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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > March 2017 > Getting it together

Getting it together

Having teased out democracy’s paradoxes, Amartya Sen is keeping his cool as politics runs wild

Amartya Sen is an eminently reasonable man. Over six decades as an economist and political theorist— he won the Nobel Prize in 1998—the 83-yearold has kept faith with rational thinking. This is as much to do with personal experience as intellectual preference. As a boy growing up in Bengal, Sen saw a bleeding labourer stumble into his garden. He was a Muslim who had been stabbed by Hindus. “Aside from being a veritable nightmare, the event was profoundly perplexing,” Sen wrote in his Identity and Violence (2006). It provoked revulsion, but also consideration. Through his career, even while working on emotive subjects like famine, poverty, justice and inequality, he has maintained a calm equilibrium.

When I spoke to him in London about the emotions unleashed by Donald Trump, Sen put things in perspective. “There is nothing new or extraordinary in his rejection of reason,” he said, in the Bengali accent that western universities have never drummed out of him. “Even the French Revolution, which was so enormously well-backed by reason, led to a reign of terror.” One victim was the philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet, whose theories influenced Sen’s work on social choice. Under threat from the Revolutionary regime, Condorcet committed suicide in 1794.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Sam Tanenhaus, George Magnus and Dahlia Lithwick examine the state of America after Donald Trump’s first couple of weeks. Tanenhaus looks at the situation faced by the American press, Magnus looks at the state of global trade and Lithwick inspects the diminishing right to choice women face over abortion. Anne Perkins explores the rise of Theresa May through the political ranks and David Edmonds looks at how empathy affects our decision making. Also in this issue: Jay Elwes on Trump’s relationship with America’s intelligence agencies, Anita Charlesworth on the state of the NHS and Nick Cohen on what is done in the name of “the people” by politicians