Politics And Pipe Dreams

On April 22, 2010, in Culture, Politics, by marc

Jean-François Revel in 1999; Photo by Elsa Dorfman

Still working my way through the early chapters of Without Marx or Jesus, and I must say I found the following passage to be sort of charmingly obvious and yet instructive:

The function of politics is to react to real situations, and not to line up realistic situations, side by side and on a footing of equality, with pipe dreams.  If a waiter asks you to choose between spaghetti and potatoes, explaining that there is nothing else on the menu, there is no point in saying that you prefer caviar.  The question is, spaghetti or potatoes; and nothing else.  In politics as in the kitchen, one may dream of circumstances in which the fare offered would be more palatable; but to dream is not to act in accordance with a given reality.  To act is to make a decision in conformity with reality, and not according to nonexistent alternatives.  Reality, no doubt, is often only imperfectly satisfying; but, at a given moment, we must sometimes learn to accept and live with such imperfection.  Later, we may be able to evoke the vision of a different alternative; that is, we can convert a preferred alternative into a concrete choice.  But the prospect of a valid course of action for the future does not relieve us of the responsibility of making a choice with respect to reality as it exists at present.  If we are faced with two hypotheses both of which may be realized in practice, and if we refrain from comparing them to hypotheses which have no chance of being verified in the immediate future, we automatically limit ourselves to considering the respective advantages and disadvantages of the concrete solutions which really exist.  For, politically speaking, to make a decision because of, or in favor of, something which will never happen, is the same as making no decision at all.  IN other words, a realistic political solution always has concomitant disadvantages.  Therefore, if we reject every solution which has disadvantages, we are soon left with no solutions.

A bit wordy, perhaps, but a point well worth bearing in mind for those of us who engage in the dreadful world of politics.