Hope and fear have outlined the political discourse since the beginnings of modern democracy. The actors are compelled to either fight for something or to fight against something, and this leads to campaigns that are either optimistic for what we can obtain, or fearful of that which are trying to avoid. At no time has this pattern been more clear than right now, in an arena that is currently more ferocious than it’s been at any moment in recent history. Still there is no doubt in my mind that the greatest battles in American political history have not been fought merely between the Republican and Democratic parties, nor even between the philosophies of liberalism and conservatism, but rather between the ancient human virtues of bravery and fear.
Conservatism first of all stands among the greatest of human phenomena because it has proven to be the living, breathing manifestation of fear influencing the way a society organizes itself. Going back to the very dawn of the Republic, when nearly every American feared to break from the crown, the most fearful conservative minority resisted independence and chose to move to England following the revolution, in their continuing paranoia that the new nation would not endure. They were called loyalists.
Nearly a century later, half the nation opposed emancipation, fearing loss of wealth and probably the impact of long-brewing karma; yet out from the sad contradiction of slavery, and through the dramatic human loss of the Civil War, America would still progress toward the wisdom of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, and the new Republican Party Lincoln established.
But Abraham was too feared to be allowed to live. Too radical. Too liberal. To note, the fact that Republicans were the liberals back then, and the Democrats were the conservatives, only highlights the gross fluidity and ultimate uselessness of political parties in our society. But parties will always exist as long as we let fear divide us and as long as we place such stock in our differences, so that we feel the need to assign names allowing us to more easily distinguish ourselves from one another.
I’ve chosen to believe that we are currently a free-thinking people, despite the media having shown its destructive capabilities in the past, its tendencies toward sensationalism and propaganda in the legacies of Hearst and Murdoch. But I wonder whether this freedom that we still have will always allow room for fear to influence our state of mind.
There are those today who are steadfast in resisting governmental regulation, because the fear of losing control of their rights and property outweighs their belief in the communitarian ideals of assisting the less fortunate and fostering a more economically balanced society, a stronger middle class. There are those who oppose gun control because they fear having no defense from a phantom menace, which must cloud their hope or their reasoning that fewer people might be killed in their homes and out in the streets. There are those who clamor for higher military funding or for border security, because they fear foreign invasion and influence more than they must believe in global understanding and integration.
I’m not saying that their fears are not justified. I think they often are justified. I’m saying that they let the fears steer their ship, and dictate their principles.
These issues should never be labeled political, because at their core, they are very human issues. Emotional issues. I am convinced that the word ‘politics’ today acts as a lazy blanket, some default and often belittling label for matters that are universal, and laced deep in the roots of human history. To me, they are matters which should not be debatable in the end for those who are brave, living in the land of the free.