History and Politics

As the British historian E.H. Carr argued, history is a protracted process facilitated by the interplay of social forces and individual interactions which in turn lead to a particular social outcome. Given that history is perhaps a process, philosophers are in the business of deciphering the end goal or outcome of this historical process. The question of what constitutes the end goal or outcome of the historical process has always been a matter of debate. In general, capitalists have one particular view of history, and socialists have a totally different view. Mao had famously discussed the outcome of history with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in the 1970’s, and he was almost certain that history would end with some sort of socialist system in virtually all countries. Yet, the outcome that Mao had envisioned has yet to materialize, and has actually been thwarted with the demise of the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s.

For a long time, the Western world – given its primacy in world affairs – is perhaps seen as the main facilitator towards the attainment of history’s end goal or outcome. The notion that Western social conventions and norms such as the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech would ensure the end goals of scientific progress and social evolution is prevalent among advocates of Western civilization, and these social conventions and norms are thought to be the fundamental factors in differentiating the West from “the rest.” As far as politics is concerned and how it plays into the historical process, it pertains to the creation of the institutions and rules necessary for the establishment of not just systems of governance, but most importantly it deals with the establishment of social order.

Hans Morgenthau thought of politics as amounting to the pursuit of power, with power being the ability to control or influence the actions and thoughts of other men. This can be done either through force or influence, according to political theorists. But as Thomas Hobbes wrote in “Leviathan,” the final cause or design of political behavior is self-preservation, and as a result people come together either by agreement or by force to establish a “commonwealth” or a state for the purpose of self-preservation. Thus, as Thomas Paine wrote, security is the “true design and end of government.” But democracy was not always considered to be the biblical truth in the Western tradition. For one, Plato did not care for democracy. In fact, Plato believed in the rule of enlightened philosophers and held the notion that democracy would lead to the spread of corruption and chaos. For Aristotle, democracy was a “perversion” of constitutional rule, and the ideal forms of government for Aristotle were kingship and aristocracy.

There is also a fine balance between change and tradition that causes chaos and social turmoil when disrupted. Many traditional societies resist “change” and “progress” by denying that utopia on earth can be achieved. Thus, traditional societies consider the idea of “change” and “progress” to be entirely disruptive and subjective. One might ask: is change and progress really possible? Or are notions of “change,” “justice,” and “progress” entirely subjective and ill-defined and without any grounding in objectivity and reality? Moreover, what does “change,” “progress,” and “justice” look like? Are we to become cyborgs with no emotions, feelings, or basic human flaws? Are these concepts or ideals predicated on anything meaningful or tangible? Or are they merely abstract? After all, “not all change is progress.”

Should the strategic focus of political associations rest entirely with the preservation of local and national cultures and traditions? Or does “change,” “progress,” and “justice” necessitate transcendence beyond cultural and national boundaries? Normally, peace and stability are preferred over drastic change and turbulent transformation. Thus, political behavior is oriented mostly towards pleasure-seeking and self-preservation rather than idealistic “change” and “progress.” Through a basic observation of human nature, one can ascertain the true nature of politics. Efforts to shape a political platform based on social change and progress depend on a society’s weltanschauung, which in turn is shaped by a number of factors ranging from a society’s education system to its historic experience.

One always seems to revert to the question of whether self-preservation and the routine inclination towards what Machiavelli called “glory and riches” best explain political and social behavior or if there is actually an instinctual drive towards social change that is shaping political and social life throughout the globe. In other words, can the desire for pleasure and the instinct towards self-preservation explain all political and social behavior? Or is there something deeper that explains political and social behavior, namely, the need for social change and scientific progress which in turn would uncover the meaning of existence?

Arguably, one cannot make significant social and scientific progress without a grasp of what constitutes the meaning of existence. But one would not be deviating far from the truth by arguing that the vast majority of people are driven primarily by pleasure-seeking and the instinct towards self-preservation. Only a distinct minority are driven by the pursuit of meaning. Thus, once politics is stripped down to its core essence, it loses its glitz and glamor. Therefore, measures such as the establishment of a social safety net and the legalization and regulation of prostitution in the United States would release the pressure building up in society and in turn mitigate much of the social turmoil that exists in our day and age. These measures would perhaps clear the mind and enable social change and scientific progress.

Or perhaps not, given the constants relating to human nature. After all, states cannot impose any notion of aesthetics, ethics, or morality on individuals. At most, states can exact punishments for violations of the law, which is supposed to promote ethics and morality. Only through individual character development and education can these ideals and virtues be developed and sustained. But regardless, as citizens of a nation, Americans – as well as citizens of other nations – are entitled to these basic benefits because of its contributions to political and social order within a growingly complicated world that is underscored by widespread anxiety resulting from globalization and modernity.

These proposals are not radical. Rather, they are clear-eyed acknowledgments of basic human nature. In a political and social sense, the denial of human nature would amount to hypocrisy. One must first clearly ascertain man’s true nature, and then shape a political and social order based on such an ascertainment. As philosophy is examined and as science continues to shed light on human nature, political and social order is thus in a state of evolution and flux. Yet, many politicians are in denial of basic human nature and thus reality, and as a result politics is now based on false premises. As a result, people do not care much for politics because politicians are in denial of the realities pertaining to people’s basic needs.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in “A Discourse on Inequality,” considered a return to an original “state of nature” as the only remedy for the corruption, hypocrisy, and inequality resulting from modernity, although late in his life Rousseau realized that is highly unlikely and perhaps even impossible that men will ever revert to that state in a collective manner due to the changes in mass culture resulting from modernity. In his comparison of men in a “natural” state of existence as opposed to modern men who are brought up in the artificialities, phony data and statistics, materialistic scientism, superficialities, superfluities, and corruption of modernity, Rousseau wrote that the desires of the natural man are quite simple and “do not go beyond his physical needs.” Rousseau added that the only delights which a natural man seeks are “food, a female, and repose,” and “the only evils he fears are pain and hunger.”

Modernity has only exacerbated inequality rather than mitigating it, and inequality is perhaps the main source of political and social turmoil in a number of societies. The share of the world’s wealth belonging to the top 1 percent has grown from 45 percent in 2001 to more than 50 percent in 2020, and the gap will only widen in the future. Some sort of correction to this imbalance needs to be implemented in order to mitigate the foremost effects of such an imbalance, namely, political and social turmoil. The question of “how much is enough?” which was once posed towards advocates of progressivism by William F. Buckley and contemporary conservatives should not apply solely to the poor. It should also apply to the rich if we are to avoid double standards.

Politics – which amounts to class warfare in most cases – may perhaps become a futile and meaningless enterprise once people’s basic needs are met. As the American historian Charles Beard once said: “[Man] may so control the distribution of wealth as to establish an ideal form of society and prevent the eternal struggle of classes that has shaken so many nations to their foundations.” Beard ascertained that the main division within American society as a whole was between the military and corporate establishment on one hand, and ordinary people on the other hand. But as Hannah Arendt wrote, politics is now a grave threat to human freedom and self-preservation due to two novel circumstances stemming from modernity, namely, the tendency of governments to lean towards totalitarianism and the atomic bomb. Thus, politics poses the same threat that it is supposed to thwart, namely, annihilation in a nihilistic age. Although the advent of the atomic bomb has the potential to completely eliminate war, the problem is man himself, not the atomic bomb, for it is man that acts as the vehicle for destruction and nuclear annihilation.

Thus, the collective goal in a modern age is to save man from himself and thus put an end to politics, which is a daunting task given that in a modern and nihilistic age, anxiety and doubt permeates the human condition and cannot be easily remedied by either faith or religion. Politics was supposed to be the main venue for the pursuit of meaning, but it now amounts to meaninglessness. As Max Horkheimer wrote, “individual manifestations of mass culture” and thus modernity equates to “knots in the net that binds us to the coming disaster.” In such a complicated situation afforded to us by modernity, the employment of “Occam’s Razor” is crucial in our efforts of problem-solving. Despite the hyper-centralization of power, social fragmentation, and the atomic bomb, the irony is that power is now dispersed and fragmented in a postmodern epoch, thus the need for a novel approach towards politics.

And despite the tendency of modern man to complicate things unnecessarily, the truth and thus the solutions are quite simple. As Chris Matthews wrote: “To understand and influence your fellow man, don’t focus too much on the grand, intangible issues; keep a tight watch on what matters most to him or her personally.” In this modern environment, the world is getting too complicated to comprehend and understand, and it is incredibly difficult for most people to keep up with all the rapid changes and transformations in economic and social life. Many people are being left behind in this transition from an industrial age to a technological age. Globally, there are three classes of people. For one, there are the agrarian and rural masses. There is also the industrial and urban class. Also, there is the cosmopolitan elite which is at the far end of the curve in this information and technological age. But the industrial class is shrinking, and it is incredibly difficult – if not impossible – for the agrarian class to achieve social mobility.

People need help from their governments to either catch up with all the changes and transformations in this new age – which is perhaps impossible to achieve – or people should be given a cushion or a safety net by their governments in case the economy goes through yet another downturn like the one experienced through the coronavirus or is overhauled by the changes and transformations resulting from globalization and technology. But as Rousseau argued, the truth and thus the solutions to political and social turmoil can only be found in nature – with a particular focus on human nature – and thus reality, given that nature is the physical manifestation of reality.

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