Wednesday, July 29, 2009
In which Johann Hari makes a good point
I know I enjoy mocking him, but Johann Hari has an worthwhile piece in the Independent today. Under the title, "We've forgotten the force which really drives political change", Hari argues that democracy can be vulnerable to two kinds of political misunderstanding. The first is that someone decides that their vote doesn't matter, and that the best thing they can do is to ignore politics and to get on with life. The second is to take the view that what we really need is some Big Man who will solve all the problems: the politician-as-messiah view, which Hari is sensible enough to recognise was one of the less healthy streams of support declaring itself for Obama.He raises some good points, and certainly nails the quietistic and messianic political errors very well. But I do wonder why people on the "progressive left" have fixated on the idea that every problem is best dealt with by political means? Is this a case of the man with a hammer treating every problem like a nail? I'm not advocating Hari's first target, political quietism, but I do wonder whether its opposite, political activism, is always the correct response. For sure, there are some issues on which it is; but on many, isn't the best response to do what we can first?Take poverty. There is certainly a political element to poverty, both in terms of what government does and does not do. But to be honest, I think my starting point with poverty would be to challenge readers that if they are concerned about poverty, then their first priority is, as John Wesley famously put it, to earn all they can and to give all they can. If Hari is assuming that his readers are already doing all they can personally, I don't think that assumption is warranted.Politics is not unimportant; you might expect me to say that, given the focus that I have given to it over the past months. However, the greater part of "people power" is not using the democratic process to achieve certain goals, but having the power to act in accordance with those goals in your own life. When groups on the "progressive left" claim to be in favour of people power but proposes solutions which in fact increase government power, it suggests that "progressive politics" is not really all that progressive.All that means that truly progressive politics is probably to be found with those who want to increase the power of the citizen and decrease the power of the state. Who would have thought that really progressive politics are more often found on the liberal right than the statist left?