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The conception of an “honest” politician is not altogether a simple one. The most tolerant definition is: one whose political actions are not dictated by a desire to increase his own income. In this sense, Mr Lloyd George is honest. The next stage would be the man whose political actions are not dictated by desire to secure or preserve his own power any more than by pecuniary motives. In this sense, Lord Grey is an honest politician. The last and most stringent sense is: one who, in his public actions, is not only disinterested, but does not fall very far below the standard of veracity and honour which is taken for granted between acquaintance. In this sense, the late Lord Morley was an honest politician; at least, he was honest always, and a politician until his honesty drove him out of politics. But even a politician who is honest in the highest sense may be very harmful; one may take George III as an illustration. Stupidity and unconscious bias often work more damage than venality. Moreover, an honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid, like the late Duke of Devonshire; because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation. Therefore any man who is both able and public-spirited must be a hypocrite if he is to succeed in politics; but the hypocrisy will in time destroy his public spirit.

Bertrand Russell

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