Are the political and philosophical lives always at odds with one another?Are the political and philosophical lives always at odds with one another?
If a politician is elected in a democratic society, that politician is supposed to put the policies into action that he/she promised during the campaign. The people elect the politician based on these policies. These policies likely reflect the politician's general philosophy about how government should be run at that time. But, in a country like America when the Congress is divided into two opposing parties, the politician should be willing to compromise his philosophy in order to get things accomplished. So, there are times when philosophy and politics are at odds with one another and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, there are examples (listed already) of people who did not compromise their philosophies. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. put their philosophy completely into their politics for completely good and ethical reasons. Hitler also instilled his philosophy into his politics for completely evil and nationalistic reasons. So, there are times when philosophy and politics merge and this could result in real progress (Gandhi, MLK) or it could result in tragedy (Hitler).
Many people see philosophy as a solitary act, the practice of constructing a set of beliefs based on knowledge, ethics, science, community, etc. Politics is a social act. So, there is a tendency for philosophy and politics to be at odds because individuals with different philosophies must interact with each other and discuss how to run the government.
This is really a very complex question the answer to which depends upon your philosophical alignment and your political orientation. To illustrate, an existentialist in DC will have a hard time keeping accord between philosophy and politics because much that is done in Congress is predicated upon the principle that life indeed has meaning. A philosophical Marxist in the Democratic Party in Boston living in any capacity will feel opposition between the philosophical and the political. Someone following Kant's philosophy of moral imperative may experience times with and without opposition if in Congress in DC depending on the situation. Perhaps pardoning a past President for impeachable crimes would pose opposition while funding entitlements for the disabled would not. An adherent of Locke's philosophy would feel opposition between philosophy and politics if in Moscow. Yet a stalwart pragmatist and humanist in DC might do exceedingly well without feeling opposition since compromise and concession would pose little problem. In short, the opposition would come from the philosophy held and the political situation present and whether or not these were compatible or contradictory and upon whether or not, as pohnpei points out, compromise is possible within the philosophical position.
By its very nature, philosophy tends to be a very personal journey. Obviously, politics is a more communal issue. Will they always be at odds? Of course.
If an individual ignores the foundation of their personal philosophy for the sake of politics then they are at constant risk of feeling as if they have “sold out” or betrayed what they believe in.
On the other hand, if any individual does what their “heart” tells them is right, then they are effectively ignoring the needs, wants, and desires of the rest of society in order to do what they personally think is best.
No professional politician was ever elected to do what they believe in their heart is right. Politicians are elected to represent the best interest of their constituency. People complain all of the time about politicians not “doing the right thing” in order to get reelected, but that is sort of the point. Reelection means the politician is following the will of the people that put them their in the first place.
I do not believe that they are completely at odds with one another, but the more prominent one becomes and the more important one's political actions, the more they will be at odds with one's philosophy.
At the level that Post #1 is talking about, it is easy to harmonize one's philosophy and politics. There is no need for compromise when it comes to how we vote or whether we give to a food drive. However, once we become engaged at a higher political level, we start to have to move away from our philosophies and engage more in politics. This is because politicians simply have to engage with and compromise with the other side.
We see from our current problems what happens when leaders try to make their philosophies and their politics 100% compatible with one another. In Congress today, we have zealots on both sides who will not compromise and therefore nothing gets done.
Politics and philosphy have been closely linked throughout history, dating all the way back to Plato's The Republic. For me when I think of a politics and philosphy sparring with one another, I picture the Enlightenment thinkers, drawing on their personal beliefs about what government, leadership, and the role of the citizen should be and then using those personal beliefs to create strong and powerful models of government. Philosophy brings meaning to politics, imbuing government with more than just a meaningless fight for power--the truly strong and impactful political movements that have transformed countries, for better or worse, have also been grounded in philosphy.
All we need to do is look at Adolf Hitler, however, to find an example of an individual whose political life closely reflected his philosophical life. He distrusted and disliked the Jewish people from an early age, supporting his biases by blaming Jews for the economic difficulties in Germany as he grew up and joining groups that warned of the potential dangers of Germany being overrun by eastern European Jewish immigrants.
As Hitler began building his political following, he found it easy to build upon this philosophical stance. As he gained followers and amplified the antagonism against the Jews and other non-Aryans, his political actions supported the philosophical outcomes he saw as inevitable.
We might introduce the term "professional politician" into this discussion. The Thoreau and Gandhi examples make clear the idea that philosophy and politics can combine in social action. Martin Luther King Jr. offers a very similar example.
However, when we look to professional politicians, people who make careers out of politics, we might have a new animal to consider. I'd propose that when politics becomes a job, a person will compromise certain philosophically oriented values out of a sense of expedience and necessity.
Sometimes a car mechanic will install a used tire, despite feeling that it's always best to go with new tires. It's just part of the job.
I think that you can argue that philosophy is always going to impact politics. The two are closely linked. A person's politics are a result of his deeply held beliefs. Those beliefs come from personal philosophy, which is also linked to spirituality.