The Philosophical Side of Politics

Olivia's picture
Submitted by Olivia on Wed, 2018-03-28 07:47

By Olivia Pierson

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

Our Governers and Rulers

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

This article asks the question: "In what way should people be governed? It could also have asked: In what way should people be ruled?"

But the fact is no-one want to be "governed" or "ruled". They want to be protected or defended. They want their liberty protected and their rights defended. We desperately need a new word for the state. Something like "protectment" or "defendment". This will let us win the battle for political freedom far easier and quicker.


Olivia's picture

Absolutely brilliant, powerful reading - beautiful even. Thanks for the endorsement of Manchester's biography of Churchill, I take it that it's titled The Last Lion?

The First Two Pages of Manchester's Biography of Churchill

edpowell's picture

The French had collapsed. The Dutch had been overwhelmed. The Belgians had surrendered. The British army, trapped, fought free and fell back toward the Channel ports, converging on a fishing town whose name was then spelled Dunkerque. Behind them lay the sea.

It was England’s greatest crisis since the Norman conquest, vaster than those precipitated by Philip II’s Spanish Armada, Louis XIV’s triumphant armies, or Napoleon's invasion barges massed at Boulogne. This time Britain stood alone. If the Germans crossed the Channel and established uncontested beachheads, all would be lost, for it is a peculiarity of England's island that its southern weald is indefensible against disciplined troops. In A.D. 61, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni rallied the tribes of East Anglia and routed the Romans at Colchester, Saint Albans, and London (then Londinium), cutting the Ninth Legion to pieces and killing seventy thousand. But because the nature of the southern terrain was unsuitable for the construction of strongpoints, new legions under Paulinus, arriving from Gaul, crushed the revolt, leaving the grief-stricken queen to die by her own hand. Now the 220,000 Tommies at Dunkirk, Britain’s only hope, seemed doomed. On the Flanders beaches they stood around in angular, existential attitudes, like dim purgatorial souls awaiting disposition. There appeared to be no way to bring more than a handful of them home. The Royal Navy's vessels were inadequate. King George VI has been told that they would be lucky to save 17,000. The House of Commons was warned to prepare for “hard and heavy tidings.” Then, from the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure craft, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith’s America’s Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade’s fire-float Massey Shaw—all of them manned by civilian volunteers: English fathers, sailing to rescue England’s exhausted, bleeding sons.

Even today what followed seems miraculous. Not only were Britain’s soldiers delivered; so were French support troops: a total of 338,682 men. But wars are not won by fleeing from the enemy. And British morale was still unequal to the imminent challenge. These were the same people who, less than a year earlier, had rejoiced in the fake peace bought by the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich. Most of their leaders and most of the press remained craven. It had been over a thousand years since Alfred the Great had made himself and his countrymen one and sent them into battle transformed. Now in this new exigency, confronted by the mightiest conqueror Europe had ever known, England looked for another Alfred, a figure cast in a mold which, by the time of the Dunkirk deliverance, seemed to have been forever lost. England’s new leader, were he to prevail, would have to stand for everything England’s decent, civilized Establishment had rejected. They viewed Adolf Hitler as the product of complex social and historical forces. Their successor would have to be a passionate Manichaean who saw the world as a medieval struggle to the death between the powers of good and the powers of evil, who held that individuals are responsible for their actions and that the German dictator was therefore wicked. A believer in martial glory was required, one who saw splendor in the ancient parades of victorious legions through Persepolis and could rally the nation to brave the coming German fury. An embodiment of fading Victorian standards was wanted: a tribune for honor, loyalty, duty, and the supreme virtue of action; one who would never compromise with iniquity, who could create a sublime mood and thus give men heroic visions of what they were and might become. Like Adolf Hitler he would have to be a leader of intuitive genius, a born demagogue in the original sense of the word, a believer in the supremacy of his race and his national destiny, an artist who knew how to gather the blazing light of history into his prism and then distort it to his ends, an embodiment of inflexible resolution who could impose his will and his imagination on his people—a great tragedian who understood the appeal of martyrdom and could tell his followers the worst, hurling it to them like great hunks of bleeding meat, persuading them that the year of Dunkirk would be one in which it was “equally good to live or to die”—who could if necessary be just as cruel, just as cunning, and just as ruthless as Hitler but who could win victories without enslaving populations, or preaching supernaturalism, or foisting off myths of his infallibility, or destroying, or even warping, the libertarian institutions he had sworn to preserve. Such a man, if he existed, would be England’s last chance.

In London there was such a man.

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