In Book I, Chapter 25 of War and Peace (by Leo Tolstoy, the Ann Dunnigan translation) Marya Bolkonskaya criticizes her brother:
"You are good in every way, Andrei, but you have a kind of pride of intellect," said the Princess, following her own train of thought rather than the conversation, "and that is a great sin."
The phrase "pride of intellect" resonated as I read "The Wilderness Campaign", a profile of former US Vice President Al Gore (by David Remnick in The New Yorker , 13 Sep 2004). Gore is analytic, articulate, and hyperacidic as he muses about recent events. His comments about the current Administration are fascinating, both in their content and in what they reveal about Gore himself:
"I wasn't surprised by Bush's economic policies, but I was surprised by the foreign policy, and I think he was, too," Gore told me. "The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He's been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.
"I'm not of the school that questions his intelligence," Gore went on. "There are different kinds of intelligence, and it's arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today's world, that's often a problem. I don't think that he's weak intellectually. I think that he is incurious. It's astonishing to me that he'd spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of the Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and, like all bullies, he's a coward when confronted with a force that he's fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved in saying 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes' to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole—that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don't see any other explanation for it, because it's not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they're willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation."
An extraordinarily nuanced critique. True? Perhaps, in part. Fair? Some might argue that both major parties have prostituted themselves to big money and powerful interest groups. (That doesn't make it right!) Al Gore himself was once a mega-fundraiser, tiptoeing along the edge of the illicit, memorable still for his mantra "... no controlling legal authority ..." in response to criticism.
Pride of intellect --- undeniable, in spite of an explicit disavowal. But on the happy side, there are signs that Al Gore is coming back to humanity after too many years in politics. As he repeatedly zen-jokes, "You win some, you lose some --- and then there's that little-known third category."