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September 08, 2006


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Jodi, I coincidentally just picked up John Dean's book "Conservatives without Conscience." It seems to use the research on "authoritarian personalities" and applies it to the current administration. When I make some head way into it I will post something on Long Sunday.

Charles R

I am not old enough to remember, but on the last point in Dean's piece quoted above: how well did public candor serve Jimmy Carter as a leader? My impression is that Carter's honesty and sincerity did not help him as a leader, or serve him as a leader.

It seems to me that honesty as a virtue cannot be solitary. There has to either be already a strength of character and a willingness to demonstrate that strength or be a capacity to bluff about one's confidence. But this means the leader has already gained the trust of the people through leading them or the leader is skilled in the art of polite deception. It seems that being honest correctly means knowing when to be honest.

As the willingness of people to accept conspiracy—at a time where any dissent is synonymous with conspiring or with conspiracy—shows, the necessity to believe truth is completed and filled. Truth has no power anymore, as much as the people want it. It doesn't seduce the way it used to. It's a weird juxtaposition to find so many people trying hard to find truth in the unofficial spaces in the unofficial ways, as though we should expect to find the most ardent believers in marriage looking for covenants amongst sex workers and pornographers. There is one sense in which psychoanalysis would say this is what we should do, where the symptom signals the configuration. But there is another sense in which we just do not think that truth is something we will find even in the conspiracy. Our natural hesitation to believe, whether the official account from a taken-to-be corrupt leader or the unofficial account from an unknown source who calmly and rationally says we should look into all this for ourselves, is not our skepticism but our resignation to never be impressed. We are not impressed because we no longer accept stereotypes—everything has its exception.

So, perhaps, what virtue needs for seduction is the ability to instill or inspire virtue in others. And ability means power, or force. But, given that humility is also a virtue, how one walks with power matters greatly to how one inspires. Still, it takes a certain kind of authority to be able to say, "Without exception." I tend to think this is the sort of authority one finds in resistance to oppression (standing up to bigotry non-violently because no one is beneath the law) or in the reactionary who chooses to oppress (putting down the dissenters because no one is beyond the law).

Without that authority, truth is correct and accurate but unconvincing. You can accept Pascal is right, but you need the Church to convince you. Or, in the older language, "I believe. Help my unbelief."

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