Saturday, May 4, 2013

Current Practices of Governance on the Rocks

The United Kingdom seems to have become the most recent country in which an extremist party has made a dent in elections that are usually won by more "traditional" parties. This has prompted BBC News reporter to run a survey of those countries that have experienced similar tilts towards such extremism. His list runs as follows:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Italy
  3. Greece
  4. France
  5. Netherlands
  6. Belgium
  7. Hungary
  8. Finland
  9. Denmark
  10. Sweden
  11. Austria
If this is a trend, then it reminds me of an experience during my student days. Those days were spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and they include the time when the municipal government of Boston tried to deal with racial discrimination in the public school system by introducing busing. The reaction of many working-class white neighborhoods (like those that can be found in the fiction of Dennis Lahane) tended to be violently ugly.

In the midst of these dark times, Louise Day Hicks mounted a campaign for mayor on a platform that appealed to those who wanted to get rid of busing. What surprised many was that Hicks also received support from several of the more activist black political groups. I think that included the Black Panthers, but I am not absolutely sure. What I do remember is an interview with a member of one of those groups in which he was asked why he would vote for someone who favored such a discriminatory policy. His answer has stuck with me ever since he gave it:
At least we know where she stands.
When Max Weber forecast that a society that placed the market as its highest priority would bring about "loss of meaning," I wonder if he realized that one of the ways in which meaning would be lost would be through the general acceptance that deception is fundamental to the practice of politics. In other words just about every political candidate can never be more effective than a bottle of patent medicine, perhaps just because the normative practices of politics have turned out that way.

This may be one reason why some many people flocked to Barack Obama's promise of change the first time he ran for President. However, changing political practices is like changing the course of a battleship. It takes a lot of time and a lot of advance calculation. Unfortunately, I suspect that the sorts of changes Obama had in mind all resided on the surface structure of our social world, dealing with matters such as health care, education, and poverty. He may not have grasped that change on the surface structure can only come about after the deep structure has been changed. By not taking that proposition into account, he continues to be undermined by that deep structure and now runs the risk of being undermined by those who will promise nothing other than taking a sledge hammer to that deep structure.

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