My ongoing intellectual-political project

There’s an old humanistic way of looking at the world, deeply influenced by Plato’s and Aristotle’s (among others) thought, which says that politics is deeply important for human beings, that at its best politics should be about the cultivation of maximal virtue, and that rhetoric (which includes but isn’t limited to political speeches) is the primary way politics can be influenced for better and for worse.

This way of looking at things implies the need for (1) a deep understanding of politics as such (ie, the range of timeless political possibilities available to human beings as human beings), (2) a firm grasp of the history and structure and divisions of a current given political community and of its political context, and a clear sense of how the latter maps onto the former, in order to think intelligently about how the current situation can be improved. It also, of course, implies the need for (3) an understanding of rhetoric as such and the rhetorical preferences of our contemporary contexts.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about all three. In past posts here I’ve often been thinking through some aspect of one or the other of the first two.

I’ve thought a lot and learned a lot about these things over the past several years, but I still feel uncertain about what it all amounts to. My overall political conviction is that today we ought to take the best elements of each major ideological position and blend them together as well as we can, ordered in accordance with more perennial lessons of political philosophy, and I have some sense of how that could be accomplished, at least theoretically.

But it sort of feels like this synthesis, when I begin to think it through, comes out being far too nuanced and unwieldy to be an effective political position. I need to think about how best to boil it down to a simpler agenda, with all the tradeoffs that come from any such simplification.

I also need to consider further (and this is absolutely connected to the last point) which kind of ideological group or movement I might want to align myself with most closely. This would be a calculation that would mainly depend both on how receptive the group would likely be to the message I decide on, and also on the likelihood of that group exercising an influence on the direction of the political community in the coming years.

And then having decided all that, there is still the need to decide how best to package the message, which will inevitably be somewhat unpalatable to whichever group I focus on, including as it does at least some ideas associated with their ideological enemies.

All this while I still want to continue trying to wrap my head around modern economies and modern warfare and statecraft and partisan dynamics etc.

In one way, I feel like most of the work has been done, or at least well begun. But I also feel as though the last little stretch between where I am and where I wish to be might be the most challenging to traverse.

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