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Monday, October 14, 2013


In watching the familiar drama now underway in the American legislature, Talleyrand is reminded of the portrait drawn by Henry Fairlie in his superb book about the 1960s, The Kennedy Promise, and of the cycle of expectation and crisis which then dominated the country’s politics. It is summed up in this paragraph:

It is one of the uses of political activity that it enables us to listen to the conversation of a society. Part of the justification of politics, therefore, lies merely in the continuation of the activity itself, the carrying on of the conversation. These—the activity and the conversation—take place in the political institutions which are today regarded, not least by those who should know better, with an ignorance and an impatience which are unprecedented. The character of a political institution seems no longer to be comprehended. No matter that the draft of its keel is deep; people expect it—trade union or party or legislature or department—to respond to fashionable cries. But a political institution of true value does not answer to these ripples; it feels the tow of public opinion on great issues, slow and undramatic, beneath the surface. One cannot neglect the fact that the total effect of the political method of the Kennedys was to bring the political institutions of the country into disrepute by the promise to transcend them.


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