Politics and the Realms of Being: A Reply

Politics and the Realms of Being: A Reply

Politics, as everyone knows, is the art of drawing distinctions. It involves, to be sure, the pursuit and use—as well as the misuse—of power; but we seek that power for the potential good, not the evil, that its possession affords. We do not, therefore, legislate on all things. Nor do we seek always to control the same things, irrespective of place and circumstance. Nor, again, do we endeavor to act blindly even in pursuit of the “right” things at the right time. As rational men, we try to employ our power wisely; we distinguish, we discriminate, between its beneficent and baneful applications.

So much can be said for any sensible theory of just or limited political power; and it is often said impressively. But the articulation of such general principles is the beginning, not the end, of political wisdom. For in this form, the principles are no more than guides to action; they tell us little or nothing of the substantive merits of any particular issue. It is the virtue of Hannah Arendt’s reflections on segregation that they seek both to enunciate “right” general principles and to apply those principles in a “right” resolution of the most pressing and important domestic issue of our time. In these respects her argument moves on a level of discourse that raises significant theoretical as well as factual issues. Unfortunately, however, her notion of what constitutes a valid political principle, along with her recommended course of action, testifies more to her sense of misguided courage than it does to her power of insight.

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Lima