Politics, citizen’s concerns and the Good Life

Written on June 26, 2008 by Julián Montaño in Philosophy

Julián Montaño


The really interesting last post of Rafael Puyol suggests many questions about Politics and Society.

For instance, up to what point Politics has to do with citizens concerns? That is the theory: Politics should be precisely about that, people’s concerns. In fact in times as early for Politics as Ancient Greece the definition of citizen was that: the human being involved in Politics (“He who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizens of that state” Aristotle, Politics, Book III) so that Politics was understood as the activity with which all citizens manage their concerns.

For a Communitarian like me, the problem started in Modern Age, when Politics became an autonomous activity no more embedded in the life of the community but as a differentiated activity, to be professionalized and to be carried by experts. The rise of Liberalism on the one hand (i.e. the rise of the idea that there is not common good relevant for the good life but just individual interests and common pursuits that should be reconciled by elected experts) and the sinister landing of the Revolutionary ideologies (socialism, communism, i.e. the idea that there is not a good life of the citizens that politics should encourage and help but just the life a community as such, newly constructed under rational terms and therefore to be carried by experts in rational & revolutionary endeavours) ended with the idea of Politics in connection with the good life. Politics became an activity to be measured in terms of efficiency in liberal countries and in terms of social outputs in socialist countries.

Present political parties are the heirs of this split, in fact they still appeal to some of the jargon of their ancestor-ideology. What remains is that Politics is an autonomous realm, and that the link between citizens and parties is the interest of citizens in politics NOT the interest of politicians in how citizens defined their lives, consider good for a flourishing existence, necessary for a common pursuit of Goods. So that the problem is defined in the following terms: how, we, the experts, could explain to no-experts our purposes and program and try to involved them in these?

The problem has no solution, because the terms are mistaken. Politics should be Policy, ideas and management intended to serve to the community, and adapted to the community. But here rises the second problem: the terms with which Politics understand as the target of Politics –the National State, the linguistic/cultural Region, the City- and the real community in which citizens see themselves involved do not coincide. Politics and specially Western Politics and very specially European Politics indentify the community to work for with the National State, an invention of XIX c. (maybe a bit earlier) where State, Nation, and Public Administration share the same frontiers regardless any other consideration. Small and petty Public Administrations have been erected for every part of the State, normally understood in geographical terms. Most of them –and particularly in Continental Europe- are artificially developed as a guarantee that government is closer to citizens interests. The true is neither Regional nor Local governments see citizens’ life and community life as its working target, but maintain their purpose as the implementation of the national politics in a small scale.

When Aristotle says that “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.” (Politics, Book I) he is stating that people define themselves and their community in terms of the goods they want to acquire, goods that include what they consider Good Life. Communities do not match, only accidentally, with National States, as in old times it was. Therefore a change in the structure of the Governmental forms is required for Politics to be closer to an idea of the Good Life, the common good necessary for that good life and therefore citizens’ real interests.

Also if the community defines itself as a common pursuit of goods, Good Life included, this supposes that virtue plays a very important PUBLIC role in the community. Aristotle asks if citizens should have the same virtue as politicians (Book III). The answer is yes, they should aim to the same kind of life. Politicians should have nonetheless another virtue: practical wisdom (phrónesis, prudentia, prudencia). That is to say Politicians must show the ability to localise which are the goods that are really worthwhile to pursue and how to achieve them. For that reason Politicians should be a specific kind of person, that who is prudent and show publicly that he is virtuous. Such a man would be closer to citizens, since she will see politics in terms of the common pursuit of the Good Life, the pivotal concept with which citizens understand their lives and put order to their preferences. Not a professional but a specific kind of person is what a Politician should be.

Changes in governmental forms and changes in the idea of a good politician could be a practical (wise) of closing the gap between relevant social issues and citizens real interest.


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