Sunday, 9 September 2012

Intellectual courage

A trend in political commentary and op-eds which I have noticed recently is when discussing candidates or policy initiatives the opinion makers and commentators will devote a lot of attention to what are often called "Unfavorables". It may be that this has been part of the political landscape for an extended period and that I have just taken it on board, but whether it is a new development or not is not really the point that I am making.

If a candidate or the proponent of a new policy objective becomes overly influenced by the desire to avoid strong unfavorable reactions there will almost certainly be a watering down or neutering of the proposition that is presented. Very often too the resulting policy will be lacking in decisiveness and effectiveness. To cite just one current example, there is unquestionably political cowardice in the UK government's current approach to aviation capacity and the need to decide on a way forward i.e. a third runway at Heathrow or a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary among other possibilities.

When a person has decisive views and if policies are presented as hard edged it is almost invariably the case that there will be strong opinions expressed by those who are favorable to the views and equally by those who are unfavorable. It is also the case that it is often only in the fullness of time that it becomes possible to determine on the merits of the views or policies. A classic example of this must surely be the outspoken views of Winston Churchill regarding the threats posed by Nazi Germany in the 1930's when most of his contemporaries were convinced that a policy of appeasement was the right way to conduct diplomacy within Europe.

Willingness to face strongly hostile reactions to one's view and to argue forcefully for them, if firmly held, is a sign of intellectual courage. It is sadly lacking in the political realm today.

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