Beyond Right and Left: Manifesto

I got whiny on Buzzmachine about the state of politics today, and how I’m right and everyone else is wrong, and I think I had better write something that states more directly what I want:

I still get asked by people, when they ask me what I study and I answer “political science,” whether I want to be a politician or not. And it is funny that we would think being a politician a matter of some expertise in a sense, as if one had to learn through study how to be a “man of the people,” which is how all candidates package themselves. No one says they’re the “man of special interests,” or “the man bought out by a foreign government,” after all.

We have such a narrow conception of what knowledge is that it is remarkable we can call ourselves a people. Everything for us depends on “experts,” but other ages had a unified body of knowledge they could appeal to. They had traditions, and those traditions made them closer as a people, enabled them to state what was obvious, and finally allowed them to create and stand for something, both at once.

We cannot create, for we do not stand for anything. The whining about our spiritual malaise does not go far enough. Our concept of freedom is “live and let live,” which is why President Bush is now merely “Bush” and his policies are held in contempt by all on the Left and Right. He is only respected by those who agree with him on particulars.

Anyone who stood for anything would see that the Presidency is a title accorded to one who has to conduct this thing called a “foreign policy.” One has to have a foreign policy, of course, well before acts of terrorism occur on one’s soil. “Live and let live” doesn’t help negotiate tariffs away; it doesn’t keep the seas free from those who would pirate; it doesn’t keep us secure in our homes, or help maintain anything like peace on earth. It rather assumes we are all peaceful, and moves to take as much as possible from others as long as another does not complain.

The funny thing is that the President, for all his problems, does stand for something – tyranny of the sort Saddam Hussein stood for is unacceptable – and that he and the Armed Services and all of those civilians working in Iraq might help create something, when all is said and done. No one has asked what everyone would say if Iraq were successful, whether a country that is stable and that has patched up its ethnic tension to a reasonable degree and is peaceable toward its neighbors moreso would be worth the sacrifice given now.

The tradition that inspired this enterprise was not uniquely American, was not tied to manifest destiny. It was rather tied to the old British mindset, the one that helped create America and beat the totalitarians who would have literally conquered the world otherwise. It was not a perfect mindset, and one could dissent from the imperialism using the same principles it articulated, and maybe that’s one reason why the mindset helped create a world where we can work towards being more humane.

Everyone now, though, is an “expert.” They know, or know of the people, who could solve all our problems in Iraq. Or they can see the problems with our domestic situation, and know that if this tax were lower, or this right were had, everything would be better and all problems would disappear. Our spiritual malaise stems from the fact we think we know everything and are trying to say that such a lack of knowledge is our “right.” There are legitimate reasons for dissent regarding the President’s policy. None of them have been articulated, for shouting and voting or not-voting is all we can do. Our “expertise” lies in the fact that we have citizenship merely for being, and we can exercise and demand rights for that “reason.”

The only way around this problem, where there is no genuine dialogue between people with sensible positions, is to make it clear that the populism we have is a terrible thing. The only way to do that is to convince people that populism in America means “live and let live,” that the Right tend toward economic libertarianism and the Left toward moral libertarianism, and that these tendencies more than anything else show that we think we can get away with anything if we have the money or complacency from others.

If populism of this sort can be destroyed – and remember, this is not something that happens through elections, but rather through education – then we can have what we need to have, which is a populace engaging each other’s thoughts through their sense of tradition. We can appeal and criticize the past, and do so trying to appreciate it and what it has given us as best we can. Through it we can be united, even while dissenting. In a sense, it cannot be attacked too much, for such an attack will give us the “politics” we have today. But in another sense, when we ground what we argue in our true ancestry – that someone else who once was thoughtful and in a similar situation thought something like we did – we will be more moderate and able to talk with each other by default. Right now, an appeal to tradition is done under the mantle of “expertise,” where one knows more than another, and can throw “facts” at them, and that’s yet another reason why we have no Spirit as a people, and if this continues, why we will collapse on account of our own dead weight.

Note: It should be mentioned that all this talk of Tradition might earn me the title “fascist.” I should be clear now that it is possible to have a sense of tradition where other traditions are not denigrated just because they exist. If such a thing were not possible, we would not be the country we are today. But there is a limit to tolerance in my thinking.

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  1. I love your commentary on this! I can’t wait to hear more over the course of the political elections. I’m not as well versed in politics so it’ll be good to hear what you think.


  2. So, in tradition: who would you say is your favourite philosopher? Alasdair MacIntyre? I’m curious – I’ve got a BA in political science and intellectual history myself, before I got my journo degree. And thanks for your comment – I’ll answer, just too tired right now, long day, and I’ll be posting on Identity, Davos and Aristotle – my fav. philosopher – if I find the time. I love your tagline by the way, inntersection btwn poetry, philosophy and politics, I’m a big fan of all three. Before I was ‘hijacked’ into media as a political columnist, I intended to become a philospher….

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