The Political Broom

Nowadays one hears more and more about alt- politics, on both the political left and the right. One thing that stands out is the divergence within these alternative groups. Should we focus on identity or strip it away? Is democracy a good thing that is under attack, or is it the source of our troubles? What about free speech? Equality? And how about fraternity? Pick any of the old standards, and it seems to break up the alt ends of the spectrum differently. The result is that the political spectrum looks like a two ended broom, with alternate pictures of the left and right bristling in multiple directions.

I suspect that this is because conservatism and liberalism are defined relative to the present. The handle of the broom is the present: the conservative wants to conserve aspects of the present, and the liberal or progressive wants the present to move in a certain direction. The further ends of the political spectrum share the assumption that you can't get there from here: no amount of conservation (on the right) or guided stepwise progression (on the left) will get us to a just or well-ordered future.

Alternative politics then necessarily rejects our shared history. The left considers that historical injustices are too deeply rooted in the timeline, and so a slow progression would trim the weeds without removing their root system. The right would agree about the roots. But for the right, it is the present that is rooted in the past, and which seems inevitably to grow out of it. The result is that both left and right must reject the timeline.

But this means that alt politics carries the burden of starting from scratch, something which neither conservatives nor progressives have ever tried to do. Le Corbusier called a house a machine for living in. The definition would be much more aptly applied to a political order. Le Corbusier showed how difficult it is to start from scratch and build good houses, and the century in which he lived made rather the same point about politics more generally.