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)

Friday, March 9, 2012

The death of the noble amateur

Along with David Brooks and other uncomfortable conservatives, Canada’s Andrew Coyne bases a measure of hope for the future on illusions about the past. An illusion about the passing amateur is outlined below:
“The difference between a professional athlete and an amateur is not that the one gets paid and the other does not, or that one wants to win more than the other. It is that to the amateur athlete, it matters how he wins. Whereas for the professional winning really is the only thing.
“For an amateur, merely obeying the rules is not enough. He is guided also by his own sense of fair play, and by the conventions of sportsmanship — including the convention that one should obey the rules. Whereas it is accepted in professional sports that players may break the rules if they can get away with it, and once you’ve told players they can break some rules it’s hard to tell them they can’t break others. Not impossible, but hard.
“Something like this has happened to our politics. There are no amateurs in politics, or not in the sense I’ve described. In politics, as in professional sports, the only thing that matters is winning. As in sports there are rules, in this case the law, but again it is morals and convention that really govern behaviour.
“We don’t yet know whether anyone in a position of authority encouraged people to break the law in the Robocon matter. What we do know is that politics has been spinning closer and closer to that line, to the point that we are no longer terribly surprised to see it crossed.”
Pretty tenuous stuff.
Canada has always been governed by men and women who tirelessly scheme, fight, compromise, and, occasionally, cheat to survive in politics as a career. They call themselves lawyers, farmers, businessmen, teachers, or preachers—whatever—and usually keep running until they’re stopped. But, politics is their first love.
In Canada and elsewhere in western democracies, politicians avoid being called “professionals” and avoid appearing to rely excessively on “professional” help. It demeans.
Coyne and other pundits certainly agree that our leaders should be paid well. However, they embrace that old self-serving Tory prejudice that the amateur is somehow a truer gentleman, not “in the trades.”
This is folly. It was the studiously amateurish Kennedys and Bushs that escalated in Vietnam, undertook the Bay of Pigs, recruited Lee Atwater, and invented the highly elastic concept of the preventative war.
When winning truly matters—as it often truly does, in politics and in war—history vividly demonstrates that the amateur is easily as ferocious as the unlovable professional.

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