This made me think a bit, and this is what I’ve concluded (remember, this isn’t an argument with Jan – these are my own noodlings, for which no one else can or should claim responsibility). I know you’ve heard this here before, and that it therefore risks making folks both bored and angry, but I think the pattern Jan ponders says something about misplaced hope – that we look to these elected officials for something no one in this penultimate order can offer us. We don’t look to them for moral courage, or disciplined attentiveness to their Constitutionally defined duties, but rather for transcendent hope and the righting of all wrongs in some ill-defined future (which wrongs vary from candidate to candidate and party to party). In other words, whatever our democratic whimsy, we still yearn for philosopher kings who will parcel out wisdom and inspire hope all the while magically ensuring the bountiful harvest of, well, something. I have a friend who’s a pastor, and this all seems decidedly like what his ordination vows named as “false comfort and illusory hope”, and it’s really quite dangerous. From such misplaced, false hope springs the desire for some strong, charismatic figure who will, with the necessary if unfortunate sacrifices, lead us to some promised greatness and prosperity and peace, eschatological hopes that find their only proper subject (in both senses) in Christ alone. Just a thought.
Before I had a chance to read Thomas’s remarks carefully, I was going to say that we’re in more danger of cynicism than false comfort and illusory hope, but I revise those thoughts now.
Thomas is right that we do want philosopher kings–if not (on our side of the aisle) to parcel out all good things, then at least to be honest, honorable, thoughtful and principled people, who can hold a position against the wind, who has enough of a mooring in what’s right to hold out against the raging crowd. Think of the best of the reputation of Churchill. Like that.
On the other side of the aisle (this is at present what the aisle is about, after all), the philosopher king is one who brings “economic justice,” which means an equal distribution of resources, providing charity for the unfortunate from the bounty of the fortunate. And I suppose, to the extent to which both yearnings are unrealizable, they run the risk of being false and illusory.
I still think cynicism is at least an equal danger, the good people who turn from the process in despair, the gullible people who can’t see any redeeming qualities on the “other side,” the vicious and polarizing ad hominem attacks. I think our literature of conspiracy and paranoia is part of what has conditioned the mindset (and I still haven’t been able to wrap my mind around that). That’s not to say that there’s never been a conspiracy or to deny that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, but people’s willingness to assume conspiracy about every development is both a refutation and proof of what Thomas is saying. Refutation because there’s not an expectation of finding a philospher king, proof because if it’s not a philospher king, it’s his evil twin, the devil’s spawn, an anti-christ, who has equal power and a will of the destroyer.
Like Thomas, I’m still thinking this out, and I appreciate his willingness to join the discussion.