Thursday, November 06, 2008

On not writing about politics

It is tempting to write about politics: that is, to moralize about the outcome of popular elections. If you are a blogger you get more hits, more comments. And you have the pleasure of belonging to a social affair with leaders and causes and allies and meetings and decorations and cheers, and even a few enemies—um, opponents—“to give,” as Arnold says, “the happy sense of difficulty overcome.” To march in a parade is so much fun! To wander off by yourself is such a drag. (Dang, what is wrong with you?)

When my son asks me why it is wrong to cheat, especially when you don’t cheat and the other guy does and doesn’t get caught, I tell him that the other guy does get caught—by God. “Political talk,” Michael Oakeshott says, “is inevitably concerned with local and transitory situations,” and one wishes instead to be concerned with the ultimate and eternal. I am not at all sure that what I tell my son is true. The boy who does not cheat is placing himself at a competitive disadvantage. But perhaps he should act as if it makes a difference to eternity. Perhaps then it will. Perhaps a few of us should find something else to talk about besides the local and transitory.

Update: Patrick Kurp traces a remarkably similar attitude in Thoreau, pointing out the astonishing fact that “In [his journal’s] more than 2 million words, he never mentions Lincoln by name.” How many contemporary American writers have failed to mention Bush?

Update, II: “Read not the Times. Read the eternities.”—Thoreau, “Life Without Principles” (1863).