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Election Reflection

Why not to expect much in 2004, or anytime.

by Barnabas
February 4, 2004

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Election Reflection_Barnabas-Why not to expect much in 2004, or anytime
"What is politics about, if not power?"
- Jacques Barzun, responding to the phrase "power politics."
Once in a great while - like every few centuries or so - people gather and do something great. One of those moments, said Alfred North Whitehead, was the founding of the American Republic. The members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 knew they were attempting something great and didn't want to fail. One of them, Alexander Hamilton - the young man who looks up at you from a ten-dollar bill - expressed one relevant fear aloud. He was afraid they would found a government in which only “demagogues and middling politicians” would seek office.

A demagogue is a rabble rouser. We have probably all seen enough middling politicians to figure out what they're like.

The western tradition, when rightly studied, understands Hamilton's fear. We live in a fallen world where love and loyalty are in short supply. Politicians, as politicians, belong to this world. It's more likely than not that their desire to do good is not as strong as their desire to achieve power. Most have convinced themselves that they cannot do much good unless they win.

Politics is about the gathering and exercise of worldly power. Implicit in politics is the threat if not the execution of physical force. Love does not win elections. It may win honor, respect, and admiration, but not elections. In a political novel of the 1960's a dying senator calls for love as he pleads to a divided United Nations: "Let us love another! It is all we have left!" His hearers are polite, even sympathetic, but they do not believe his words practical in the world they live in. As a later (and non-fictional) American diplomat was to say, "The United States doesn't have friends. We have interests."

This doesn't mean that politicians and governments are worse than people in general, or that the United States is the only country with interests instead of friends. It means rather that we are no better than people in general, and our motives are not much different from those of other people and nations.

Love and loyalty are not automatic in any human activity. They must be added, with determined will and discipline, by the people who are part of the activity. All the seven deadly sins stand in the way of this happening. That is why, unless God himself is doing it, episodes of greatness in this world are few and far between.

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