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The end of politics

Popularized by Stephen Covey, a concept rooted in the philosophical tradition of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas worthy of reflection is the idea of “beginning with the end in mind.”

Such a question can quickly put any number of things into perspective for us. As a husband and a father, having “the end in mind” has on many occasions quickly jolted me out of failures in charity toward my wife and children. This mindset helps me keep an eye on what I want to become and how I can, with the grace of God, get there.

This issue of the “end” should also be relevant to politics. What is it that my political beliefs and ideas are striving for?

Far too often politics gets mired in the day-to-day of life. What seems to get the focus in politics is dictated by whatever is polling at 51%. In this sense, politics and policy is reduced to the “soup de jour.” As with Hollywood or shopping or, frankly, just about anything else in life, politics can get caught up in the trends of the moment. Whether a politician or a policy is “good” or “bad” is tested by comparing them to the transitory topic everybody is currently raving or ranting about. These ephemeral movements can suck up all the energy in the room, leaving little energy or time to discuss more important matters.

Like a flash in the pan, the issue comes and goes—and as quickly as it became an issue, we are likely to forget as quickly about it altogether.

The ultimate problem, then, it seems to me, with these momentary trends is that they don’t force us to ask deeper questions related to purpose or the “end.” These fleeting issues are intended to make us only think about the present moment and go nowhere beyond. They capture our time and attention, but have no ability to capture our imagination.

We are never left asking how the issue at hand relates to the whole, or how this issue could strengthen or weaken, for example, human dignity or the common good. While politics is certainly a practical art and, by that, I mean it is the art of achieving what is possible given the circumstances, it is also an art that should aim at higher values and goods.

Politics is not simply about striving for what might be useful or relevant in the moment, but it is about striving for what is good in the end. And such a question should also make us consider: what is “good” in the end?

To return to my earlier reflection on being a husband and a father, I have moments where I ask: what does it mean for me to be a “good” husband or father? When all is said and done, what do I want my life as husband and father to look like? Ultimately, of course, I want my life to look like an imitation of Jesus Christ, to whom I was conformed through the waters of Baptism. More practically, I often consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, those famous verses we hear so often at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind….” (To be honest, I’ve never made it past patience and kindness because I can’t seem to figure out those attributes of love well enough to move further in the list.)

Likewise, when we review our own political leanings, beliefs, affiliations, etc., we must stop and ask ourselves: what is it that I want my politics to look like “in the end”? We might even ask the same thing about our political conduct: how do I want the way I act when it comes to politics to look like “in the end”? When I arrive at those pearly gates of St. Peter’s and I have to account for my ideas, beliefs, and actions, will I be proud of what I espoused myself to during those many years on God’s green earth?

As we continue to reflect on the end of the liturgical year, which always has us considering the last four things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell), it is a good time to put our politics into proper check, to ask whether it is aimed at, in the words of St. Paul, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… whatever is worthy of praise[.]”

How little it will matter if I took a position on any number of issues political—whether they be taxes, education, the economy, international affairs, criminal justice reform, gun rights, the family, and the list goes on—if I never ask how my positions are related to the “end” of politics.

And, that ultimate “end” is to place all in the service of the Kingdom, that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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