Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"A public doctrine"

"There is now a more realistic view of the function of politicians; it is seen more clearly…that they are victims as much as initiators and that, since much of what they say is parasitic, it matters much more than Oakeshott, for example implied, what exactly they are parasitic on.

What they are parasitic on is whatever has been established by all those elements in the intelligentsia who can communicate in the widest sense.  This includes politicians, not, however, as autonomous agents or guardians of a mystery but as leading actors playing democratic roles and helping to produce what may be called the public doctrine of this country.

A public doctrine is that loose combination of interlocking assumptions about politics, science, scholarship, morality, education, aesthetics, and religion which constitutes the basis on which decisions are made about public matters.  It is fed from many sources and is expressed with varying degrees of articulation."    - Maurice Cowling, Conservative Essays, The Present Position, 1978

I commented skeptically a few days ago on the poll result that indicated America to be a center right country on the basis of self-identification.  The above observation by Maurice Cowling partially addresses my doubts.  I would argue that along with other factors (political practice is rather obscure, actual politics lags opinion) part of the observable disconnect between poll and practice is that the ‘public doctrine’ in America is still left-liberal.

Note also that if Cowling is correct, and I think he is, then the social/cultural battles which seem out of place and annoy so many people, make perfect sense in that they are about establishing the frame in which political decisions are likely to be made.

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