By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 15 Comments
Isaiah Berlin’s consideration of political judgment.
The quality I am attempting to describe is that special understanding of public life (or for that matter private life) which successful statesmen have, whether they are wicked or virtuous—that which Bismarck had (surely a conspicuous example, in the last century, of a politician endowed with considerable political judgment), or Talleyrand or Franklin Roosevelt, or, for that matter, men such as Cavour or Disraeli, Gladstone or Ataturk, in common with the great psychological novelists, something which is conspicuously lacking in men of more purely theoretical genius such as Newton or Einstein or Russell, or even Freud. This is true even of Lenin, despite the huge weight of theory by which he burdened himself…
What is it that the Emperor Augustus or Bismarck knew and the Emperor Claudius or Joseph II did not? Very probably the Emperor Joseph was intellectually more distinguished and far better read than Bismarck, and Claudius may have known many more facts than Augustus. But Bismarck (or Augustus) had the power of integrating or synthesizing the fleeting, broken, infinitely various wisps and fragments that make up life at any level, just as every human being, to some extent, must integrate them (if he is to survive at all), without stopping to analyze how he does what he does, and whether there is a theoretical justification for his activity. Everyone must do it, but Bismarck did it over a much larger field, against a wider horizon of possible counts of action, with far greater power—to a degree, in fact, which is quite correctly described as that of genius. Moreover, the bits and pieces which require to be integrated—that is, seen as fitting with other bits and pieces, and not compatible with yet others, in the way in which, in fact, they do fit and fail to fit in reality—these basic ingredients of life are to a sense too familiar, we are too much with them, they are too close to us, they form the texture of the semiconscious and unconscious levels of our life, and for that reason they tend to resist tidy classification.