Why I think Populism fails in the modern world-Knowledgeable Elite institutions are irreplaceable

Jul 2012
762
Australia
Thanks for your contributions NordicDemosthenes, dreuxeng, sparky

My point is that anything we refer to as Principles, Rights, or "the right thing to do" is conditioned by the environment in which it arose and is used, and these principles will have a sacred status. To some degree these ideas are collective wisdoms reified - worked out in experience and given a sacred status which mere individuals should not attempt to out-think or change, and just respect. What goes as an undeniable principle in the liberal West is very different to what is accepted in other types of societies, like a Communist country or in the Muslim world. As hisory continues to show applying principles worked out in the liberal West to a non-liberal Western society has been an unmitigated disaster, despite all good intentions. As a number of contemporary societies show that a liberal-western type of society can be achieved by applying principles that the liberal West may find abhorrent.

Principles must be given a sacred-like status if they are to have the desired effect on people - that is guide their behaviour. But the objective reality is that as material conditions of the society change, these accepted principles may no longer be relevant and following them does not lead to benefits to society and the individual but creates problems. Its at this time a change in principle is needed. This does not mean they have to be discarded and replaced; they can be modified. I believe our principles experience considerable change over time without individuals being conscious of the fact. There is, to use the marxist term, a dialectical relationship between our principles etc, and the material conditions of society - conditions give rise to principles which are reified and viewed as controlling on society. As we apply principles to a changing environment the principle is modified to remain relevant to society. The dialectic process is far more intricate than individuals can understand and the changes pass through unnoticed, leaving us with the idea that the principle, although modified over time, has universal value.

That said, societies do have a degree of flexibility in how principles are accepted and applied. they may even allow a number of competing principles to exist at any point in time. The extent this happens will depend on the wealth and sophistication of the society, where alternative practices may be seen as not threatening the generally accepted principles.

Every society must have a process of change to reconfigure its "universal principles" to the conditions at hand, or to manage material conditions within the boundaries set by accepted principles (the change may be to an already tolerated alternative principle). Failure to do so will mean a gulf will develop between principles and lived reality and result in an underperforming or even a disfunctional society. Depending on circumstances, a failure to adjust principles to reality within a reasonable time in an orderly fashion will leave the society vulnerable to perpetual regression or to change by violent means.

To bring this back to the OP, in western liberal society we are seeing a growing gulf between principles and reality as the processes of society in its current manifestation are no longer delivering the rewards to all members. Principles - both ideas held and the social institutions created to bring into practice those ideas - are no longer functioning as they should. Ideas and social institutions are still held as sacred, but the masses are feeling aggrieved and crying out for their share of the benefits. Something has gotta give - principles have to been changed to align to new material conditions (not everyone can partake in the benefits), or practices have to be changed to keep alignment with principles (recipients of benefits may need to share more with the masses).
 
Sep 2015
1,805
England
Thanks for your contributions NordicDemosthenes, dreuxeng, sparky

My point is that anything we refer to as Principles, Rights, or "the right thing to do" is conditioned by the environment in which it arose and is used, and these principles will have a sacred status. To some degree these ideas are collective wisdoms reified - worked out in experience and given a sacred status which mere individuals should not attempt to out-think or change, and just respect. What goes as an undeniable principle in the liberal West is very different to what is accepted in other types of societies, like a Communist country or in the Muslim world. As hisory continues to show applying principles worked out in the liberal West to a non-liberal Western society has been an unmitigated disaster, despite all good intentions. As a number of contemporary societies show that a liberal-western type of society can be achieved by applying principles that the liberal West may find abhorrent.

Principles must be given a sacred-like status if they are to have the desired effect on people - that is guide their behaviour. But the objective reality is that as material conditions of the society change, these accepted principles may no longer be relevant and following them does not lead to benefits to society and the individual but creates problems. Its at this time a change in principle is needed. This does not mean they have to be discarded and replaced; they can be modified. I believe our principles experience considerable change over time without individuals being conscious of the fact. There is, to use the marxist term, a dialectical relationship between our principles etc, and the material conditions of society - conditions give rise to principles which are reified and viewed as controlling on society. As we apply principles to a changing environment the principle is modified to remain relevant to society. The dialectic process is far more intricate than individuals can understand and the changes pass through unnoticed, leaving us with the idea that the principle, although modified over time, has universal value.
Very interesting. As an initial reply i would like ask what kinds of examples and evidence you have in mind to support this idea.

For instance: 1) An undeniable principle in the West that is very different to what is accepted in Communist or Muslim countries?
2) Principles that are/is an unmitigated disaster when applied to a non-western country?
3) Principles used in a non-western country in order to better apply some western value?
4) What principles may cease being so relevant when material conditions change?
5) Since they have ceased providing benefits, what principles need to have changed, in order remain relevant to society?
6) Which principles have changed that people have not noticed?
7) Who can understand the intricate relations between principles and material conditions.

with regards,
 
Last edited:

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,647
Portugal
And here I would say that any kind of homogenization of values is contrary to the goals of philosophy, science and the search for truth. I agree that a homogenization of values is necessary, but as soon as one admits that and takes that step then you are also entering a different universe (that of religion) I would say.


I don’t think we fall into the universe of religion, there exists latitude enough to have quite different opinions, there is liberty and freedom of speech. Take the case of Portugal, that is quite far from the best democracies around, and we have in the Parliament Communists, Trotskyists, Greens, Animal Defenders, Socialists, Social Democrats and Liberals, and Christian Democrats/Social Christians, and inside those groups probably even more. Can we imagining they all fit in the same religious group? And still they all proclaim that we live in a democracy and that they respect that democracy. The homogenization is basically restricted in knowing and respecting the game rules. And there was a pacification of the fight, a pacification that in Portugal didn’t existed in the hot years of 1974 and 1975, after the revolution that throw out the right wing dictatorship of the “New State”.



This is why I prefer the idea to have this free, democratic political system "superimposed" on another kind of more organic community, that is more tolerant of differences of opinion. To take an example: I do not like communists very much, and think their values are harmful to any free society and too democracy as well (as I agree that your examples are). Take Gudrun Schyman, the former leader of the "Left Party" here in Sweden. I think we agree on very little politically - but is she therefore "unswedish"? Or is it me that is "unswedish"? Clearly our values can't both be right, as they are mutually exclusive, ergo - one of has has have "unswedish" values, no?


No. And I even have a hard time to understand you here, if both of you are Swedish, how can one of you be “unswedish”?! Apparently you and Gudrun Schyman just want different things for your country. That doesn’t make any of you more Swedish than the other. Let us recall the “Egalité” principle. Both are equally Swedish citizens.



Ethical rules of behaviour, norms, call them principles in the descriptive sense if you want - are very important - maybe the most important thing in a society. I personally like philosophy and is much influenced by many philosophers in my view of the world, but I do not think that philosophy is a natural grounding for society though. Most people are not natural philosophers, and as I wrote in my post to @dreuxeng - I think the internal logic of politics (it needs unquestioned truths that it can use for certain ends) and that of philosophy (it needs absolute truths that it can only arrive at through questioning) are in conflict.



I would instead liken philosophy to a search-light that can be used to shed light on politics and on society from unexpected directions, or that can be used to formulate truths about the nature of politics as can be observed. These two purposes seem to me to be contrary to using philosophy instrumentally to inform politics.



But I agree with what you wrote otherwise.


I don’t disagree with you that “Most people are not natural philosophers”. Even if most of us are cheap philosophers! But I, a cheap philosopher, can’t disassociate Philosophy from Ethics and you even said that Ethical rules are important. Besides, I don’t consider that Philosophy is necessarily in conflict with Politics in the mentioned items. Nor I think that politics needs unquestioned truths or Philosophy reaches absolute truths, even if that can be the ultimate goal. So, on the contrary, Politics needs Philosophical principles as a search-light to clear the path (and I am somewhat using your terminology), and to take the better decisions available, according to those principles.



Well, there are a few different interpretations of liberty though. For example, in France and Germany it is, from as far as I know, illegal to deny that the Holocaust happened. In the US this is legal. This is a pretty big deal in principle. The differences are understandable in a historical context (given that France and Germany were much closer to the Holocaust), but it still leads to two quite different interpretations of freedom of speech. Similarly, there is a philosophical contradiction between "positive and negative rights" - all positive rights in some ways infringe on someone else's freedoms, i.e. they "don't stop when my freedoms begin".



Of course you may be skeptical in the concept of "positive rights", and if so I agree with you. Generally, I find the spirit of 50%-2/3rds of what you are are saying to be very good (and I am glad you are also skeptical towards natural rights), if you were made dictator I am sure you would set up quite sensible rules and interpret these rules quite sensibly. What I fear is the slippery slope, and what happens at the social level... everything degenerates over time. Is this model you are describing more or less prone to degeneration then the model I am describing? Can it self-heal and adapt when it degenerates?


Indeed the issue in Germany (I don’t know about France) is to be understood on a wider historical perspective. In principle I am against it. Meaning that anyone has the right to say idiotic things. If the citizen hasn’t that tight, than his liberty is diminished. But again let us recall that any liberty is never infinite and recall that if those “idiotic things” threaten the democracy than the democracy has the obligation to intervene. Sometimes the line here can be thin between the right to intervene in defence of the state in a democracy and in a dictatorship. That is why in democracies there exist the divisions of powers: Executive/Legislative and Judicial; and still the freedom of speech. And checks and balances in the USA political terminology. We don’t have those divisions of powers so clear and those checks and balances in dictatorships.



To your last two questions I don’t have answers. Every system changes in time. Nothing is immutable. Those changes are degeneration or improvements? I think we always have both. For instance in the last years I, with my political perspective, would call a degeneration to what is happening in some democracies around the world, namely and mostly in USA and Brazil. I hope that they can heal.



Right. I agree that all citizens should be equal before the law. However, I also think that it is possible to disperse power so much in so little quantities that the rulers are no longer part of the people they are supposed to rule, let alone respect the people they are supposed to rule. This is my fear with many modern representative democracies. Aristocracy and monarchy is at least more honest about the rules of the game...


Yes, some politicians can on time consider themselves aristocrats of the Ancient Regime, above the law, untouchables, that happened in Portugal in the mentioned case. So it is important to mention again the “equality before the law” and the separation of powers, in this case the executive and the judicial.



But to fight against that dispersion of power that you mention we don’t have many more available tools. Do we kill population to avoid that dispersion? It isn’t the answer to me. Do we create micro states? That could have been the answer some 2500 years ago in Greece, it isn’t today on a global village called Earth.



I was referring to myself as that student in my 20s. :p

Agreed that citizenship ought to be the criteria, but all countries - even the most liberal Democracies - condition citizenship at least somewhat in practice. In no country that I know of can people under 18 vote, to take an obvious example. In some countries prisoners can't vote, and usually immigrants can't either. I think that if everyone is a citizen then everyone must have the interests and the responsibilities of a citizen. You are right, this is difficult to do without infringing democracy. This is why I suggested military service, as I thought that was the most egalitarian criteria I could think of. Of course it is not without problems though...
Yep, I got the idea that you were referring to you. Removing the technological part you could be referring to me in my 20’s, talking nonsense in small discussion groups nights after nights.

As for the limits of citizenships they must exist. All principles must fall from the high ground and be pragmatic. Here come the debatable pars again, the political options, the votes. It would be possible or desirable that a child of 2 years old could vote? What about 3 years old? Or 4? I don’t think so. So it was established a limit, usually 18 years old. It is debatable but a limit is necessary. As for the prisoners that aren’t allowed to vote, I am against. In principle the prisoner, convicted, should loose their liberty of movements, not their rights as a citizen. But since it is temporary and a consequence of his/her actions, I can agree that is debatable, there is where the politics get in to take a decision.

As for your last note, I am not against military service for all citizens. I just stated previously that today it is not easy to implement and I don’t know if could be productive in purely military terms. In a social perspective it helps to establish bonds between the persons.
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
Thanks for your contributions NordicDemosthenes, dreuxeng, sparky

My point is that anything we refer to as Principles, Rights, or "the right thing to do" is conditioned by the environment in which it arose and is used, and these principles will have a sacred status. To some degree these ideas are collective wisdoms reified - worked out in experience and given a sacred status which mere individuals should not attempt to out-think or change, and just respect. What goes as an undeniable principle in the liberal West is very different to what is accepted in other types of societies, like a Communist country or in the Muslim world. As hisory continues to show applying principles worked out in the liberal West to a non-liberal Western society has been an unmitigated disaster, despite all good intentions. As a number of contemporary societies show that a liberal-western type of society can be achieved by applying principles that the liberal West may find abhorrent.

Principles must be given a sacred-like status if they are to have the desired effect on people - that is guide their behaviour. But the objective reality is that as material conditions of the society change, these accepted principles may no longer be relevant and following them does not lead to benefits to society and the individual but creates problems. Its at this time a change in principle is needed. This does not mean they have to be discarded and replaced; they can be modified. I believe our principles experience considerable change over time without individuals being conscious of the fact. There is, to use the marxist term, a dialectical relationship between our principles etc, and the material conditions of society - conditions give rise to principles which are reified and viewed as controlling on society. As we apply principles to a changing environment the principle is modified to remain relevant to society. The dialectic process is far more intricate than individuals can understand and the changes pass through unnoticed, leaving us with the idea that the principle, although modified over time, has universal value.

That said, societies do have a degree of flexibility in how principles are accepted and applied. they may even allow a number of competing principles to exist at any point in time. The extent this happens will depend on the wealth and sophistication of the society, where alternative practices may be seen as not threatening the generally accepted principles.

Every society must have a process of change to reconfigure its "universal principles" to the conditions at hand, or to manage material conditions within the boundaries set by accepted principles (the change may be to an already tolerated alternative principle). Failure to do so will mean a gulf will develop between principles and lived reality and result in an underperforming or even a disfunctional society. Depending on circumstances, a failure to adjust principles to reality within a reasonable time in an orderly fashion will leave the society vulnerable to perpetual regression or to change by violent means.

To bring this back to the OP, in western liberal society we are seeing a growing gulf between principles and reality as the processes of society in its current manifestation are no longer delivering the rewards to all members. Principles - both ideas held and the social institutions created to bring into practice those ideas - are no longer functioning as they should. Ideas and social institutions are still held as sacred, but the masses are feeling aggrieved and crying out for their share of the benefits. Something has gotta give - principles have to been changed to align to new material conditions (not everyone can partake in the benefits), or practices have to be changed to keep alignment with principles (recipients of benefits may need to share more with the masses).
Interesting post, thought provoking and many good points. Broadly it seems like a very good descriptive sociological model you have there, as such models come.

Perhaps I would say it's not just about "benefits" but also about a sense of community and one's sense of self being threatened... I feel that you have a certain Marxist bent (maybe I am wrong), and while I would not disavow the effects of wealth and material factors alltogether - far from it - I feel that you are perhaps giving them a little too much weight. Not "much" too much. A little too much. But those are nitpickings.
 
Jul 2012
762
Australia
Very interesting. As an initial reply i would like ask what kinds of examples and evidence you have in mind to support this idea.
These are the instances I had in mind....

An undeniable principle in the West that is very different to what is accepted in Communist or Muslim countries?
Communist countries call themselves democracies, just like the west, yet their democracy kicks in only after the central role of the communist party in society is accepted.

Principles that are/is an unmitigated disaster when applied to a non-western country?
Colonialism was the biggest disaster - non-western people were not treated as equals.
Post WW2 imposing western standards on societies, particularly 3rd world, that had not developed institutions to support western ideals.

Principles used in a non-western country in order to better apply some western value?
Popular dictators creating a positive environment to allow free enterprise capitalistic business principles to be established in their countries - Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea.

What principles may cease being so relevant when material conditions change?
Feudalism to capitalist structure - personal loyalties have been dropped in favour of commercial contracts.

Which principles have changed that people have not noticed?
Free men have equal political rights and will act according to their own conscience for the benefit of society. The Enlightenment recognised a free man as one who was not beholden to any other man for the means of his existence. A man dependent on another man for his livelihood is likely to make decisions to ensure his own livelihood rather than the benefit of society. In today's terms that means a man must be at least self-employed, or have access to independent means of existence (money). In the 19th century western society shifted to "universal manhood suffrage", and later to "universal suffrage".

Who can understand the intricate relations between principles and material conditions.
Very few people - and they will not be accepted by mainstream society.
 
Sep 2015
1,805
England
Replies after each quote:

These are the instances I had in mind....

An undeniable principle in the West that is very different to what is accepted in Communist or Muslim countries?
Communist countries call themselves democracies, just like the west, yet their democracy kicks in only after the central role of the communist party in society is accepted.

Principles that are/is an unmitigated disaster when applied to a non-western country?
Colonialism was the biggest disaster - non-western people were not treated as equals.
Post WW2 imposing western standards on societies, particularly 3rd world, that had not developed institutions to support western ideals.
How did "we" introduce western standards, or indeed principles to 3rd world countries however. The fact that a leader of a government might decide to pick apart the constitution and establish a dictatorial (absolutist/totalitarian) regime, surely does not mean that "we" ought not to have tried,or try - to introduce/establish western principles of governance: democracy (electoral fraud), the Rule of Law (intimidation of judges & new appointments); Liberty (arrest of critics, journalists, political opposition). Furthermore we exist so the way we do things, give or take, is not exactly a secret. It's just that power always tends to corrupt.

Principles used in a non-western country in order to better apply some western value?
Popular dictators creating a positive environment to allow free enterprise capitalistic business principles to be established in their countries - Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea.
Dictatorial powers used or not used in fact, for the benefit of the people: an enlightened dictator, the Philosopher King! Or strong at first, and then when things (economy & rule of Law) are more established structurally & culture-wise, more democracy can then begin to be further established. There may be parallels in advocates of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and the EU.

What principles may cease being so relevant when material conditions change?
Feudalism to capitalist structure - personal loyalties have been dropped in favour of commercial contracts.
'All those who thought, or claimed, that they had discovered laws in history, from Marx and Engels to Toynbee & Buckle, were wrong...' !!!
And it makes a tremendous amount of sense.

Which principles have changed that people have not noticed?
Free men have equal political rights and will act according to their own conscience for the benefit of society. The Enlightenment recognised a free man as one who was not beholden to any other man for the means of his existence. A man dependent on another man for his livelihood is likely to make decisions to ensure his own livelihood rather than the benefit of society. In today's terms that means a man must be at least self-employed, or have access to independent means of existence (money). In the 19th century western society shifted to "universal manhood suffrage", and later to "universal suffrage".
Surely in ensuring your own livelihood, you benefit society - since if you change job, and find a more suitable occupation, you are at least part of a successful business, paying taxes, and perhaps a happier person etc. You are surely not saying that men, and then women, did not notice there own ownership of the franchise!?

Who can understand the intricate relations between principles and material conditions. Very few people - and they will not be accepted by mainstream society.
When enough people have enough money, and realise they are dependent on others, in a mutual system of freedom & liberty, for their lives and livelihood, individually and collectively they will protect and advance those principles. If people do not gain as much materially as others they may feel some resentment at an apparent unfair system; but at the same time they may realise the benefits they have nonetheless: that the material difference is because of evident differences in inherent talent and ability, and that regardless they may realise they have a higher material standard of living at the same time! And that they are living in a Free World ALSO, where they/we have a voice, a vote, our Freedom, & our Liberty etc etc. Most if not all people may indeed realise these evident facts of life and society! But they ARE mainstream society, and always will be - unless those principles begin to be compromised in some way, and enough people have a sense of it.
 
Jul 2012
762
Australia
Very valid points you raise Dreuxeng.

In respect of the developed world and the 3rd world, democracy is a bit like pregnancy - you just can't be a bit pregnant. Introducing democratic concepts without developing supporting institutions is at best stupid, often misguided and in most cases just a screen to hide underhanded dealings. Ultimately you cannot encourage democracy with an other without a willingness to share equally with them.

Absolutely, most historical laws were wrong, but through the process of seeking to better understand our world we have encouraged the world forward. Our current arrangements won't last, but they will be a base for a future world outlook.

The primary objective of people is to provide for their needs - here Maslow's hierarchy of needs are informative - food, shelter & Safety, love & procreation, esteem, self-actualization. On top of this, throughout the ages people have preferred, subject to the conditions of the time and place, to be allowed to be responsible for meeting their needs. This then provides a dilemna as man achieves far more in a group than striking out on his own; and group dynamics requires group cohesion and a central focus of activity, both of which work against allowing individual full freedom of action. So here is the dilemna for societies - how to allow individuals (at least a portion of the group) the scope for freedom of action to achieve their needs while at the same time submit to group dynamics and get the massive benefits of co-operation. From an individualist point of view there will be many ways to achieve that; but from a group dynamic point of view one, or a very limited number of alternatives, at any one point in time are acceptible.


So the key to societies is how to create a workable system in the material conditions it finds itself, with deference to its history and culture, its development of human resources and the presence of competitors. Most is achieved through co-operative behaviour of the group - and so a society must do whatever it takes to get its members to get behind the group focus, even at the expense of individual freedoms - but its the creativity and effort of individuals that creates opportunities to expand the scope of the society. "Principles", "fundamental laws", "law and order" are concepts thrown up in achieving and maintain the balance.


To bring it back to the OP, societies are in continual flux as they seek to create the best dynamic for their place and time. To guide us in our efforts we need principles, and these principles are a product of their place and time. When times change we need to find a new dynamic. In the process we will not always get it right. When we do time moves forward and creates a new discrepancy. The recent rise of populism is a response to a particular stage of the developmental path - it is a warning that the current dynamic is not right.

The West has been in a developmental cycle that began in WW2. It has taken our societies to new heights of wealth and individual freedoms of action. But this cycle has become tired and is not delivering according to its own targets. Yes, benefits are being created, but accessed by fewer and fewer people. Now the masses are becoming conscious that although they are behaving according to the rules, they are not participating in the benefits. Populism is a call from the masses for the share they have been promised. Once they feel they are sharing in the rewards fairly, populism will disappear. As individuals we'll all have a different take on this point, and how society resolve these different viewpoints will determine how well we respond to the conditions of our place and time.
 

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