Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recalling the failures of the great

Fortunately, we’re not short of books on the crimes and misdemeanors of political genius. We agree that each new generation must learn that unchecked power can be terribly destructive. Monster stories are educational and offer our civilization a measure of protection, another line of thorns around the camp fire at night. Our ambition to do better and our feel for our quirky humanity, however, are also served by good stories about how the best fail.
We are indebted to Geoffrey C. Ward’s anecdote about Gandhi’s legacy in his review of “Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India,” by Joseph Lelyveld: 
“Some years ago, the British writer Patrick French visited the Sabarmati ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat, the site from which Mahatma Gandhi led his salt march to the sea in 1930. French was so appalled by the noisome state of the latrines that he asked the ashram secretary whose job it was to clean them.
A sweeper woman stopped by for an hour a day, the functionary explained, but afterward things inevitably became filthy again.
But wasn’t it a central tenet of the Mahatma’s teachings that his followers clean up after themselves?
“We all clean the toilets together, on Gandhiji’s birthday,” the secretary answered, “as a symbol to show that we understand his message.’”

Many grand projects and admirable politicians have come along since Gandhi. We need to appreciate their failures too.

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