Buzzwords are not recent phenomena. Ever since I got into politics I have been surrounded by (especially in comment sections of internet newspapers) people throwing them around, as though they were a silver bullet to winning any political argument; words such as ‘bigoted’, ‘sexist’, ‘open-minded’, ‘cuck’, ‘misogyny’, ‘snowflake’, the slightly more complex ‘wrong side of history’, and of course the famous ‘racist’. And indeed, it seems to have worked, as many politicians in interviews have done all they could in order not to be called one of those terrible words, whilst people who have been agreed upon as sexist, racist, or snowflakes could not help themselves with the best of arguments.
It can be appealing to reduce politics to simple buzzwords. It makes them easy to understand, and it makes it simple for the everyman to get into politics and start supporting your side – while your neighbour John may not understand what entails responsible fiscal policy and why it’s a good thing, or the deontological ethics behind the pro-life argument in the abortion debate, dismissing a policy that affects one race more than another as ‘racist’ is very easy. Even the Conservative government, seen by many as overly posh, uses the buzzwords of “university attendance rates”, “low unemployment”, or “social justice”.
In that, many politicians become fixated in those buzzwords. They go on constantly about racism, equality, and whatnot, but they never get to the core of why what the buzzwords entail is either good or bad. As a result, they appear to lose sight of what politics is really about.
So what’s the purpose of politics? Few nowadays still believe that politicians go into politics truly to maximise the society’s welfare, as some of the early utopian democrats claimed. Public choice theory treats politicians as ‘rational’ agents, and hedonistic utilitarians, claiming that their only aim is to remain in power. It does not deny the existence of principled politicians but justifies their existence by the claim that politicians need to be reliable to receive any sort of votes from any sort of an electorate. They hope to attain a position, if they do not have one at the time, with a change in the electorate’s composition or opinion, rather than their own stances.
Of course, public choice is wrong to assume that every single politician is a godless hedonist, but nor is every politician a virtuous ideologue. We can see public choice reflects politicians’ behaviour concerning buzzwords; most politicians are educated people who know that there exists some higher ethical meaning behind phrases like ‘income equality’, but instead of focusing on the issues behind income equality (such as prosperity or justice) they are more than happy to sacrifice the latter two, more complex values, in the name of the former, simple buzzword that sells to the electorate.
It is not a surprise that buzzwords are so popular. Few people live their lives according to principles or believe in any sort of higher values. People do not know what they want. In modern Britain, people’s values are no longer grounded in God, nor even in the Enlightenment ethics of duty or utility. They live in a miserable pursuit of some material good, hoping it’d make them happier, and are willing to cheer for any policy that sells to them. The average John’s understanding of ethics is not complex enough to see the loss of utility that results from racism, to see how it’s a vice, to see how it’s ungodly, or to see how it contradicts one’s duty – he simply knows it’s wrong, but when one becomes fixated on the medium rather than the purpose, the purpose may be lost in the pursuit of the medium.
God and Democracy
The problem is even greater – not only is a proper grounding for politics unpopular, and buzzwords favoured, but it is indeed demonised. Often we hear that religion has no place in politics, or that politicians who put a certain value, like nation or equality first, are called ideologues. If one is to make laws that encompass the entire country, surely they must be universalisable – they must be grounded in some objective ethical idea, such as God, nation, or equality. It is ridiculous to think that laws should be made on an arbitrary basis, where a good law is good because I say so.
Perhaps the most striking modern example is democracy. People are ready to reject anything that goes against it and do anything for it, but it holds no inherent moral value; it is merely a man-made set of political ideas that happens to have been popular in the last century. The purpose of democracy is what ought to be concentrated on instead – it is meant to provide justice and prosperity, however, more than once has it happened that in the name of democracy legitimate governments have been overthrown in foreign interventions, leaving behind dead and their countries in turmoil, not providing for any prosperity. Maybe Gaddafi was indeed a dictator without much regard for democracy, but Lybia and her people were more prosperous under him than they are at the time of writing – so what have we gained from democracy there?
When looking at a policy, one must always question what’s good about it, and when given an answer, ask what’s good about that. Ask, and ask again, until one gets to the core of the problem, something that holds actual, intrinsic value; and often one will find that the very policy does not actually help the problem, but rather hinders it. It does not make much sense to take away someone’s liberty to speak because, according to you, their ‘bigotry’ takes away others’ liberty to speak or to decrease unemployment because a country with fewer people unemployed is a more prosperous, happier country, by providing for it with low-paid jobs which make people unprosperous and unhappy.