Is It Possible To Insist On A More Thoughtful Politics?

What is below are merely notes. I have a few ideas and this is a groping for a quick and dirty solution to the question. I am more than willing to take all of this back and advance something more subtle later.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

– from Auden’s “Lullaby”

1. Perhaps forging a more thoughtful politics is a fashionable madness.

After all, once more rigor is applied to language and argument, such standards, if accepted by many, become mores. Thoughts become rules, then become sentiments, then finally law and the spirit of the law.

Certainty and fidelity might be best left moments in our existence. The problem for a free society is how to encourage fidelity without overemphasizing certainty. But a more thoughtful politics only encourages fidelity when it acts as if it is certain. A continual questioning uproots the law and makes the possibility of moral action difficult to conceive.

There does not seem to be a solution to this problem except to drop “thought” from the foundations and practice of politics altogether. For in any case, all my screaming just becomes a “pedantic boring cry,” sounding vaguely prophetic and most certainly apocalyptic. And some vibrations of a bell echo throughout a mortal coil an entire life, and such a person may not be the most thoughtful, but is more than willing to sacrifice.

2. Perhaps the problem is that I am not clear about the ends of a more thoughtful politics. Do I want people to be more thoughtful because everything is going to work better?

Of course not – it is entirely conceivable we will be a worse world for attempting to think through things. The trains may not run on time; people prone to questioning their country may ask even harder, jarring questions; all possibility for faith could be lost.

The reason why one should want a more thoughtful politics is when one considers that there is a season for all things under the heavens. If we lead our private lives well, even in darkness we do not lose a moment: every whisper, thought, kiss and look matters. It is possible we can experience great pain. But an even greater good is being enjoyed, inasmuch we are loving.

I haven’t been very subtle in arguing that thought is perhaps the greatest form of love. Thought may be a perpetual sacrifice, an alienation of nearly every other desire to merely see how things actually are. Most of the ancients therefore saw mathematics as the highest form of thought, but in doing so, they made a mistake: they thought objectivity – the inherently inhuman – ideal and the greatest good. Mathema are far more important when we consider the perfect forms of the soul, the return to virtue, the fulfillment of human being in the everyday.

3. A thoughtful politics is necessary because it is the product of a thoughtful, concerned people, conducting themselves well in their private capacities. How can our government display, though, our very personal sense of being?

Perhaps, as a thought experiment, we can conceive of Congress as an institution that mirrors how we talk amongst ourselves and deliberate. It can be seen as filled with petty little games and people trying to gang up on each other and then hanging out later drinking like all the cursing and shouting and power trips were meaningless. It can be filled with people enjoying life and their jobs and all the mistakes and goods that accompany such enjoyment.

When things get serious, their real virtues should show – they should be patient and supportive and sparing of words. They should be willing to put their own reputations and constituencies aside, just for a moment, to really think through things and speak wisely and ask when they don’t know.

Every word said in Congress should count at the key moments, when enjoyment isn’t an option. They should be able to switch from their everyday more private capacity of having a career (which just happens to be that of Congressmen), to their true public capacity: representing us at our best.

I know, bringing in Congress to a discussion of love and politics seems corny, and that this entry is a risk: it might show me to be far too immature a thinker to have anything serious to say about politics. But I was thinking that despite the cynicism that is the reasoning behind the Constitution, the idea of representative government is an old one, and one dependent on an ancient question: Can ordinary men govern themselves? If that is the central question, then Congress should mirror us in our perceived weaknesses, and should more than compensate in its strengths.

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6 Comments

  1. It is well and true that there is a need for thoughtful and I believe Civil Politics. But there is also a point when the talking and maneuvering is over and action should come into play.

  2. I think you have something here. The best government would be able to assign a thought/action continuum to every issue with a firm but gentle persuasive talet on the correct side (whichever side that migt be).

    Now, if only we could elect those thoughtful action-takers.
    — from an idealistic Pollyanna

  3. I am a bit miffed that I took the time to read your blog, comment (anonymous) and return to find my comment no longer here.

    Please explain your policy with respect to comments.

    Thank you.

  4. If you are familiar with Keyes’ current statements, he is more interested in encouraging political dialogue between citizens than in obtaining advertising. He has little interest in participating in a horse race for the sake of counting votes, but rather is encouraging ordinary citizens (such as myself) to engage in the political life of the country. If you would prefer, I could site his work without giving specific reference. Would that suffice?

  5. @ anonymous: You can give specific reference, in fact I don’t mind if you quote something and link to the speeches. You’re in a difficult position: it’s tricky to write good comments and bring up a source outside the post as an authority.

    Generally speaking, in blog comment etiquette, there’s a thing called “thread hijacking.” For more on this, see (although I’m not accusing you of anything specific documented in the links, just something more general):

    http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2007/04/hijackers.html

    or

    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic.php?id=11852&page

    I personally have hijacked a ton of threads in my time and taken over comment sections very rudely, so I don’t mind you doing a bit of it, esp. since you’re far more polite than I am. But I really encourage you to blog and trackback to posts you want to respond to, and you can even put a comment here saying “I have a response to your post here” and drop the link.

    The reason why I encourage the latter is that you look like you want to take on large issues like “faith and reason” and comment threads are just not going to work for that. I mean, in an ideal world, they can. But this ain’t ideal and your views should be heard on their own. I’m not going to be able to present questions from your perspective no matter how hard I try, and if you’ve got something to say, it can show on comments here, but I don’t want it to be marginalized in the threads here.

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