Up and down King’s Parade

Academic politics in England circa 1908, according to F.M. Cornford:

You think (do you not?) that you have only to state a reasonable case, and people must listen to reason and act upon at once. It is just this conviction that makes you so unpleasant. There is little hope of dissuading you; but has it occurred to you that nothing is ever done until every one is convinced that it ought to be done, and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else? And are you not aware that conviction has never yet been produced by an appeal to reason, which only makes people uncomfortable? If you want to move them, you must address your arguments to prejudice and the political motive, which I will presently describe.

And what might these be? Let’s examine a few important political principles:

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future — expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. A little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous.

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time. […] a Fair Trial ought only to be given to systems which already exist, not to proposed alternatives.

Another argument is that ‘the Time is not Ripe’. The Principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived. […] Time, by the way, is like the medlar; it has a trick of going rotten before it is ripe.

But surely, there must be a way to get something done?

This most important branch of political activity is, of course, closely connected with Jobs. These fall into two classes, My Jobs and Your Jobs. My Jobs are public-spirited proposals, which happen (much to my regret) to involve the advancement of a personal friend, or (still more to my regret) of myself. Your Jobs are insidious intrigues for the advancement of yourself and your friends, speciously disguised as public-spirited proposals. The term Job is more commonly applied to the second class. When you and I have, each of us, a job on hand, we shall proceed to go on the Square.

Squaring can be carried on at lunch; but it is better that we should meet casually. The proper course to pursue is to walk, between 2 and 4 p.m., up and down the King’s Parade, and more particularly that part of it which lies between the Colleges of Pembroke and Caius. When we have succeeded in meeting accidentally, it is etiquette to talk about indifferent matters for ten minutes and then part. After walking five paces in the opposite direction you should call me back, and begin with the words, ‘Oh, by the way, if you should happen …’ The nature of Your Job must then be vaguely indicated, without mentioning names; and it should be treated by both parties as a matter of very small importance. You should hint that I am a very influential person, and that the whole thing is a secret between us. Then we shall part as before, and I shall call you back and introduce the subject of My Job, in the same formula. By observing this procedure we shall emphasise the fact that there is no connection whatever between my supporting your Job and your supporting mine. This absence of connection is the essential feature of Squaring.

Remember this: the men who get things done are the men who walk up and down King’s Parade, from two to four, every day of their lives. You can either join them, and become a powerful person; or you can join the great throng of those who spend all their time in preventing them from getting things done, and in the larger task of preventing one another from doing anything whatever. This is the Choice of Hercules, when Hercules takes to politics.

Link found in the comments on Crooked Timber.

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