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November 10, 2015



"Oxford's PPE...might have its faults...but the production of groupthink isn't one of them"

Yet all of Nick Cohen, Ann Widdecombe, Seumas Milne and David Cameron are quite strongly invested in the status quo of "representative parliamentary democracy" in the Burkean understanding.

Dave Timoney

By definition, those within the groupthink bubble find it difficult to envisage anything outside of it. As an Oxford PPE graduate yourself, Chris, you might be said to lack perspective.

Like Sparks (and a lot of other people in this country), what I find striking are the similarities between Cohen, Widdicombe, Milne and Cameron, not the differences: the paradigm of politics as a form of privileged debate (rather reinforced by Hoggart's anecdote); the aversion to theory (or anything French, for that matter) and the promotion of "common sense"; the tedious and hackneyed ancestor-worship (from Burke to Orwell); the maudlin nationalism and obsession with sovereignty (common ground between Cohen and Milne) etc, et-bloody-cetera.

PS: I believe "Bill Stone" was an invention of Hoggart's. Either that or his lack of an Oxford PPE marginalised him to the point of historical invisibility.

Ralph Musgrave

"One of the best things about going to Harvard is that, for the rest of your life, you are neither intimidated nor impressed by people who went to Harvard."

Well I got news for everyone. It's that there's a high concentration of pro-austerity idiots at Harvard: e.g. Kenneth Rogoff, Carmen Reinhart, Niall Ferguson.

These people are seriously STUPID. They're complete MORONS. There's no need whatever to go to Harvard in order to see that significant proportion of Harvard academics are a total waste of space.


my Director of Studies at Cambridge used to say that one of the main roles of Cambridge University was to find bright but dangerous people and make sure they never left.


What I've read on this issue seem to take for granted that the institutions and systems termed as 'meritocratic' actually are. I'm a big believe in meritocratic rule, what I contest is that the institutions and systems that create our 'leaders' are that at all.


I suppose we might first ask 'what is government for?' and try to adjust the system to achieve that. As things stand government has evolved? from tribal elder to warlord to monarch to parliament whilst retaining many of its previous characteristics. The 'what for' question seems unanswered.

Then there are the limtations of democracy, that system is bound to get stuck from time to time - witness the housing/greenbelt issue. Possibly a touch of paternalism is needed - 'you won't like this, but it's good for you'. Won't happen because the status quo is good for the elite.

I agree with your depressing thought, we have achieved 'elite' rule and a phoney representation. Maybe we need that Change Manager Mao Zedong's approach. The thought of Jeremy Hunt et al staggering barefoot across a cold ploughed field bearing a barrel of excrement has a certain appeal.

Luis Enrique

I am a bit confused about how to differentiate between genuine "representation" and "the prejudices of the mob" - does it mean representing those elements of the non-elite which you approve of?


Luis - I think of representation of the people similar to a lawyer representing you in court. Its a professional who knows how the system works getting the best result for you. A good lawyer is not one who does whatever you tell them to do, they take your instruction and with your permission act as they think best (so I believe, never having been in a court myself).

Luis Enrique

Cantab - right but isn't that the Burkean view? Your lawyer is a member of the elite, but she can represent your interests. This post seems to talk about an alternative to that, where non-elites are represented by non-elites. But without that, somehow, amounting to representing the prejudices of the mob.

Igor Belanov

The reason why lawyers represent people in court is because they are trained in the law and experts in the procedures that courts follow, not because they know your interests best or even that they can put forward a better argument than you can personally.


More to the point the analogy with Law is wrong.

A lawyer has the job of bending the rules in your favour if he or she can which is why totalitarian regimes like that of Putin in Russia or our own Theresa May try to murder them, lock them up, or just remove them from the process of state oppression altogether as by banning people from choosing their own counsel.

The political Job is to ask what the rules should be and how to change them. There is no obvious answer to the political question unlike legal ones which have in theory an answer even the best lawyer cannot get round.

The idea of representation is problematic as it has different meanings which are inconsistent as those who study PPE can tell you. If you think politics is about advancing class interests but the masses do not grasp their own interests in abolishing Capitalism than that leads to the idea of the vanguard party. What we have since 1975 is the belief among the elite that the interests of all including the masses lies in unregulated capitalism and over mighty finance. Hence the willingness to ignore popular beliefs that run counter to right wing ideology, for the good of all you understand. Politics as a kind of evangelical religion of private finance and colonial wars passed off as "Liberal intervention". I am sure John bright and Bentham would be surprised at how their ideas have been redefined. Harvard profs merely reflect the interests of the donor class who pay for expensive Universities. Academic freedom being the freedom to pump out propaganda for the Capitalist just as freedom of the press is freedom for the owners of the press to do the same.


It doesn't matter who or what your government is,when no one has a clue on how to actually govern.

In the past, the constraints imposed by reality have been loose, and even when, as during war, they tightened, even politicians could manage. The acquisition of resources needed to drive an economy was cheap, and their allocation throughout society was not a critical matter. Neither of these conditions will pertain in the future.

Meanwhile, most of the 'people of good judgement' an MP might hire to do the actual running of an economy would have to look up 'EROI' before they even began to understand the true dimensions and magnitude of one part of the real problem.


I'm open to the idea that it isn't PPE creating the groupthink, but I'd love to hear what you think is creating the groupthink.

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