One of the first things we have learned about politics this semester is that there is a constant struggle over the true definition, especially in how broad or narrow the definition is. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Politics are such torment that I would advise everyone I love not to mix with them. ” it is understood that he is referring to the electoral and governmental aspects of politics. If Dr.
Michael Rivage-Seul and Leslie Cagan were to read this quote, they would argue that Jefferson has an extremely narrow view of politics and that if one were to desire a more accurate definition, they would have to look further than the restrictive culturally accepted definition. Martin Luther King, Jr. would also disagree with this definition but he I think he would have a bigger problem with the advice that Jefferson is giving.
All three of the authors that we have looked at would, in one way or another, be forced to disagree with Jefferson based on the principles that they try to uphold and emphasize in their writings and speeches. According to Dr. Michael Rivage-Seul, we are living in a world full of deceit and human frailty. He stresses this particular point in his essay “Taking Risks in Plato? s Cave” which helps to illustrate that not everything we know to be true is actually true.
He also believes that, just as in the parable, we have an obligation to ourselves to look at all aspects and trey to understand all observed viewpoints. His words enforce this belief when he says “We can’t begin our escape from ignorance without the intervention of an outsider, without listening to others. ” (Rivage-Seul, 6). In his teachings, Rivage-Seul tries to highlight the importance of thinking for ourselves and always being weary of a socially accepted truth. If Leslie Cagan, author of the essay “What is Politics?
” was asked to comment on Jeffersons’ quote, I would imagine that she would probably scorn him for his narrow minded view of politics. I am also led to believe that she would say that Jefferson was no more politically aware than the rest of the general public because of the common ignorant definition they share. Cagan would argue that politics has to do with just about everything in the world and he stresses the complexity and immeasurable depth in the word when he says “How we understand (and therefore act out of that understanding)
“politics” and “political struggle” is no small matter. ” (Cagan 60). Cagan also believes that by narrowing our definition, we are undermining all of the important work done by the various social movements. She enforces this belief by saying “To limit the meaning of politics and political struggle to only the electoral and legislative arena is to deny our own history and ignore the insights of major movements of our time. ” (Cagan 60).
Cagan is implying that by limiting our definition of politics, we are accepting that people outside of the electoral and legislative aspects of the government, could never have nay effect on the way the country is run. She is also saying that by accepting this common misconception , we are taking credit away from the thoughts and inspirations that eventually led such influential cultural movements as the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Rights movement. Those issues weren’t political until someone, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
spoke up and made everyone aware of his cause. What Cagan believes is that we should never the definition of politics because just about everything from the tea or coffee we drink in the morning to the television shows that watch to the air we breathe is political. Although Thomas Jefferson was one of the beloved writers of our Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King, Jr. would probably say that Jefferson is just another “white moderate” that didn’t fully understand what exactly he was fighting for.
Both Jefferson and King fought for issues of equality and overturning commonly accepted injustices. King would be very disappointed in the matter of language that Jefferson used in his letter. King would argue that if ones’ cause was truly important and meaningful, then it is worth the torment and pain required to bring an issue to the forefront of mainstream cultural politics. With the discrepancy of the definition, King would interpret Jeffersons’ words to mean not to stick up for what you believe, and to let everything happen by itself.
King is the very opposite of this and if he were to have taken Jeffersons’ advice than the very essence of African-American history would be totally different. All three authors, Dr. Michael Rivage-Seul, Leslie Cagan, and Martin Luther King, Jr. , would agree that Jeffersons’ definition of politics is too vague and that the true idea of politics is that it is an unavoidable and necessary evil. What Jefferson didn’t understand was that politics is a part of everything and if one were to avoid politics and never dissent from the norm then there would never be any social change and everything would stay the same.
As King wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. ” (King 328).