The search for the good life is sometimes a political issue, writes Tom Hodgkinson
Is the Idler a political magazine? I ask because my pre-election email, which expressed enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn, was met with a degree of indignation by some readers, who felt that the Idler should avoid taking positions in matters of party politics, and if anything provide a refuge from the bustle. Party politics, they argued, is a distraction, a sideshow. An equal number of readers, however, wrote supportive message along the lines of “couldn’t agree more”.
Well, while the Idler is not exactly party political and we have no desire to produce acres of columns of right-leaning speculation and comment like The Spectator or left-leaning comment and speculation like The New Statesman, which date a few days after having been written and can look ridiculous, we are political insofar as we are a broadly philosophical magazine examining what it means to live life well.
Our subtitle is “the art of living”, which is the most basic of questions, and an idler’s politics would probably try to harmonise anarchism, libertarianism and socialism, in other words, give the maximum amount of freedom to oneself to create one’s own life while also acting with the maximum amount of love, compassion and charity towards others. We would also, like Tolstoy and Gandhi, be naturally suspicious of authority, bureaucracy, tyranny, bullies in general and the violence with which nation states support their own interests. An idler would, therefore, hold back from blaming all his or her problems on an outside authority like a government while also recognising injustice.
So while we are a philosophical magazine rather than a political one, philosophy does often cross over into politics. After all, one of the key political texts, Plato’s Republic, is a dialogue where Socrates outlines his vision of an ideal state. That is why I think it is only natural that we idlers venture forth with political opinions – sometimes.
These comments were mailed to us at [email protected] after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your views.
Maybe Corbyn’s plan could be called “socialism”. But “anarchism” or “libertarianism”? Give us a break.
It’s a dark world
I wholeheartedly support what you’ve said in your email. The systematic attacks by Westminster on the most vulnerable in our society have made respect for humanity seem like a political statement. They have politicised empathy and respect for human life. That such feelings should be now seen as political strikes me as unbelievably sad. It’s always been a difficult world, but things seem to be particularly dark at the moment.
Oh goodness no…. not politics. The values that Idler espouses are what bring us readers back month on month, precisely because we understand that in some way there will be a core that will not change. It simply cannot be political. By this I mean aligned with a political party or character. Think of both main parties six months ago and then reflect where they are now…. waxing and waning in their theatre. Jeremy Corbyn at one moment speaking of the values that might be aligned to Idler and then in PMQ yesterday trying to make political currency out of the death of those in Grendel Tower. It was disgusting. I don’t mean to single out anyone in particular (but chose him because you did) but today’s politics is about power and little to do with values. Better to create a whole new political group called The Idler Party. Now that would be fun.
Freedom to idle
I couldn’t agree more with this! All very well for those who have relatively more financial and social freedoms to say that Idling is non-political. I’ve always thought that the underlying politics of the Idler must be that all should be able to idle, learn, explore, be free from constant financial concern. For as long as that is not the case, then I think there is a place in the magazine for discussing how those conditions could be brought about.
I’m deeply ashamed to say that my economies don’t run to anything except a sub to the FT weekend which I get here in France each Monday (or often Wednesday). Though I admire the Idler and the Eye, much of what is written is of the sceptic isle (or should that be septic?) and of diminishing interest to us continental idlers.
I fear that the attitude to bloody foreigners will bring you back to an elitist view of Europe, a place where some Brits dream of long breakfasts, cold white wine and well-dressed women while arguing endlessly about Pamela next door who should be driving a Brit-made car and eschewing Belgian lace.
Never mind, the Brits always liked to think of Europe as “naughty” while opening their umbrellas, so they will, at least, have the comfort of knowing that while the UK drifts off into the mists of forgetfulness, there will be a haven across the carefully non-immigrant channel where blacks dance, jazz is a valued commodity and art is not totally incomprehensible and even desirable.
Keep up the good work
Might not Idlers want to conserve certain things, certain values, creations, openness and opportunities, creativity (including entrepreneurialism – a creativity-freedom that can be very fruitful), family life, love, beauty, nature, kindness, compassion, and freedom of thought and beliefs and expression and so on?
Thank you for your wonderful ramblings. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on the politics of an idler, which you expressed so beautifully – so beautifully that I fully intend to nick them and pass them off as my own. I have scribbled out your third paragraph and stuck it above my desk, to catch my eye in moments of despondency.
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