Is politics equal to interests? ─ What indeed is politics?

By Kay Lam Chi-yan
Translated by Chen-t'ang
Originally at: http://www.pentoy.hk/%E6%99%82%E4%BA%8B/%E9%A6%99%E6%B8%AF%E6%94%BF%E6%B2%BB/l70/2013/06/18/%E6%9E%97%E7%B7%BB%E8%8C%B5%EF%BC%9A%E6%94%BF%E6%B2%BB%E5%B0%B1%E6%98%AF%E5%88%A9%E7%9B%8A%EF%BC%9F%E2%94%80%E2%94%80%E6%94%BF%E6%B2%BB%E6%98%AF%E7%94%9A%E9%BA%BC%EF%BC%9F/

PenToy had posted a reply from 文德彬 (Man Tak-bun; Translator's note: I cannot find who he is, but there is a foreign professor whose Chinese name is 文德彬. I'm not sure, so I will just put Man Tak-bun there), commenting on the interview between Wan Chin and Raees Baig. As a host of the interview, I sincerely thanked him, who is able to discuss the main points in the City-state Discourse than Chin.

Mr Man thought that: Chin's 'local interests' concept is a political declaration. City-state discourse is a political discourse. We cannot prove its logical validity on the academic perspective. He then pointed out that the foundation of local interests is that 'everyone is selfish': 'If pointing out selfishness is a wrong thing, then the word "politics" probably would disappear from this world. As politics are omnipresent, it would be misapprehending to see politics from a logical view.'

So, Mr. Man said Baig did not know much about politics, and was pale and unpersuasive in replying Chin's Realpolitik by using universal values. Besides criticizing Baig, he also thinks that the questions are not well-set by the hosts, so two guests cannot interact well. I would like to reply:

1. Mr Man's comprehension to politics reminds me of the beginning of my studies of political science. People surrounding me kept on saying 'politics is very dirty'. They might be impacted by TV series and mudslinging in the HK political environment, and think that political science is a subject studying the infighting between men. Politics is very dirty ─ only if we do not have to distinguish rights and wrongs logically, and political interests means everyone is selfish. 'One small steps will make a great difference', if one simply thinks politics is the competition of our and their parties' interests. He mistakenly treats 'reality' as 'necessity', and it does not help pushing the discourse of politics and social movements to a higher level.
Also, if politics only concerns power struggle, then why are we, as political science students, spending 4 years or more in this field? I remember on the first day for 'Political science ABC's', we were required to answer: What is politics? What problems would political science deal with?

2. The interpretation of politics is always controversial, and the content of politics varies with time, so we cannot define it uncontroversially. Yet, a concept must be involved in politics: authority. There goes several questions: what is its source, its allocation, its exercise, its legitimacy, its ultimate aims of exercise, its impacts and so on. For example, under a free, democratic regime, representatives are voted by the people in elections, authority is restricted by the rule of law, rights and interests of the minorities are protected, in order to show the intrinsic values, like fairness and autonomy. Even in the ancient China, the autocratic monarchy is a 'rule by man', and the exercise of authority varies greatly from the modern democracy, the yardstick is still there ─ morals. The Analects of Confucius said: 'The person in the highest position should act with integrity.' (政者,正也). It means that politics is the matter of the people, and the person in the highest position should act with integrity, and set example to their subordinates and people. Otherwise, if politics is about a group of people gaining own benefits against another group of people, it is bullying, and such situation can only be called as a tyranny.

3. Problems political science dealt with can be divided in to interpretive or normative.
The former one includes Mr Man's strong concern ─ Realpolitik. We observe and analyze how does politics work in reality through different hypothesis, methods and perspective. The latter one is to explore the highest moral standards through logical thinking, and deliberate on how to apply these standards in life, and thus design a corresponding political system.
Some people might say it would be too ideal to say 'fairness' or 'morals'. We are facing ferocious CCP regime and the reality brought by China-HK integration, what does 'political ideal' have to do with me? John Rawls, an American political philosopher, mentioned two concepts ─ ideal theory and non-ideal theory in his book, A Theory of Justice. It is the answer to someone's misunderstanding to politics.
To make it simple, the ideal theory is based on the following hypothesis: the individuals have the ability to make moral criticisms, they are willing to follow any moral standards which are discussed fairly, a society with good law and order. In other words, the problems ideal theory dealt with is what political order 'should' be with less constraints. Yet, the reality has so many constraints, just to name two possibilities:
(1) The reality has the conditions to put 'ideal' in practice, in other words, it is just transitional to be not ideal;
(2) The reality does not have the reality to put 'ideal' in practice, we have to set 'ideal' directions and goals, and make them more realistic.

Such theory (which takes ideal and reality in consideration, and making compromises in a world with many constraints, as to improve our lives) is called non-ideal theory. So so-called reality and ideal are not paradoxical: these ideals are the elementary moral standards, and the yardstick helping us to distinguish rights and wrongs. Rawls also pointed out both reality and ideals are important: we must combine them to make our society a progressive one with a sensible ideal and a feasible non-ideal theory.
Realpolitik is not only from the mouth of Chin, as non-ideal theory is based on a justifiable political ideal, and takes reality into consideration.
Moreover, in reality, political contest are not unethical. We can refer to Max Weber, a German political socialist's essay, Politik als Beruf (Politics as a vocation), where he mentions two kinds of ethics. He thinks that if politics is a pure activity of authority, then the ethics they obey are different from saints (he quoted it is not right to revenge even someone tries to start a fight or an argument in the context of turning the other cheek)
 Weber said there are no rooms for saints to participate in politics. No high moral values. Chin or Mr Man might agree on this, but politicians do have ethics. Weber thinks the ethics of politician lie on:
(1) the proportion between moral/political aims; (2) responsibility; (3) his passion on his job; (4) having distance between his preferences and the real aims.

For example, if it is a necessary evil to resort to community contradictions (族群矛盾), we also have to prove why is this a necessary evil, and discuss its negative impacts and how it can attain 'autonomy'. Besides we have to ponder over the value of 'autonomy'. Is it that any kind of autonomy is a good one? If not, which one is a better one? Why?

4. As to Chin's attitude on Realpolitik, Baig doubted sensibly: degrading politics to competition of interests will bring politics into a cul-de-sac. As Baig said, it is easy to satisfy petty favours. Those who feel satisfied will not fight for democracy afterwards, and Hong Kong cannot be on its path of autonomy. In some circumstances where reality and ideals are disconnected, some social movements in HK have become competition of interests. It does not only neglect the awakening of the public on justice, but also favours the CCP 'united front' work. When Hong Kong seek autonomy from a strong economic and military regime being a veteran in power struggle, how 'realistic' is such Realpolitik if we resort to materialistic benefits? Mr Man might misapprehend Baig. She is not an opponent of 'local-come-first', and did not see protecting rights as a wrong thing. She wanted to mention the relationship between local interests and universal values ─ local interests are not protected by policy because there is a lack of democratic participation in HK's political system. So we shall not stop at merely protecting materialistic benefits, but place our importance to democracy.

Notably, Chin originally has his political ideal. He criticized CCP of procrastination of universal suffrage, suppressing the dissidents, allowing consortium hegemony, interpretation of Basic law as he pleases, ruining Chinese culture in his book ─ it is because he has yardsticks in his mind: democracy, freedom, fairness, justice, spiritual civilization are values he thinks worthwhile to have. Saying there are no ideal in politics is just a kind of selfishness, and is contradictory to his thoughts. However, he focused a lot of debating, becoming somehow heterodox, so people neglect his political ideal. Mr Man says political declaration and discourse need no demonstration, I can't agree on this. The attitude of 'needless to debate, just believe' will lead to a reliance on authorities, and useless in enlightening people to think independently with their own wisdom.

Confronting CCP and having city-state autonomy will inevitably involve the defintion of community, and how to deal with relationship of community members. In other words, Chin does not agree on the governance of CCP on HK. He expects a new political order can be formed through city-state, so what kind of order is it? We just see Chin merely talking ethnic Chinese culture, but did not mention his views on EM, so we decided to discuss on this. Especially in Remnants Discourse, he mentioned how to decolonize Chinese culture; and be inclusive while reviving Chinese culture. Sooner of later, he will have to face these problems. Yet, during the interview, he said: EM shall succumb temporarily in the process of confronting CCP; after the autonomy of HK, mainstream interests will be eventually the base of devising policy. It is the pot calling the cattle black as the cultural hegemony of CCP (for example using simplified characters [with over 1 billion users] to replace traditional ones [with less than 4 million])

5. Lastly, Mr Man doubts we, as hosts, posted a edited version without the entire conversation. From our experience, editing and writing more is more complicated than just uploading the conversation record. We hope that the main points can be emphasized by re-editing. If Chin and Baig agreed, we do not mind providing a full version, and let readers determine. At last I have to thank Mr Man's detailed reply, as an inspiration of more public discourse. This is what we aimed at.

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