Latterly, we have taken politics more seriously here than hithertofore, but in the end, politics is a second order activity. As the third Marquis of Salisbury once said: ‘God is love and the world is what it is. Explain that?’ The answer is that we are a fallen species. At best we can produce Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and St. Francis; at worse, we produce Attila, Tamur the Lame and Hitler. We have the instincts of angels, and of demons. Too often pleasure lies along the last of these; too often our society encourages that.
Politics can cure relatively few of our ills. At best there are some good people there who wish to make a difference to the lives of their fellows; the problem comes when they take the short cut of using the resources of others to fulfil that purpose. The intention is good, but the State is not a person and it is generally a mistake to allow its cold charity to replace the instincts of the human heart. It is best if politicians remember they are merely instruments in God’s hand and no not imagine they are that hand, or even God himself.
It is easy to stand on the margins and heckle. In my time I have been involved in active politics, and found the experience tiring, unpleasant and ultimately unproductive; perhaps a decade was not enough? It felt like two, and by the end a good shower was necessary.
I am leery of criticising politicians on an individual basis. They do something our society needs, and they do something I would not do. Even when active, it was as an organiser, not a practitioner; wooing votes was not something I could do for myself.
In the US, as in Britain, we have a new version of an old breed of politician – the visionary. It is true that without vision the people perish; it is also true that visions are dangerous things; visionaries more so. When Blair was elected in 1997 I wrote a piece for a national newspaper saying that not even the Archangel Gabriel would be able to fulfil the promises made; so it proved.
People want to be told things are going to be all right in the end; children always want a good night story which ends well. That is not how life is. It is easy, tempting and inevitable that I should end by saying we need a Churchill. But we ought to recall that for the whole of the 1930s he was ignored and in the wilderness. The new democracy did not wish to be lectured or told that all was not going to be well. It wanted to believe that there would be ‘peace in our time’; it wanted to believe that Hitler was not evil in human form; it wanted, and got, its good night story. It also reaped the whirlwind.
‘Blood, toils, tears and sweat’, that was what Churchill promised us in 1940. That same democracy which had wanted pretty lies, woke up and took the truth on the chin. Our politicians are wrong to underestimate our capacity for hearing the truth spoken; as they are to underestimate our need for fairy stories.