What does it mean to study politics in 2019? (Part 2)
At the start of this academic year, the Politics and IR team sat down and thought about why one should study politics in 2019. In a time of crisis in all its forms and shapes – environmental, constituional, humanitarian, economic – each team member wrote their own response to the question yet their answers are univocal: now is exactly the time to study politics! Here’s Part 2!
Dr Sarah Lieberman: “Change the world”
Politics is always important. Some people will tell you that everything is political, and politics is everywhere. Some people will tell you not to discuss it at the dinner table. In 2019, politics is no less important or exciting than it ever has been. Indeed, given some of the issues we have seen come up this year already, I might be tempted to say that now, more than ever before, it is important to understand what is happening in the world and to be able to analyse it in a critical and informed way.
In the UK, the constitution faces some of the toughest questions it has faced since the English civil-war in the time of Charles I. His whole “horse-riding-through-the-house-of-commons” episode actually sounds less damaging than some of the constitutional hits we have seen in the past 3 months. I can’t see arbitrary prorogation, unelected leaders, referenda, Brexit fuelled division and the abandonment of both the written and unwritten aspects of the constitution being solved by anything as strange as Black Rod, but hey, at this point who knows.
In other news, the Amazon Rainforest is burning, the Bahamas have been hit by one of the most damaging hurricanes recorded, and the only person talking about environmental change is a sixteen-year-old Swede called Greta. Who has been bullied and persecuted online by politicians, media moguls and business leaders who don’t believe her. Or simply do not like her peaceful message.
Globally, nuclear agreements have broken down. This is not good news as tension escalates between Iran and the USA, both of whom could quickly call on the weapons of mass wipe-out should the need arise.
In the United States of America, where the Statue of Liberty reads “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, immigrants are no longer welcome. Donald Trump, the President, was brought to power on the promise of a wall between the States and Mexico and, since inauguration, has developed a policy of family separation for those caught illegally entering the country. Children are housed away from their families, in unimaginable conditions.
Politics is everywhere. And in 2019 the constitutional changes we have seen, the environmental damage we are witnessing, the failures of global cooperation that are happening and the breakdown in moral politics require further discussion. And not just discussion: these issues require a new generation of politically educated people to attack that which they see as unjust and to speak out against that which they know to be terrifying.
Study politics. Learn about the world. Go forth into the world. Change the world.
Tom Sharkey: “We are at a tipping point”
In a world beset by crises of the environment and the economy, and where the legitimacy of democracy is being called in to question, new solutions and new ideas are needed now more than at any time in our recent history. Pollsters are left red-faced by more and more ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ events. Our old ways of understanding the political landscape are failing us. The ‘liberal consensus’ of twin economic and social liberalism, which for so long dominated how we thought about the world, no longer accounts for the goals, actions and logics of political actors. Social movements are led by teenagers, ‘middle-ground’ politicians fail in elections and everywhere our discourse is falling into fierce binaries. Some decry the new disease of populism, which is blamed for the rise of fascism and, conversely, socialism; some blame social media for exacerbating the atomisation of society, and more and more people are finding answers in the fantastical world of conspiracy theory. It is from these crises, these fractures and this ignorance that we will find solutions, friendships and answers.
We are at a tipping point in our political history and there has never been greater opportunity to have a real, tangible effect on the world around us. We must look again at the histories of politics and listen to new voices and those forgotten. Choosing to study politics now gives people the tools to effect change, to gain an understanding of what is happening to them and to resist outdated and outmoded categories. But more than this, it is vital for our society that more people engage in the study of politics and share this new knowledge, bringing new perspectives and voices to the challenges we face today. In the words of social-ecologist Murray Bookchin: “If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable”.
Dr Lucas Van Milders: “Politics is too important to be left to politicians”
Politics is about crisis. For the last decade, the field of politics seems to be hypnotised by the notion of crisis. And this is not just something that is restricted to the academic ivory tower. Since the financial crash of 2008, the whole world seems to be captivated by narratives of crisis, recession, downturn, austerity, climate disaster or some graph with red arrows pointing downwards. Yet for the last three years or more, it is the subject of politics itself that has been accused of having created this permanent crisis as it has not been able to explain and predict watershed moments such as the Brexit vote in the UK or the election of Donald Trump in the US. People are tired of hearing from experts, the argument goes. Politics – as an academic discipline – is in crisis.
So why should we study something that seems to be both in and about permanent crisis? Because politics is too important to be left to politicians. Indeed, now is exactly the time to study politics. By studying, I mean to critically probe and engage the inherited ideas that inform our political world. It is precisely because the world is stumbling from one crisis into the next that new and refreshing ideas are urgently needed to understand the times we are living in but also to think about alternatives. Because another world is possible. Like the constant bombardment of breaking news from Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, Greece, the Philippines, Greenland, or Nigeria, we are led to believe that there is no alternative to the crisis-ridden world we live in. But there is: in every mind of every student that decides to study politics. Because if the previous generations are at a loss to solve the problems – which they have often either created or exacerbated – then it is up to a new generation to stand up and take up the task to study politics!