Lord Owen delivered a fascinating lecture on Tuesday night with the air of a grand British statesman, ask which he is. Opening with a long and rambling discussion of James Joyce that led him through Greek mythology and the psychoanalysis of Freud gave way to a reminder that he was once at the centre of British politics with stories of meetings with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. He talked with ease and in detail about such issues as the Balkans, viagra Iraq, sovaldi Afghanistan, EU, the role of the cabinet and the civil service in a modern democracy.

The theme of the lecture was the Hubris syndrome; a theory developed by Owen himself that, once in power, hubris sets in and “messianic” arrogance and self-confidence sets in. Some symptoms of the syndrome are seeing the world as a place for self-glorification, tendency to conflate self and nation, excessive self-confidence, contempt for others, lack of reality and practicality, a belief that they are only accountable to God or history and that future generations will vindicate them.

Owen’s medical background and scientific bent are evident throughout the address, and it is clear that this approach has informed many aspects of his career beyond the development of Hubris syndrome. The calm, calculated manner in which the former Foreign Secretary assessed his rapt audience’s questions gave the impression of a man never flustered even under the greatest of stress. The calmness with which he talked of holding the power of life and death seemed to astound his audience, as did the sheer breadth of the speaker’s influence. A well informed Q&A session, mostly unrelated to the topic at hand, threatened to overshadow the main speech but the few who attended enjoyed possibly the best guest UCD has seen since Jesse Jackson.


Owen has written a book on the subject called The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power


 Robert Nielsen and Matthew Costello