an elegant drive through the covers of Renewal

Does anyone actually imagine that Blairites are interested in the ideas of Amartya Sen? I ask chiefly for information.

After all, they often do things that look superficially like engaging intellectually with new ideas from the Left; writing articles about Sen or Etzioni or whoever in journals like Progress or Renewal, taking part in seminars at the IPPR or RSA. But then, you look at the outputs, both in terms of policy and of rhetoric. There’s clearly a big gap here. Do they really think about Sen and decide to let bouncers in Norwich collect fines? Surely no process of cogitation, however twisted, would come up with this stuff? It’s obvious that there must be some other level of thought that determines their actions.

There is of course an alternative explanation. What if the whole fuss was entirely divorced from the content of politics? What if it was a kind of sport, pursued for the challenge of it, for the mental exercise, the status that accrues to winners, and perhaps its abstract beauty? It’s quite possible for this to be true even if the participants fool themselves that it affects the content of their thinking on actual, operational matters.

Indeed, quite possibly, they accept the operational code that governs the daily conduct of politics because they fool themselves that they are really influenced by Sen, or whoever is fashionable in these circles this week.


  1. Alex

    There’s a good deal in this, and I like your notion of the operational code, autopoeietic, independent of any political thinking.

    The problem is it’s not always like this. Etzioni really did inflience policy, by creating the dogma of ‘rights and responsibilities’, and the whole notion of a ‘community’ as something which exists on ‘social capital’, independent of material circumstance. This is the essence of NL’s whole approach to regeneration, for example, for 12 years, just as Hayek was the very real driver for Thatcherism.

    And so with Sen. A simplistic reading of the capabilities model is a fine excuse for the widescale retrenchment of the welfare state. It was be a twisted reading, but there’s a causal link between, political thinking, policy thinking and policy proposals. This isn’t to deny there are other more important causal links (such as, in this case, the need to keep the credit rating agencies happy, and so on).

    Your post is much food for thought.

  2. Ambikesh K.Tripathi

    the newly published book of amartya sen ‘The Idea Of Justice’is certainly a good effort of Sen in area of political philosophy.It will be an answer to who says that sen has no any kind of political philosophy.undubatly Sen is champion among of contemporary philosophers.His capability approach provided a very broad sense to understanding poverty,injust social order.

  1. 1 obligatory NHS post « Alternate Seat of TYR

    […] This is a crucial point about libertarian ideas of liberty – if, as they usually maintain, we need freedom in order to be creative, innovative, and enterprising, why does this usually get delivered in the form of making it as dangerous as possible to be any of those things? It’s almost as if…there was a complete disjuncture between the top layer of ideology and the operational code that makes it all happen! […]

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