In this series of articles I link the Jane Austen and political threads on the blog, discussing the similarities between our modern response to Jane Bennett and Barack Obama’s New Politics.
- Jane Bennet and Barack Obama
- The Candour of Jane Bennet
- Jane Bennet and Barack Obama
- Original Sin (postscript)
While writing this series of articles on candour, our potential for realising our better, divine selves, it occurred to me how equally poorly understood is the Christian doctrine of original sin. (I have no wish to get tangled in theological debate here so I would like to confine myself to some general remarks, speaking as a non-Christian.)
Nothing is more common than to hear non-Christians pointing to the doctrine of original sin as proof of how pessimistic and depressing Christianity is. Even, I am sorry to say, some Buddhists who should really know better. In doing so they will point to the Buddhist doctrine of Buddha Nature, that we all have the potential to attain enlightenment and become Buddhas.
He’s never come up with an explanation about how he would actually transform politics, and his conventional substance is beginning to overshadow his unconventional style.
— David Brooks, Combat and Composure, New York Times, 6th May
I’m on record as saying that Hillary Clinton’s advocacy of a gas-tax holiday, while it wasn’t good policy, didn’t rise to the level of a crime.
Judging from last night’s results, however, it was worse than a crime: it was a mistake.
— Paul Krugman, Talleyrand and the gas tax holiday, New York Times, 7th May
I could have picked dozens of quotes insisting that Obama hasn’t explained how his New Politics works, yet from nowhere he has turned the political scene upside down, eschewed PAC funding, signed up 1.5 million donors, crushed one the most formidable (if incompetent) political machines of recent times and quite conceivably will thrash the Republicans in a landslide in the autumn (it is of course impossible to predict, but as far as any of these things are predictable, this looks on the cards). The junior senator from Illinois, not even on the national political scene when the Iraq war was launched, has got himself into a position where Washington could soon be his feet. Could some people be failing to see the wood for the trees? I think it is interesting that the old media, with some honourable exceptions, is having such difficulty understanding Obama’s core message.
A recent posting to the Austen-L mailing list, titled the ‘desperation of candour’, illustrates the thoroughly bad press that old-style candour generally receives. In it we were told that Austen began as a satirist, and retained her critical stance throughout (I couldn’t agree more—it is difficult to disagree with this), that while endeavouring to read and understand the novel with the candour of Jane Bennet would do justice to one’s heart, Jane Bennet sees the world the way she does because it would be too painful to see it as Elizabeth sees it, and Jane finally agrees to Elizabeth’s observations of the hypocrisy and duplicity of the Bingley sisters. Jane’s candour comes out of desperation, desiring peace, not through any conviction about the truth but driven by a psychological vulnerability. Austen was too much of a realist we are told: Jane Bennet was only one voice, and certainly not the definitive perspective from which to make sense of Pride and Prejudice.
(or The New Politics)
After apologising for combining Jane Austen with more contemporary, worldly topics in the blog, it would be as well to make an explicit connection. This I will try to do with Barack Obama and his New Politics.
As with practically every philosophical article on this blog it is about how we are losing our minds because we are losing sight of our minds—the modern tendency to fixate on and overemphasise the external play of phenomenon, to the extent that we lose sight of inner, psychological factors, in this case, losing site of the distinction between cynicism and candour.