Posted by: HAT | September 15, 2009

On Politics

I’m reading Martin Buber on utopia (Paths in Utopia, translated by R.F.C. Hull, New York: Macmillan, 1950), which is interesting, but a little disheartening as well. In gist, he is reviewing the contributions to socialist theory of the “utopian socialists,” and looking to relate their ideas to those of Marx and the Marxists. One of his central points is the distinction between “social” phenomena, the development of “organic” social forms that sustain communal social relations between people, and “political” phenomena, or means — the State understood as a coercive instrument, revolution understood as extra-statal coercion or violence, but as an essentially political practice.

I find this disheartening, because it seems to me that the distinction between “social” and “political” phenomena is ultimately artificial. I have thought this for a long time, and remain convinced that unless the fundamental, ubiquitous, essentially human character of politics is recognized and appreciated, people will waste time in futile efforts to transcend politics or segregate politics in particular spheres, and not devote the necessary time and effort to cultivating adequate and legitimate forms of politics in every sphere in which politics arises — that is, in every sphere of human life, period. Politics is inescapable, it just is supra-individual decisionmaking. The question is, how to conduct politics, in whatever context, in a way that gives up coercion and the illegitimate exercise of the many forms of force available to people, and that instead is a different form of politics, a . . . cooperative, deliberative, mutually appreciative form of politics that strikes a balance between self-limitation and self-assertion, self-denial and self-gratification?

Yes, it’s a tall order, but that doesn’t make it any less the order of the day, this one and every one.



  1. Your blog is very informative how often do you post. Much success with your writings you have very deep thoughts.

  2. Great post, you seem very informed!

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