fallibilist

"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Friday, February 17, 2006

James Q. Wilson on the dangers of polarisation

Ireland's politics are notoriously, for some lamentably, predominantly non-ideological. The largest party in the State for the last three-quarters of a century, Fianna Fail, has been often ideologically ambivalent. Its defining mode is pragmatic populism. There is of course a fine line between this and unprincipled chicanery, or the type of politics that sees power as an end in itself. Consensus, too, as symbolised by social partnership and the relative Oireachtas unanimity over Northern Ireland over the last decade or so, tends to be valued, at least by the politicians. Consensus, however, is a double-edged sword: It breeds complacency.

One place where political consensus has been in notable decline over recent decades, while political polarisation has increased, is the United States. The political culture there is divided into two hostile camps, which routinely engage in bitter rhetorical debate. The level of partisanship and mutual distrust between the two parties in Washington D.C. is at dangerous levels. It is a danger outlined by the inimitable James Q. Wilson in a piece in the February edition of Commentary, republished at OpinionJournal. His thesis is that polarisation on the scale witnessed in America in recent years can seriously undermine a nation's resolve and sense of purpose in time of war. The fact that the United States is the world's pre-eminent democracy and sole military superpower makes the consequences of such effects global in nature. I will quote only the final paragraph:
"Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve--potentially to fatal effect. What Gen. Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us."
I commend the entire piece to readers. Wilson is a distinguished academic who writes in a detached and fair manner. His writing is consistently enlightening and insightful. For that he is one of my favourite public intellectuals.

2 Comments:

Blogger Branedy said...

You didn't see this polarity when the U.S. went into Afghanistan. It was the invasion of Iraq without honest, real reasons that created the polarity. This is the same 'polarity' as a set of brakes on an auto, except that in this case the brakes are not strong enough to change directions.

To quote 'SUN TZU ON THE ART OF WAR'

The MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Bush did not have the Moral High ground. There was dissension and uncertainty. And he was lying about what the real reasons for attacking Iraq were.

The polarization was the result of one side of the argument, the republicans forcing this polarization through fear.

Sat Feb 18, 12:43:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Karole said...

I think Wilson's thesis persuasively refutes the idea that Iraq 2003 caused polarisation where there was none before.

Sat Feb 18, 07:28:00 PM GMT  

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