Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Stick Shifts and Practical Politics

I slide into the driver's seat of an ancient Toyota.

“Hit the clutch, turn it on, and grab the gear shift,” my boss says. “Put the car into first gear, let up on the clutch and hit the gas at the same time.”

The car makes a revving noise, and then a grinding noise, and then stops emitting sound altogether.

“Try again.”

Perhaps 15 minutes later, the car starts rolling down the street, jerky gear changes and all.

The Art of Politics

A few years later, I hop into the passenger seat of my roommate's car. He makes a few effortless motions with the clutch and shifter, and we're off in seconds.

There seem to be some forms of knowledge that cannot be learned except by experience. Such as finding that “sweet spot” when using a stick shift. Or learning how to apply spin to a ping-pong ball. Or knowing how to drive a nail in with one hit. I’d suggest that governing is the same way.

In his 1947 essay “Rationalism in Politics,” British conservative Michael Oakeshott argued that there are two types of knowledge: technical knowledge and practical knowledge. Technical knowledge could be learned rationally, I can read a “how-to” guide on driving a stick and I can study the physics of spinning a ping-pong ball or hammering a nail. But if I am unable to apply the technique practically, I wouldn’t say that I know how to drive stick, spin a ping-pong ball, or hammer a nail. That requires practice, or experience.

Governance is the same way. A culture is a living, breathing, moving, changing organism comprised of living, breathing, moving, changing organisms. It needs to be governed by a person who has a “feel” for the way that it moves. The statesman should not only have an understanding human nature and moral principles that endure across time and culture, but also have an understanding of the way that human nature and moral principles interact in his particular culture. He needs to know what is politically feasible, whether a culture can stand having certain laws passed, or certain laws removed.  He understands that unwritten cultural laws have a greater impact on daily life than unwritten laws.

The problem is that politicians today are often elected on the basis of their rational system of government. “Experience” is considered a subsidiary factor as we run our way down each candidates platform to see which one’s policies agree with us the most. It’s why we get candidates making outlandish promises, only to enter office with the realization that most of what they promised is unworkable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have an inexperienced politician who is trying to do what is right than a politician whose policies are hostile to Christianity. But voters often have an opportunity, in the primary, to select a candidate who possesses the skills necessary for effective governance, yet neglect to do so because another candidate’s platform best fits their ideology. Conservatism, after all, isn’t just about rallying around eternal moral truths. It’s about using the tools that we have to conserve those truths and, as best we can, to steer culture back to them.

by Nick Barden
Picture found here.

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Funny cat pictures? Well, maybe not the last one. At least, not too much. Drop a comment below).

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