I ceased in the year 1764 to believe that one can convince one’s opponents with arguments printed in books. It is not to do that, therefore, that I have taken up my pen, but merely so as to annoy them, and to bestow strength and courage on those on our own side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.

— Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books


Once upon a time, politics served the purpose of weaving together livable compromises out of divergent interests and values. We didn’t rely on political identities to give our lives meaning. Political parties, factions, and institutions were merely the instrumental means through which we brokered a relatively peaceful co-existence with those who didn’t see eye-to-eye with us. Occasionally, and often heroically, it was the basis upon which we mobilized opinion to annihilate those with truly anti-social agendas. But ultimately, it was the toolset with which we built a practical working peace.

Today, politics is a competition for tribal allegiance, the means by which we proudly declare our intractable differences with others. Like religion, it is an instrument we use to forge communities of kinship with one another, but only by declaring war on those who lie outside of them. It is no longer the basis for co-existence in a pluralist society, but the stick with which we draw our battle lines. It is the domain of sectarian holy war. In a democratic society, it will be the vehicle for our undoing.

— Leighton Woodhouse, “Fanatics