19 December

Penetrating the Cloud of Unknowing: Policy, Rhetoric and Public Bewilderment

In a three-part lecture series at St Peter’s College, Oxford, Mark Thompson, former Director-General of the BBC has addressed public understanding of, and engagement with, political and other public issues. These lectures naturally touched on questions of political and journalistic integrity, public authority and recent developments in media technology.

1) Is Plato winning the argument?

[F]irst let’s step back and consider a broader question namely the widespread view that something has gone awry with the character of our politics and the way in which political questions are debated in America, Britain and other western democracies.’

2) Consign it to the flames

‘I know what economists are, but who are…‘social commentators’? What training and qualifications do you need to become one? Or is social commentator like community leader, an office which involves an element of self-election?

 [I]n practice ‘social commentators’ means retired politicians and civil servants, academics in the social sciences and I’m sorry to have to break it to you journalists.’

3) Not in my name

‘Not in my name is not just the rejection of a specific democratic decision but a rejection of that democracy’s right to make such a decision on your behalf. It’s a moment when moral disgust at what is being proposed overwhelms the sense of the need to obey the conventional rules of the game and…accept the verdict of the majority.

It shares some of the certainty and purism of the ‘values’ debates… in which practical considerations are put inside in favour of a simple, clear and effectively unchangeable position. What follows may well be a powerful individual or collective declaration of morality, but it is a declaration which is made by people who have already left the debating chamber.’

One Response to Penetrating the Cloud of Unknowing: Policy, Rhetoric and Public Bewilderment

Englishman says: 30 December 2012 at 1:42 am

Public interest, needless to say, should prevail over private interest.

Determining public interest requires well-informed opinion and debate. In this political process, however, personal rights are simply not an issue.

It is only possible to reach a consensus on public interest, therefore, provided that all such well-informed opinion and debate does not harbour the slightest doubt that public interest cannot prevail over the individual rights of the person and the effective, practical liberty to exercise them. It thus becomes axiomatic that no public interest exists at all if it purports to prevail over personal rights.

Only with this condition can dissidents live with a public interest determined by the majority. This is what is generally understood as living in democracy. When so-called public interest prevails over personal rights, however, the only remedy is not only to resist but, if necessary, to combat.


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