The modern political class does not want the electorate to have a sense of the tragic dimension of human existence: for such a sense would reduce the importance of the political class in the electorate’s eyes. It wants instead the electorate to think that, if only the right politicians were in charge, all would be well: this is the means by which the class keeps the population dependant on it. The politicians have therefore struggled against an awareness of the tragic dimension and on the whole have triumphed in the struggle.
But if awareness is diminished, the tragic dimension is not, nor will it ever be. A little episodes in Paris recently convinced me of this more than ever.
My wife and I passed a waiter from the brasserie in a street near where we live when we are in Paris, and where we eat quite often. He was about forty years old, of Algerian descent but obviously very well-integrated and acculturated into French life. We must have known him some years; it was New Year’s Day and we gave him our good wishes. Our brief conversation got round to what he wished for in the New Year, and he told us that what he really hoped for was a wife and children.
What a wealth of suffering there was in these few and simple words! We had of course no notion why he had never married, but we imagined him returning after work late at night to a cheerless home. Suffice it to say that this problem, of a kind that preoccupies us more than any other when once we have it, is not of the kind to be solved by Messrs Cameron and Milliband, or any other of their ilk.
The next day we were walking down another street nearby when we approached an old lady with a most delightful dog, an apricot poodle who was only a year old. People who are besotted with their dogs, as she obviously was, are delighted when people stop to talk to them about them. For dog-lovers there is no better social introduction than a dog.
It was obvious that the dog was this old lady’s happiness. So long as it was with her, she could not be unhappy. But she was in her late seventies, and perfectly realistic. She had arranged with a younger friend to take the dog when she died. A modern politician would have promised to keep her alive until the dog died, and then used public funds for the care of the dog when she died.