The Confidence Game

Attempting to impose democracy on others is an act of unbounded arrogance. But democracy is also the best remedy against overconfidence, because it allows ordinary people to decide whether their leaders are behaving arrogantly or responsibly.

Confidence is a vital element of life, for nations and civilizations as much as for individuals. Confidence is the ingredient of hope. It allows you to project yourself into the future, to fulfill or even transcend your capabilities. It comes from within, but can be reinforced or weakened by the way others perceive you. But confidence, like blood pressure, must be balanced: the problem starts when you have too much or too little of it. Overconfidence tends to be as destabilizing as a lack of it.

Consider, for example, America in Iraq. The Bush administration’s overconfidence in the validity of its objectives – democratizing the Middle East – much more than implementation failures, was the key factor behind the unfolding catastrophe there.

I recently debated one of the key thinkers behind the decision to “liberate” Iraq from Saddam Hussein. A prominent neo-conservative, he seemed to me something of a Bolshevik of democracy, owing to his unshakeable confidence in the validity of his vision.

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