There is a great deal of discussion today about the condition of American politics. The obvious ineptitude, the low level of debate, the pandering rhetoric, the excessiveness of campaigns–all of these have resulted not only in a paralysis of function, but almost a kind of moral failure as well.
There are, of course, numerous sources of blame for these maladies: A rapacious journalistic media, the influence of special interest groups, a growing sector reliant on handouts, the quality of candidates who seek public office.
However, the purpose here is to address this situation from an obverse point of view. It is not to assert that these problems do not exist, because they do and are obvious for all to see, but rather that in an unfortunate way they may not be important to the extent we imagine.
The basis for such an assertion is a somewhat different perspective on the workings of our national system. Especially, that it is incorrect to equate the two elective branches with the whole of American government. Indeed, the political dimension is an integral part, but it is only a strictly delimited part and in critical ways the least important part, of the national government.
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It is difficult to exaggerate the low quality and excessiveness of political debate in the United States. Although this offense to public sensibility is most apparent during the presidential campaign, it seems to have become endemic to our political processes at all levels.
However, the fault for this malady cannot be placed exclusively on the candidates themselves. There is an equal responsibility to be born by a rapacious media, whose members are eager to advance their own careers by stirring controversy and scandal. But on a deeper level the journalists, like the politicians, are only captive of a system that predetermines the methods they employ.
No doubt, one generalized source of this pattern is the adversarial method of our judicial procedure. In recent decades its tendency to rancor has been further exacerbated by the Deconstructive technique of Postmodern law. Such factors have come to shape our political processes and even the ethic of our journalistic media. There may be no remedy for these influences, but it might be useful to attempt to put our approach to public affairs into perspective.
One way of doing so is to look at the practices of our earliest political forebears, the ancient Greeks. By this means we can gain perspective on a variety of methods of discourse and understand how our particular approach compares with other ways of transacting the public business.
There are several ways of viewing the variety of methods of public discussion that prevailed among the Greeks and have survived down to modern times. But for purposes of understanding American practice they are best seen in four categories: the dialogue, the principled, the rhetorical, and the disputatious.
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My personal inclination runs to the philosophical. I attempt to find a perspective outside the paradigms that have come to define our Age of Technology. Rather than examining the trends of Postmodernity and Globalization I prefer to examine the values and assumptions that give rise to them.
I seldom look to the political realm for serious and fundamental discussion of the perplexities that face our troubled world. For me the sphere of politics is by its nature narrow and proscribed. The cycle of campaigns and elections, of candidates and issues, offers little opportunity for actually evaluating the authoritative institutions of law and learning within which all public questions are decided.
But I also recognize the mundane practical concerns that must be attended to while one engages those larger philosophical matters. In the case of America those practical considerations include a basic economic stability, an atmosphere of social equity among its people, and beyond these what might be called its moral imperative as the single Great Power in the world.
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Mr. Joseph P Garske is a retired private investor. He is an invited contributing writer to the www.BusinessThinker.com
He holds a bachelor degree in history from Harvard.
Ancient Athens is looked back upon and celebrated as the birthplace of a new and distinctive Western Civilization. Some of this attribution may, of course, be the enthusiastic embellishment of modern historians
Yet, there is much basis for the aura that still surrounds the city where Socrates in life and in death altered the course of history.
The pre-eminence of Athens is particularly important in the areas of politics and philosophy–two realms which in the eyes of ancient Athenians were inextricably related. But the world has changed a great deal in the intervening centuries, especially in our technologically defined age of Postmodernity.
Popular politics is still a very dominant influence in our time, albeit in forms that might be unrecognizable to the ancient Greeks. However, in the affairs of human thought and action the influence of philosophy has become almost wholly absent.
That is, philosophy in the Socratic sense: A way of life, a willingness to challenge even the most vaunted claim to authority, to fearlessly engage all the great questions of life and existence. Philosophy of this type has virtually disappeared.
Instead, in the present day our manner of living, our questions and reflections have come to be enclosed within a set of fixed limits. Our reality is greatly defined by both our institutions of authoritative learning and a ubiquitous electronic media.
Despite their potential to enhance human understanding, they have both come in many ways to delimit it. Ironically, this tendency to limitation of perspective and to diffidence in public discussion has been nowhere more obvious than in the recent matter of the Greek financial crisis.
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