Abigail Adams to John Adams - 31 March 1776
Electorates have been misgoverned for decades in the name of “wealth generation”: their elected governments have allegedly had no option but to cut taxes for the rich, to reduce regulation on business, to police their borders less effectively. What’s more, they’ve had no choice but to make all the systems that support the daily life of ordinary people ever more threadbare and mean in the name of promoting business incentives.
Meanwhile, business pays itself ever more extravagantly as the necessary “incentive”, but delivers a first-order financial crisis and five years of austerity, with more to come. Inequality has risen everywhere, especially in Britain, for no perceptible wider gain. It is purposeless to speak out in the public square because protest is damned as socialist and everyone knows socialism has failed. The language of public purpose, justice, social solidarity and nobility of collective action that can be translated into a feasible programme of government has disappeared.
Democracies have been denuded of the vitality of argument but, more crucially, of one of their key purposes. Democracy has become synonymous with not doing transformative things except if they are to shrink the state and/or enlarge the wealth of the already very rich. In a recent essay on the travails of democracy, the Economist comically argued that it should be revived by democratic politicians agreeing that they should make minimal promises and reduce the state. But the point of democracy is to reflect argument in the public square and attempt to deliver the democratic will publicly, which will involve legislating, taxing and spending."
My parents taught me that even though it’s not forever — because it’s not forever — being alive is a profoundly beautiful thing for which each of us should feel deeply grateful. If we lived forever it would not be so amazing.