Friday, 6 April 2012

Political piety

It sometimes seems to me that one of the great changes of the past century or so has been the way piety has been appropriated by politics. Because most political narrative as espoused by the party faithful, apologists and enthusiasts is a kind of piety. It has been called political correctness, but for me, political piety is a better fit.

So in many ways the only real political divide is between political agnostics and the politically pious. Not surprisingly this is regarded with a certain amount of dismay by political agnostics who find the debate has taken on a wholly inappropriate holier than thou aspect.

Political piety has largely taken over what used to be the political left, but has crossed the traditional political divide as well as expanding into environmental, gender and race politics plus the more nuanced politics of victimhood.

Rational argument is of no value against political piety which in any event seems to be a global trend. It is becoming more difficult to be a political agnostic in a world where one is either politically pious or excommunicated – disenfranchised from the debate.

The three main UK political parties have all opted for political piety and will have no dealings with political agnostics except maybe a token maverick or two. Similarly with the BBC, most entertainers and most mainstream media, although a few prominent journalists are political agnostics. 

There are alternative techniques for the political agnostic of course, such as ridicule and satire, to which political piety is rather vulnerable. Even so, the hugely ironic lack of diversity in political life will inevitably cause severe problems as the analytical deficiencies of political piety continue to rot away the fabric of our society and our institutions.


Sam Vega said...

Yes, we have I fear seen the last of professional politicians who are just "doing a job". Max Weber talked of "politics as a vocation", and there is a sense that a politician cannot be sincere or effective unless they live and breathe their beliefs with an all-consuming passion.

Ironically, part of this might be due to the critics and satirists attacking politicians on the grounds of hypocrisy or inconsistency. The response is to make oneself inviolable, to demonstrate that one never departs from one's beliefs, even for a paltry domestic private second.

There is a similar rend in business and administration. The worker who has to demonstrate their "passion" for some shit-awful policy that will be changed in a week's time...

Anonymous said...

Is there a book of standard 'ministerial statements' and perhaps a style-book for officials when they stand to camera and mouth platitudes? Perhaps an officially approved word-processor template knocks out this gargage. Always sounds as if mangled by corporate legal. Makes detecting lies easier though.

Begs the question - what is government for? Is it to give the plebs what they want - Focus Group style, or is it to do what seems right - Patrician style or is it to steer a path that appeases the lobbyists and party funders. The age old question - I reckon Cicero had the clearest handle.

Tim Harford pointed out the dramatic rise in 'transaction workers' over the last 30 years - folk who add an approval or check a correctness or tick a box. Piety Workers perhaps. We need some bold person to tip over the tables in the temples - but look what happened to the last chap to do that!.

Ralph Musgrave said...

I’m not sure that “piety has been appropriated by politics”. My feeling is that Christianity (at least in the form of church attendance) has collapsed in Britain over the last century, and political correctness has stepped in to fill the gap.

You claim there has been an upsurge in political piety rather than political correctness. But surely not every aspect of politics has become more pious? Strikes me that it’s in the sorts of areas that political correctness concerns itself with that we see the really nauseating, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, piety.

James Higham said...

Alternatively, we could be seen as political correctness atheists.

A K Haart said...

Sam - my workplace was going that way. I left.

Roger - I like the phrase Transaction Workers and yes we need a real table-tipper.

Ralph - I think there are cynics who run things in politics. Others approach their politics in what seems to me a pious way.

I'm not using the word in any religious sense, but to bring out similarities in behaviour.

James - PC atheists maybe. I used the word 'agnostic' to keep the baggage light.