07 August 2007

"Getting Iraq Wrong"

That's the title of a column by Michael Ignatieff, former Harvard professor, now a member of the Canadian parliament. Also a journalist for The New York Times Magazine. Why I've linked to it because it is not so much about why he got Iraq wrong but about the nature of political judgment and how it differs from personal judgment and from academic judgment. He feels he is in a position to make those distinctions now that he has been a politician for a few years. He even quotes Machiavelli (well, what political scientist doesn't). Here's a bit of his distinction between politics and academia.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can’t afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources.

I find this idea very interesting. But then, I am an academic.

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