PODCAST | Is perfectibility flawed? – The Mindfield Radio National

Wednesday 28 June 2017 11:30AM


This week on The Minefield, we’re concluding our month-long focus on some of the more systemic moral problems that hold us all in their grip – problems that are rarely recognised as problems, but are fixtures of modern culture.

One such pervasive problem is our relentless pursuit of perfection. It seems, from our private lives and social interaction to the public realms of business and politics, we have a limited capacity to tolerate flaws, inefficiencies, errors or wastage. But at what cost?  In an age of perfectibility, how important is imperfectability in democratic politics?

Since the Second World War, one of the animating convictions of progressive politics has been the inexorable ascent of society and the slow but steady purging of all the unenlightened, irrational tendencies of the past. It seems, when applied to both economics and political science, inordinate faith was placed in the possibility of perfect knowledge through data, whether between parties in a transaction or on the part of the observers of the political terrain (in the form of polling, demographic shifts, generational trends, focus groups, etc.). And yet all of these seem to be little more than substitutes for real political engagement with people as such, and also ways of circumventing patience, time and attentiveness.

The British philosopher, Anthony Quinton, quite brilliantly located the ‘politics of imperfection’ at the heart of the conservative tradition. Is that still where it is to be found? Or has it been so corrupted by reactionary atavism and simplistic populism that it is now beyond our reach?


Simon Tormey
Professor and Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney


Waleed Aly / Scott Stephens
Sinead Lee

Originally published on The Mindfield ABC Radio National