Thursday, June 7, 2012

Matthew Flinders's "Defending Politics"

Matthew Flinders is Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance at the University of Sheffield. His book Delegated Governance and the British State was awarded the W.J.M. Mackenzie Prize in 2009 for the best book in political science. He is also the author of Democratic Drift and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of British Politics.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defending Politics: Why Democracy Matters in the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 focuses on the what I call defending politics 'from denial' - denial in the sense of a loss of faith in the belief that politicians and the structures of collective action can actually make good and appropriate decisions. The flip-side of the politics of denial is the belief that transferring power away from politicians and towards independent agencies, commissions, boards, scientists, technocrats, accountants, ethicists - basically anyone as long as they are not a politician - will somehow produce better decisions. Page 99 is therefore concerned with a double-barbed process that has occurred in recent decades in which new fears and risks (genetic engineering, human fertilisation, etc.) have placed more and more social concerns at the door of politics while at exactly the same time politics (and its political structures) are seeking to distribute those functions to a host of arm's-length bodies whose democratic credentials are weak and who operate in an opaque accountability landscape. Put very simply, this page forms one part of a chapter that argues that hiving-off functions from elected politicians to unelected actors is a very odd response to the challenges of democratic governance. It therefore forms one element of a much broader defence of politics that draws upon Bernard Crick's seminal In Defence of Politics in order to try and encourage a shift from the currently dominant 'politics of pessimism' to a more constructive 'politics of optimism'. As Crick wrote almost exactly fifty years ago
Politics may be a messy, mundane, inconclusive, tangled business, far removed from the passion for certainty and the fascination for world-shaking quests which afflict the totalitarian intellectual; but it does, at least, even in the worst of political circumstances, give a man some choice in what role to play, some variety of corporate experience and some ability to call his soul his own
My argument is not therefore that politics is perfect or that all politicians are angels but I do dare to suggest that democratic politics does tend to deliver far more than many 'disaffected democracts' seem able or willing to acknowledge in the twenty-first century. It is too easy to carp from the sidelines and what we really need is more people who are willing to 'step into the arena'.
Theodore Roosevelt, April 1091
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.
If you don't want to be challenged, if you don't want to be made to challenge the way you look at the world and your position within it then do not read this book.
Learn more about Defending Politics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue