Hypocrisy: The Not-So Vicious Vice
19 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2011 Last revised: 19 Apr 2011
Democratic citizens often revel in the crucifixion of political leaders caught lying, cheating, and stealing, leaving hypocrisy – as Shklar has argued – the only unforgivable sin. Nevertheless, hypocrisy can and often does play an essential role in democratic politics by allowing representatives to build support for policies, please disparate constituencies, and overcome political gridlock. Perhaps America’s most famous apologist for political hypocrisy is Benjamin Franklin, who offers a jovial yet sophisticated defense of the necessity of hypocrisy to good democratic governance. An unwavering supporter of traditional civic virtues including industry, moderation, and benevolence, he defends the proposition that the appearance of virtue is practically as important virtue itself. Through his Autobiography and other works, Franklin provides a guide to the art of democratic statecraft which includes a role for the tactful use of hypocrisy. Franklin’s writings suggest that the obsession with and prosecution of hypocrisy is misplaced, and when properly used, it can actually serve democratic ends.
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