February 4, 2012
Here is a thought perhaps: The most enduring, the most constant aspect of politics and political life is injustice. That is, injustice is far more common than justice in politics. Injustice may be said to characterize political life, which is one reason why decent people are not apt to go “into politics.”
Here is another thought perhaps: Those who are considered “the greats” when it comes to political analysis, those like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and others agree that injustice is the most common aspect of political life. However, the difference between those called “the ancients” and those called “the moderns” is that the former seek for ways to tame or redeem political life, through philosophy or education/playfulness or religion, while the latter, despite the prevalence of injustice, embrace politics and the political life unashamedly. For the former, the prevalence of injustice in the political arena leads to a search for alternative arenas where human beings are not, necessarily, tainted by injustice. For the latter, the prevalence of injustice leads not to a search for alternative arenas but to what is presented as a “manly” or “vigorous” or even “existential” embrace of a political life, snubbing one’s nose, at it were, at injustice. As Machiavelli wrote, what the prince needs to learn is “how not to be good” and to use this “talent” as needed. For Machiavelli, it was the desire to be good that needed to be tamed, not the desire to do injustice.
And isn’t this the key to what we moderns call “realism?” The modern realist says: “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t the world be a nice place if we could afford to be just all the time? Oh, but we cannot afford that, anymore than we can afford to create an economy that is humane and just. We must embrace injustice, not blink when we have to incinerate lots of human beings and do other things that are, let us admit it, unjust by any normal reasoning. By our embrace of injustice, we prove our virtu, which is not to be confused with virtue as understood by those who contemplated imaginary republics.”
But modern realism is only realistic if we make certain assumptions, most importantly, if we assume that we humans are not harmed, irreparably and deeply, by doing injustice. If this assumption is wrong, than what parades itself as “realism” is not “realistic.” And don’t the facts that we can imagine a just political order and that this imagining appeals to us, that it draws us to it, prove that we know, deep down, that doing injustice is wrong, deeply and irreparably wrong? That is, our souls long for justice just as they long for beauty, for community, and for redemption, confirming rather than denigrating our imaginations and teaching us what is most fully human.