Fire And Ashes: Success And Failure In Politics

December 16, 2015 Nemes Politics

Politics is a worldly art. It is an occupation that is startedwases established on the ability to impart hope, persuade doubters and unite the disunited – to find simple and discomfort complimentary solutions to exactly what are in truth complex and agonizing social difficulties. In current months a little seam of scholarship has emerged that checks out public attitudes to politics and political leaders through the lens of Daniel Kahneman’s work on behavioral economics and psychology. ‘Think quick’ and the general public’s reactions are generally aggressive, unfavorable and hopeless; ‘believe slow’ and the public’s responses are much more favorable, comprehending and enthusiastic. Such findings resonate with my own individual experience and particularly when I started a Be Kind to Politicians Party as part of a job for the BBC and it was incredible how lots ofthe number of individuals I had the ability to hire in a relatively brief time.

The objective of informing this tale is not making the reader sympathize with political leaders, or actually to safeguard them or their occupation. The ‘purpose’ if there actually is one – is to promote the general public understanding of political life and to steer it far from over-simplistic representations of sleaze, scandal and self-interest. (PJ O’Rourke’s Do not Elect the Bastards – It Simply Encourages Them! suddenly springs to mind.)

Confessing to the pressures and problems of political life is hardly ever something that a political leader dares acknowledge while in office but political memoirs and autobiographies often confess to the distress created by a function that is practically created to ensure a decline in mental wellness. Job insecurity, living far from home, media intrusion, public displeasure, low levels of control, high expectations, restricted resources, inherently aggressive, high-blame, low-trust, and so on … Why would anyone get in politics? Checking out the pressures putput on individuals as politicians – we frequently forget that politicians are individuals – is a topic that a small seam of scholarship has checked out with Peter Riddell’s In Defense of Politicians (in spite of themselves) (2011) providing a great entry point to a more academic and complicated field of writing where Gerry Stoker’s Why Politics Matters (2006) and David Runciman’s Political Hypocrisy (2010) form critical reference points.

But what has so far been doing not have is a political memoir written by a scholastic that shows entirely on the paradoxes and dysfunctions of democratic politics. That is, up until Michael Ignatieff penned Fire and Ashes (2013) as something of a cathartic procedure post-political recovery project.
Until 2006 Michael Ignatieff was an extremely effective and well-known scholastic, author and broadcaster who had actually held senior positions at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard. After 2006 he was a chosen member of the Canadian House of Commons, and from 2009 Leader of the Liberal Celebration. Ignatieff was for that reason an academic schooled in the insights of the political and social sciences who made the decision to move from theory to practice. What drew me most was the chance to stop being a spectator, Ignatieff composes, I ‘d remained in the stands all my life, watching the video game. Now, I believed, it was time to step into the arena.

In spite of its title, the much deeper understandings of his book are less about success or failure, fire or ashes, however about the manner in which the demands of democratic politics appear to practically oblige people to embrace a particular method of being that grate against the perfects and principles that led them to go into politics in the first place. Put a little differently, the political hypocrisy that is so frequently identified by the public, mocked by the media and even attacked by opposition politicians who are spared the predicaments of power are probably systemic in nature instead of representing the failing of particular people.

The reality of modern attack politics, of 24/7 media news, of the internet, of all those elements that come together to form ‘the system’ is that a person’s flexibility to actually speak honestly and truthfully is suffocated. The energy and life – possibly even the hubris – that propelled a specific to get in politics can be very quickly destroyed by a systemic negativity and cynicism that implies that spontaneity must be given up to a world of soundbites and media management.
However to end now – to blame components of the system – in the hope of explaining the increase of anti-politics would be wrong. There remains a much deeper stress at the heart of democratic politics that takes us right back to Bernard Crick’s traditional Defense and a concentrate on the essence of compromise. Democratic politics is – when all is said and done – an institutional structure for achieving social compromise in between contesting needs. And here lies both the rub and the real insight of Ignatieff’s experience: the worldly art of politics needs that political leaders submit to compromises in a world where compromise is too oftenfrequently associated with weak point and failure. Additionally, particular areas of society must be made to feel that they are unique which their demands are not being diluted when in truth they are because of the extreme truths of political life. To a particular degree, the hypocrisy, half-truths and phony smiles end up being vital due to the simple reality that no politician can please everyone all of the time. Democratic politics is a crucible for compromise.

But for the individual who gets in politics with a very clear mission the requirement for compromise and conciliation integrated with an environment that is based upon aggressive quick thinking – can be soul damaging. As you send to the compromises demanded by public life, your public self starts to modify the individual within, Igantieff notes, Within a year of entering politics, I had the disorientated sensation of having actually been taken over by a doppelganger, an odd brand-new personality I could hardly recognize when I looked at myself in the mirror … I had never been so well worn my life and had never felt so hollow.

The hollowing-out of the state is a subject that has received a big quantity of academic interest, as is the hollowing-out of democracy however could it be that the hollowing-out of political leaders demands a minimum of a little consideration within debates about why we hate politics?
Igantieff is, however, absolutely nothing if not resolutely favorable about the beauty of democratic politics and the capability of politicians. His objective – like a great deal of my writing – is not to put people off stepping into the arena however to helpto assist individuals go into the fray much better prepared than he was. Better ready in the sense of understanding the needhave to play the video game in the sense of being worldly and wicked, while also staying faithful and courageous at the same time.

Image credit: Parliament Sunset by Greg Knapp, CC BY 2.0 through Flickr.

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