colorful language. They demonize The Other/ the Outsider. They are crude propagandists without the slightest regard for truth or logic or the rules of polite discourse. They can be both boorish and ridiculous…and they rejoice in the fact.

Now, typical technocrats or policy wonks are highly educated persons, usually with advanced degrees from excellent universities. These are minds that have been tilled, ploughed and cultivated to a sophisticated degree. They understand ideas. They have been trained to handle evidence with care. They have been taught the basic rules of logic, the nature of fallacious or tendentious reasoning etc. They also know the importance of public debate and discussion, of making your case vigorously but fairly, of avoiding lies, obfuscation and downright dishonesty. Finally, whatever the ideological commitments of these technocrats or policy wonks, they are not usually people who go around spouting racist or misogynistic views in public …no matter what they privately believe.

Yet, look around the world today, and you will notice that quite a few supposedly polished technocrats are working for brute demagogues. You listen to them and you wonder: How have you sold this gig to yourself, comrade?

Quote of the Week: Roberto Mangabeira Unger

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“The essential thing, the ultimate goal of politics and thought, is a bigger life for the individual. A bigger life – that remains the main objective…to increase our divine attributes to have moral life.”

- Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a brazillian philosopher and politician and currently the Roscoe Pound Professor of Law at Harvard University. His political activity helped bring about democracy in Brazil.

We Are All Copycats (and that includes you)

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In theory, we admire and aspire to originality. We claim to be different, in fact, singular in every way. Yet, according to the authors of an important new book on social behavior, we are far less original than we think. We don’t like to acknowledge it, but we borrow ideas and practices promiscuously and we imitate others with feverish abandon.

The book is titled I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior, and the authors are two leading anthropologists plus a marketing and communication consultant: Alex Bentley and Michael J. O’Brien are the anthropologists and Mark Earls the consultant on marketing and communication.