Twenty Political Reads to Help You Steer the Troubled Waters of 2019 (2/2)


Where can find guidance out of the dangerous, bloody mess of chauvinist, populist, and authoritarian politics? Which political values can help us build stable and humane democracies? How can we build institutions and develop policies that are capable to solve the actual economic, social, and technological challenges we face?

Part II - Ways Ahead

To find guidance, we look to Martha Nussbaum [1] on how to channel anger constructively, and take inspiration from two classics, and we examine the timeless and powerful appeals to universal brother- and sisterhood ushered by Martin Luther King Jr. [2] in 1963 and Charlie Chaplin [3] in 1943. We examine the need to develop global identities with Yuval Harari [4] and to forge cross-cutting identities that help us focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us with Sheri Bermann [5] and Mark Lila [6]. Isaiah Berlin [7] reminds us that a democratic, pluralistic order necessarily has to be based on compromise and balance and Jan-Werner Müller examines what we can learn from cold-war liberal like Popper, Berlin, Schlesinger [8] and their view on constructive conflict within the boundaries of democratic institutions. Natalie Wynn [9] gives an example of how to combine political messaging and informative analysis with a political show worthy of the Romans. In my favourite essay of 2018, Jerry Taylor elaborates on the virtues of abandoning ideology to allow for more humane public politics [10] And, finally, Sky Cleary reminds us that we have implicate ourselves in politics if we don't want to succumb to a state of absurd vegetation.

  1. Martha Nussbaum on how to channel political anger:"Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most profound philosophers about anger, and what he thought is that you need to focus on the dignity of the people who suffered, and the dignity of their complaint and their outrage, but the retributive part is not part of that. He said their anger has to be “purified” and “channelized,” he used those two words — meaning, we keep the outrage and we keep the courage, but the retributive part about causing a lot of pain isn’t very helpful.,." Read the entire interview (Time Magazin 2018)

  2. Martin Luther King JR's dream and wisdom are still as relevant today as it was in 1963: "In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not he guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred... .. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the huge meaning of its creed: "We hold the~e truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal".... When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands..." Read the entire speech here.

  3. Charlie Chaplin's iconic 1943 speech of reckoning and hope (the final scene of the Great Dictator):"To those who can hear me, I say - do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish ... Then - in the name of democracy - let us use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. ... Let us fight to free the world - to do away with national barriers - to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!" Watch and read the speech here.

  4. Yuval Harari on the need to move beyond nationalism and foster global identities: "You cannot build a wall against nuclear winter or against global warming, and no nation can regulate arti­ficial intelligence or bioengineering single-handedly...So whenever a politician says “My Country First”, we should ask him or her: how can your country by itself prevent nuclear war, stop climate change and regulate disruptive technologies? … To successfully confront these three problems we need more, rather than less, global co-operation. We need to create a global identity and encourage people to be loyal to humankind and to planet Earth in addition to their particular nation... Human identities are quite adaptable... It does not mean establishing a global government or abolishing all cultural, religious and national differences. I can be loyal at one and the same time to several identities—to my family, my village, my profession, my country, and also to my planet and the whole human species." Read the entire text here (Economist, 2018).

  5. Sheri Berman on the importance of cross-cutting identities: "Over the long term of course the goal is repairing democracy and diminishing intolerance and for this promoting cross-cutting cleavages within civil society and political organizations is absolutely necessary... This too has implications for contemporary debates about “identity politics”. Perhaps ironically, identity politics is a both more powerful and efficacious for Republicans (and rightwing populists more generally) than it is for Democrats, since the former are more homogeneous... Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identifications that enable citizens to become more comfortable with difference and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary." Read the whole text here (Guardian, 2018).

  6. Mark Lila calling for an end of identity liberalism:"We need a post-identity liberalism... It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.... A post-identity liberalism would also emphasise that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension…. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny." Read the entire text here (New York Times, 2016).

  7. Isaiah Berlin's message to the 21st century, making a case for pluralism and compromise:"We must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals...The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking..." Read his essay here (NY Review of Books, 1994)

  8. Jan-Weller Müller on what we can learn from Popper, Berlin, and Schlesinger:"He [Berlin] always emphasized humans’ fundamental need to belong and explained many of the ideological excesses since the eighteenth century with reference to a “state of wounded consciousness.” By this, he meant a sense of not being recognized, of having one’s way of life disrespected, of not being up to the supposed standards of a liberal cosmopolitan culture... Cold war liberals believed in the legitimacy of conflict contained by democratic procedures. They regarded conflicts, in Schlesinger’s words, as a guarantee of freedom. But conflicts were not just given, so that centrism meant accommodating both sides a little bit; rather, it took imagination to define conflicts on one’s own terms, while remaining faithful to what Schlesinger called 'the spirit of human decency.'” Read the whole text here (New York Review of Books, 2018).

  9. Natalie Wynn is fighting fascism with face glitter and informative and fun videos: "I try to swim against the current as much as possible when it comes to the tribalism that defines the way people do politics on social media, and I try to present myself as an individual and humanistic voice. I’m interested in people, not just factions. I don’t just want to show how somebody might be wrong, I want to know why people believe the things they believe in the first place. I want to understand the mindset that would lead somebody toward the alt-right." Read the entire interview here (Economist, 2018)

  10. Jerry Taylor sketches out an alternative to ideology:"Ideology corrupts caring, idealistic, educated, and intelligent people ... Ideologies breed dogmatic thinking... They encourage motivated cognition. They give birth to excessive certainty, crowding out healthy intellectual skepticism. They moralize political conflict in an unhealthy fashion, yielding incivility, extremism, and social discord. They ignore the complexities of the modern world... Politics and policymaking without an ideological bible is incredibly demanding. It requires far more technocratic expertise and engagement than is required by ideologues, who already (they think) know the answers. It also requires difficult judgments, on a case-by-case basis, about which ethical considerations are of paramount concern for any given issue at hand, and what trade-os regarding those considerations are most warranted. To embrace nonideological politics, then, is to embrace moderation, which requires humility, prudence, pragmatism, and a conservative temperament." Red the entire text here (Niskanen Center, 2018).

  11. Simone de Beauvoir’s reminder that politics necessitates action:"Since we’re all affected by politics, if we choose not to be involved in creating the conditions of our own lives this reduces us to what de Beauvoir called ‘absurd vegetation’. It’s tantamount to rejecting existence.... In times of political turmoil, one may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and can even be tempted with Sartre to think that ‘hell is other people’. De Beauvoir encourages us to consider that others also give us the world because they infuse it with meaning: we can only make sense of ourselves in relation to others, and can only make sense of the world around us by understanding others’ goals. We strive to understand our differences and to embrace the tension between us." Read Sky Cleary's whole text here (Aeon, 2017).


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© 2018 Ivo Nicholas Scherrer