Before there was politics, there was sex and love, games and sports, spirituality and art, glory and honor.
As civilization became increasingly complex, governments were instituted to protect this primordial pursuit of happiness in a more structured and equitable way. As Aristotle put it, “every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good.”
In this, government is much like the trellises placed in gardens which allow certain plants to grow upwards, and support the weight of their branches and fruit.
Today, however, we seem to be exclusively tending to the trellises in the garden of modern society, rather than its plants. We spend so much energy debating the best way to protect the Good, but insufficient energy investing in a Good worth protecting. We argue relentlessly about the form our political structures should take, but what, exactly, are we trying to grow?
Czech statesman and communist dissident Václav Havel observed, “A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact, the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.”
It’s hard to develop the better life that leads to a better system, when every aspect of the former is tainted by some slant on the latter. When every media outlet, entertainment avenue, celebrity, influencer, brand, and church — regardless of how tenuous their connection to politics — becomes entwined with partisanship, and every human good gets slotted into two artificially bifurcated sides, we lose the raw materials from which we could not only build happiness, but develop a vision of the system we desire, and the humane capacities which would enable it to function.
If everything is about politics, we cannot cultivate a healthy Good, and if we don’t cultivate a healthy Good, we cannot have healthy politics.