Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry: A Baconian Analysis

"Surely princes had need, in tender matters and ticklish times, to beware what they say; especially in these short speeches, which fly abroad like darts, and are thought to be shot out of their secret intentions.  For as for large discourses, they are flat things, and not so much noted."

These words come from Francis Bacon's "Of Seditions and Troubles" (thanks to M. for sharing them with me).  They seem apropos—stunningly apropos—in considering how to think about the "short speeches" that Rick Perry has been making.  Such speeches "fly abroad like darts."  Perry is quite an expert dart-tosser.  If Perry's darts about secession, treason, global warming, etc. are shot directly "out of his secret intentions," as Bacon suggests, they make him seem real, quite different from your usual scripted politician who cannot say anything until it has been tested on multiple focus-groups.  When Perry says that printing more money would be "treasonous," we should not be too quick to say, "Oh, that's just a rhetorical flourish, not to be taken literally."  On the contrary, it is a remarkably good guide to what he actually thinks.  Deep down, he probably believes that people whose ideas are different from his own are not merely misguided, but enemies worthy of being punished by death.  If he could get away with punishing his opponents—whom he seems to regard as his enemies—he probably would.

What of his "large discourses"?  There is his book, Fed Up, which I should probably read in order to form a fully responsible opinion about the man.  But I like Bacon's implication that the "short speeches" are not only as revealing as long discourses, but actually more revealing, of what the man actually thinks. One might object: perhaps there's far more to the man than what comes across in his "short speeches."  As a college student, he had the opportunity to cultivate the powers of his mind, developing habits of reading and reflection that inform his more nuanced assessments of the day's events.  Perhaps beneath Perry the dart-tosser lurks Perry the thoughtful contemplator.  But this would assume that he took his college education seriously.  Did he?  The evidence suggests that he did not.

Another objection: Aren't there people who perform poorly in school, but regret it later, wishing they'd made more of the opportunities they squandered?  I've known a few such people.  I admire them enormously. However lightly they took college, they grow up later.  They go back and read the authors they once ignored.  Their own experience has taught them the point of liberal education.  It's certainly possible that while Rick Perry did poorly as a student at Texas A&M, he proceeded to become an intellectual adult.  But did he?  Again, the evidence suggests that he did not.  Instead, he seems proudly to have carried the lack of respect for humane learning he had as an undergraduate into his later, "successful" years.

Near the beginning of the Ethics, Aristotle says that the "young" are not the chronologically young, but those who are habitually led by their emotions. Regarding the things studied at universities, Perry seems to have been led by one emotion in particular, that of disdain.  This is unfortunate, since as Bacon's example shows, some things studied at universities are quite important for politics.