Jonathan Althouse Cohen - son of interesting lawprof blogger Ann Althouse - has an interesting discussion of where politics ought to be placed in the grand scheme of things, citing Bryan Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher. According to Magee,
Even on their own terms the politics and business of the world were absurdly evanescent. One week politicians, people who worked in the City, and people whose job it was to report their doings would all be kept out of their beds by a financial crisis which, six months later, would be little talked of. By that time perhaps there would be . . . a corruption scandal in local government, which would then be followed by a flurry of public concern over crimes of violence, which in its turn would be pushed out of people's minds by their fury over some proposed new tax; and so it would go on. Each of these things would seem important for a time, then each would pass away and scarcely matter again except to historians. In fact, the truth is that most of them made little or no difference even to the daily lives of most of the population living through them. People immersed in this stream of ever-changing events were filling their minds with . . . ephemera and trivia, what people in electronics mean by "noise." (254)Cohen and Magee consider art - good art that strives for beauty and not just political content - to be more permanent and a more superior occupation and hobby than politics. the discussion goes on to cite things that are more vitality-inspiring than politics, and which should be more important in one's life. Love is also discussed as important - the love of family and friends, of the experiences of life itself. That is a damning critique of politics right there - politics is not life, but is a meta-critique of life in some ways. Making your life revolve around politics, is like making your letter writing revolve around the addresses on the envelopes. Sure, the envelopes matter, but they are only an important subsidiary to the communication itself.
The comments are pretty interesting too, and one really caught my eye.
I'd love to be able to let politics slide further down the list of important things that occupy my mind and time, but alas, some of my fellow citizens will not allow me that pleasure. Once the do-gooders decided that every aspect of life is political, and deserved the "wise", guiding hand of politicians, they forced me pay attention... if only for self-preservation.I think there's truth in that, though there's more than the commenter probably thought. People on the right and left who want to use the state as an instrument to shape how men are, to reshape man, bring this on us.
So you really want to know my politics? I don't owe loyalty to a party, though I believe pretty strongly that the government that governs least, governs best. There are good objective arguments for this, and if you've read Hayek or Nock you know them. The arguments point out the impossibility of achieving utopia and fixing things, particularly from a central government using coersive power. But those men just give me the philosophical underpinnings for what I want intuitively: I want to be left alone to do my own thing, and I want others left alone to do their own thing, with limits imposed only where we would start to injure others. Is this selfish? Yeah, maybe. But I want other people to be equally free to pursue what makes them happy too.
Most of today's politics is about imposing our personal whims on other people, and I don't like that very much. The only way to justify a lot of these intrusions is to keep people whipped up in a frenzy of concern about the flavor of the month, then when 'we' get whatever it is we want, to move on to the next new frenzy over the next big public crisis, and impose a new control on society to fix that one, then move on again. It's such a common pattern of political debate that we usually don't stop to question the big picture, what kind of a society we're creating. Most of the time when I raise a current issue, it's not because I've thrown in my lot with partisans on one side or the other; it's usually because one side is trying to impose another set of controls, and the other side is opposing it with the usual eschatological partisanship. Oh yeah, we're building a legacy alright, but I'm not sure it's the one we're shooting for, with our good intentions and passing but pressing concerns. It is in this way a giant net of laws and regulations is slowly built up to cover all society, constraining it and wrecking the general liberty which is our natural state. Not my concept, but Alexis de Tocqueville's.
So that's my philosophy - do your own thing, man, and let your conscience be your guide. And don't believe the hype.