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addabook - Politics Is for Power
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Politics Is for Power
How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change
Eitan Hersh
read on May 15, 2020

Politics is for Power is a study of the current trend towards what Hersh coins 'political hobbyism', wherein people who identify as highly political and in fact think that they are highly political and participating politically in a civic sense, when they are in fact doing nothing of substance. Which is a fancy way to say that there are more people than ever who post on facebook about their political opinions, but fewer than ever who are legitimately able to convert those opinions into political power. More people than ever are treating politics as a sport - something that they might be passionate about and consume a lot of their life, but where they only observe it, not affect it. His thesis, and the namesake of the book, is that the purpose of politics is to gain political power. That's it. And gaining political power isn't done on facebook. It's done in your neighborhood, talking to peers and coworkers, and organizing locally - more-often-than-not it is done in the service of driving change at the local level. You shouldn't organize your neighborhood to vote for national campagins, but for local ones. What's happening in city hall? On the county board? Who are the local judges, or state reps? As a matter of fact it is those positions that affect your life (almost always moreso than national politics) and also it is those positions over which your local organizing can have material affect (again, in contract to national politics).

I liked the book a lot. A few bullets:

  • Surprisingly to me, is the college educated demographic who claim to be politically engaged who are the most likely to engage primarily or only in political hobbyism. They are also more likely to respond/(lie) in surveys that they are frequent voters, when they in fact are not. Presumably this is because their high engagement in hobbyism placates their desire to actually be engaged. They feel as thought they are accomplishing something in their hobbyism, to a level that they claim to vote more than they actually do. Hobbyism is counterproductive in other obvious ways, but this was nuts.
  • Hersh discusses "shallow hobbies"; Meaning, if you died today and no one related to your hobby ever asked what happened to you, it is a shallow hobby. In particular, if you're only political engagement is shallow in this sense, it is in fact just hobbyism and nothing more.
  • Hersh spoke a bit about the 'deep canvassing', the practice/strategy of door-to-door canvassing with the strategy of just engaging in meaningful conversation with people, rather than blasting through a rote script for a particular candidate.


Author Bio:

[From his own bio at Tufts] I am Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Associate Professor of Civic Studies at Tufts' Tisch College. The focus of my writing and teaching is American politics. I study civic participation, voting rights, and the relationship between election rules, strategies, and the behavior of voters. Much of my work utilizes large databases of personal records to study political behavior. My second book, Politics is for Power, was published in January 2020. My first book, Hacking the Electorate, was published in 2015 (Cambridge UP). My peer-reviewed articles have been published in venues such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.