Iraq, Political Theory

Brad DeLong. And Georg Büchner.

I’m ill, I know. But this was just too good to not to tell you about –

Ladies and Gentlemen, from the man who sometimes uses some of J. M. Keynes wise words as list-email signature –

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.”

– comes a new and exciting blog entry called – A Brief Dialogue on Behavioral Economics.

Believe me, I checked – it’s not only fun for economists and the like. And even though the dialogue is indeed pleasant Saturday afternoon reading about behavioral economics rather than oenophilia, Prof. DeLong inadvertently explains why most Europeans will always love Bill “Epicure” Clinton and always be sceptical of George “Moral Clarity” Bush as well as the policy styles they represent.

Hall: As an ex-Clinton Administration Senior Treasury Official, I think your duty here is clear. You have a strong and unavoidable moral duty to choose a bottle of wine for us to drink…
DeLong: That is a strong point…
Hall: An expensive bottle of wine…
DeLong: I surrender…
Hall: Two expensive bottles of wine…

Clinton and Bush. Danton and Robbespierre. Come to think of it, those two as well as the 9/11-induced “nothing is the same anymore”-discourse favouring “security” over “liberty” that has become prevalent throughout the Western world do remind a lot of the great Georg Büchner’s wonderful play “Danton’s Death“, don’t you think? –

Act 1, Scene 6. A room. Robespierre. Danton. Paris.

Robespierre: I tell you, anybody who grabs my arm when I draw my sword is my enemy. His intention is not important. Anybody who gets in my way when I�m defending myself kills me as surely as if he had attacked me directly.
Danton: Where self-defense ends, there murder begins. I don�t see any reason that compels us to keep on killing.
Robespierre: The social revolution isn�t finished. Anybody who goes only halfway with a revolution digs his own grave. The aristocracy isn�t dead yet. The vigorous, wholesome power of the people has to completely replace the wholly degenerate class. Vice must be punished. Virtue has to triumph through the Reign of Terror.
Danton: I don�t understand the word “punishment.” You with your “virtue,” Robespierre! You claim you have taken no money, you have incurred no debts, you have slept with no women, you�ve always worn decent clothes and have never gotten drunk. Robespierre, you are disgustingly righteous. I would be ashamed to run around for 30 years with that kind of moral physiognomy just for the miserable purpose of finding other people to be more sinful than I am� Is there nothing in you that doesn�t sometimes, very quietly, secretly whisper: you are lying, you are lying?
Robespierre: My conscience is clean.
Danton: One�s conscience is a mirror in front of which a monkey torments himself. Everybody preens as much as he can, and then goes out and has as much of a good time as he can. What nonsense to get all upset about such things! Every person has the right to defend himself when another person spoils his fun. Do you have the right to make the guillotine into a wash tub for the dirty clothes of other people and to make bowling balls out of their lopped off heads simply because you always wear a freshly ironed jacket? Sure, you can defend yourself when they spit on it or tear holes in it. But what does it matter to you as long as they leave you in peace? If they are not ashamed to act as they do, do you have any right to send them to the grave? Do you think you are the policeman of heaven? And if you don�t have the ability to watch life unfold as easily as can your own dear God, then hold your handkerchief over your eyes.

Robespierre: You deny virtue?

Danton: And vice. There are only Epicureans, some crude, some discerning. Christ was the most discerning. That�s the only difference that I can find among human beings. Every person acts according to his own personality. That is to say, he does what gives him pleasure� Isn�t that right, oh incorruptible one? Isn�t it cruel for me to cut you down to size like this?
Robespierre: Danton, vice at certain times is high treason.
Danton: You can�t prohibit it. For God�s sake, that would be ingratitude. You are too indebted to the existence of vice, mainly for the contrast it provides you. Anyway, to continue with your line of thinking, our quarrels must be useful to the republic. You can�t kill the innocent along with the guilty.
Robespierre: Who says to you that a single innocent person has been killed?
Danton: Do you hear that, Fabricius? Not a single innocent person has died! [He leaves; while exiting, to Paris:] We don�t have a moment to lose. We have to show ourselves! [Danton and Paris leave.]
Robespierre [alone]: Go on and leave! He wants the stallions of the revolution to make a stop at the bordello, like a coachman with his fine steeds. They�ll have enough strength to drag him to the Place de la Revolution. To cut me down to size! To continue with my line of thinking! Wait! Wait! Is that it? They will say that his gigantic stature threw too big a shadow on me, so I had to tell him to move out of the sun�

And what if they’re right? Is it necessary? Yes, yes! The republic! He�s got to go. It’s ridiculous how my thoughts spy on each other�

He�s got to go. Anybody who stands still in a forward-moving crowd is just as big a hindrance as if he moved against the crowd. He�ll get run over. We won�t let the ship of the revolution run aground because of the sick musings and the filthy shoals of these people. We have to cut off the hand that dares to hold us back� even if he starts scratching and biting! Away with a society that stole the clothes of the dead aristocracy and inherited its leprosy!
No virtue! He talks of virtue as if it were the high heels on my shoes! To continue with my thinking! Why do these words keep coming back? Why can�t I get rid of the idea? He points again and again with a bloody finger: there, and there! It doesn�t matter how many rags I wrap around it, the blood seeps through� I don�t know what there is in me that betrays the other side.
[He goes to the window.] Night snores over the earth and tosses and turns in an empty dream. Thoughts, desires, hardly sensed, crazy, formless, which shy away from the light of day now take form and creep into the quiet house of dreams. They open the doors, they look out the windows, they become half real, they stretch their limbs in sleep, their lips mumble� And is our waking only a brighter dream? Are we only sleep walkers? Isn�t our life like a dream, just clearer, more certain, more complete? Why should anyone criticize us for that? In one hour the mind carries out more actions that the primitive organism of our body can manage in years. Sin exists in the mind. Whether a thought becomes action, whether the body carries it out, that is pure chance…”

So if I weren’t ill, I would certainly open a bottle of red right now…