Are normal healthy well-adjusted people interested in politics? Is politics something that only interests people who have a personal axe to grind? Is political enthusiasm a sign of mental illness, or a sign of personal unhappiness? If it’s a sign of personal unhappiness or dissatisfaction is this a healthy thing? Is it a form of therapy?
And how do you explain a historical period like our own, in which every single aspect of life has become politicised and politics has become an obsession? Is this a sign of an illness in society? Or a sign of a deeply unhappy society?
These thoughts occurred to me after reading a recent post on the poet Shelley on Oz Conservative.
Shelley saw himself as a political and social revolutionary. What’s interesting is that Shelley was a rich and very privileged young man, a member of the aristocracy, good-looking and talented. It’s hard to imagine how fate could have dealt any young man a better hand than it dealt Shelley. And what was Shelley’s response? He wanted to smash his own society.
Shelley also managed to leave a trail of chaos and misery behind him. His behaviour towards women was nothing short of appalling. He was selfish, irresponsible, impetuous and shallow. He also had very definite delusions of grandeur.
It has to be said that Shelley is an all too typical example of the political progressive. His personality was clearly warped, although whether this was genetic or whether it was warped by his childhood or his schooling is difficult to say. He grew to adulthood (or in his case it mighty be more accurate to say that he failed to grow to adulthood) at a troubled time, when revolution was fashionable and the ruling class was rapidly abandoning Christianity. Perhaps Shelley was simply a very weak personality easily swayed by social fads.
It’s also interesting that Shelley, like so many subsequent social revolutionaries, was a vegan. So he was an all-round crank.
Orwell noted many years ago that socialism attracted cranks. He was disgusted and dismayed by the phenomenon.
Is it only left-wing politics that attracts misfits and cranks? A few years ago I’d have inclined to give an affirmative answer to the question. Now I’m not so sure. There are a few strange types in the alt-right and similar sub-groups who seem to be at least partly motivated by personal bitterness.
While it might be slightly disturbing at times to note the number of politically engaged people who are either slightly odd or deeply unhappy it is possible that this is not entirely a negative thing. If you’re unhappy with your life you can feel sorry for yourself or crawl inside a bottle, or you can try to change the world. Of course your ideas on how the world ought to be changed might be sound or they might be crazy, but at least you’re using your unhappiness as a motivation to do something.
Of course if you’re not a believer in democracy you might argue that all politics is unhealthy and that in a sane society we would leave government in the hands of the king.
It can also be argued that if society is truly diseased then being disgusted and enraged and wanting to change things is actually a sign of mental health, while the people who think that everything is fine are actually the crazy ones.