In Praise Of Politics

Apr 8, 2015

John Kennedy and Richard Nixon debate in the 1960 presidential race.
Credit Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Too often, Americans view politicians and politics with disdain. People say that politics is a dirty business and that politicians are corrupt and crooked.

Politics, though, is about the interaction of two or more individuals expressing different preferences and values, which can lead to intense conflict. “Public Politics” is a hallmark of a democratic political system in which political differences and values can be expressed by the people. Individuals who attack politics and urge that we take the politics out of making public policy are expressing a desire for minimizing the possibilities for politics. They do not seem to realize that there can be no freedom without politics and no politics without freedom.

Contrast Public Politics with the “Palace Politics” of a nondemocratic country, where the expression of political differences is reserved for the top leaders in closed sessions. The leaders of North Korea, China and Cuba view the freedom of political engagement by their people as a threat to their respective political systems. Campaigns against dissent in these systems are intended to snuff out and to minimize the possibilities for politics. Fidel Castro said that he made revolution in Cuba to get the politicians out. Karl Marx thought that the history of existing society was one of “class struggle” and that political and social conflict would end with the advent of Communism. Government and politics would no longer be needed, and the state would wither away.

In contrast, James Madison, the “Father” of our Constitution said, “If all men were angels, there would be no need for government.” Aristotle said, too, that if a perfectly “just individual” can be found, then that person ought to be made ruler for life. But he doubted that we'd ever find one.

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