practical politics

I’m currently re-reading the delightful, but completely whacky, Mistress Masham’s Repose by TH White, first published in 1947. White, who was a conscientious objector, is better known as the author of The Sword in the Stone.

mashamIn this excerpt, Maria, the central character, has been imprisoned in a dungeon with her friend the Professor, by the evil Miss Brown and Mr Hater. Maria and the Professor are waiting to be rescued by a party of Lilliputians. The Professor and Maria are discussing Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels. The Professor makes some observations that sound remarkably contemporary;

You see, Maria, this world is run by ‘practical’ people: that is to say, by people who do not know how to think, have never had any education in thinking, and who do not wish to have it. They get on far better with lies, tub-thumping, swindling, vote catching, murdering, and the rest of practical politics. So, when a person who can think does come along, to tell them what they are doing wrong, or how to put it right, they have to invent some way of slinging mud at him for fear of losing their power and being forced to do the right thing. So they always screech out with one accord that the advice of this thinker is ‘visionary’, ‘unpractical’, or ‘all right in theory’. Then when they have discredited his piece of truth the by the trick of words, they can settle down to blacken his character in other ways at leisure, and they are safe to carry on with the wars and miseries which are the results of practical politics.”