Reminders and Ruminations on Politics

Election years, war years, years of challenge, decay, and doubt — in other words, all years — condition the soil for the germination and growth of the soul’s two most attractive invasive plants, despair and hope. To fall under the spell of the former is to forget to live; to fall under the spell of the latter is to forget to die. A few reminders then, for those seeking to negotiate a reasonable path through any such year.

A leader at last.— Politics produces no saviors. Anyone who appears to have such qualities, it must be recalled, is just a human being like yourself, and therefore susceptible to all the temptations to folly and surrender to which you yourself are subject — except that he lives in a world far riper with such temptations than any world you are likely to inhabit, and is therefore likely to succumb more often, and more completely, than you ever do. Furthermore, anyone who wishes you to believe he has the qualities of a savior must be assumed to have already succumbed to the worst of the aforementioned temptations, and ought to be treated accordingly.

The rulers.— Remember that boy who, during every childhood game, was forever seeking to alter the rules on the fly in order to justify his latest questionable move; or, when the game did not turn out in his favor, insisted that others had failed to follow the rules correctly, and that he had been cheated out of his rightful point or victory? Even as a child, you recognized at least vaguely that this boy’s frustrating combination of whining and bullying was driven by a deep-seated fear of failure, or more precisely an insecurity about being exposed as fallible or inadequate. In a healthy society, such boys will usually be broken of their excessive shame and insecurity at the prospect of rejection and failure, and learn to respond to challenges, competitors, and disappointments as mature adults do. In an unhealthy society, the more spoiled of these boys may grow up to become rabble rousers and demagogues, expanding their playground ruse to include the pragmatic use of others (“my people”) as shields to hide their true psychological motives, while those among such boys who were more frequently defeated or overruled by their playmates, and remained stung by the shame of being thus thwarted, will become what we now call progressives.

Multiplication and obscurity.— It is the least you can do, or even the most you can do, to strain against the siren song luring you to create yet another reflected image of all the follies of past ages and societies that you yourself recognize as follies, unless and until their conditions suddenly appear in your own personal present and promptly dissolve your carefully categorized memories and your resolve. Could we just one time escape the illusory urgency of the now, and resist the temptation to produce yet another increasingly pale imitation of the weaknesses that our race has revealed? Could we not stop the devolution once, at least temporarily, by an act of rational will? Or must we join our predecessors’ mad rush to prove, yet again, that we ourselves are nothing but the newest additions to an ever-multiplying crowd of mirror images?

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