Anyone who has written about politics for longer than, say, a few months sooner or later will find himself descending into skepticism, a critical wrestler’s crouch.
Skepticism is not simply a temporary purgatory on the way to a blissful heavenly utopia.
Voltaire, in Candide, got the categories right. At best, the optimist is a fool imprisoned in his own optimism. At worst, he is blind, deaf and dumb to the realities than envelop him, chiefly because he believes he is the architect of the realities. But reality, in the long run, will not be mocked in this way.
Using words to reshape reality, the post- modern politician somewhat confusingly mistakes his rhetoric for reality, and the resulting production is always grossly distorted.
As always, it is best to let Voltaire speak for himself:
“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?”
“Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”
“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”
“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end.”
The skeptic is that person who rejects the underlying misperception that has caught Candide in its net. Not to spoil the ending of Candide, our hero shakes free of many of his misperceptions through painful real-world personal experiences.
It is perfectly obvious -- on the face of it, as the lawyers might say -- that this kind of reasoning is a tangled tautology. What is – is. What will be -- will be. Why protest? All of it, sooner or later, will end in universal felicity. If one lives in a socialist utopia, for instance, in which state terror and propaganda has been used to crush reality – for the betterment of humankind, of course -- why protest?
Most people who have done wrong know they have done wrong. The pricks of conscience leave claw marks on the soul. Wrong, in politics, is a relative term only because politicians are uncomfortable with certainties that present obligations.
Niccolò Machiavelli may have been among the first of the modern political philosophers to realize this. And, of course, The Prince ought to be read, hand in hand, with the Discourses on Livy.
Modern Machiavellian scholars now tell us that The Prince was a job application presented to anti-republican autocrats of the day such as the Borgias. But, they note, Machiavelli was himself a fierce defender of the Florentine republic.
Was The Prince, then, a skeptical parody of the uses of power?
How would Machiavelli view the modern republic of the United States were he looking for a job in Washington DC??
The short answer to this question is – skeptically.
Thomas Jefferson, discredited in our day as a slaveholder, both admired and abhorred the power of newspapers.
In an admiring mood, Jefferson could say, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
This is the same man who said, “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
Jefferson kept a bust of Voltaire on his writing desk, and his experiences during his political campaigns scorched him.
Newspapers in our own time have taken a political battering – and not because former President Donald Trump considers the media a “fake news” production machine.
They are taking a battering because there are too few political skeptics within the mainstream media. The skeptical faucet, it appears to many news readers, is stuck on “off” when the prevailing power falls to left of center on the political spectrum.
There are good reasons to think that Biden’s policies, both foreign and domestic, have been visible and undeniable failures. One of the most glaring failures of the Biden administration is a campaign strategy devoted almost entirely to the demonization of former President Donald “The Fascist” Trump as an enemy of “the democracy.” Virtually all polls indicate that Trump may be elevated into the White House by this almost comic overreaction and an inability to sell to a dubious public current administration policies that have spectacularly failed.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a policy pratfall. Not only were Afghans delivered, bound and gagged, to the Taliban, Bagram Air Force Base, a watchtower close to China, was also abjectly surrendered.
The undoing of partly successful Trump policies at our southern border has resulted, not surprisingly, in a vanished border.
No one in the mainstream media seems able to settle on a proper definition of inflation, classically defined as too many dollars chasing too few goods. Less government borrowing and cuts in spending have in the past proven to be effective anti-inflation prophylactics.
The use of political force – and tax dollars – to create a new non-viable market in electric vehicles has been decisively rejected by the real public market, and investments in energy producing windmills seem far less promising than investments in new fusion and fission nuclear reactors.
The recent attack on Israel by Hamas -- and idiot college students -- has ripped the mask off latent anti-Semitism the world over. The Biden administration, largely responsible for the political failings mentioned above, seems determined to re-install in Israel some version of a “two party state” that always has been fiercely opposed to the Israeli democracy, and it will not be long before the Prime Minister of Israel begins to feel the point of a friendly dagger at his back.
One real skeptic such as Voltaire, Machiavelli or Jefferson, given adequate space in our legacy media, would blow all this politically inspired nonsense to bits.
Unfortunately, space is limited to upholders of a dangerously ineffective status quo.