Politics and the political
One of the greatest difficulties I have teaching is impressing upon students that the political goes far beyond Republican/Democrat, Red/Blue. Indeed, the limited view of politics as the sole domain of political parties turns a blind eye to the role role of political parties in the higher order goal of democratic politics.
The political is about disagreement- sometimes disagreement about what is, but more often disagreement about what ought to be. It's usually when we disagree about how things ought to be that we start to argue about what is. Thus, politics is a process of decision making and it appears in many aspects of life such as, family politics and office politics.
I have begun to believe that part of the reason impressing upon students not only what politics is but also the need for it is that it also requires a bit of a personal journey in how individuals view the world around them and the willingness to share these perspectives. Whether culturally normative or part of the cognitive development of 20-somethings, few have deeply pondered what they believe nor the more important component, why they believe it.
In today's routine perusal of internet readings, I came across the democratic theorist, Chantal Mouffe's, Agnostics: Thinking the world politically. Âll quotes below are from the book and they are here because I think them well said and handy.
The political refers to [the] dimension of antagonism which can take many forms and can emerge in diverse social relations. It is a dimension that can never be eradicated. 'Politics' on the other hand, refers to the ensemble of practices, discourses and institutions that seeks to establish a certain order and to organize human coexistence in conditions which are always potentially conflicting, since they are affected by the dimension of 'the political.'
The political is less concerned with the individual as it is with collective identities thereby creating us's and them's. Politics "is about the constitution of a 'we' which requires as its very condition of possibility the demarcation of a 'they'"
When people limit politics to partisan politics and moreover, to something distant from themselves rather than a process in which everyone often engages, then they also limit appreciation in the ways in which we relate, differ, organize, agree and disagree. People often appeal to experts for technological fixes to their problems with 'others' because they fail to more deeply consider that underlying disagreement often is in regards to different ideas of what ought to be or as Mouffe calls them, people's different 'passions.' Rationalistic frameworks assumes consensus among groups of different passions is possible based on reason and logic, but it overlooks that people have different values and want thereby leading to conflicting reasons and wants.
The prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions or to relegate them to the private sphere in order to establish a rational consensus in the public sphere. Rather, it is to 'sublimate' those passions by mobilizing them towards democratic designs, by creating collective forms of identification around democratic objectives.