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2005-04-12

Should you get engaged in a political party? 

Some questions I am asking myself:

1. Do you care enough?
1a. Is that why you want to do this?

2. Do you know your opinions? Can you argue for them?
2a. Do you believe that your opinions have a point?

3. Are you ready to hold your tongue for the sake of unity with your allies?
3a. Do you think holding your tongue would be worth it?
3b. Are you ready to support and defend party policies that you consider wrong, at least up to a certain point?
3c. Take the person in the party about whom you have most reservations. Could you support him/her publically for office? [Actually not, but could I prevent something if I joined?]

4. Are you willing to expose yourself to hostility and power struggles?
4a. From/with your political opponents?
4b. From/with your political allies?

5. Can you spare the time?

6. Are you willing to get engaged in the sometimes banal issues of local politics?

7. Are you ready to be publicly associated with the party?
7a. OK for your private life?
7b. OK for your professional activities?

Any advice or helpful experiences?


3 comments:

Hah, You and me both man.

I posted this reply with an introduction at my site, as it gells well with some things I have blogged about recently.

1. Do you care enough?
1a. Is that why you want to do this?

If this is not the ONLY reason for getting involved, don’t do it. The world, and I think especially Austria, suffers badly from people who get involved in politics simply to improve their networking status. A politician without a vision and a dream of a better world (however that may be defined) is an aparatchik. If you want status, join a multinational, please dont inflict your career wishes on an electorate.

2. Do you know your opinions? Can you argue for them?
2a. Do you believe that your opinions have a point?

For me, this is the litmus test for #1. It must be said, though, that opinions are easily held. Alot of people who posses lightly held opinions are also not afraid of arguing them. I would say that a perhaps better formulation would be:

Can you relate your opinions on topics to a systematic ethical philosophy based on a defined number of axiomatic beliefs. Can you articulate those beliefs and that philosophy so as to justify your opinions on individual topics and is that philosophy in step with the party you intend to join?

I find it very disturbing when party functionaries are wholly unable to articulate the basis of their political beliefs. I have the impression that this is especially prevalent amongs the centre right: My guess is that this is one reason why the youth movement has difficulty retaining committed party believers.

If you cannot relate your opinions to a systematic structure of rational argument you will become one of two things:
a) The previously mentioned aparatchik or
b) an ideologue.

And what the world does not need is ideology in place of thought.

3. Are you ready to hold your tongue for the sake of unity with your allies?
3a. Do you think holding your tongue would be worth it?
3b. Are you ready to support and defend party policies that you consider wrong, at least up to a certain point?
3c. Take the person in the party about whom you have most reservations. Could you support him/her publically for office? [Actually not, but could I prevent something if I joined?]

I guess that, if you have the answers to 1 and 2 sorted out 3 falls into place, especially 3b. The point being that one would be better able to identify the boundaries beyond which one cannot go. Besides it is ok to be in disagreement with the party on policy. Not on principle. Changing the system from the inside, when the system becomes corrupt with reference to its own standards is a neccessary function of a consientious party member.

As to holding ones tongue etc. Politics is at a tactical level the art of the possible (which is why the vision is SO neccessary - to avoid resignation and stasis). Speaking softly and carrying a big stick was hardly ever a bad strategy.

4. Are you willing to expose yourself to hostility and power struggles?
4a. From/with your political opponents?
4b. From/with your political allies?

Back to motivation again. If your belief system is strong enough, you will be armed for 4. If your motivation IS power, well then you are vulnerable because you will become an actor without conviction but with an agenda. Once again, in this case the electorate should not be subjected to your ambition. Oh and 4a=4b as regards power.

5. Can you spare the time?

No one can advise on this. Other than perhaps to refer again to 1 and 2 and to say that where there is will there is often a solution of sorts.

6. Are you willing to get engaged in the sometimes banal issues of local politics?

Id say that it is in the banalities of this sort that one can impact many lives directly. What better place to test out those principles we agreed on in 2? If ALL you want to do is to think about universal peace then stick with doing a philosophy course. (I guess this is my real problem, to be honest)

7. Are you ready to be publicly associated with the party?
7a. OK for your private life?
7b. OK for your professional activities?

If you have 2 sorted out, then this cannot present a problem. 7b could be tricky, I grant you. But that has to do with courage of convictions. If you are not prepared to stand up for your (hopefully well thought out beliefs) then for heavens sake dont ask anyone to vote for you.

All of this reads as if it were oh so easy, I know.
 

Thanks for your thoughts. Similar concerns over 6. here ;-)

Your views on 2. are strict, which I respect. Personally I would not go so far as to demand that every politician is also a dogmatic philosopher of sorts, in particular since real political parties deal with a huge and sometimes inconsistent range of beliefs, covering diverse constituencies. Therefore, although I like well-reflected people, I think that social reality is so complex that a big theory from which every decision can be derived will often be a bad tool for dealing with unforeseen issues. Economic policy seems to be a case in point, where both Keynesians and supply-siders seem to be politically wrong at different occasions.

I would agree however that people should spell out the core beliefs that guide them, even if they may commit to these beliefs only provisionally.
 

Sorry for the delay... been away.

Re-reading the way I formulated my standpoint on 2, I can see that that would lead a reader to think that I was advocating dogmatism (or even worse, the "ideology" that I then go on to criticise).

I agree, one has to be flexible on individual topics and to be prepared to alter policy in the light of new information, etc. I further agree with you that some topics are so large and complex that a dogmatic approach can only lead to "unexpected consequences."

What I would insist,though, is that a politician be able coherently to articulate his or her political, ethical and philosophical belief structure and to relate his or her policies to those. As I indicated in the other points, this gives a good wayfinder in working out just where the borders need to be defined in those fluid and complex situations that will occur.

Whatever you decide, good luck.
 
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