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A Political Life Without Ideas or Values

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People look at a poster of Israel Prime Minister and governing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu at a voting center in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, Thursday, December 26, 2019.
People look at a poster of Israel Prime Minister and governing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu at a voting center in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, Thursday, December 26, 2019.Credit: Ariel Schalit,AP

Politics as a sphere that is shaped by a struggle of ideas and causes no longer exists. That’s the conclusion emerging from Haaretz editor Aluf Benn’s fascinating and important analysis of the voting breakdown in the last election campaigns, in regard to each specific community’s socioeconomic status. Benn put a stethoscope to the heart of modern politics – the idea – and heard nothing. Nothing moved. A deafening silence.

It’s important to understand: Modern, liberal politics without ideas or ideology is really a body without a soul. The political procedure’s purpose is to enable a discussion, a decision and an implementation of ideas and values that the citizens believe in and want to act upon. This was the great promise of “the political era:” creating states molded by the ideas and thoughts of their citizens. When there are no ideas and values – what’s left?

The big words written and uttered with pathos in the social media and newspapers are no motivation for real action or for change. Everything is frozen, standing still, artificial. Benn shows to a large extent that the pubic votes automatically, going through the motions. People put more thought into drafting a shopping list. It appears that politics’ situation today is like a lizard’s tail after it is amputated – it can still move for some time, but these are only reflexes, for it is a dead limb.

I’ve already written about the reasons for the death of politics as it has been known in the past 100 years – the politics that took form in the second half of the 19th century – in an article titled “The end of politics.” It regards the relevance issue, the inability of the liberal political agenda to adapt itself to the fragile, rapidly changing reality of the 21st century. It cannot adapt to the fact that the fundamental modes of human existence – space and time – are changing and leading to a change in almost everything, while the political discourse and political thought modes are busy surviving, freezing reality, manipulating.

Almost nobody has expectations anymore that the political order, the state, would solve their problems, would take care of them. A private electric company, private education, private hospitals – are all part of the growing trend of the nation state’s loss of relevance. And this is before we calculate the large corporations acting in our lives. If the nation state of the end of the 19th century claimed to be its citizens’ “big daddy,” then now, also due to technology, the citizens have opened their eyes and discovered that this daddy is no longer relevant to their lives. The citizens’ lack of faith in the state is at the root of their indifference toward it, toward its political order. It’s also at the root of Benn’s analysis. “Everyone’s corrupt” may be the most representative statement of this indifference.

This doesn’t mean that at the moment there’s no real urgency to take part in the immediate political game. Of course there is. The closer the old order nears its end, so it becomes more dangerous, more blatant, more lawless. The citizens must restrain it as soon as possible. Anyone interested in the future, who invests energy and thought in drafting and decoding strategy – in both the diplomatic-security and business spheres – must be aware of the wider context of “The end of politics,” of the end of the concept of the state as God, as an almost absolute power, as an entity that all comes from and returns to. Even if it takes time to see this clearly, we’re already there. The public, with its senses, already feels it.

It’s interesting in this context to observe that this week, for the sixth year in a row, the Bank of Israel missed its inflation targets. The monetary policy isn’t decoding the changes in reality correctly, and in any case doesn’t work anymore. Is there a better example than this for the degeneration of the overall political order?