Politics is the art of governing or the practice of exercising control over a community. What separates political control from simple persuasion is the threat or use of force. Most people don’t think much about the tyrannical nature of politics when force is combined with the thousands of pages of federal law on the books.
Every law limits our freedom. For the oppressed in the society, it matters little if the rule of the government is based on the divine right of kings or a 51% majority of one political party.
At its best, politics can protect freedom by using force against anyone who uses force against others. It can provide a court system to adjudicate disputes. Beyond that, it is best to think of politics as burdening someone with the cost of compliance.
Many people have illusions about politics. They believe political force can remain pure while it “levels the playing field” through redistribution and “helps the engine of America” through crony capitalism. But this manner of politics is tyranny and oppression. It is using force to achieve the whims of the leaders.
Politics should not have power over every aspect of our lives. Giving it such power will not make people happy or fulfilled. Politics is not essential to life, but many things arguably are.
First, of course, are family and close relationships. Studies consistently show that physical touch, love and attachment help prolong life and increase happiness.
In particular, significance stems heavily from family. As is often said, “Family is forever.” Loving others demands risk. Oftentimes your risk is safest with family.
At the end of life, people regret the risks they didn’t take. Relationships can be messy, but they are generally worth the effort. Having someone or something else to live for can prolong even the lives of the terminally ill.
We wouldn’t expect the government to intrude on relationships. However, that’s what it does. The government has a monopoly on legal marriage and all the related financial and estate planning laws surrounding it. It limits who and when you can legally marry and charges you a fee in the process. It restricts the value of gifts you can pass on to your friends and family both in life and in death. And it discourages marriage and familial ties in the tax code by penalizing married families while rewarding single-parent families with benefits.
The government does not need to make families stronger. It needs to get out of the business of family altogether.
A second and related essential is cherished communities. For some, their cherished community is their family. Others associate more strongly with their neighborhood, place of worship or volunteer community.
When our personal relationships are healthy, we want to connect with a cherished community and give back to others. Love inspires love.
Even small efforts to love and help others can make a significant impact and change people’s lives. Freely given charity is infinitely more virtuous than voting to give away other people’s money. And yet our present government sacrifices the virtuous for rent seeking.
Another realm where people seek a deeper and richer life is in the arena of beauty. The arts may not make life possible, but they make it more meaningful. In the recently released trailer of “The Monuments Men,” actor George Clooney says of art, “If you destroy an entire generation of a people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed.”
It’s through our cultural achievements that we progress. Music, visual arts and creative writing are a few of the ways that people explore transcendent questions. Mathematics, science and technology exhibit our lasting progress. Those who have made strides in any of these fields are blessed with the satisfaction of having influenced all future humans.
These forms of human achievement are among our goals in life: to better the lives of others through our labor.
Government, in contrast, can no more create good art than it can be a good parent. Artists are rightfully remembered for their greatest creation. Politicians are rightfully remembered for their worst act.
The wonder of beauty can also be found in a reverence for nature. Places in the world like the redwood forests of California have a magical quality. Other venues that we create ourselves by seeding, tending and cultivating inspire awe.
We may find a special connection with urban locales like Central Park or the back alleys of Venice. Each place is the unique expression of a community’s charm and commerce.
A cooperative government can play a positive role in supporting such efforts, but we trust New Yorkers to know more about what is required to tend their environment than for the state of Alaska. The greater the distance between meddling government bureaucrats and the object of their legislation, the more harm than good is likely to be done.
The final and perhaps the greatest realm where people find significance is authentic spirituality, which is more than simply being religious or associating with a specific tradition.
Authentic spirituality renews the totality of our life. The spiritual truths we learn change the way we live each day. They shape our very identity.
Politics, especially entitlements or wealth distribution, focuses primarily on the demographics that divide us. It pits black against white, female against male, unmarried against married, unproductive against productive. Authentic spirituality diminishes these differences in favor of peace and goodwill toward all. It encourages individuals to extend their hearts to all as though they were family.
Politics sees spirituality as a threat to its assumption of absolute power. But spirituality should transcend politics. We venerate political power much more than we should.
By misunderstanding the establishment clause to deny free expression, our courts suggest we should contain spiritual values and keep them out of the public square. And they discourage the kindnesses of authentic spirituality in favor of a sterile and mechanical rules-based value system.
Compartmentalizing spiritual considerations into a small subset of our lives lacks authenticity. We long for a more meaningful life. At times these issues demand our attention and contemplation. We can start by relying on our spiritual traditions, but an authentic spirituality goes beyond these outward practices.
Most people find meaning and significance in the five areas described here. They are where we find love, beauty and truth in our world. Work in any of these areas brings greater value to the world than striving toward political solutions.
We asked George Kinder about people’s life goals and he said, “Sometimes I wonder why it is that so many of us make foolish decisions around money. Even with good advisors at our side, it seems. And then I reflect that perhaps the reason is that we have never really figured out what money is and what it’s about. We think it’s about spreadsheets and bank balances and rates of return and stock markets and buying things and getting into debt. Or at least those are some of the categories that might come up for us.
“But money really is the great facilitator of what is most meaningful for us in the world. It’s meant to help us put together a life that best expresses our own individual genius, our brilliance, our creativity, our compassion, our values, our integrity, our spirit, our mission in life, what is most important of all that we realize and become.”
This holiday season, remember to cherish the important values of life.
Photos representing family, community, art, places, and spirituality by Jeremy Hiebert, Greek@Duke, Cello Project, Steve Whis, and David Gasson respectively and used here under Flickr Creative Commons.