If Things Are Going Well, Why Should Anyone Be Active Politically?

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.


  1. I Ain’t Bored So I guess This is the Time…
    FTA: 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?

  2. @ David – yeah, good. I guess I need to say something about the election itself and how it turned out.

    My own feeling was that things were going pretty well during the Bush years, and we went and elected someone with no experience and we got all the “change” one could want in 3 months. We’re not exactly making money, even with every advantage a capitalist nation that is the most powerful in the world should have.

    Now we need popular participation in politics, but it has to be informed on a scale like no other. It isn’t enough to oppose new taxes: there’s going to be billions and trillions spent even in the most conservative proposals, because of the mess we’re in. The economic literacy required is over my head.

  3. That’s an interesting point: “The economic literacy required is over my head.” I think this is a problem with so many people- well, so many people who bother to think.

    I have no clue how to fix the problems, I don’t even know the span of the problems. I essentially know nothing about this and most of us don’t so we just assume that those given the task of fixing the problems understand them.

    Well, I’m not really comfortable with handing that task over to elected officials- comprised mainly of lawyers (who are notoriously crappy with numbers anyway) turned politicians (who are not well known for choosing the true best answer over “politically motivated” appeasement). And I’m not real comfortable with jumping on the first solution presented, which took a relatively short time to develop.

    Throwing a gazillion dollars into the wind… well, idk much about economics. It seems that putting money toward anything will eventually boost the economy, but is it the best answer?

    I think we need to be less quick to jump on anything presented, but what do I know.

  4. @amanda – It’s over my head, but there are things reasonable people can debate as long as they’re not shouting about “bonuses” or such junk.

    One reason why I like reading Marginal Revolution on the topic is the whole liquidity/solvency issue. This is more a liquidity trap, it seems, and that really does boil down to an issue of confidence.

    Part of that confidence has to come from the gov’t, that it won’t just be lots of people screaming at executives, calling everything broken, while trying to spend $3.55 trillion and reshape the relation between citizen and government in America permanently.

    The thing is, the Left independent of the administration and Congress, has plenty to say that is actually worthwhile. Nationalizing banking is a fully coherent position – I don’t like it, but it does make sense.

  5. I’m not saying it’s an impossibly lost cause because we’re not all economists, but I think it is hard for a lot of people to think about so they just concede to their, ahem, “betters”. =/

    Confidence is a huge issue, and I’d call it the issue, too. We don’t even need the government to put money toward the problem. There are private citizens with ungodly amounts of money. Creating a situation in which they feel comfortable investing that money… there’s something I don’t know how to approach.

  6. I think a good start for all of us would be to read some history. I’m currently reading John Adams, by Christopher McCullough. I have to tell you, it’s making me mad because it’s reminding me just how ignorant people are. Our Founding Fathers risked everything they had and the future of their families to give us freedom from a tyrannical government. Our answer is to work toward the same level of tyranny? How absurd that rich(many millionaires with no real job experience)politicians in DC want to dictate our salaries and expenditures. It may be a cliche, but when ignorant people realize they can vote themselves bread and circuses, the power-hungry politicians are more than happy to take advantage. When you finish catching up on history, pick up some Ayn Rand.

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