If things are comfortable, and issues domestic and foreign entrusted to individuals competent enough, then why should anyone be talking about politics? Why should we in America be so passionate about this Presidential election? Is there really an enormous amount on the line, or are we making stuff up because we’re bored?
It could be dangerous that we discuss politics, get angry about something, and then go vote. After all, if things are going well, then tampering with how things are is tampering with our present and perhaps even future wellness.
It is tempting to say participation in the political process makes the system work, that the popular will acts as an ultimate check and balance on governance, and forces elected officials to be competent enough. What needs happen for this check and balance to take effect is for the popular will to be heard over and over and over in dissimilar meaningless ways.
Perhaps our inquiry should challenge this whole “democracy”/”republicanism” concept directly – the popular will ultimately means that millions of people who are barely able to take care of themselves are going to tell those who actually know what they’re doing what they should be doing. “Public servant” doesn’t begin to describe the people who want to govern or educate: “abject slavery” is a more apt description for those seeking and working for the common good.
When we conceive of regimes beyond the democratic, we realize why it is critical for people to be involved politically. Other regimes separate the few from the many on the basis of a principle: the few are the more perfect instantiation of the greater good to which the regime is dedicated.
We democrats/republicans do not make such a separation; differences of ability and willingness among us mean that anyone can serve or be served at any time. In participating properly in democratic life, there is the genuine good of equality through appreciation. That genuine good is critical to democracy surviving and not being torn apart from within: Jefferson and Hamilton agreed on nothing and yet, together, were able to bring this nation about.
Popular participation in politics now is worse than useless. Our ancestors were moral people who didn’t pretend to be dispassionate. Now we’re all political scientists in a sense – we vote for candidates we think can win over those we disagree with (noble), we hold our personal experience on some issue to be the same as the common good (not so noble), and we use “issues” and “stances” to create a checklist so as to determine a candidates feasibility (ugh). This is a very dangerous set of affairs, as there’s no aiming for equality – we’re aiming for converts for our own selves; without moral rhetoric, with only an appeal to utility, we are knowers more than mere believers. Perhaps our real obsession with self-help gurus is that we think we can be like them one day (Oprah, watch out: your fans may want to surpass you at the soonest possible moment).
So we should be active politically, but not in the way we are now. The new science of politics should take at its starting point a moderate, rather than moderated, self-expression. To this end, music groups and gurus telling us what is moral should matter less than our telling our own stories, with conviction, reflection and unanswered questions. The honesty involved, coupled with a desire of each of us to hear more stories and equally appreciate the other, should bring back a truly moral voice to politics, as it is the first step to evaluating the common good – finding out who we are and what we want.