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Politics as Polemics
The Converse Clausewitz Principle
Would that I could avoid this political stuff! But I cannot in good conscience retreat into my inner citadel and let my country and its Western heritage be destroyed — the country that makes it possible for me to cultivate the garden of solitude, retreat into my inner citadel, and pursue pure theory for its own sake.
Political discourse is unavoidably polemical.1 The zoon politikon must needs be a zoon polemikon. 'Polemical’ is from the Greek polemos, war, strife. According to Heraclitus of Ephesus, strife is the father of all: polemos panton men pater esti . . . (Fr. 53) I don't know about the 'all,' but strife is certainly at the root of politics. Politics is polemical because it is a form of warfare: the point is to defeat the opponent and remove him from power, whether or not one can rationally persuade him of what one takes to be the truth. It is practical rather than theoretical in that the aim is to implement what one takes to be the truth rather than contemplate it. What one takes to be the truth: that is the problem in a nutshell. Conservatives and leftists disagree fundamentally and non-negotiably. There is little or no common ground left, and if you think otherwise, you are fooling yourself.
Implementation of what one takes to be the truth, however, requires that one get one’s hands on the levers of power. Von Clausewitz held that war is politics pursued by other means. But what could be called the Converse Clausewitz principle holds equally: politics is war pursued by other means.
David Horowitz, commenting on "Politics is war conducted by other means," writes:
In political warfare you do not just fight to prevail in an argument, but rather to destroy the enemy's fighting ability. Republicans often seem to regard political combats as they would a debate before the Oxford Political Union, as though winning depended on rational arguments and carefully articulated principles. But the audience of politics is not made up of Oxford dons, and the rules are entirely different.
You have only thirty seconds to make your point. Even if you had time to develop an argument, the audience you need to reach (the undecided and those in the middle who are not paying much attention) would not get it. Your words would go over some of their heads and the rest would not even hear them (or quickly forget) amidst the bustle and pressure of everyday life. Worse, while you are making your argument the other side has already painted you as a mean-spirited, borderline racist controlled by religious zealots, securely in the pockets of the rich. Nobody who sees you in this way is going to listen to you in any case. You are politically dead.
Politics is war. Don't forget it. ("The Art of Political War" in Left Illusions: An
Intellectual Odyssey Spence 2003, pp. 349-350)
Don’t confuse political discourse with political philosophy or with political science. The former is unavoidable polemical, but the latter two, as truth-seeking theoretical pursuits, are not inherently polemical and ought to be kept free from polemics.