Mr Blair’s initial response to the Chilcot Enquiry’s report on the Iraq war was entirely predictable. He said that it had not claimed that he acted in bad faith, with the implication that this in some way justified his actions. The Iraq was but the backdrop to his psychodrama.
In a sense, Mr Blair was right that bad faith had not been alleged, but this was less flattering to himself than he supposed. The words good and bad faith have no application in his case: for just a man who has no concept of the truth cannot be a liar, so Mr Blair, whose mind resembles the Goodwin Sands, in incapable of bad faith because he is incapable of good.
I have long puzzled over his particular psychopathology, which has irritated me because, while Mr Blair is, or was, important, he was uninteresting – apart, that is, from his psychopathology. It is always dangerous to diagnose at a distance a man whom one has never met, but it seems to me that Mr Blair’s cardinal symptom is a delusion of honesty.
A delusion is a fixed false belief that is impervious to evidence or argument and that is out of keeping with a person’s culture. Now it is quite clear that Mr Blair believes himself to be an honest man all evidence to the contrary: he would not have reacted to the Chilcot Enquiry’s report as he did had he not suffered from this delusion.
The only question that remains, then, is whether his fixed false belief is incongruous with his culture. Here the matter is slightly more difficult to decide: after all, he won three elections and colleagues supported him for many years. And he is by no means unique in the political class to suffer from this delusion: I leave it to readers to name others as deprived as he of a sense of truth.
Along with this peculiar truth-blindness seems to go an invincible sense of Original Virtue, so much more destructive of the personality than that of Original Sin. No action by someone possessed of Original Virtue can besmirch him. He will always be able to reply to is accuser that ‘Surely you cannot believe that I acted from discreditable motives? Even if I was in the wrong, I was, in a deeper sense, in the right.’
Whether such people are more numerous today than in the past I am not sure. I suspect that they are: so perhaps Mr Blair does not suffer from a delusion after all.
Theodore Dalrymple was a consultant psychiatrist
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Properly understood the notion of original virtue does not offer vindication; it offers exculpation. The ethics behind the fascinating novel “Manon Lescaut” offer an object lesson in this theory. Neither Manon nor Des Grieux act wisely or for the good, but they are held to act innocently – meaning that their warm hearted motives are nothing to do with the grisly outcomes of their acts. This is the logical conclusion of the eighteenth century Jesuit morality to which the Jansenists took such exception. Indeed, to anyone with a Protestant background, there are moments when Manon reads like hilarious parody. Blair, however, seems to be taking this a fatal step further. It is one thing to say that one never meant to bring about this or that disaster; it is quite another to say that actually, because one never intended disaster, there has been no disaster. Even Manon and Des Grieux know regret and remorse; they sorrow – like Hamlet after the death of Polonius – for what they have done. Perhaps Blair does too – I’m not sure; but “Original Virtue” can be understood in the absolute, antinomian and solipsistic sense which you outline; or in the weaker and more rational sense which I have attempted to describe. I am bound to say that this form of “Original Virtue” seems to improve not only on the Blairite exaggeration but on your favourite doctrine of “Original Sin” – which is surely just a variant on the “Oedipus Complex” or “False Consciousness” – an effort by a totalitarian ideology – Freud, Marx or Augustine – to alienate people from their own minds and motives.