Man is a political animal. But seeing what the animal is, what may politics become? …We have the faculty of secreting political wisdom and voiding it in the form of systems exquisite in their logic and their pertinence to our needs. But we remain illogical and impertinent, so all our systems are realized in gross imperfection, since we have to operate them.
~ Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows
The trouble with liberal democracy is the illiberality of the dêmos. The politics of identity and the affirmation of grievance govern all. There is an almost universal lack of generosity. I do not exempt myself. In fact, I consider myself an early victim of this kind of unhealthy political enthusiasm.
During the election of 1980 (when I was seven years old) my parents were on opposite sides of the fence. My father, a republican, supported Reagan. My mother, a democrat, stood by Carter. I don’t remember my parents debating the merits or demerits of either nominee, I only recall their preferences – and the ubiquitous images of the candidates passing over the television screen every evening. I was a Carter man. Not for any valid reasons, but simply because I liked him. He looked friendly and I was charmed by his southern accent and the fact that he had once been a peanut farmer. My friend Roger, however, was for Reagan, who had the endorsement of both his parents.
One day while Roger and I were talking in my backyard we somehow hit on the topic of the upcoming election. Things grew heated when he insisted Reagan would make a better president, and I countered that Carter was, in fact, a better man for the job than any second-rate actor. Roger took offense, slandered Carter’s intelligence and then punched me in the face. I turned my back and sat on the ground and cried. Roger turned his back to me, too, pretending interest in a nearby shrub. A sudden fury tore through my little frame. I grasped the hard object nearest at hand then leapt up behind Roger and cracked him on the head with a metal corkscrew spike, the kind used to secure backyard swing sets to the ground. Then, while he held his head and cried, I yelled out something definitive in favor of Carter and promptly banished Roger from my backyard for the day.
Seeing what the animal is…