Saturday, July 7, 2012

When it's Politics vs. Principles

There's political philosophy - where high-minded idealists discuss and debate the relative merits of Rawls, Nozick, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rand, Chomsky, Hayek, Marx, Mill, et al - and then there's politics, a practice that "in the real world" (read: as the practice is done today, not involving philosophers but - put politely - another subset of human beings) has next to zero connection to what's just, right, good, or honest.

Just one very recent case in point: a young idealistic Ron Paul supporter in Massachusetts receives a lesson in political practice from his state's GOP. Long story short, the corrupt assholes running the state party decided to change the rules mid-game to effectively exclude Ron Paul supporters from attending the national GOP convention later this year, after they had won the delegate positions fair and square.

This is a microcosm of politics today in its essence. You can see it everywhere. It's reflected in all the insider and pundit manners of speaking. It's reflected by the number of outright idiots who participate in the process, including elected representatives (another recent case in point). Political practice (at least in these United States) is, in short, broken.

This problem goes all the way back to when a democratic government sentenced Socrates to death by hemlock; his pupil in turn wrote a political treatise in dialogue form, envisioning a philosophically-enriched utopia. Many folks are resigned to politics being the way it has been practiced for so long, viewing philosophical proposals as impractical and unrealistic. That attitude strikes me as leading to a vicious cycle in which politics never improves. I don't accept this as inevitable, and there is one significant piece of historical data that backs me up on this: a real-life "philosopher-king", one who was not merely a lover of wisdom the way the U.S.'s third president would qualify as such (though this is another historical precedent of the sort I'm speaking of), but one who also made a notable contribution to the history of philosophical thought. So I don't consider politics to be a hopeless cause as such, but fixing broken political practice requires activity that goes well beyond participating in the prevailing travesty of civic activity.

One doesn't have to agree with the specifics of Plato's vision to agree with one central truth therein: a polity eminently worthy of one's participation requires a citizenry well-educated in what might be broadly termed the philosophical arts. That would not only result in an enriched polity, but enriched lives on the whole. And here's the practical question, posed in the name of the best within us: How do we get there from here?

To be continued . . .