‘The challenge of modernity’, as the great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci put it, ‘is to live without illusions without becoming disillusioned’. If you want to stay healthy, you should keep to eating a balanced diet. The same is true in politics.
There’s plenty out there you can read which is the political equivalent of junk food. It’s tempting to spend all day clicking on articles like ‘Catholic church bans yoga as “not compatible” with Christianity’ or ‘UKIP stand by candidate over ‘Koran is worse than Mein Kampf’ comment’. The content of these (real) articles is like rich, processed red meat products for politicos like me; easy to consume, satisfying, comforting and abundant. Indeed, without the occasional burger, or shot of ideological crack, it’s possible to become anaemic, weak, unable to concentrate and vulnerable to disease. If you don’t occasionally allow yourself to be a naked partisan, cheering on your side and jeering at other parties it’s easy to end up a stale, stuffy academic, resignedly decrying all the problems of the world from your ivory tower with no drive, no passion, no loyalty and no excitement.
On the other hand it is equally, if not more important to eat your greens. It’s depressing and a little bit repellent to observe those who survive entirely on a political diet of chips and chicken nuggets. Without an intellectual anchor to guide their politics, they become shameless hacks, mob-like cheerleaders for their tribe whether they are right or wrong, with no apparent awareness of nuance or complexity; sheep doing whatever the wolves tell them to do.
This anchor can only come from study, thought, reading, debate and honest discussion. Without a bit of mental junk food, politics becomes boring, elitist and, Gramsci would rightly claim, disillusioning. Without enough thought and consideration, politics becomes crude, violent, flimsy and shallow and we start to live by illusions. One motivates us but fails to educate, the other educates but fails to motivate. We need both.
Now, in the words of Monty Python I shall…
…and finish writing a post on Liberalism that I planned to write just now, but got sidetracked.