Monday, July 23, 2007

Transcendence, Hope, & Ecstasy

[Thanks to Nicky Rose for the post] Fear of Failing Submitted by Nicky Rose on Sun, 07/22/2007 - 2:05pm. A historical look at political passion and fun by Barbara Ehrenreich Perhaps the best kept political secret of our time is that politics, as a democratic undertaking, can be not only “fun,” in the entertaining sense, but profoundly uplifting, even ecstatic. My generation had a glimpse of this in May 1968 and at other points in that decade, when strangers embraced in the streets and the impossible briefly seemed within reach. Insurgencies again and again engender such moments of transcendence and hope. People danced in the streets of Havana when Batista fled in 1959; 30 years later, they danced on the Berlin wall when East Germany succumbed to the democracy movement. There was revelry in Republican Spain in the 1930s, and “drunken anarchy” in St. Petersburg in 1917. In moments such as these, politics overflows the constraints of parties, committees, elections, and legislation and becomes a kind of festival. Today, no one imagines that the political process might be a source of transcendent passion. Throughout the world, voter participation is declining, even in those places, like the former Communist countries, where multi-party elections should still be expected to possess the charm of novelty. Nothing underscores the emotional desiccation of the democratic process more than the American political conventions, which reached such a depth of tedium in 1996 that the television networks threatened not to return in 2000. On the rare occasions when we encounter it today, political passion is likely to seem exotic, anachronistic—a remnant of some heroic past. A writer for Harper’s, for example, attended a concert in Madrid last year commemorating the Lincoln Brigade, and reported: “... the place is on fire. The passion is palpable, a heavy intoxicating aroma you practically taste as you inhale... When Labordeta... starts into his ‘Cancion de la Libertad’ (‘Song of Freedom’), they [the audience] go nuts. They sing along, bouncing the roof of the stadium on its struts...Thousands of young fists pump the air. Everywhere people are weeping... I’m having trouble not weeping myself, though for what I’m not sure—perhaps because political passion like this seems irretrievably lost in my life.” We don’t have much of a vocabulary for this sort of experience, certainly not in English anyway. There are rich and nuanced ways of talking about the love between two people, ranging from simple sexual attraction to ecstatic communion and undying mutual commitment, but there are few words to describe the love, if it is that, that can unite thousands of people at a time. “Community” is the word we are most likely to reach for, but in the mouths of politically centrist “communitarians” (of whom Hillary Clinton is the best-known representative) it has become another code for the kind of moral conformity that conservative leaders are always promising to impose. Besides, great moments of political euphoria are not celebrations of pre-existing communities, but the creation of community out of masses of people who are, for the most, part, formerly unknown to each other. In the revolutionary crowd, old hierarchies and hostilities dissolve. Black and white marched together in the American movements of the 1960s; Catholics and Huguenots embraced in the French Revolution. United by a common goal and emboldened by the strength of numbers, we “fall in love” with total strangers. »

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