No Delito de Opinião

Hoje, a convite do Pedro Correia, contribuo para o Delito de Opinião com um post sobre a incapacidade crónica para debater civilizadamente de que sofrem alguns académicos que, por defeito, deveriam ser intelectualmente humildes, honestos e pluralistas e fomentadores da civilidade.

Do excepcionalismo americano

David Frum, “The Souring of American Exceptionalism”:

America’s uniqueness, even pre-Trump, was expressed as much through negative indicators as positive. It is more violent than other comparable societies, both one-on-one and in the gun massacres to which the country has become so habituated. It has worse health outcomes than comparably wealthy countries, and some of the most important of them are deteriorating further even as they improve almost everywhere else. America’s average levels of academic achievement lag those of other advanced countries. Fewer Americans vote—and in no other democracy does organized money count for so much in political life. A century ago, H.L. Mencken observed the American “national genius for corruption,” and (again pre-Trump) Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks the U.S. in 18th place, behind Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany—never mind first-place finishers Denmark and New Zealand.

As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.

That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.

“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?

Thinking about that question forces an encounter with American exceptionalism in its most somber form. If, as I believe, Donald Trump arose because of the disregard of the American political and economic elite for the troubles of so many of their fellow-citizens, it has to be asked again: How could the leaders of a democratic country imagine they could get away with such disregard?

Political Science and the 2017 UK General Election

Até ao fim de Julho podem aceder livremente a esta colecção de artigos subordinados à temática ‘Political Science and the 2017 UK General Election’. Destaco “Political Opposition and the European Union” de Peter Mair e “The Populist Zeitgeist” de Cas Mudde.

Populismo, demagogia e democracia

Pierre Manent, “Populist Demagogy and the Fanaticism of the Center”:

As a term, “populism” is indisputably marked with discredit and denunciation. The populist orientation is often said to have a “passionate,” “extreme,” or “irresponsible” manner and tone. But its content, too, is never credited with the characteristics of reason, moderation, and responsibility. The term “populism” denotes an orientation, a political opinion, or certain orientations or political opinions, which are discredited and denounced. What opinions, what orientations? They can vary widely, and it is possible to distinguish them according to their basic political polarity, a populism of the Left or extreme Left, and a populism of the Right or extreme Right. It is important, however, to understand that the common substantive of populism tends to prevail over these opposing qualifiers of Left and Right. Even if this effect is not desired, it at least follows from the use of the term. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is thus effectively placed in the same boat as Marine Le Pen, which displeases him greatly. (Here, despite the axiological neutrality that ought to rule political science, I cannot help but sympathize with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) By classifying these two political leaders under the same heading, this grouping effectively clouds the political landscape to the point of rendering it incomprehensible.

We encounter, then, the following difficulty. How is it possible that a notion which seems to have become indispensable for the understanding of political debate tends rather to make it confused and indecipherable? Does this notion indicate the new reality of those who are thus labeled, or is it not rather a product of the new political intention of those who use it? If the notion of populism can cover political orientations as distant as those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen—if it thus has the power to prevail over the opposition between the Left and the Right, and even between the extreme Left and the extreme Right—it is because powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape no longer around the opposition between the Right and the Left but between populism and . . . what? We do not know yet, but since “populism” is pejorative and implies discredit, we will say “respectable” and “accredited” politics.

These powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape around the opposition between populism, which we can still describe as Right or Left, and respectable politics, which can still retain its versions of Right and Left. When I speak of the intention of these powerful forces, I do not refer to any sinister plot to give new names to things that have not changed, or to any plot to deceive good citizens. The situation has doubtless already changed enough so that the effort to pit “populism” against “respectable politics” is not merely possible in theory, but already has real purchase. The ability of the Right/Left polarity to organize and describe political life is now likely much weakened.

We can, however, already remark on the difference between how the Right/Left polarity and the populist/respectable polarity see political life. The Right/Left polarity attributes an equal legitimacy to both poles. Even if each of these halves claims full political legitimacy and doubts the legitimacy and occasionally even the simple morality of its opposing half, the system itself is based on the equal legitimacy of the two halves or the two poles, with an uncertainty or a gray zone represented by the extremes (extreme Right or extreme Left), whose democratic legitimacy is always suspect. The new mode is characterized by the unequal legitimacy of the two poles or the two halves: populism as such is tendentiously illegitimate, while “respectable” politics is tendentiously the only legitimate politics.

It seems to me that we have not sufficiently noted to what extent this new mode is actually new. The distinctive feature that the democratic and liberal order used to have as its foundation was the equal legitimacy of the majority and its opposition. The new order now imposing itself more and more upon us rests on the contrast between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions. The point deserves to be examined further, but it already seems clear that with this transformation, we have started to pass from an order built on confrontation between equally legitimate opinions to an order relying on confrontation between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions, between political orthodoxy and heresy. If this were true, then we would be in the process of departing from democracy as it has thus far been known.

O poder prejudica o cérebro

Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage”:

Lord David Owen—a British neurologist turned parliamentarian who served as the foreign secretary before becoming a baron—recounts both Howe’s story and Clementine Churchill’s in his 2008 book, In Sickness and in Power, an inquiry into the various maladies that had affected the performance of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. While some suffered from strokes (Woodrow Wilson), substance abuse (Anthony Eden), or possibly bipolar disorder (Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), at least four others acquired a disorder that the medical literature doesn’t recognize but, Owen argues, should.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

I asked Owen, who admits to a healthy predisposition to hubris himself, whether anything helps keep him tethered to reality, something that other truly powerful figures might emulate. He shared a few strategies: thinking back on hubris-dispelling episodes from his past; watching documentaries about ordinary people; making a habit of reading constituents’ letters.

But I surmised that the greatest check on Owen’s hubris today might stem from his recent research endeavors. Businesses, he complained to me, had shown next to no appetite for research on hubris. Business schools were not much better. The undercurrent of frustration in his voice attested to a certain powerlessness. Whatever the salutary effect on Owen, it suggests that a malady seen too commonly in boardrooms and executive suites is unlikely to soon find a cure.

Quando o partidarismo se sobrepõe ao interesse nacional

Jamelle Bouie, “Who Needs Rule of Law?”:

Just one of our two parties is interested in checking this president’s abuse. The other, the Republican Party, is indifferent, content to tolerate Trump’s misconduct as long as it doesn’t interrupt or interfere with its political agenda. What defined Thursday’s hearing, in fact, was the degree to which Republicans downplayed obvious examples of bad—potentially illegal—behavior and sought to exonerate Trump rather than grapple with Comey’s damning allegations about the president. Sen. James Risch of Idaho, for example, pressed Comey on his claim that President Trump had asked the then–FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, suggesting that—because Trump didn’t give a direct order—we ought to ignore the clear subtext of the president’s statement. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma described Trump’s actions on behalf of Flynn as a “light touch.” Other Republican committee members, like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, steered the conversation toward the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Still others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, defended Trump’s actions, blasting leaks to the press as efforts to undermine his administration.

Republican committee members were aided in all of this by the official organs of the GOP, which treated the hearings as a distraction—a partisan frivolity driven by Democrats and the press. “Director Comey’s opening statement confirms he told President Trump three times that he was not under investigation,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee that recommended a strategy of deflection. The RNC additionally argued that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on the procedures, defended Trump’s potentially illegal behavior as the mistakes of a novice. “He’s just new to this, and probably wasn’t steeped in long-running protocols,” he said.


James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony, both written and spoken, is evidence of one political crisis: A president with little regard for rule of law who sees no problem in bringing his influence and authority to bear on federal investigations. The Republican reaction—the effort to protect Trump and discredit Comey—is evidence of another: a crisis of ultra-partisanship, where the nation’s governing party has opted against oversight and accountability, abdicating its role in our system of checks and balances and allowing that president free rein, as long as he signs its legislation and nominates its judges.

Americans face two major crises, each feeding into the other. Republicans aren’t bound to partisan loyalty. They can choose country over party, rule of law over ideology. But they won’t, and the rest of us will pay for it.

Os liberais (no sentido norte-americano do termo) são tão intolerantes quanto os conservadores

Matthew Hutson:

So who’s right? Are conservatives more prejudiced than liberals, or vice versa? Research over the years has shown that in industrialized nations, social conservatives and religious fundamentalists possess psychological traits, such as the valuing of conformity and the desire for certainty, that tend to predispose people toward prejudice. Meanwhile, liberals and the nonreligious tend to be more open to new experiences, a trait associated with lower prejudice. So one might expect that, whatever each group’s own ideology, conservatives and Christians should be inherently more discriminatory on the whole.

But more recent psychological research, some of it presented in January at the annual meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), shows that it’s not so simple. These findings confirm that conservatives, liberals, the religious and the nonreligious are each prejudiced against those with opposing views. But surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced. While liberals might like to think of themselves as more open-minded, they are no more tolerant of people unlike them than their conservative counterparts are.

Political understanding might finally stand a chance if we could first put aside the argument over who has that bigger problem. The truth is that we all do.

O perigo do viés de confirmação e das certezas absolutas

Robert Burton em entrevista à Scientific American:

BURTON: A personal confession: I have always been puzzled by those who seem utterly confident in their knowledge. Perhaps this is a constitutional defect on my part, but I seldom have the sense of knowing unequivocally that I am right. Consequently I have looked upon those who ooze self-confidence and certainty with a combination of envy and suspicion. At a professional level, I have long wondered why so many physicians will recommend unproven, even risky therapies simply because they “know” that these treatments work.


LEHRER: To what extent do these mechanisms come into play during a presidential election? It seems like we all turn into such partisan hacks every four years, completely certain that our side is right.

BURTON: The present presidential debates and associated media commentary feel like laboratory confirmation that the involuntary feeling of certainty plays a greater role in decision-making than conscious contemplation and reason.

I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension. Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, “the stock market always recovers,” even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.

Sadly, my cynical side also suspects that political advisors use this knowledge of the biology of certainty to actively manipulate public opinion. Nuance is abandoned in favor of absolutes.

LEHRER: How can people avoid the certainty bias?

BURTON: I don’t believe that we can avoid certainty bias, but we can mitigate its effect by becoming aware of how our mind assesses itself. As you may know from my book, I’ve taken strong exception to the popular notion that we can rely upon hunches and gut feelings as though they reflect the accuracy of a thought.

My hope is the converse; we need to recognize that the feelings of certainty and conviction are involuntary mental sensations, not logical conclusions. Intuitions, gut feelings and hunches are neither right nor wrong but tentative ideas that must then be submitted to empirical testing. If such testing isn’t possible (such as in deciding whether or not to pull out of Iraq), then we must accept that any absolute stance is merely a personal vision, not a statement of fact.

Perhaps one of my favorite examples of how certainty is often misleading is the great mathematician Srinivasava Ramanujan. At his death, his notebook was filled with theorems that he was certain were correct. Some were subsequently proven correct; others turned out to be dead wrong. Ramanujan’s lines of reasoning lead to correct and incorrect answers, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Only the resultant theorems were testable.

In short, please run, do not walk, to the nearest exit when you hear so-called leaders being certain of any particular policy. Only in the absence of certainty can we have open-mindedness, mental flexibility and willingness to contemplate alternative ideas.

A história é o guia para a política

Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946), 156 (tradução minha):

(…) todas as épocas têm a mesma estrutura fundamental. Quem conhece uma época, conhece todas. O político que é confrontado com um problema concreto real encontrará sempre na história um caso análogo, e através desta analogia será capaz de agir da forma correcta. O conhecimento do passado é um guia seguro; aquele que adquiriu uma compreensão clara de eventos passados entenderá como lidar com problemas do presente e como preparar o futuro. Assim, não existe maior perigo para um príncipe do que negligenciar os exemplos da história. A história é o guia para a política.

Liberalismo e conservadorismo

Ryan Shorthouse, “The right-wing case against populism”:

In fact, liberalism and conservatism are two distinct philosophies that are often presented in perpetual conflict—but they are natural bedfellows. They need, support and tame each other.

The goals of liberalism—individual flourishing, power and respect—can only be developed by enduring cultural, democratic and civic institutions that teach, guide and protect people. The conservative emphasis on interdependency between—not just independence of—people to cultivate responsibility towards others and to future generations, can only truly be realised if we respect the liberal insight that all and different individuals are equally worthy. As for taming one another, the liberal individual can be rooted in reality and responsibility by conservative institutions. Conversely, traditional culture and institutions can be modernised by legitimate calls for emancipation and inclusion.

It is liberalism, not authoritarian populism, which is a true friend of western conservatism.

Em defesa da hierarquia

Vários autores, “In defence of hierarchy”:

On the other hand, the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

Yet hierarchy is an unfashionable thing to defend or to praise. British government ministers denounce experts as out of tune with popular feeling; both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built platforms on attacking Washington elites; economists are blamed for not predicting the 2008 crash; and even the best established practice of medical experts, such as childhood vaccinations, are treated with resistance and disbelief. We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other.


All of this takes on a new urgency given the turn in world politics towards a populism that often attacks establishment hierarchies while paradoxically giving authoritarian power to individuals claiming to speak for ‘the people’.


Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly. Hierarchy is oppressive when it is reduced to a simple power over others. But there are also forms of hierarchy that involve power with, not over. Daoism characterises this kind of power effectively in the image of riding a horse, when sometimes you have to pull, and sometimes let go. This is not domination but negotiation. In Daoism, power is a matter of energy and competence rather than domination and authority. In this sense, a hierarchy can be empowering, not disabling.

Take the examples of good relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, or employers and employees. These work best when the person higher in the hierarchy does not use that position to dominate those lower down but to enable them to grow in their own powers.


As well as being empowering, hierarchies should be dynamic over time. Hierarchies are often pernicious not because they distinguish between people, but because they perpetuate these distinctions even when they are no longer merited or serve a good purpose. In short, hierarchies become ossified. There might be reasons, for example, to appoint people on merit to positions of power, such as to Britain’s House of Lords. Historically, however, this has often led to people not only retaining that power when they have ceased to deserve it personally, but also passing it on to their children. All legitimate hierarchies must allow for changes over time in order for them not to lead to the unjust accumulation of power. This is built into the age-based hierarchies endorsed by Confucians, since the young will eventually rise to take on the elevated status and authority of the old.


Paternalistic hierarchy might then benefit individual autonomy. And hierarchy has one final benefit. Although it would seem to be divisive, hierarchy can promote social harmony. Many cultures justifiably place a high value on communal harmony. This involves a shared way of life, and also sympathetic care for the quality of life of others. Excessive hierarchy works against this, creating divisions within societies. Indeed, in a sense, hierarchy always brings with it the threat of tension, since it is a condition in which one adult commands, threatens or forces another to do something, where the latter is innocent of any wrongdoing, competent to make decisions, and not impaired at the time by alcohol, temporary insanity, or the like. But the goal of preserving communal life means that hierarchy might be justifiable if – and only if – it is the least hierarchical amount required, and likely either to rebut serious discord or to foster a much greater communion. This is a minimalist justification that only ever sanctions the least amount of hierarchy necessary.


Some of these ideas about hierarchy will no doubt be received more favourably than others. There will also be disagreement – as there is among ourselves – about whether we simply need to be clearer about the value of some hierarchies, or whether we need more of them in certain domains. Hierarchy has been historically much-abused and it is the understandable fear of being too enthusiastic about hierarchy that makes some queasy about talking about its merits. Nonetheless, we think it important to put these ideas forward as an invitation to begin a much-needed conversation about the role of hierarchy in a world that is in many ways now fundamentally egalitarian, in that it gives equal rights and dignity to all. However, it clearly does not and cannot give equal power and authority to all. If we are to square the necessary inequality that the unequal distribution of power entails with the equally necessary equality of value we place on human life, it’s time to take the merits of hierarchy seriously.

Populismo, tecnocracia e democracia liberal

Daniele Caramani, “Will vs. Reason: The Populist and Technocratic Forms of Political Representation and Their Critique to Party Government”American Political Science Review 111, no. 1 (2017):

Populism and technocracy see themselves as antipolitics and, more specifically, antiparty. Whether in their actor (movements and parties), discourse and ideology, or regime and institutional versions, both forms of representation claim to be external to party politics. In fact, the more precise claim of these forms of representation is that they are above party politics, which is seen in negative terms for various reasons. Parties are carriers of particular interests rather than the interests of society as a whole and even pursue the interests of the “part”—as it were—to the detriment, when necessary, of the general interest. Parties, rather than being perceived as capable of formulating visions and projects for the common good of the society (albeit alternative ones), are seen merely in terms of individualistic and self-interested (ultimately irresponsible) factions that articulate particularistic interests.


First, in both populism and technocracy there is the idea of a unitary, general, common interest of a given society (a country). In these views, there are things that are either good or bad for the whole of society and political action can be either good or bad for a society in its entirety. There is a homogenous and organic vision of the people and the nation. It is furthermore possible to “discover” this common or general interest. While populism and technocracy—as is discussed below—have fundamentally different views on how to identify the unitary interest, they are confident that it exists and can be found out.

Second, both populism and technocracy have a nonpluralistic view of society and politics. Politics is doing what is good for all, not articulating, allocating and deciding between diverse interests, or aggregating them. To be more precise, an aggregation does indeed take place. However, rather than having competing proposals of aggregation (as this is the case in parties’ ideologies) given to people to choose from, the true solution is manifest and indisputable. In this sense, both pretend to be, and present themselves as, antiideological. There are no party platforms needed (for a prospective decision) and, when and where these are available, they should not be binding. To be sure, mass political parties, too, present a unified vision of the public interest. This is precisely their function of “aggregation” of various interests from diverse constituencies. However, differently from populism and technocracy, several visions are present in the system, they compete with one another and compromise is sought—either through majority-opposition alternation over time or consensual institutions.

While party government is mainly based on a prospective “mandate” view (input counts and parties are bound to what they promise), populism and technocracy are based on a retrospective “independent” view (output counts) as they operate through vagueness rather than through a precise program or mandate. Both populism and technocracy thus follow a trustee model. In technocracy, people cannot give a mandate because they do not possess the faculty of identifying society’s interest. In populism, it could be argued that the leadership determines people’s interests through a strong identification with them (embodiment)—by being “one of them.” This can be seen as a form of mandate. Yet there is a complete transfer of decision making to the leadership that is unquestioned. Questioning the leadership is automatically questioning the will of the people. In the party government conception of democracy, on the other hand, voters are assumed to have some degree of expertise.

Third, both populism and technocracy—in their vision of a unitary society and refusal of plurality—see the relationship between people and elite as “unmediated.” All that comes in-between is a source of distortion of the general interest. As a consequence, populism and technocracy rely on an independent elite to which the people entrust the task of identifying the common interest and the appropriate solution. In spite of presenting themselves as antielite and antiestablishment, the populist model is as elitist—if not more—than party government with leaders being uncontested and unquestioned over protracted periods and enjoying vast spaces to manoeuvre and freedom to interpret people’s interest. It is no accident that populist parties—be it in the past or recently in Austria’s FPÖ, France’s National Front, Italy’s Northern League, or Britain’s UKIP among others—have lasting leaderships that are largely uncontested and based on acclamatory and plebiscitarian mobilization. In fact, both types of ideologies have often found their application in nondemocratic regimes, most notably in Latin America, be it the populist-plebiscitarian regimes or the technocratic-military regimes.


In different ways, populism and technocracy are both antipolitical forms of representation. While politics is competition, aggregation of plurality and allocation of values, populism and technocracy see society as monolithic with a unitary interest. While populism and technocracy aim at discovering the common good, parties compete to define it. Both populism and technocracy do not conceive of a legitimate opposition insofar as that would involve conceiving of “parts” being opposed to the interest of the whole. In the case of populism, plurality is reduced to the opposition between people and elite. In the case of technocracy, plurality is reduced to the opposition between right and wrong. In the former, opposition is corrupt; in the latter it is irrational.


For the sake of the theoretical argument, the article has presented the populist and technocratic alternatives to party government through ideal types rather than empirical cases. For sure, the technicization of political decision making is undermining democratic sovereignty and the popularization of politics and the public sphere is undermining the informed and respectful participation of citizens in favor of mob-type attitudes. However, in recent times this challenge has so far remained within the frame of the liberal democratic state. In contrast, between World War I and II many West European countries experienced a breakdown of democracy and many countries in Southern/Eastern Europe and Latin America had protracted periods during which regimes based on either or both populist and technocratic principles ruled. Today, populists mobilize as political parties themselves and participate to the electoral competition as well as national executives. Experts are co-opted by parties (often from think tanks linked to them) that rely on their expertise and delegate the task of taking unpopular decisions especially at the transnational level. There have been cases, as in Italy after the Monti cabinet of 2011−12, of experts creating political parties. By participating in elections, they offer precisely the kind of “agonistics” that legitimize the system and, when they enter government, movements and experts morph, vindicating party democracy. Populism and technocracy therefore operate as “correctives” of—not only alternatives to—party government.

Sobre a diferença entre a política e a ciência política

Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation”, in Max Weber’s Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations, ed. John Dreijmanis (New York: Algora Publishing, 2008), 41-43:

Let us now focus our attention on the disciplines with which I am most closely concerned; that is, sociology, history, political economy and political science and those varieties of cultural philosophy whose function is to interpret them. It has been said, and I support this, that politics has no place in the lecture hall. It is out of place there when students introduce it. I would, for example, find it deplorable if, say, pacifist students surrounded my former colleague Dietrich Schäfer in Berlin in one of his lectures and created a disturbance, and I would find it equally deplorable if, as is said to have occurred, anti-pacifist students behaved in the same way toward Professor [Friedrich W.] Förster, although my views are in many respects as far from his as it is possible to be. But neither does politics have any place in the lecture hall when the lecturer introduces it. Least of all, when his own particular subject is political science. Views regarding issues of practical politics and scientific analysis of political structures and party positions are two quite different matters. If someone speaks about democracy in a public meeting, he should make no secret of his personal point of view. It is his confounded duty and obligation to take a clear partisan position. The words used are then not a means of scientific analysis, but of political campaigning to win over others to his point of view. They are not plowshares to break up the soil of contemplative thought, but swords to use against the adversary. They are weapons in the struggle.

In a lecture or in a lecture hall, on the other hand, it would be an outrage to use words in this way. In that situation, where the topic is “democracy,” for example, one will take the different forms of democracy and analyze them to establish how they function, and what particular consequences each has for the conditions of life, and then contrast them with other, non-democratic, forms of political order and attempt to reach the point at which the listener himself can adopt a stance in the light of his ultimate ideals. But the genuine teacher, speaking from the lectern, will take great care not to force any point of view on him, whether explicitly or by suggestion, while claiming to “let the facts speak for themselves,” which would naturally be a most underhand tactic.

But why should we not do this? I admit that many highly esteemed colleagues are of the opinion that such self-denial is not feasible, and if it were practiced it would be a mere eccentricity and should be avoided. Now, one cannot demonstrate scientifically what the duty of an academic teacher should be. One can only demand from him the intellectual integrity to be clear about the difference between, on the one hand, establishing facts, mathematical or logical states of affairs, or establishing the internal structure of cultural values, and on the other hand, answering the question of the value of culture and of its individual contents, followed by the question of how one should act within the cultural community and political associations. These are two entirely heterogeneous problems. If he goes on to ask why he should not deal with both in the lecture hall, the answer is because the prophet and the demagogue have no place at the lectern in the lecture hall. The message to both the prophet and the demagogue is: “Go out on the streets and speak publicly,” which is to say, go where criticism is possible. In the lecture hall the teacher sits facing an audience who are obliged to attend his lectures for the sake of their careers and remain silent while he speaks. I regard it as irresponsible if instead of giving his listeners the benefit of his knowledge and scientific experience, which is his duty, he takes advantage of a situation where there is no one there who can criticize him and attempts to impose his political views on them. No doubt, it may be impossible for the individual to disregard his subjective sympathies entirely, but he must then face the severest criticism in the forum of his own conscience. Promoting his own views confirms nothing, as purely factual errors are also possible. Yet, they attest nothing against his duty to seek the truth. I am therefore against this approach, not least in the interests of science. I am prepared to demonstrate, from the works of our historians, that whenever the man of science puts forward his own value judgment, full understanding of the facts ceases. But this subject is beyond the scope of this evening’s topic and would call for lengthy discussion.

Populismo, representação, redes sociais e conservadorismo

Roger Scruton, “Populism, VII: Representation & the people”:

The fact remains, however, that the accusation of “populism” is applied now largely to politicians on the right, with the implication that they are mobilizing passions that are both widespread and dangerous. On the whole liberals believe that politicians on the left win elections because they are popular, while politicians on the right win elections because they are populist. Populism is a kind of cheating, deploying weapons that civilized people agree not to use and which, once used, entirely change the nature of the game, so that those of gentle and considerate leanings are at an insuperable disadvantage. The division between the popular and the populist corresponds to the deep division in human nature, between the reasonable interests that are engaged by politics, and the dark passions that threaten to leave negotiation, conciliation, and compromise behind. Like “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “Islamophobia,” “populism” is a crime laid at the door of conservatives. For the desire of conservatives to protect the inherited identity of the nation, and to stand against what they see as the real existential threats posed by mass migration, is seen by their opponents as fear and hatred of the Other, which is seen in turn as the root cause of inter-communal violence.


The phenomenon of the instant plebiscite—what one might call the “webiscite”—is therefore far more important than has yet been recognized. Nor does it serve the interests only of the Right in politics. Almost every day there pops up on my screen a petition from or urging me to experience the “one click” passport to moral virtue, bypassing all political processes and all representative institutions in order to add my vote to the cause of the day. Avaaz was and remains at the forefront of the groups opposing the “populism” of Donald Trump, warning against his apparent contempt for the procedures that would put brakes on his power. But in the instant politics of the webiscite such contradictions don’t matter. Consistency belongs with those checks and balances. Get over them, and get clicking instead.

It is not that the instant causes of the webiscites are wrong: without the kind of extensive debate that is the duty of a legislative assembly it is hard to decide on their merits. Nevertheless, we are constantly being encouraged to vote in the absence of any institution that will hold anyone to account for the decision. Nobody is asking us to think the matter through, or to raise the question of what other interests need to be considered, besides the one mentioned in the petition. Nobody in this process, neither the one who proposes the petition nor the many who sign it, has the responsibility of getting things right or runs the risk of being ejected from office if he fails to do so. The background conditions of representative government have simply been thought away, and all we have is the mass expression of opinion, without responsibility or risk. Not a single person who signs the petition, including those who compose it, will bear the full cost of it. For the cost is transferred to everyone, on behalf of whatever single-issue pressure group takes the benefit.

We are not creatures of the moment; we do not necessarily know what our own interests are, but depend upon advice and discussion. Hence we need processes that impede us from making impetuous choices; we need the filter that will bring us face to face with our real interests. It is precisely this that is being obscured by the emerging webiscite culture. Decisions are being made at the point of least responsibility, by the man or woman in the street with an iPhone, asked suddenly to click “yes” or “no” in response to an issue that they have never thought about before and may never think about again.

Reflect on these matters and you will come to see, I believe, that if “populism” threatens the political stability of democracies, it is because it is part of a wider failure to appreciate the virtue and the necessity of representation. For representative government to work, representatives must be free to ignore those who elected them, to consider each matter on its merits, and to address the interests of those who did not vote for them just as much as the interests of those who did. The point was made two centuries ago by Edmund Burke, that representation, unlike delegation, is an office, defined by its responsibilities. To refer every matter to the constituents and to act on majority opinion case by case is precisely to avoid those responsibilities, to retreat behind the consensus, and to cease to be genuinely accountable for what one does.

This brings me to the real question raised by the upheavals of 2016. In modern conditions, in which governments rarely enjoy a majority vote, most of us are living under a government of which we don’t approve. We accept to be ruled by laws and decisions made by politicians with whom we disagree, and whom we perhaps deeply dislike. How is that possible? Why don’t democracies constantly collapse, as people refuse to be governed by those they never voted for? Why do the protests of disenchanted voters crying “not my president!” peter out, and why has there been after all no mass exodus of liberals to Canada?

The answer is that democracies are held together by something stronger than politics. There is a “first person plural,” a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbors who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not “mine” or “yours” but “ours,” whether or not we approve of it. Many are the flaws in this system of government, but one feature gives it an insuperable advantage over all others so far devised, which is that it makes those who exercise power accountable to those who did not vote for them. This kind of accountability is possible only if the electorate is bound together as a “we.” Only if this “we” is in place can the people trust the politicians to look after their interests. Trust enables people to cooperate in ensuring that the legislative process is reversible when it makes a mistake; it enables them to accept decisions that run counter to their individual desires and which express views of the nation and its future that they do not share. And it enables them to do this because they can look forward to an election in which they have a chance to rectify the damage.

That simple observation reminds us that representative democracy injects hesitation, circumspection, and accountability into the heart of government—qualities that play no part in the emotions of the crowd. Representative government is for this reason infinitely to be preferred to direct appeals to the people, whether by referendum, plebiscite, or webiscite. But the observation also reminds us that accountable politics depends on mutual trust. We must trust our political opponents to acknowledge that they have the duty to represent the people as a whole, and not merely to advance the agenda of their own political supporters.

But what happens when that trust disintegrates? In particular, what happens when the issues closest to people’s hearts are neither discussed nor mentioned by their representatives, and when these issues are precisely issues of identity—of “who we are” and “what unites us”? This, it seems to me, is where we have got to in Western democracies—in the United States just as much as in Europe. And recent events on both continents would be less surprising if the media and the politicians had woken up earlier to the fact that Western democracies—all of them without exception—are suffering from a crisis of identity. The “we” that is the foundation of trust and the sine qua non of representative government, has been jeopardized not only by the global economy and the rapid decline of indigenous ways of life, but also by the mass immigration of people with other languages, other customs, other religions, other ways of life, and other and competing loyalties. Worse than this is the fact that ordinary people have been forbidden to mention this, forbidden to complain about it publicly, forbidden even to begin the process of coming to terms with it by discussing what the costs and benefits might be.

Of course they have not been forbidden to discuss immigration in the way that Muslims are forbidden to discuss the origins of the Koran. Nor have they been forbidden by some express government decree. If they say the wrong things, they are not arrested and imprisoned—not yet, at least. They are silenced by labels—“racism,” “xenophobia,” “hate speech”—designed to associate them with the worst of recent crimes. In my experience, ordinary people wish to discuss mass immigration in order to prevent those crimes. But this idea is one that cannot be put in circulation, for the reason that the attempt to express it puts you beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Hillary Clinton made the point in her election campaign, with her notorious reference to the “deplorables”—in other words, the people who bear the costs of liberal policies and respond to them with predictable resentments.


ll this has left the conservative movement at an impasse. The leading virtue of conservative politics as I see it is the preference for procedure over ideological programs. Liberals tend to believe that government exists in order to lead the people into a better future, in which liberty, equality, social justice, the socialist millennium, or something of that kind will be realized. The same goal-directed politics has been attempted by the EU, which sees all governance as moving towards an “ever closer union,” in which borders, nations, and the antagonisms that allegedly grow from them will finally disappear. Conservatives believe that the role of government is not to lead society towards a goal but to ensure that, wherever society goes, it goes there peacefully. Government exists in order to conciliate opposing views, to manage conflicts, and to ensure peaceful transactions between the citizens, as they compete in the market, and associate in what Burke called their “little platoons.”

That conception of government is, to me, so obviously superior to all others that have entered the imperfect brains of political thinkers that I find myself irresistibly drawn to it. But it depends on a pre-political unity defined within recognized borders, and a sovereign territory that is recognizably “ours,” the place where “we” are, the home that we share with the strangers who are our “fellow countrymen.” All other ways of defining the “we” of human communities—whether through dynasty, tribe, religion, or the ruling Party—threaten the political process, since they make no room for opposition, and depend on conscripting the people to purposes that are not their own. But procedural politics of the conservative kind is possible only within the confines of a nation state—which is to say, a state defined over sovereign territory, whose citizens regard that territory as their legitimate home.

São os referendos bons para a democracia?

AC Grayling, “Are referendums good for democracy?”:

If you live in a small ancient Greek city with restrictions on who can take part in the political process, referendums are pretty well your only governmental decision-making resource.

But if you live in a populous, diverse and complex society, you do far better to avoid referendums, and instead to devise a representative democracy in which people are elected to act on the populace’s behalf by getting information, deliberating, discussing, listening to different points of view, making sober judgments, and acting on them wisely. If the representatives succeed in this, their electors might keep them in post. If they do not, their electors can throw them out.

There are two great advantages of the representative system. When combined with all the shortcomings of referendums, they show why the vote on 23rd June 2016 was such a farce. Regrettably, with MPs having voted in favour of triggering Article 50 on Wednesday night, the result is now very likely indeed to be acted upon.

The first such advantage is that the representative system allows the rest of us to get on with our lives, jobs and families without having to think about the minutiae of such things as legislation on health and safety in the gas industry, or amendments to §5(c)(ii) paragraph eight of the Heathlands and Waterways (Protected Fowl) Act of 1953. Much in the business of legislating involves equal quantities of boredom and expertise, each a great barrier to agora-style approaches to democracy, and they are peculiarly unfitted for them therefore.

The other advantage is that representative democracy is indirect democracy. The ignorance, self-interest, short-termism, emotion, prejudice and occasional knuckle-headedness of which almost all of us are capable are—or in the ideal should be—filtered out by the institutions and procedures of representative democracy, which are designed specifically for that purpose, and which accordingly allow mature intelligence to be focused on the business of government. Party politics interferes with this desirable arrangement, of course, and the result is not only that partisan interests and knuckle-headedness too often fail to get filtered out, but the very institutions and practices that exist to minimise such failure can be manipulated. But the system works often enough, at least for less contentious matters, and that is a good thing.

Referendums are in general inconsistent with this process. They bypass the institutions and procedures designed to optimise decision-making, and go straight for the opposite, posing a simplified question inviting a yes-no answer to a body of people among whom very few have given the matter much thought, or thought anything like informed and dispassionately enough. In handing decision-making over to a referendum, politicians thereby abdicate responsibility, and there is little guarantee that the outcome will be the most considered possible alternative.

Sobre o futuro da ideia de inteligência

Stephen Cave, “Intelligence: a history”:

So when we reflect upon how the idea of intelligence has been used to justify privilege and domination throughout more than 2,000 years of history, is it any wonder that the imminent prospect of super-smart robots fills us with dread?

From 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Terminator films, writers have fantasised about machines rising up against us. Now we can see why. If we’re used to believing that the top spots in society should go to the brainiest, then of course we should expect to be made redundant by bigger-brained robots and sent to the bottom of the heap. If we’ve absorbed the idea that the more intelligent can colonise the less intelligent as of right, then it’s natural that we’d fear enslavement by our super-smart creations. If we justify our own positions of power and prosperity by virtue of our intellect, it’s understandable that we see superior AI as an existential threat.


We would do better to worry about what humans might do with AI, rather than what it might do by itself. We humans are far more likely to deploy intelligent systems against each other, or to become over-reliant on them. As in the fable of the sorcerer’s apprentice, if AIs do cause harm, it’s more likely to be because we give them well-meaning but ill-thought-through goals – not because they wish to conquer us. Natural stupidity, rather than artificial intelligence, remains the greatest risk.

It’s interesting to speculate about how we’d view the rise of AI if we had a different view of intelligence. Plato believed that philosophers would need to be cajoled into becoming kings, since they naturally prefer contemplation to mastery over men. Other traditions, especially those from the East, see the intelligent person as one who scorns the trappings of power as mere vanity, and who removes him or herself from the trivialities and tribulations of quotidian affairs.

Imagine if such views were widespread: if we all thought that the most intelligent people were not those who claimed the right to rule, but those who went to meditate in remote places, to free themselves of worldly desires; or if the cleverest of all were those who returned to spread peace and enlightenment. Would we still fear robots smarter than ourselves?

Preconceito, autoridade e razão

Miguel Morgado, Autoridade (Lisboa: Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos, 2010), 77–78:

Em sentido literal, isento de cargas pejorativas, o preconceito é tão-somente «o julgamento que se faz antes de se ter examinado todos os elementos que determinam uma situação». Assim, um preconceito não é necessariamente um julgamento errado. Não faltará, porém, quem diga que obedecer à autoridade é confessar a indisponibilidade ou a incapacidade para superar as alegadas carências do preconceito. Grande parte do pensamento do século XVIII europeu, a que se convencionou chamar das «Luzes», não protestou outra coisa. Há preconceitos cuja relevância e valor se podem dever às limitações naturais da condição humana. Contudo, outros preconceitos há que perduram graças exclusivamente à autoridade, que aqui funcionam como uma espécie de assistência respiratória de julgamentos duvidosos. Neste caso, preconceito e autoridade aliam-se para perpetuar a servidão humana, ou pelo menos de certos estratos da humanidade, aqueles que se sujeitam à autoridade e adoptam o preconceito. É também deste modo que os adversários da autoridade denunciam sub-repticiamente a associação entre autoridade e a negação da razão, ou aplaudem a alegada inimizade entre a autoridade e a razão. Recusam-se a aceitar que a compreensão humana do mundo decorre também dos julgamentos que temos de pronunciar em variadíssimas ocasiões da nossa vida, que a razão não opera num vazio histórico, que a aceitação da autoridade é uma prática incontornável e, em circunstâncias felizes e oportunas, proporcionadora de um recto exercício das faculdades do entendimento, justificada por a autoridade, enquanto autoridade, e na medida em que é autoridade, ser igualmente fonte de verdade. Recusam-se a aceitar que a relação entre a autoridade e a razão não é a de um simples confronto, apesar de lhes ser mostrado que o reconhecimento da autoridade sugere desde logo que não se prescindiu da razão. Esse reconhecimento traz implícito o raciocínio segundo o qual vale a pena aceitar o julgamento da autoridade porque esta pronuncia julgamentos superiores aos meus. Daí que seja enganador dizer que a autoridade é imposta por alguém sobre outrem. Na realidade, se a autoridade tem de ser reconhecida e aceite, o termo «imposição» torna-se deslocado. Ademais, a obediência à autoridade, que se segue ao seu reconhecimento, continua a comprovar que estamos diante de um acto regulado pela razão, já que a superioridade dos ditames da autoridade sobre os nossos julgamentos pode, em princípio, ser sempre demonstrada racionalmente.

A respeito de certas elites

E. M. Oblomov, “Intelligentsia Elegy”:

If some of Solzhenitsyn’s criticisms sound familiar to American conservatives, it may be because the qualities he despairs of are endemic to educated elites everywhere. Or, it may be because our American intelligentsia has been Russified over the past century. You would think that a free society would give full expression to the intelligentsia’s virtues. Yet, somehow our own intelligentsia, lacking any serious need for moral courage, has managed to concentrate in itself the worst aspects of its Russian cousins: sanctimony without sacrifice; obsession with egalitarian social justice that “paralyzes the love of and interest in truth”; hatred of its own history and the confusion of that hatred with a “passionate ethical impulse”; an exaggerated sense of its own rights and entitlements; contempt for the views of ordinary people; a transparently false, pretentious pose of acting only on the basis of undisputed facts and disinterested principle. If in the Soviet case we see a servile intelligentsia crouching defensively against an all-powerful totalitarian police state, in the United States we see a different dynamic: a powerful, self-assured intelligentsia increasingly at odds with the workings of democracy.


The American intelligentsia remains hard to define. A good working definition may be a class of educated people who, like Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, are able to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Here, in no particular order, is a full day’s worth: colleges are hotbeds of rape culture; Cuba has excellent health care; the New York Times has no partisan bias; Islamophobia is a meaningful word; poverty causes crime; poverty causes terrorism; global warming causes terrorism; gender is a social construct; capitalism causes racism; racism causes crime; racism causes poverty; Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia; and so on.

At least in the Soviet case, complicity in a soul-crushing system of official lies was coerced at the point of a bayonet. It is disturbing that, with our intelligentsia, these beliefs are self-inflicted.

Sobre o politicamente correcto

Raymond Boudon, Os Intelectuais e o Liberalismo (Lisboa: Gradiva, 2005), 85-86:

Podemos afirmar que estes diversos factores – a descida média das exigências escolares e universitárias, a implantação de uma epistemologia que desvaloriza o conceito de um saber objectivo – produziram ainda outro efeito de importância crucial: contribuíram para um alastramento do moralismo nos meios do ensino e, mais ainda, nos meios intelectuais, já que é mais fácil emitir um juízo moral sobre um determinado episódio histórico ou sobre um determinado fenómeno social do que compreendê-lo. Compreender pressupõe ao mesmo tempo informação e competência analítica. Emitir um juízo moral, pelo contrário, não pressupõe nenhuma competência especial. O reconhecimento da capacidade de compreender pressupõe uma concepção objectivista do conhecimento. O reconhecimento da capacidade de sentir, não. Acresce que, se um dado juízo moral vai ao encontro da sensibilidade de um certo público, ou cumpre os dogmas que cimentam uma determinada rede de influência, pode ser socialmente rentável.

A isto é preciso acrescentar, antecipando uma objecção possível, que o relativismo cognitivo – o relativismo em matéria de saber – não implica de maneira nenhuma o relativismo em matéria de moral. Pelo contrário, o relativismo cognitivo estimula a ética da convicção. Porque, como uma convicção não pode, à luz do relativismo cognitivo, ser objectivamente fundamentada, o facto de ser vivida como justa é facilmente encarado como único critério que permite validá-la. Este critério tende por isso a ser considerado necessário e suficiente. O episódio do Quebeque a que anteriormente me referi, em que um grupo de feministas propôs que fossem atenuadas as exigências do doutoramento a favor das mulheres, com o argumento de que o saber é sempre incerto enquanto as exigências morais são irrecusáveis, é um exemplo que atesta este efeito.

Assim se compreende que a desvalorização do saber possa ser acompanhada de uma sobrevalorização da moral ou, mais exactamente, de uma exacerbação das exigências em matéria de igualdade em detrimento de outros valores. É talvez este fenómeno que algumas expressões hoje repetidas à exaustão tentam captar: «o pensamento único», «o politicamente correcto», a political correctness.