Janan Ganesh on ‘lost virtue’. Old Socialist comments

How did I miss this essay by Mr. Ganesh? The only reason that I became aware of it was a tweet from Daniel Larison.

Headline: The lost virtue of doubt

Sub-headline: Sceptics such as the late Brent Scowcroft are the world’s unsung heroes

This sentence of Ganesh’s belated Funeral Oration for Scowcroft, stands out for its sheer irrelevance, to anything resembling argument: suffused with self-serving jargon, that relies upon an ungainly attempt at political hyperbole/paradox, gone wrong. 

Obituaries of the aide to four presidents, who died this month, describe a career of radical prudence.

The first question the reader must ask is how to define ‘radical prudence’ ? It being mere rhetorical interior decoration: Ganesh as Mario Praz? 

In Ganesh’s telling Scowcroft attains near mythic status as an Enlightened Man of The Right:

He helped to winkle the last US troops out of Saigon. He discouraged western triumphalism as the Berlin Wall fell. He advised friends against the invasion of Iraq. And all of this as a man of the right. It was a life spent averting and undoing the mistakes of true believers, to vastly more resentment than thanks.  

After a brief snippet from Graham Greene the reader encounters this meditation on the danger ‘fervent belief’ as opposed to ‘one belief system’ :  

The greatest public calamities do not stem from any one belief system, but from fervent belief itself. The Iraq war remains a haunting case in point but the crash of 2008 also fits the pattern. More or less plausible ideas — about the self-correcting nature of markets, about the competence of elites — were held too blindly, until the reckoning came. In the end, we fashioned technical solutions to both misadventures, but the source of the problem was always conceptual. For the want of doubt, the world burnt.

Has Mr. Ganesh overcome New Labour’ s Thatcherism Lite and its Iraq War enthusiasm? Or in an American context, Republican and New Democratic ‘Free Market’ enthusiasm and the shared War Mongering?      

A segue to The Real World:

Headline: Brent Scowcroft Never Hated His Enemies

Sub-headline:His realist approach to global affairs came straight from “The Godfather.”

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates.

James Stavridis offers a more sober evaluation of his adviser Scowcroft:

Scowcroft, who had served as national security adviser for Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, spent a couple of hours with me and laid out a detailed geopolitical picture. Reflecting on his time served in half a dozen presidential administrations, the general provided a balanced, sensible and practical approach to take with both the Russian Federation and our European allies. As we concluded our lengthy talk, he patted me on the shoulder and said: “You’ll do well over there, Jim. Don’t let the Russians get under your skin.” 


Another ‘insight’ into the Scowcroft World View and Methodology from Stavridis: 

A second quality was his unemotional, analytic approach to the world, sometimes called realpolitik. Scowcroft earned his spurs around former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and took Kissinger’s place the first time he became national security adviser. When he told me not to let the Russians get under my skin, he meant to stay calm and be the adult in the room. As Don Corleone puts it in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”: “Never hate your enemies — it affects your judgment.”   

If only Mr. Ganesh were a reader! He wouldn’t commit this extemporizing on the themes of the political present, of the falling apart of the Neo-Liberal Swindle, exacerbated by Covid-19, and the utter failure of America’s Political Class to act ‘as if’ they cared. The manifestations of that collapse as it unfolds in that present. Mr. Ganesh fills out his essay with pseudo-philosophic chatter, about one man’s ‘tentativeness’ and ‘ambivalence’ as somehow offering a key to political behavior.   

The want is still there, in new and strange forms. This summer, celebrities, writers and academics have tried to re-establish respect for the freedom of expression. As a tactical fix in censorious times, it is indispensable. But it is a tactical fix. The deeper problem is the absolute certitude that drives the silencing behaviour in the first place. No one who is tentative or ambivalent in their beliefs is going to cancel anyone, much less hurt them. Intolerance is not a misguided expression of these people’s dogma. It is a natural outcome of it. The point is to coach them into new habits of mind, not just new manners.


Mr. Ganesh rambling essay continues with walk-ons by Henry Kissinger, John le Carré, Robert Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Theodore Roosevelt. And ending with this coda: 

The insinuation is always that there is something timid and anti-chivalric about not committing to an epic cause. The more this stigma holds, the more prone our societies become to errors of enthusiasm. It is a kind of systemic risk. The way out is to heroise the doubters.

Old Socialist  










About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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