Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Relaxed times and popular amateurs

Let’s play with an optimistic proposition: that we’re not alarmed by the recent popularity of reactionaries with their shiny visions because we’re sure they can do little harm. We’re smart enough and strong enough to indulge the clowns.

No serious person thinks a rude President will get more done in Washington or be more successful than an attractive one.

No serious person thinks old-style “sovereignty” for Great Britain and a bombastic President would make either country more just or safer internationally.

No serious person wants to break up the European Union or see the United States turn away from rule-based global trade or its allies.

No serious person thinks either class warriors like Jeremy Corbyn or jingoists like Donald Trump can effectively address the menaces of nuclear proliferation or climate change.

No serious person believes that effective politicians do all the talking or that politics are merely off-Broadway productions.

And, yet, throughout this loopy season, the world-wise apparently remain unperturbed.

Do we really think today’s reactionaries can’t win, that complex thinking has the ballot edge over simple assertions? That the machinery of power has an adult mind of its own—and will promptly outsmart victories malcontents?

Why not? Savvy insiders and privileged free riders have swallowed this suicidal proposition before.

Political economists have amassed compelling historical evidence that sustained middle- and upper-class prosperity nudges politics toward more generous, but also more emotional, preferences. And we tell ourselves to worry about the dangerous influences of too-easy success at the top.

But remembering to worry is hard.

It’s difficult to imagine that we and not a family dynasty or investment bank could really screw us up like one of those places we see on the BBC.

Today’s easy ride for insurgents, however, may not be a tribute to their talents as much as it may be to how long our times have actually worked out for the best.

Congratulations. Now, let’s start worrying.

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