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

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

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

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


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?


This book is based on the Carlyle lectures that I delivered at Oxford University during February-March 2007. Each of the chapters is a substantially revised and expanded version of the original lectures, but I have tried to retain the style of the lectures in the written version, and have kept references to the scholarly literature to a minimum. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the problem of hypocrisy in modern politics: respectively power, virtue, freedom, language, party politics, empire and contemporary democracy. The subjects of these chapters are connected by a number of inter-related themes, but I hope that they can also be read as separate essays in their own right. It is one of the central claims of this book that there is a tradition of thinking about the problem of hypocrisy in politics that runs from Hobbes to Orwell, and connects to the problems of the present day. I do not claim that this is an entirely unified or coherent tradition, nor that these authors were necessarily worrying about the same things as each other, never mind the same things that we are worried about now. But I do believe that there is enough of a connection between them to suggest that there is an alternative way of thinking about the problem of political hypocrisy to the counsels of cynicism or despair that we so often hear. My hope is that this connection emerges over the course of the book as a whole.

The chapter on Jefferson and American independence was not part of the original lecture series. The focus of the final chapter on the lessons of this story for contemporary politics has tried . . .

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