The Satiric Vision of Politics
The liberal-conservative consensus which has been most influential in shaping international politics since 1945 is grounded in what Richard Ned Lebow has called a 'tragic vision of politics'. Tragedians, from Thucydides to Isaiah Berlin, share a conviction that the human being is in some way intrinsically tragic - that tragedy explains political life as well as offering a means of representing it for the purposes of moral or political education. The 'tragic vision' provides guidance on the limits and desirability of political action, helping to 'adjudicate', for Lebow, between 'ethics and interests'. This paper examines an alternative to the tragedians' view: a satiric vision of international politics. While tragedy accepts human frailties, calling upon us to make compromises with moral principles, satire holds folly and hypocrisy to account by ridicule, implying that a higher standard of conduct should be expected by those in political life. A satiric vision, this paper will argue, by way of a reading of Bernard Mandeville's 'An Enquiry into the Origin ofHonour, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War' (1732), offers a more potent mode of political critique and moral education than tragedy, matching its realistic appraisal of political life without bowing to the necessities dictated by interests.
International Studies Association Paper Archive