Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hedgehogs and Foxes

Here's an interesting idea to mull over. Political philosopher Isaiah Berlin once wrote that there are two kinds of thinkers - hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs have one big idea, foxes have lots of little ideas.

Now, I'd argue that while hedgehogs can make for great philosophers, they make poor leaders. Foxes are far more preferable as leaders than hedgehogs. Some hedgehogs can be great leaders, it's true, but much of the time, their "big idea" is harmful, and they're very reticent to back away from it, no matter how much damage it does, since it basically defines them as thinkers and leaders.

For example, I give you exhibit W: the current president of the USA. W is a hedgehog personified. He displays very little understanding of the world beyond his ideals. He believed that the war in Iraq could be won with this idealism - he does not pay attention to details and facts, because he simply does not care for them. You could see this in his debates with Al Gore and John Kerry. Gore and Kerry, definitely foxes, concentrated on details. W just stuck with a theme. Now, thematic argument is more appealing aesthetically, and since presidential debates are essentially performances, it is easy to see why W came out on top in the mind of the public despite being so thoroughly schooled.

I also present for example W's idol (no, not Jesus), exhibit 666: Ronald Wilson Reagan. (Note: the exhibit number is simply based on the number of letters in each of his names.) 666 was perhaps one of the most harmful presidents in US history. Well, before W, anyway. 666 was a hedgehog all the way, never caring much for details. In true Colbertesque fashion, it was not facts that mattered, but the overriding idea of what he called "freedom" (but what most sane people call "rob the poor to feed the rich.") 666 never deviated from his worldview, even when it proved harmful. The result was a staggering increase in the national debt and deficit, (he's not W's idol for nothing!) which during the next two presidencies, would cost each American $500 a year in interest alone. His 10% per year increase in defence spending, coupled with massive tax cuts... it's not even elementary economics he violated, but simple common sense - don't spend what you don't have! But it was all for the cause of "freedom," so to him, it was a-okay. Sounds familiar somehow...

Contrast that with exhibit NSBBCE (read: not so bad by comparison, eh?) and exhibit Chubbychaser, 666's two immediate successors. I'll be the last person to offer open praise of the current president's father, NSBBCE, but you do have to give him credit - he was not blinded by some idealistic worldview that made him make bad decisions. Oh sure, he invaded a country to protect his buddies' oil, but he had the good sense to not leave that country in a situation where hundreds of people were routinely killed as a matter of everyday life. And he did try his best to fix the damage 666 had done - and he was hung for it by the fanatics who were then beginning to take over his party (oh Newt Gingrich, you miserable bastard...) As for Chubbychaser, he presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, and for that was also viciously and personally and intimately attacked by the same miserable bastard. What these two men have in common, besides being two competent presidents in between two incompetent ones, is that they're both foxes - they didn't concentrate on one big idea, and that allowed them to adjust. They weren't ideologically driven, and to the extent that they tried to implement their agendas, they did so in a way that took into account those important little things called facts and common sense. Basically, W should have called for his daddy's help a long time ago, because daddy is a hell of a lot more competent than he could ever hope to be.

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At 1/27/2007 7:04 AM, Blogger steephill said...

Excellent points. Here is a question, what was Jimmy Carter? Fox or hedgehog?

At 1/27/2007 7:27 AM, Blogger Clear Grit said...

I don't know enough about Carter's presidency to say, unfortunately. (And I'm a history student and a politics junkie! Ugh, that's two strikes against me on that one!) I'll go out on a limb and say hedgehog, to Nixon's fox. Johnson and Kennedy were both hedgehogs, though... with widely variant results.

At 1/27/2007 9:56 PM, Blogger robedger said...

Great post.


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