Political principles on campus, around world require more romance, dedication

I owe some of you an explanation, or even an apology. I realize that my efforts over the past few years, as the president of the Moderate, Independent, Conservative Alliance (MICA), could have seemed jarring or unprecedented. Under my leadership, we received contradictory labels, from a “circus” to both “basic” and “pretentious.” I never really knew how to address these types of criticisms, so I have not publicly considered them until now. My purpose here is not to address any personal criticism; it is simpler and more earnest. I imagine potential friends and allies could have been sincerely perplexed at times, so I want to unpack what turns out to be a complex puzzle.

My more controversial articles have been heavily edited, which potentially misdirected some of the criticism. If we were all reduced to an article, especially one which others have the privilege to change, we would all be “basic.” I appreciate the platform and patience that The Miscellany News continues to provide us and accept that we have different visions for campus life.

That all aside, I realize now why no one fully got what I have been trying to accomplish. I can imagine why some may have even felt hurt or bewildered by my genuine overall approach. Why do I do the things I do and why do I talk the way I talk?

I have been hurt by the misunderstandings, too, so I want to answer this question. It was certainly not obvious to me, and I’ve been a libertarian activist for seven years. Yet if I could strip down my defenses, I would say that my goal is to bring romance back into politics.

Yes, I know, it sounds peculiar. That couldn’t possibly be my motivation. Having grown up in a culture where romance is not taken seriously anymore, I can see how my actions or speech could be mistaken for pretense, show or some kind of performance. We live in a gritty “House of Cards” age. Politics being the way it is now, how could we make it romantic? Am I out of my mind? Yet, what animates me is the promise of politics with romance.

Politics with romance is something no one is deliberately trying to achieve these days, let alone from the Center-Right side of the spectrum, and I’m sure I’ve made my share of mistakes here as a secret campus purveyor of it. There are also huge, theoretical objections.  Hasn’t the romance ended? Won’t it always have to end? Isn’t the post-modern world also a post-romantic void? Isn’t it pie in the sky? This is the generally accepted wisdom.

Yet these were not always the preconceived notions. Politics with romance was part of the 1930s on campus, a time, I am sure, that would have inspired many of us. For modern liberals, “romance” either conveys the worst of the bourgeois or the best of the early Progressives. Take this how you want to, but I’m really trying to appeal to the best use of the term here.

The political center at Vassar is unique in several ways today. It has shaken things up, but romance has always upset authority and social conventions. What’s different is that the romance has been reborn in the Center between the political Left and Right.

Secondly, most libertarian-conservatives today are pushing for “Politics Without Romance,” to which we reply, “Politics With Romance!” Romance is not the cause of our problems; It is actually the way to get out of them. It is the way to become a relevant and an inspirational force in this world. We can’t get rid of the police-state before we get rid of the Lady Gaga state. We’re caught in a bad romance.

Victor Hugo, the author of “Les Miserables,” was a Romantic writer and politician who knew these went hand in hand. He pushed for the rights of everyone, including the workers and oppressed. He wrote a manifesto on Romanticism in literature that has never seen its counterpart in politics. What we have taken away from his treatise is that politics with romance should address both the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, the “sublime” and the “grotesque” (in Hugo’s dramatic language) of every issue. If this be a “circus,” then nature is a circus. In the real world, the awesome exists alongside the terrible; cute dogs have bad breath.

In this sense, politics with romance can be the opposite of fascism and all forms of statism. It is not a Pollyanna for leaders or special interest groups. It would not shy away from showing both the good and the bad in our public figures and demagogues. In a famous Soviet-era novel, a communist cautioned: “Comrades! A grave new danger has been growing among us in this last year. I call it the danger of over-idealism. We’ve all heard the accusations of its deluded victims…Such is the whining of cowards who cannot face practical reality.” Big Brother’s bodyguards know that romance stands in their way. Now, we are realizing that police-states around the world are an impractical construct, not a practical reality.

How has romance with politics infused MICA? Fossil fuels can be both loved and feared. Sometimes there are spills, but it keeps the electricity on for hospitals and food kitchens. Israel is both a beacon and a shipwreck. Wall Street has some of the sublime as well as the grotesque. Politics with romance is nuanced and dynamic, not a comic book version of the world. We also need a trigger warning for the beautiful, not just for the ugly and harming. Will you spread the romance outward from the Center and make love the trigger of audacity?

As Victor Hugo began his manifesto, the best way to introduce your work is “naked and friendless, like the infirm man of the Gospel.” I also believe that’s the best way to conclude here. Last week, Paul Krugman wrote an article in The New York Times, titled, “Obamacare, the Unknown Ideal.” That would be a good place to start rethinking romance, too.

 

—Julian Hassan ’14 is a cognitive science major. He is President of the Conservative-Libertarian Union.

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