Friday, November 30, 2007

The politics of survival

Adding to what David Roberts and Matthew Yglesia said: many people these days express a great dislike for politics and politicians. “It’s all politics” they say. “I can’t stand politicians—they’re all the same” I’m told again and again.

The causes of this belief are no doubt many. But I still lay significant blame on the doorstep of the libertarians and conservatives who have purposely short-circuited and disabled the efficient working of government (in their open attempt to drown it). They blame government for our ills and inefficiencies while rallying public contempt for the political process.

In a democracy, it is all politics. And we can be thankful for that. “It’s all politics” is a positive, not a negative. The only forms of government that are theoretically politic-free: totalitarianism or anarchism. Yet in practice, even the totalitarian and anarchic system require politics—the establishment and enforcement of rules—at some level. In totalitarian Iraq under Saddam, politics was more than a game. It was about personal survival. In post-Saddam anarchic Iraq, the same statement can be made. In both cases, the rules in Iraq were and remain arbitrary, usually set by raw power. In a democracy, we can be thankful that the rules are defined through due process guided by a sense of moral justice.

So it is all about politics. True, the border between the political that is public and the political that is private will always be in question. But in both cases—public or private--power—whether brute as in Iraq, or financial and moral, in a democracy—requires a respect for the political. And even in a democracy, political questions—how they are asked, the process by which they are answered, and the answers we reach—have implications for our survival.

Politics should be taken seriously. And respected. Not maligned. Our personal survival may not depend on it. The survival of humanity and the planet may not depend on it. But the survival of democracy most certainly does.