Have you ever heard someone politically involved say, "Yeah, this is it; finally; this is the society I always wanted, the one I've been working for; I can finally rest, I'm satisfied with this." No?
It should be rather obvious that someone involved in politics should have a goal and be satisfied when that goal is finally reached. If in power for a very long time, wouldn't you say such a politician has had a lot of opportunity to enact whatever laws he/she finds necessary and change the state of the nation in whatever way preferable? Logically, this should be true.
In Sweden the social democratic party, really a socialist party, has been a hegemonic power in Swedish politics for a century. In the parliamentary democracy of Sweden they have sometimes had full power – over 50 % of the seats in the parliament. (No, there is no declaration of rights or constitution.) Still they are not satisfied and still they ask people for their support. What is it that they could still have to do that they have failed to do for a century in power? Or are they so utterly incompetent that a century is not enough to bring about the changes they felt necessary?
Maybe they are. But I would say this is nothing special for the Swedish social democrats. It is as applicable to the Democratic and Republican parties in the US, or UK's New Labour and Germany's SDP and CDU. Being eternally dissatisfied with one's accomplishments is something inherent in politics. It is in the very nature of power never to be satisfied with the results – there are always more things one needs to do and more things to "improve."
The reason could easily be said to be the dynamics of society. When one finally has come as far as planned, society has changed and more politics need to be done. This is a rather intuitive logic; surely one cannot foresee exactly how things will be in the future, and therefore one cannot ever get to utopia. We can only get close, at best.
But this conclusion doesn't really fit when we take a closer look at it. If our society was really that dynamic, then it would mean businessmen too would never achieve their short or long term goals. But they do, and they are sometimes even very satisfied with the result. Still businessmen are not really in power – they are but actors in the marketplace (however regulated). So it should actually be easier for politicians to implement their utopia – they have the power to!
Power, I think, is the most important piece of this puzzle. It is power that makes politics eternally dissatisfying; power makes it impossible to create the "good society." Why? It has to do with morality and ethics – and morality and ethics have nothing to do with politics.
The reason power is so dissatisfying really has nothing to do with the state of the nation, or even with the utopia politicians with power are trying to create. It has everything to do with the impossibility of creating something good with means that are not. One cannot create freedom using coercive means – it is impossible.
Of course, a lot of politicians really don't want freedom – they want something else. But they all have a vision of what society "should" be like, they know – in one way or the other – what everything should be like and in what kind of society their most beloved values would be universally guiding. In that society, their utopia, we would all prosper in the way they "know" is best.
Well, there you go – that's the problem. What they are all wishing for is really a society where people function the way they are supposed to function, where people voluntarily choose to live by the values the politicians hold dear. These people want a society structured in a certain way, and they want people to peacefully and happily stay where they "fit" in the social plan. Or they want a society in which people give up everything that has to do with money, greed or profits – and they wish for society to stay that way without having to establish a caste of guardians controlling it.
What they really want is a society of their dreams that is essentially voluntary yet stable! But they are trying to establish this "voluntary" society through pushing everybody in the "right" direction and stealing their money. Are you really surprised they never manage to create the society of their dreams?
Of course they are never satisfied. What they really want is the society of their dreams without having to rely on politics and the use of power – yet they use politics and power in order to get there. It is pretty obvious why we never hear politicians say they have established utopia. It is mission impossible.
July 31, 2006