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Illusions of Rationalism

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Illusions of Rationalism"

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I’ve been wanting to write something called “the case for dynastic politics” but I couldn’t really think of a good case for dynastic politics — what I was really coming up with was a case that we ought to admire the Kennedy family’s sense of noblesse oblige, but that’s a different story. It did occur to me, however, that some of the hostility to dynasticism stems from a sort of misguided desire to pretend that electoral outcomes are this incredibly rational process. So if we all point at Caroline Kennedy and say she’s only under serious consideration because of her name, then maybe if we all object loudly enough to this it’ll turn out that the other 99 Senators are there because they’ve passed a set of rigorous credentialing examinations or something.

But of course that’s not how things work at all. The whole business of electioneering is full of irrationality and tradition all the way from top to bottom. The notion that all members of the Kennedy family are ex officio considered plausible candidates for public office is weird, but it’s a particular oddity that exists against background conditions that are also odd. And in fact when Americans hear about French politics where politicians are expected to attend the ENA and then go work in the bureaucracy before getting into politics, that seems incredibly odd. But politicians write rules for bureaucrats to follow and supervise bureaucrats, so why shouldn’t experience in the bureaucracy be considered essential?

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