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Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond [Hardcover]

David Runciman

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Book Description

April 1 2008

What kind of hypocrite should voters choose as their next leader? The question seems utterly cynical. But, as David Runciman suggests, it is actually much more cynical to pretend that politics can ever be completely sincere. The most dangerous form of political hypocrisy is to claim to have a politics without hypocrisy. Political Hypocrisy is a timely, and timeless, book on the problems of sincerity and truth in politics, and how we can deal with them without slipping into hypocrisy ourselves. Runciman tackles the problems through lessons drawn from some of the great truth-tellers in modern political thought--Hobbes, Mandeville, Jefferson, Bentham, Sidgwick, and Orwell--and applies his ideas to different kinds of hypocritical politicians from Oliver Cromwell to Hillary Clinton.

Runciman argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics, but without resigning ourselves to it, let alone cynically embracing it. We should stop trying to eliminate every form of hypocrisy, and we should stop vainly searching for ideally authentic politicians. Instead, we should try to distinguish between harmless and harmful hypocrisies and should worry only about its most damaging varieties.

Written in a lively style, this book will change how we look at political hypocrisy and how we answer some basic questions about politics: What are the limits of truthfulness in politics? And when, where, and how should we expect our politicians to be honest with us, and about what?

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Product Description


One of Sunday Timess Best Books in Politics for 2008

"A very intelligent, subtle, and learned guide to the classics and to the pre-eminent historical examples of hypocrisy from Mandeville and Hobbes, to Jefferson and the Victorians, with some concluding examples to illustrate the special problems of hypocrisy and sincerity in democracies."--David Martin, Times Literary Supplement

"[Political Hypocrisy] contains a plethora of shrewd and quotable remarks. . . . What struck a chord with me was his gentle demolition of the idea that a politicians profession of his own sincerity, or passionate belief, proves anything at all."--Samuel Brittan, Financial Times

"University of Cambridge political theorist David Runciman takes a far more textured, sophisticated approach to the phenomenon in Political Hypocrisy, a timely, long overdue study of one of public life's in-your-face puzzles."--Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Political Hypocrisy is not just another denunciation of politicians as liars. Instead, it offers us a tour, from Hobbes and Mandeville to Bentham and Orwell. Runciman is best on the American revolutionaries and our eminent Victorians, perhaps because both the US war of independence and the British empire required self-aware democratic politicians to gloss over the gaps between their proclaimed beliefs and their actual behaviour."--David Willetts, Prospect Magazine

"Political Hypocrisy is a deep and thought-provoking work."--Tim Dunne, THE

"In the excellent Political Hypocrisy, British journalist David Runciman uses the 2008 campaign to test his thesis that hypocrisy and anti-hypocrisy are joined in a 'discrete system' and that our obsession with this antagonistic tango is making modern politics impossible."--Richard King, The Australian Literary Review

"In a masterly survey of political philosophers, practitioners and writers, he has brought out how they have dealt with hypocrisy in politics and addressed the question of when it is worth worrying over and when it is not worth worrying."--D. N. Ghosh, Economic & Political Weekly

"Runciman's book should be appreciated for its attempt to present an alternate--and historical--approach to the issue of political hypocrisy. He successfully delves into the many fine distinctions that make up each theorist's approach and response to hypocrisy, which is particularly useful for a topic that so utterly lacks a clear division between black and white, and what is right and wrong."--Kiku Huckle, Peace and Justice Studies

From the Inside Flap

"David Runcimans great achievement is to take the notion of hypocrisy, well-known as a term of moral disapprobation, and to relocate it as a central concept in the history of rational liberal discourse. This illuminating, wide-ranging, and subtle study presents the exposing of hypocrisy, and its simultaneous retention, as an uncomfortable and largely deliberate feature of the writings of some major political theorists and disputants from Hobbes to the present, and argues persuasively and with characteristic elegance that hypocritical deception is necessarily embedded in political life and language."--Michael Freeden, University of Oxford

"David Runciman is a master navigator through the psychology of democracy."--Simon Jenkins, author and journalist

"A fascinating, stimulating read. It treats an issue of immediate political interest in a subtle and engaging way, finding in the history of political liberalism a wealth of insights relevant to contemporary politics. Anyone discussing political hypocrisy in the future will have to deal with this book."--Bryan Garsten, Yale University

"David Runcimans Political Hypocrisy is a superb, beautifully written book on a crucial topic, unmatched in the field and likely to shape it for a long time to come. I was consistently surprised and enlightened by its arguments."--Andrew Sabl, University of California, Los Angeles

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
This is a book about hypocritical politicians, and about some of the ways we might learn to view them. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is more to political leaders than hypocrisy Oct. 21 2009
By laurens van den muyzenberg - Published on Amazon.com
This book describes the thoughts of primarily English writers about hypocrisy in politics. One idea all share including the author is that the name of the game of politics is hypocrisy. Those politicians that claim to be sincere or think they are sincere are hypocrites like those that are aware they are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is on purpose not defined in the book, as it exists in so many varieties. Some worse than others.
Hypocrisy according to the book is kind of acting. Or wearing a mask. I think everybody is acting. When you meet a baby, your mother or your boss you act differently. You try to make the baby laugh and try to please your boss. Nothing special about that.
I agree that it is important try to have a view if a political leader is doing a good job or not. But I doubt that concentrating on determining what type of hypocrite he is will help you very much. It appears to be more practical to follow a Buddhist line of analysis. What is his intention? Is he only interested in himself or also in the citizens? Did he take, can he take, will he take actions that will solve the problems a country faces, and takes initiatives that will improve their well-being. Has he or she surrounded himself with a cabinet of competent ministers that are not just yes-men?
I did learn from the book that you should not pay too much attention to hypocrisy. All people "act". As political leaders are public figures they are watched much more closely, so hypocrisy comes more often to light. I agree with the author that journalists that specialize in hypocrisy of politicians are wasting their readers' time.
The author writes that all people writing book reviews are hypocrites. Before I buy a book I read several reviews and find that helpful. That is why I am writing reviews as I hope that it will help other readers. I must be a hypocrite according to this book but I am not sure I understand why.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Political Hypocrisy Confounded July 14 2008
By Lee Cheek - Published on Amazon.com
Runciman (Univ. of Cambridge) argues hypocrisy is "inevitable" (p. 1) in liberal democratic theory and practice. Locating the origins of "the idea of hypocrisy" in the theatre and in deceptiveness, the author posits that the political "hypocrite is always putting on an act" (p. 8). Devoting chapters to Hobbes, Mandeville, a troika of figures from the American Founding, Bentham, Victorians, and Orwell, the use of hypocrisy in politics is dissected. The chapters on Hobbes and Mandeville (1 and 2) are brilliant, yet beguiling. The chapter on the American Founding, generally, and Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, specifically (3), suffers from serious interpretative flaws. By reducing the American Founding to a duplicitous phenomenon because of the existence of slavery undermines the internal logic of the author's central thesis, and results in an unfair, nay hypocritical, treatment of American politics and experience. While written in a lucid and engaging style, the book fails to recover the importance of political hypocrisy in a comprehensive manner. If politics is grounded in the moral and rational nature of humankind, it cannot simply be consigned to the author's selecting of the "right hypocrite" (p. 213).

H. Lee Cheek, Jr., Ph.D.
Chair, Social Sciences
Brewton-Parker College

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