The Practical Art of Possible Interests
Señor Payne a few posts down shrewdly argues that political hyper-partisanship is a outgrowth of laziness. He documents lo the many ways this is the case.
A better approach in his mind is the following:
That the practice of politics might lead us to an improved quality of life dates back to the original political thinkers, Plato and Aristotle. Though divergent on their approach and ultimate outcome sought, both great philosophers were in agreement with Bismark in seeing politics as the “art of the possible”. The possible, in this regard, being a state of affairs not currently in existence, but that, with diligence and persistence, might yet come to be.
Therein, of course, lies the rub of our current predicament: politics as the realization of a better state of affairs requires effort, it requires hard work and dedication, it requires a commitment.
The man has a point. But how would this alternative be at all feasible in our current circumstances? To channel Patrick Deneen for a sec, the structure of the US government (and its philosophical grounding in classical liberalism) works very well in creating autonomy and space/freedom for individuals, families, and such. But it’s larger application often struggles, if not is structurally prevented, because the praxis of politics becomes simply the aggregation of a series of interests.
There are fights over the proper procedures of how to handle such divergent interests. e.g. Should the question of gay marriage (rights as interests) be handled by courts or legislatures, national or state by state?
In our late modern (or postmodern if you like) world, with the proliferation of many interests and sub-interests, causing fragmentation across society (“the long tail” phenomenon), aligning interests becomes nearly impossible. There are too many interests, too many too narrowly focused, too many too tightly held ,propped up by the professionalization of the lobbying class and the sea of money that bears down on the shores of our politics. Clearing the deck and prioritizing becomes a Herculean task beyond the mere mortals who hold the power these days.
For example, you may say try to start a tea-bag based protest which then gets swallowed up by a sorta (ed: no Freudian puns intended there…promise) but not really aligned set of groups who import their own interests. Many multi-party social democratic governments around the world are reaching near total immobility over this very issue of how to achieve anything of value and create broad popularity (e.g. Israel, Canada). Whereas a two-party system like the US has tried to paper over that political abyss through the personality and/or charisma of individual leaders (Reagan, Clinton, Obama, even W’s folky mannerisms in a way).
The alternative to the republican forms of government historically has of course been to equate (and perhaps enforce via violence if necessary) the interest of the people with the interests of the ruling powers. From ancient Near Eastern treaties which laud the magnanimity of the conquering king for his willingness to do a vassal state the great honor and privilege of subjecting them to his judicious, wonder-working reign to the hegemonies of today. Not exactly a hopeful vision for the future.
This grinding feeling to our politics, this sense that our political leadership is always running to play catch up (and usually not very well) to the events of our day, is never prepared for anything (Afghanistan, 9/11, Katrina, the banking and larger economic crisis, Iraq) never hits the ground running is part of the movement from nation-state identity to market-state identity. The state increasingly exists to create room for these interests, arguably the next logical (illogical depending on your pov I guess) evolution of the contract-ian, Lockean liberal society. The fear it seems to me in such a move is that as people becoming increasingly fragmented and politics ever larger yet less and less effective, the governing class becomes more and more disembedded from the populace and becomes non-responsive to and non-answerable towards the people they are supposed to represent.