We’re coming up on mid-terms, which means that I’ll be exchanging the politics seminar for a preceptorial on War and Peace. I’m excited for the precept, but will miss the seminar group – more so the tutors and students than the readings. I’m also still deeply ambivalent about politics in general, and American politics in particular. I was sitting on the bus today, listening to liberal talk radio (where the host was complaining about how republicans monopolize the media – which I found amusing, since it’s exactly the complaint conservative hosts have against the democrats), and reading Karl Marx. While I don’t agree with Marx’s solution, I can sympathize with his problem – the same one confronting Dickens, in his way – of looking at a situation where some people were working 12 or even 16 hour days and barely making enough to feed themselves and their children, who also had to work at the youngest possible age. Not that it’s especially helpful to turn a bad situation into an epic of class warfare in which revolution is the only viable solution. But the problem he faced was, and sometimes is, problematic. The step seems surprisingly short, however, from “as a society we’re not going to let people starve or freeze” to “as a society we’re not going to let people be uncomfortable,” which seems to be the direction of the past half century or so.
While I consider the separation of the sacred and the secular into different realms of existence as faulty theology and anthropology, even so it does seem to lead to less harmful political systems. In our readings there seem to be two basic outlooks on politics: on the one hand are people like Plato and, to an extent, Aristotle and Aquinas, who see politics as being an important part of attaining goodness in human relations, and on the other side are people like Hobbs and Machiavelli, who don’t suppose that a government can be more than tolerable, but at least it can perhaps prevent life from being a war of “all against all,” as Hobbs says – and perhaps under a good government there’s less opportunity for widespread misery and terror. At first I wanted to say that liberals are more in the first camp, and conservatives in the second, but perhaps it would be truer to say that most everyone is in the second camp, but we have different understandings of what constitutes widespread misery. Conservatives tend to see a state where “everything is possibility and nothing is necessity” (death and taxes excepted) as a potentially greater misery than being in some danger of losing one’s fortune, or having to deal with unwanted necessities. I think perhaps that while nobody at all wants everything to be necessity, and nothing possibility, liberals see us as being in some danger of that becoming the case, because they seem to see more things as necessary, like certain dubious freedoms (the freedom to not have a child, the freedom to marry whomever we wish, the freedom to smoke pot in public, for instance), and certain likewise dubious impositions (usually associated with an attempt to preserve health), as well as a proliferation of material goods and services.