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The end of politics.

Byline: Shahzaib Khan

'This means to create a front that eventually becomes imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.'

This was one of the 36 strategies quoted in the Japanese Art of War, that I believe is the most apt definition of politics.

Today, to be politic is to sin, it seems.

But it was not so long ago that the art of politics was cited as humanity's saving grace. Where a Hobbesian man, by virtue of nature, foaming in the mouth, was seen to be raring to tear apart his counterparts if left to his own device. And while Hobbes may have cloaked his teachings with the veracious veil of the law, it was undoubtedly political science that he had advocated. Time and again, we saw politics come to save humanity.

As Hitler's war machine raged beyond Europe and towards Moscow, Winston Churchill travelled to Moscow to meet Stalin, a product of the very bolshevism that according to Churchill should have been 'strangled at birth'. Matters were made worse by the fact that Churchill meant to deliver to Stalin the news that, as the Nazis headed to Moscow, Britain would not open a second front in Europe. The meeting was as expected, as Churchill laid his plan bare and Stalin exposed his disdain.

According to Churchill's aide's report of that first meeting, 'This threw rather a cloud on the party, which was not dispelled by the banquet the following night. Nothing can be imagined more awful than a Kremlin banquet, but it has to be endured. Unfortunately, Winston didn't suffer it gladly. However, next morning, he was determined to fire his last bolt, and asked for a private talk, alone, with Stalin.' That last bolt, however, never materialised. As the aide entered Stalin's private room during the second meeting he noted 'There I found Winston and Stalin, and Molotov who has joined them, sitting with a heavily-laden board between them: food of all kinds crowned by a sucking pig, and innumerable bottles. What Stalin made me drink seemed pretty savage: Winston, who by that time was complaining of a slight headache, seemed wisely to be confining himself to a comparatively innocuous effervescent Caucasian red wine. Everyone seemed to be as merry as a marriage bell.'

Stalin and Churchill would ultimately find in each other, allies and quite inexplicably, friends. The Bolshevik, who was the subject of Churchill's scorn for so long, would push Hitler's forces from the east as Churchill opened a second front in the west to conquer Berlin together. It is not immediately clear who meant to gain advantage from that night of the second meeting, what is clear though, is that a night of familiarity for two inherently opposed leaders, surely crafted by either one for this very purpose, allowed for each to maneuver in their own way, and to find an alliance completely unnatural.

Churchill's contempt for communism never waned, yet it was a question for the world to answer as to what would have happened if he hadn't braved his seemingly impenetrable ideological barrier to have a night where he and Stalin would be 'as merry as a bell'. To brave his contempt, to reach out to Stalin, to allow for the creation of a familiarity amongst mutual hatred in which to maneuver, was Churchill's hand of political genius then. It was his politics, and it saved the world.

Almost a century later, the politics that saved the world is redundant. Populism is here.

Donald Trump, the populist, doesn't do politics. He is not politically correct and his claim to fame is to drain the swamp, seemingly of politics and its inherent inefficiency. As Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leaders in the Congress and Senate, met Trump and his Vice-President at the Oval Office to discuss the closure of the US government, there was no politics. Trump and Schumer exchanged blows right before the press as Pelosi urged the president to talk privately. Trump countered by saying that this was 'transparency', an idea openly opposed to politics, and was therefore good. And yet, once the political niceties had been done away with in the public eye, the two sides would find themselves incapable of reaching a compromise. What was meant to be a mission to find compromise, instantly became a zero-sum game. No one can be seen to compromise once the game is zero-sum.

It's the same situation across the pond, as in London, the hapless British prime minister clings on to power to fight an incessantly thankless battle with the EU, as she tries to find a win-win compromise in a Brexit deal. There can be no win-win in a Brexit deal. A product of unchecked populism itself, the idea of Brexit by its very nature is a zero-sum game, one party has to gain at the loss of the other. To treat it as a non-zero-sum gum where the tiring prime minister looks for a win-win situation for Europe and Britain is entirely paradoxical and thus impossible.

That's the defining feature of populism, zero-sum games. Left unchecked, rampant populism will, without exception, result in situations where the gain of one party is at the loss of the other, which paradoxically sounds a lot like the Hobbesian state of nature where men were to ensure their survival against the survival of others.

This is where politics is indispensable. It is not transparent but is inefficient, it is a product of cunning and maneuvering and for all intents and purposes it's a Machiavellian tool to create falsified familiarity. But the people of the world with all their differences and inconsistencies cannot be expected to fit together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle. Sooner or later, every country, every electorate, and every citizen of the world devolves ultimately to the protection of self-interest, and to secure it seeks the naked surety provided by populism. For one to advance not at the expense of another, however, opposing self-interests have to be varnished with a thick veneer of familiarity, albeit false, provided by politics. The rugged edges of populist interests have to be smoothened for the pieces to fit together and form a bigger picture, like saving the world from Nazi totalitarianism over a drunken night in Moscow.
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Publication:The Express Tribune (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Dec 14, 2018
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