Philosophers Can't Guide Government

Sidestepping the flood of Europe’s debt problems, Norway is promenading along the banks of affluence, whistling its own tune of economic prosperity. 

Most European countries are facing the seemingly insurmountable task of restoring confidence in their national markets. Norway, on the other hand, recently appointed a prominent national scholar to consult the government on how to spend its surplus capital. To describe their problem in common vernacular: Norway has so much money they don’t know what to do with it. Instead of appointing an economic expert with experience in resource policies, the government is deferring to a philosopher to counsel them through this enviable dilemma. The government must rethink this deference to the academic circles.

It has not always been the case that the intellectual makes the best politician. Matters of national economic policy touch on the epicenter of the national interest. Academia functions best when it operates in a separate sphere from politics. To conflate these two spheres, academics and politics, would be to erode the system of checks and balances they impose on each other. 

The academic seeks to speak truth to power, disguised in moral and legal absolutes like good and evil, fair and unfair, just and unjust. Politics, and by extension, the politician, perceives the nation’s interest as power among powers. The national interest is the starting point of the debate for academics and politicians. Academics understand the national interest as a concept. They find bliss in concepts, because concepts are after all are conceptually perfect. Politicians on the other hand understand that the national interest differs from a nation’s moral and legal interests. Sometimes it is necessary to subordinate morality to strategic interests of power. 

For example, from a purely moral perspective, few can argue that Western powers must take collective action to forcibly halt the Syrian regime’s killing of their own people. But if America or NATO were to be guided solely by moral intentions, invading Syria, for example, would trigger a Pandora ’s Box of instability and potentially warfare across Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. There are no moral absolutes when it comes to the national interest. 

Academia is necessary to the dissection of truth in any civil society. University students and professors write moving essays each semester on the way things ought to be. Their function is necessary to the advancement of justice and intellectual development. Their role is indispensible because without intellectual development, there can be no political growth. Ultimately, truth will always prove more resilient than power. It will build unshakable empires in the minds of future generations while power see’s its empires crumble in cyclical clockwork. But in the meantime, it is the politician who understands that there are no absolute truths in statesmanship. There is only power lost and power gained.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Tony Azzi

B.A. in political science from the University of Alberta in 2005. JD from Syracuse University in 2010. I'm interested in the politics of identity, law and morality and I love classic literature. My areas of interest are the Middle East and North Africa as well as political economy. Fun Fact: everything tastes better with Nutella.

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