Take the long way home

6 06 2019

I mentioned awhile back that I was working on a project called “Modernity’s Ideologies”, in which I trace the historical emergence of political ideologies in Europe from ’round about 1517-1945. I waaaay condensed that into a chart much like this one:

(Sorry for the bleed-through: I print almost everything on used paper.)

I haven’t given up on that, exactly, but the bugger certainly became bigger and bigger and bigger and I thought, Man, I gotta getta hold of this. So, I’m still reading and thinking and thinking and reading, but I’ve cooled my jets considerably.

That project was/is meant as scholarship, but also as a teaching tool, and I used some of those ideas in my class on the Weimar Republic to try to help the students make sense of the riot of political movements in 1920s Germany.

(I don’t know that it actually helped.)

Anyway, in teaching that, on women’s politics, and a course on American government and politics, I’ve also had the occasion to ask What is politics, anyway?

In those cases, I used a version of this chart:

This refers to what I call the “fields of action” of politics, and I first developed it when teaching that women in politics course in order to capture the multifarious ways women participated in political life.

I’ve since adapted this to my AmPol course, and as you can see by the written notes, the adaptation is ongoing.

In fact, this adaptation is part of a new project called “A Partial Politics”, a part of which I plan to use for teaching in the fall. I’ll discuss the fields of action (mentioning that in other nations military, religious, and economic institutions may also form overtly political fields) along with various definitions of politics (Aristotle, Easton, Lasswell, Crick, Arendt, Schmitt, etc.). I lecture on all of this and write it on the board, but I think it would be useful for the students to have a version written out for them and that they can refer back to.

The fields of action thing actually works well for how I teach the AmPol course, which includes a central role for the early civil rights movement (1960-65, more or less): I note the different institutions within government, the splits in the parties, and note how the NAACP fits more as an interest group, SNCC & CORE as activists groups, and the SCLC somewhere in the overlap.

One thing I’ll definitely change in the chart is the implication that “underground” politics flow only out of activist groups: certainly the overlapping roles of the Klan, the White Citizens’ Councils, and sundry other violent white supremacist groups with state and local governments give lie to that. And, of course, the various corruptions involving modern-day interest groups, while not exactly underground in the same way, suggest further modification of the above-ground/underground distinction.

I may also include some discussion of the different types of roles one sees across all fields (although some may be more prominent in one area than another); I currently have:

policy
process
prophet
politicking (persuading, pressing flesh, etc) [eh, too indistinct; maybe ‘persuader’?]
pundit
foot soldier
connector?
trickster (dirty, ie, ratfucker; anarchic, eg Yippie, Pirate Party, Ukrainian comic)
hustler (grifter; spotlight hogs, etc)

Political actors may inhabit multiple roles, or may be primarily defined by one. Nancy Pelosi, I’d argue, is a master of process, but she’s not who to turn to in developing policy or to lead the masses to the promised land, i.e., a prophet.

And this isn’t just about elected officials; you can find people to fill these roles across all fields. John Lewis in his SNCC days, for example, was a foot soldier and a connector, putting himself on the line repeatedly as well as being willing to work with King and the SCLC when others in SNCC were unwilling.

Anyway, this is all preliminary: I’ve got the summer to get at least this part pulled together.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about ideologies and AmPol. That’s due mostly to my focusing on strategies and tactics, but also to the fact that the chart above needs to be radically altered to account for American ideologies (another piece of that overgrown Ideologies project). Given that the US, as a nation (ie, since the 1780s), has always been modern, discussing ideologies as a reaction to modernity doesn’t work. There’s also the matter of how to deal with the slaveocracy, which to my-mostly-ignorant mind, attempts to graft Enlightenment sensibilities on top of a pseudo-feudal structure.

I won’t teach from a mostly-ignorant position, so this doesn’t get discussed much at all. Given that I barely get through the material as-is, this isn’t a problem.

But if I am to fill out that “A Partial Politics”, then I will also have to fill out that ideologies section, in some way or another.

I know, I keep doing wide outruns and getting lost; this time, I’ll try to keep it closer, and plink away at it bit by bit.