If what we seek is the human and humanizing potential in politics, we may find it more quickly if, instead of setting out to remake politics, we first make ourselves stand without blinking before that which we find unlovely or dehumanizing in political affairs. What is it, then, that makes politics so hard to love or indeed to endure? Is it just that the wrong people are drawn into politics? Or is politics the kind of activity that inevitably leads even good people astray? Lord Acton’s aphorism seems to capture our fear and to express the prevailing cynicism. If “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and if politics is fundamentally concerned with power, then politics cannot help having a harmful influence on those drawn into its sphere. My observation of cities and city leaders has persuaded me that there are hopeful signs all around us of the emergence of a more humanly sustaining and fulfilling politics. But I take issue with the views of some of my colleagues who want to believe that this more hopeful politics is preferable because it has less (or perhaps nothing at all) to do with power. I am convinced that all politics is about power, but that there are different ways of relating to power, and that it is in those differences that we have to seek sustainable signs of the humanizing of politics.
The Good City and the Good Life: Renewing the Sense of Community