Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Your Moment In Intellectual Ambition

Every year I set aside one challenging book to read.  Not just a tricky novel or an in depth history text, but something hard.

This year, I'm reading Reinhold Niebuhr's The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

Though Niebuhr is remembered as a Christian ethicist, he's really a political scientist with a Christian point of view.  He wrote the book in the last few years of World War II, but - if you'll forgive my flirting with Godwin's Law - this passage from the early part of the book resonates with me today.

According to the Scripture, "the children of this world (children of darkness) are in their generation wiser than the children of light." This observation fits the modern situation.  Our democratic civilization has been built, not by children of darkness but by foolish children of light.  It has been under attack by the children of darkness, by the moral cynics, who declare that a strong nation need acknowledge no law beyond its own strength. It has come close to complete disaster under this attack, not because it accepted the same creed as the cynics; but because it underestimated the power of self-interest, both individual and collective, in modern society.  The children of light have not been as wise as the children of darkness.

The children of darkness are evil because they know no law beyond the self.  They are wise, though evil, because they understand the power of self-interest.  The children of light are virtuous because they have some conception of a higher law than their own will.  They are foolish because they do not understand the power of self-will.

Obama cites Niebuhr as his favorite philosopher.  Certainly, he has to understand that the power of self-interest is profound, and the GOP is the party of self-interest.  If the Democratic party is to win as the party of the common good, then it will have to cope with the power of self-interest and potentially appeal to that power of self-interest when it can.

That strikes me as being at the heart of the "class warfare" tactic.  Obama is looking out for your self-interest.  Romney is looking out for his own.

That resonates, I think.  Expect more of it.

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