What does it mean to the average person to take an interest in politics? It generally means watching the political debates, following candidates and knowing some of their positions, donating to a political party and maybe even volunteering to help a campaign, listening to a podcast or radio show that affirms existing beliefs, and/or being amazed that those who disagree with those beliefs, believe what they do.
Those who are really into politics might even read policy reports and books published by think tanks, as well as books published by politicians to promote their campaign.
There is nothing inherently wrong with doing these things. To say so would make me a hypocrite, considering I’ve done each of these at least once, and continue to do some of them.
Politics is a thin veil covering deeper things. If you’ve taken an interest in politics, you should at some point take a look behind the veil to see what lies beyond it.
This metaphor works in two ways. In one sense, beyond the veil of politics is corruption. The veil paints a façade of legitimacy over a terribly corrupt and broken system. It laments the growing political divide and increasing hostility, and reminds us that politicians are largely decent people trying to make the world a better place. Every so often they put aside their differences and do things we all agree are good (in America this is called bipartisanship).
In another sense of the metaphor, hidden beyond the veil of politics are ideas and thinkers. These ideas concern economics, psychology, philosophy, sociology, history, historiography, and law, etc. These thinkers are often “the man behind the man,” the people coming up with the ideas that then, sometimes, influence mainstream political discussion (as superficial as it often is) and the various public figures involved.
For example, there’s the red pill metaphor that has become rather popular among the mainstream right. Most are aware that it is a reference to The Matrix, but very few people are aware of who turned it from a movie reference into a popular political concept. In this instance, Mencius Moldbug is the man behind the term. Few people have heard of him, and yet many of us have adopted his terminology. At this time, another bit of his terminology, the Cathedral, isn’t far off from becoming another popular term.
Moldbug is just one minor example, of course. On the surface level of politics, libertarianism is represented by Ron Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, John Stossel, and others. And these are great people, doing great work to bring the ideas behind the veil to the forefront. The men behind these men are Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, etc. And every great thinker is influenced by thinkers who came before them. In the case of Rothbard, these include figures as varied as Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Frank Chodorov, and Lysander Spooner.
What about conservatism? The average American conservative interested in politics is familiar with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Ben Shapiro. Many of them are aware of the influential conservative William F. Buckley. But what of the conservatives behind the veil? Those shaping the opinion of conservatism were influential thinkers like Leo Strauss, Harry Jaffa, and Mel Bradford.
I do not mean to imply that anyone who I have placed in front of the veil is not as valuable as those behind it. Every idea needs a Ron Paul that will bring it to the forefront and show it to the world. But for those with a genuine interest in politics, I recommend taking a look, whenever you can, at what is behind the veil. Ron Paul, to continue the example, became familiar with the great libertarian thinkers behind the veil. Only then could he bring their ideas forward.
To spread good ideas, and to combat bad ones, you must become familiar with them in as pure a form as possible. It is hard to do this peripherally. To understand everything politics is based on, read the original thinkers themselves.
Read Mises, Rothbard, and Menger.
Read Hoppe, Gottfried, and Burnham.
Read Marx, Trotsky, and Gramsci.
Read Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas.
Read Foucault, Adorno, and Derrida.
Read Scruton, Burke, and Kirk.
Read Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau.
Read Rawls, Popper, and Hart.
Read the Great Books.
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