Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 31, 2013

in Hubris and humility, Politics

… is from page 88 of the 1964 Harper Torchbooks edition of Karl Popper’s powerful 1957 book, The Poverty of Historicism:

We all have an unscientific weakness for being always in the right, and this weakness seems to be particularly common among professional and amateur politicians.  But the only way to apply something like scientific method in politics is to proceed on the assumption that there can be no political move which has no drawbacks, no undesirable consequences.  To look out for these mistakes, to find them, to bring them into the open, to analyze them, to learn from them, that is what a scientific politician as well as a political scientist must do.  Scientific method in politics means that the great art of convincing ourselves that we have not made any mistakes, of ignoring them, of hiding them, of blaming others for them, is replaced by the greater art of accepting responsibility for them, of trying to learn from them, and of applying this knowledge so that we may avoid them in the future.

Makes sense.  But Popper’s prescription will never be followed by 99.99999 percent of politicians.  The reason is that the first and always-dominant interest of politicians is to gain and maintain power.  Doing good – even when that is of some interest to a politician – never ranks higher than second as a goal.  As they say, to be a good senator first requires that one be a senator.

Put differently, in no profession are the prizes for spooking the People with concocted devils, demons, and doomsday fears – and for falsely promising wondrous deeds of miraculous salvation – greater than in politics.  It’s a gaudily glittering stage that attracts and rewards those who excel at charlatanism.

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