By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite Politics]
It is worth noting that politics is interesting only in as much as it pertains to philosophy, for it poses an important question: In what way should people be governed? Note the should. That word automatically supposes a value judgement about the topic.
It seems that in our time, philosophy is too hard a subject matter for people to be much enthused about. Politics is often the only branch of philosophy where regular folks feel comfortable vociferating about the ‘rights and wrongs’ of ideas or issues as they come up in the world of public opinion. But, human beings are philosophical by nature at a much more fundamental level than just political opinion, only many of them don’t realise it. Identity politics takes up way too much attention considering how shallow and worthless its causes actually are in the greater scheme of things. It is a first-world hormonal headache in a stupefyingly vacuous culture.
I spoke the other day, in the course of my job, with a husband and wife in their early seventies whom I had only just met. They were looking at rather a large financial decision and the topic of a rapidly changing world came up. The husband mentioned that he and his wife occupied opposite political camps. I had no idea which of them was on the left or which was on the right until Wifey blurted out, “Yes, I’m the one who raised our children right.” In that funny moment I immediately knew that she was the lefty… who else in today’s climate would make that highly ethical claim in such a self-assured fashion of expectant solidarity with a female stranger? Ahh, the high-handedness of the left – if only they were as high-minded by dint of habit.
It has been observed many times that politics is downstream from culture. Politicians are the resulting consequence of popular philosophical ideas which come to dominate a culture; they are not the cause of those ideas, but they can obviously magnify them.
I’m thinking right now of Winston Churchill. Consider what it took, philosophically, for him to lead Great Britain through the period of World War II. There was no prescription for him to repair to. All he had was his judgement.
First of all, he tenaciously held the idea of Britain’s sovereignty, not to mention its self-determination and valuable way of life, to be wholly sacred and so did the average Brit.
Second, he judged the rise of aggressive Nazism to be in and of itself utterly evil and so did the average Brit (that was before anyone knew what would become known as the horrible fate of European Jewry). The British Empire may have been many things but it was not governed by tyranny where people had to sacrifice themselves for the nefarious ends of a totalitarian state. Nazism was just that.
Third, as the recent film about Churchill, Darkest Hour, shows so sharply, Churchill did not suffer from the philosophical belief of peace at any price, hence his refusal to let Benito Mussolini, himself an evil tyrant, try to broker a deal regarding the terms of Britain’s peaceful surrender to Germany. There were ideas worth the horrible cost of war such as freedom and the Anglo-Saxon way of life, and so thought the average Brit.
Fourth, Churchill knew that one of the costs of fighting that war would spell the end of the British Empire as he had known it, since it meant passing the brilliant torch of Western culture officially to America – as ancient Greece had once done to ancient Rome (but not so consciously). Churchill did this with full knowledge of what was actually transpiring. Christopher Hitchens’ book Blood, Class and Empire shows this almost heartbreakingly, as he commentates on Churchill’s letters to President Roosevelt during the course of the war.
Churchill tapped into the prevailing ideas that British people cherished in their hearts and minds. He personified the matchless value of a strong leader fighting for the ideas of the common man. That philosophical attitude very often is felt as nothing more than a gut instinct by many, but Churchill’s strength lay in the fact that he could put it powerfully into lucid language that could strike a personal chord in all men because those philosophical pathways in his erudite mind were already so well traveled.
A nation’s sovereignty, a regime which may be evil, the question of peace at what price, a state of affairs that is worth the terrible sacrifice of bloodshed – these are weighty philosophical ideas that suddenly emerged in an urgent political context only 79 years ago.
Privately, as free citizens of citizen governments in countries that won that brutal war against terrifying odds, we should all have strong and well-reasoned views on such matters, after all, these are the issues that our grandparents faced and history teaches us that our children and grandchildren may have to face them once again in the near future. They need moral guidance from us – philosophical guidance that speaks to what is right and what is wrong; what is worth fighting for and what is not.
Do not let the hollow distractions of identity politics divert us away from the deeper philosophical questions of our existence as political animals, for the subject of politics encompasses nothing less than the profound questions of what man’s nature is in this reality that we call existence, and what in our existence is worth dignifying or demolishing.
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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