The man looks like an Olympic champion without a medal or a sport to claim.
His arms are stretched upwardly to their very fullest, supporting his clenched fists which appear to be holding onto a banner of some sort for dear life. I do not have time to read what this banner says, or the words superimposed across the man’s chest. All I know is that, donning shirtsleeves and a striped red necktie, he looks tremendously out of place for an athlete.
Years later, I would learn that the odd Olympian was actually Edward I. Koch, New York City’s pseudo-mythical once-and-always-mayor, and I was staring at the cover of his bestseller about a life spent in public service, aptly named ‘Politics’.
Little did I know that this would also be my first introduction to the body politic itself.
I could not have been any older than five when I saw that book, rushing by its place on a display shelf with my mother on what, if I do recall, was a dreary November afternoon. There was something immensely engaging about it that made me want to stop and take a closer look, but time can be a dastardly thief. I had learned, to my family’s shock, apparently, basic comprehension skills not very long after my second birthday, and for as long as I can remember have read just about anything and everything within my reach. Nonetheless, despite my premature exposure to an array of literature, something resonated with me deeply about Koch’s book, and, looking back, I can now see that it has never stopped doing so.
This brings us to the discussion of politics. Not political parties, philosophies, or any of that; there will be plenty of time for these later. I believe that the nature of politics is an extremely important topic; deserving of great consideration in our national dialogue. Sadly, though, it receives virtually no mention outside of philosophical circles and the occasional write-up in an obscure journal geared towards classical scholars.
As a Realist, I have to say that this is none too good, and the current state of American society serves as living, or perhaps, barely living, proof of this.
On a base level, politics is what defines the values of any given social structure. Not requiring, though commonly having, organs such as mass participation or authoritarian rule, it exists by default; regardless of a society’s ethics, values, and norms. All governing bodies, whether they be in the public or private sectors, are therefore quintessentially political. From an objective perspective, it becomes easy to see that the core mechanisms of a cookie baking club run by soccer moms and a subcommittee hearing operated by congresspersons are none too different. Both involve discussion, debate, and, ultimately, decision-making, the results of which will impact individuals other than those involved with the policy-making process.
Perhaps the essential question is this; what is the best type of political system? Is it a dictatorship, oligarchy, radical democracy, republic, or something not even mentioned? Furthermore, what does the term “best” even mean here? Are we searching for the most beneficial system for a perpetual ruling set, the public at large, or neither of these? Are we aiming at efficiency or ideological purity? It would seem that our original question has left us with an unforeseen volley of them.
A Realist is one who, first and foremost, studies history. This is because it has the unique ability to tell us more about the world around us than what we witness with our very eyes. Human history has shown that, eventually, all tyrannical governments are overthrown and replaced with ones representative of the populace, and these are someday obliterated as well, with the cycle beginning anew. From a Realist’s point of view, when the rights of one person or social group are threatened, everyone else’s are as well.
This is essentially why our Founding Fathers discarded the idea of majority rule being able to oppress minorities, a notion typically associated with radical democracy. They constructed a form of government surprisingly simple in theory, yet immeasurably complex in application, with the intention of guaranteeing a degree of freedom unheard of in civilization’s entirety. Mingling the fluidity of representative democracy with the unalterable standards of monarchies, their hopes, dreams, and aspirations were manifested in the United States Constitution, ratified after a turbulent period following the thirteen colonies’ remarkably successful revolution against Great Britain.
Because of the United States’ establishment as a haven for individuals seeking a high degree of personal freedom, and the astoundingly stable upkeep of its status in said regard, this Realist recognizes it as being the most effective and equitable public sector social structure to have ever graced the face of the earth. Those of us born here can never truly recognize exactly how lucky we were to have been; the millions across the world who strive to become Americans through legal means each and every year are an enduring testament to this. While it is undeniable that our political situations are far less than ideal, we should remember that ideals are floating abstracts, and wholly subjective ones at that. One person’s utopia is another’s living hell, and thankfully, due to our federal government’s labyrinth of checks-and-balances, we will never have to discover just how true this is.
Nonetheless, as politics is what defines a social structure’s value system, we are faced with, you guessed it, another question; what do the values of our government say about us as citizens, taxpayers, and, hopefully, voters? Are you proud of the current state of affairs in Washington, DC, your state capitol, or your city hall? Yes? No? If so, why? If not, why? In any case, how are you going to either ensure that the status quo is upheld or make some positive changes?
“Life,” an old friend once told me,”is what you make of it.” If nothing else, politics is, too.