Feb 282016

Link to PDF:
The Impossibility of Politics, Howard Richards

Introductory Paragraphs

The Impossibility of Politics
and how to make politics possible

Howard Richards
Limache, Chile
February 2016

Politicians are not dumber than other human beings. They are no more wicked or greedier, no more mendacious. Of course among them there are stupid people, evil people, greedy people, and liars. But everywhere there are. Everywhere there are also intelligent, benevolent, generous and honest people. I suggest that what most distinguishes politicians from the practitioners of other trades and professions is not the presence or absence of any mental or moral quality but rather the fact that they attempt to achieve objectives that in the age in which we live cannot be achieved. Politicians might be joined in the category of practitioners of the impossible by medical doctors if it were imagined that the task of medicine is to prevent death. But medicine does not in fact seek immortality for its patients, but only to achieve for them a healthy life during the years prior to the inevitable fatal outcome of every human life. Politicians, in contrast, seek to govern. Governing is impossible.

The thesis that politics today is impossible (or stated a bit less briefly, that the goals that politics sets out to achieve are unattainable) is so far more a provocation than a hypothesis. To make it into a meaningful claim I have to assign meanings to the word “politics” and to the word “impossible.” Only when there is some conceptual clarity concerning what my thesis affirms and what it denies will it be time to give reasons for believing it or not believing it.