Back away slowly

datePosted on 00:20, December 9th, 2009 by Lew

Update: This post was a response to an attack on me by Chris Trotter. Since it was published, Chris has graciously apologised for writing it, and for the general bad blood between us. He has deleted the post from Bowalley Road, and I give him my hearty thanks for the reconsideration.

I have also been culpable in this rather nasty exchange, which stretches back almost a year. For that part in it I, too, must apologise. While I retain strenuous objections to Chris’ political positions (as I’m sure he does to mine) these needn’t have become personalised, and are better discussed calmly as befits reasonable adults. While they may yet prove intractable, it should be possible for people in a free society to hold irreconcilable differences and yet remain civil. Much heat, and too little light, has emerged from this meeting of political minds, but I think there is potential for future engagement between Chris and I based on some sort of goodwill and tolerance rather than upon vituperation and political posturing, and I will do what I can to cultivate it.

While Chris has deleted his post, I do not believe in tampering with the historical record in that way. While I might regret things I’ve said, I won’t pretend I didn’t say them. And so the content of my response remains below the fold. It should be read with the subsequent context and this apology (and pledge to more constructive engagement in the future) very firmly in mind. In fact, the most worthwhile thing by far to emerge from the dispute is an unexpectedly useful discussion led by commenter “Ag” on the nature of class consciousness and electorate rationality: I commend that discussion, rather than the post from which it emerged, to the KP readership.

L


If I had any serious misgivings about the premises or reasoning underpinning my latest post on Labour’s ‘blue collars, red necks‘ approach to opposition, they have been dispelled by the fact that Chris Trotter has had to plumb such inky rhetorical and intellectual depths in order to substantiate his latest and most rabid attack against them, and me. For some time unwilling, and now apparently unable, to engage on the substance of topics in which we have a common interest, Chris has resorted to outright vituperation of the sort to which he once took haughty umbrage; framing me up as a race traitor and expecting me to confirm or deny my position on slavery. I would understand the lack of substantive engagement if he was just too busy, or if he thought it beneath him; but clearly neither of those are the case.

Really, the post is of such a low standard that I would ordinarily mock or simply ignore it; but since Chris has reiterated that he stands by his words and wants me to engage with them, out of what vestiges remain of my respect for the man I’ll muster one last reply. And rather than just responding to the florid rhetoric, I’ll address the substance as well.

Chris seems to have only just figured out that all the discourse between us this past year or so has really just been “haggling over where to draw the line” on matters of political identity, as he says; but also that where to draw the line is a matter of critical importance. He and I have not been arguing over whether the world is round or flat, although it sometimes seemed that way; we have been arguing matters of nuance within a wider political-philosophic tradition; the ‘big tent’ of leftist political thought. He frames his article as a ‘thought experiment’ which purports to offer a choice of paths, one of which is right and the other of which is wrong. If I follow his path I will come out opposing slavery but will have to abandon my own indigenist positions; if I follow what he claims are my beliefs, I will come out supporting slavery and he will win a moral victory. The problem is that the two paths are a false dichotomy: I’ll take what he believes as a given, but what he thinks I believe is wholly fabricated; some out of ignorance, some out of malice, some out of simple wishful thinking.

The argument’s flaws fall into two broad categories; those of form, and those of substance. Although it latches onto a flippant pair of sentences from a discourse of many thousands of words, I’ll elide critique of similar trivia.* That aside, the flaws which remain comprise major failings of understanding underwritten by the righteous pre-modernist ignorance which holds that if a learned man knows nothing of a matter, then it’s probably not worth knowing about anyway. The flaws of form are generally the nastier and more deceptive variety of rhetorical and logical fallacies, employed for the exclusive purpose of buttressing a rickety argument.

The two overarching rhetorical fallacies of the article are firstly the resort to reductio ad absurdum, picking the most extreme and ridiculous example** possible for this great show-trial of my character; replete with racial and class-based symbolism and against which no reasonable person could argue. And in that lies the second fallacy — what is referred to, if you’ll excuse the term, as the “pig-fucker” argument — suggest something outrageous about someone, knowing that it’s completely untrue but that they’ll have to stand up on their hind legs and deny it nevertheless. My objection to its use is not so much that it’s unfair — we’re apparently long past civility — but that it is intellectually dishonest. But in a way, it works. To misstate the old lawyer’s dictum; if the substance is on your side, bang on the substance; if the symbolism is on your side, bang on the symbolism; if neither the substance nor the symbolism are on your side, make up a pig-fucker argument.

On to the substance.

Kiwipolitico’s “Lew” makes the following statement: “There is no ‘true’ and ‘false’ consciousness in an empirical sense; it’s value-judgements all the way down and as such the domain of individuals and their societies to determine what’s right for them. If people and their societies are to have any measure of political autonomy, then they must be permitted to decide these most basic matters of identity.”

Aside from the (admittedly obscure) Pratchett reference as a marker for ‘don’t read too literally’, this isn’t the complete statement I made; it appears here shorn of the context which shows that I was referring strictly to the Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’, not all consciousness.

It’s this misquote which lays the first foundation of the whole flawed argument. Chris’ play here is to paint me as a flake who believes in nothing, when the unfortunate reality is just that I don’t accept that some bloke with a cloth cap and a red book can — as a matter of certainty — know my own political needs better than I. There is a cognitive deficit and a moral hazard: they don’t know what I know about my needs; and their motivations serve their own ends, not mine. Even if they did have my best interests at heart, their claim to truth is based on insufficient information. The matter of whether it’s true or not turns on my own political needs, which an external advisor cannot know. So while it might happen to be correct, that’s different from it being categorically true, and that’s what the claim of ‘class consciousness’ and its reverse are: categorical statements of truth made without knowledge of a person’s own political utility, as if politics exists for some reason other than to allow a person or group to get their societal needs met. This is not airy-fairy postmodernism; it’s the core stuff of basic, classical Enlightenment liberalism.

Chris goes on:

Let us suppose that the Maori Party, which has already come out in favour of privatised prisons, decides to go one step further and resurrect the cultural institution of slavery as a “basic matter of identity”. Not for Pakeha, mind you, or any other ethnicity – just for Maori.
Privatised correctional facilities, even today, are accused of enslaving their inmates, so it is not beyond the realm of speculation that Maori proponents of privatised prisons might seek to justify requiring prisoners to perform forced labour by couching their proposal in terms of cultural “identity”.

False premise #1: that Māori now are the same as Māori then, and if one supports modern Māori aspirations, one must obviously be OK with the various atrocities committed throughout history. Aside from being simply absurd, especially from someone who so readily claims the ‘sins of the fathers’ defence in shrugging off his own white guilt, this shows an abject ignorance of tikanga Māori, which is no more fixed or unchanging than any other culture and in its modern form is no more tolerant of slavery than current Pākehā norms. But this would require Chris to ponder the vexed question: “when were the Māori?” His fear and a loathing of tino rangatiratanga leads him to suppose that if you scratch the surface of their indigeneity they are still just savages like in the bad old days, haven’t changed since Hone Heke chopped down the flagstaff, and are better off just becoming assimilated brown honkeys. The right to keep slaves is not a cultural touchstone for Māori any more than it is for Pākehā to forcibly confiscate the local park or golf course of a Sunday afternoon: both were part of a prevailing socio-political system which no longer abides. Some folks’ customs have moved on since the beginning of the 19th Century, thank goodness.

False premise #2: That ‘indigenism’ means ‘whatever Māori people say about themselves is necessarily true’. The idea that anything can be an identity issue as long as some Māori person wants it to be so. I used the term ‘most basic matters of identity’ to refer to the right of Māori to define their own terms of political reference, within their own existing political norms, as an alternative to eurocentric terms of reference. That doesn’t imply carte blanche to simply make things up. I used the words carefully so as to mean just what they say: most basic matters of identity. Chris has decided that ‘most basic’ can mean whatever he wants it to mean and anything can be a matter of identity; that since he doesn’t understand how tikanga Māori political culture works, then it must be arbitrary and inscrutable. In a small way, he’s right. It might not be possible for someone to gain a proper understanding of such matters while mired in a 19th Century Eurocentric class analysis which claims to be an eternal, universal truth. In order to understand any cultural system you need to engage with it. The reality is that there’s method to the apparent madness of tikanga Māori politics; even if it frequently isn’t well-executed or particularly consistent, it’s not just a bunch of people inventing as they go.

So, Lew, what would be your response?

My response would be that a claim to support slavery as a matter of identity goes against what every modern Māori political movement has stood for. And even though prison labour is not really equivalent to slavery, I’d say the same about that.

Would you follow your own advice and, in the interests of giving Maori the fullest “measure of political autonomy” permit them to “decide these most basic matters of identity” without let or hindrance from Pakeha?

Chris revisits false premise #2 here (arbitrary stuff being included in ‘most basic matters of identity’), and introduces another.

False premise #3: The idea that the self-determination represents a pure and unadulterated claim to total sovereignty. Built into this is the exaggeration that when I said ‘if they’re to have any measure of political autonomy’ (my words), I meant ‘giving Māori the fullest measure of political autonomy’ or the ability to act ‘without let or hindrance from Pākehā’ (Chris’ words). The actual meaning in law and civic custom of the part of the Treaty from which this claim arises is now pretty well established. To presume to apply it more broadly is simple appropriative concept stretching of the same sort applied in #2, trying to turn words chosen carefully for their actual meaning into Humpty Dumpty terms.

Tino rangatiratanga as used in the Treaty of Waitangi did not represent an absolute claim to authority, but a negotiated form of shared sovereignty. Moreover, (although, revisiting false premise #1, it is perhaps understandable that an archaic understanding prevails) the term, its meaning and usage, have changed substantially since that time, and its meaning is now almost entirely mediated by the legislative and judicial organs of the crown.

More bluntly, would you allow Maori to enslave your fellow human-beings? Or, would you assert the duty of the unitary state of New Zealand to uphold its international obligations – not to mention its own statute law – regarding slavery, and condemn the suggestion out of hand.Of course, were you to do the latter, you would be exposing the utter hypocrisy of your basic position regarding tino rangatiratanga.

False premise #4: that any of what Chris imagines I believe (based on false premises #1-3) is in fact my ‘basic position’. He’s portrayed my position as that of a blind and abject worshipper at the altar of indigeneity; the sort of person he recently referred to as “fervent champions of an indigenous culture they can never truly join because, fundamentally, they despise their own” and who he accepted he was more or less calling race traitors. As if refusing to deny the historical fact of the Treaty and its now long-established legal and civic relevance, and insisting on the old Pākehā tradition of honouring our agreements was somehow treasonous.

You would be telling us that, in spite of your post-modernist ideological pretensions, you are actually a good, old-fashioned Enlightenment Man at heart.
Because the truth is, Lew, that you can’t have it both ways.

Now we just have follow-on error; because the preceding premises are false the conclusion is necessarily false as well.

Either you define “progressivism” as allowing Maori to reinstitute slavery – if that is their “politically autonomous” decision. Or, you condemn slavery as the antithesis of progressivism.
If it’s the former, then I (and probably 99.9 percent of the rest of New Zealand) would want no part of your Progressivism.
But, if it’s the latter, and you concede that there are limits to what a progressive individual can excuse in the name of determining “basic matters of identity”, then – just like the man in the joke who offers a beautiful woman an ever-diminishing sum of money to sleep with him – you and I are simply haggling over where to draw the line.

And finally, despite all the false premises, we reach the null hypothesis: that I am not a pig-fucker after all.

I’ll grant Chris one thing: if his premises had been sound, he would have had a point. If he had

  • not taken my statements out of context;
  • not stretched my words far beyond any reasonable interpretation;
  • not assumed that Māori were still savages beneath their thin layer of civilisation;
  • not completely misunderstood the basis of tikanga Māori politics;
  • not supposed incorrectly that ‘indigenism’ is just code for ‘whatever Māori reckon’;
  • not founded his position on the idea that tino rangatiratanga is an absolute claim to sovereignty which presumes to trump that of the crown; and
  • not sought to fabricate arguments from a completely imaginary of my position, making me out to be a blind shill for all things brown

… then the reasoning would have been perfectly sound. But of course, if he hadn’t have done all that he wouldn’t have had anything to write about, because he would have had to admit right at the first step that we’re basically arguing about settings, and would then have had to engage on the substance. The trouble is that Chris’ world — at least, the world expressed through his arguments with me — is Manichean black and white, cloth caps versus bowler hats; whereas mine is rather more complicated and the battle lines are much less clearly drawn. My settings are sliders, his are switches. So what we’ve gotten in his post is a glimpse of what an absolutist take on tino rangatiratanga might look like — perhaps how Chris himself might think if he were an indigenist, or a nationalist. I think we can all be very glad indeed that he isn’t any such thing.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that, rather than engaging me on the substance of my claims — something I’ve been trying to get him to do for most of the past year, admittedly sometimes in better faith than in others — Chris chose to fabricate a bunch of half-truths and perverse misunderstandings and ascribe them to me in an ugly caricature of my political views in order to construct the pig-fucker argument. There is no purpose in arguing against someone whose craven commitment to scoring points is such that they will sacrifice their intellectual honesty in order to do it. The technique has been used to great effect by a certain demagogue with whom Chris would (I hope) be horrified to share an intellectual standard: Glenn Beck, who is currently on the receiving end of just the same treatment as he often dishes out, and to which Chris has subjected me. While I could perhaps challenge Chris to defend some comparable atrocities of socialist history, I shall not do so. Part of the wider lesson I see coming from this whole debate about the Labour party’s new strategy is that it is usually wrong to ape those you claim to despise. But I think this will be the end of my engagement with Chris; at least for a while — there’s simply no point in doing anything other than backing away slowly. I suppose I should be humbled, or awed, by the extravagant lengths to which he (as a professional historian and writer) has felt it necessary to go to put a humble blogger in his place; but mostly I’m just sad, and a bit ashamed that a once-mighty tōtara of the left-wing ngāhere has become so rotten.

And there’s one other thing: quite apart from the other failings of Chris’ argument, its form and function, there’s its topic matter: the choice of slavery as the example chosen by a privileged while man to score cheap political points off race politics is distasteful to say the very least. So I’ll leave the last word to someone who actually knew what it was like to work on a chain gang.

L

* I said I would ignore the minor flaws, and I will do with one exception, which is too risible to leave out: the idea that I’m a libertarian (as if anyone must be who is opposed to socialism but isn’t a Tory, I suppose). As actual real live libertarians with whom I’ve argued will readily attest, I’m as much a libertarian as Chris is a progressive — which is to say, not very much of one, unless a definition of the term so broad as to be almost meaningless is adopted.

** Oh, wait — there’s one more ridiculous argument he could have used: the Holocaust. Maybe all is not lost.

Update: It seems that, in response, Chris has had no choice but to roll out the big gun: the allegation that I’m a totalitarian — “Hitlerite or Stalinist.” Truly, there is nothing more to be said.

47 Responses to “Back away slowly”

  1. Ag on December 9th, 2009 at 01:35

    The matter of whether it’s true or not turns on my own political needs, which an external advisor cannot know.

    What makes you so confident that this is the case, Lew? We can, as a matter of fact, know the needs of other people, and sometimes know them better than they do themselves. After all, everyone knows that the best examples of gift giving are ones where the giver demonstrates deeper knowledge of the recipient’s needs than the recipient had before.

    The idea that you always know your interests the best is simply false. The idea that you know them most of the time is also false. It’s perfectly possible for any one person to be manifestly unaware of their own needs, indeed the history of religious practices would demonstrate that this is the rule rather than the exception among our kind.

    Why is our political ideology based on a claim that is, at the mundane level, proven false every day?

    So while it might happen to be correct, that’s different from it being categorically true, and that’s what the claim of ‘class consciousness’ and its reverse are: categorical statements of truth made without knowledge of a person’s own political utility, as if politics exists for some reason other than to allow a person or group to get their societal needs met.

    Again, persons are not always the best judge of their own political needs (as with their other needs). That’s simply another inconvenient truth.

    Now, we could say that persons may not be the best judge of their own needs, but that others are worse in the long run. That is, I think, closer to what the liberals mean. But it’s just too ham-fisted. I’d say that in some areas of human activity they are, and some they aren’t. As a general rule, it just doesn’t work.

    Let’s take the example of regulating the medical profession. I’m quite prepared to accept that doctors know what is better for me than I do. If I am rational, I will follow the advice of the doctors.

    But what we have now, spurred by the principle of medical autonomy, is a huge alternative medicines industry that is founded upon quackery.

    Similarly, formerly tedious scientific discoveries with regard to climate change are now the object of conspiracist ravings. Reason tells us that we should be listening to climate scientists, even if they turn out to be wrong, but we live in an intellectual climate where every person demands that everything be proved to him or her, even if this is impossible due to the nature of the subject, or the stupidity of the individual.

    Our commitment to individual autonomy has simply led to the conspiracy theory being the signal feature of our culture, and deep relativism being the endgame. Postmodernism is simply the natural development of liberalism.

    This is not airy-fairy postmodernism; it’s the core stuff of basic, classical Enlightenment liberalism.

    And Enlightenment liberalism has failed, and it has failed in a completely obvious way. It assumes that all human beings are rational, autonomous choosers. But any clown can see that they aren’t. Hence, we have a political system that is designed for demigods and not human beings.

    Plato must be laughing.

  2. Lew on December 9th, 2009 at 10:20

    Come on, Ag, I’ve been clear that I’m not talking about perfect rationality.

    I’m not arguing that people’s own decisions taken on their individual authority and reason, are by defninition correct (as do the Objectivists); I’m arguing that, all else being equal, people make better decisions about political identity for themselves than others make for them. Imperfect, but less imperfect than the alternatives. Closer to your reformulation “that persons may not be the best judge of their own needs, but that others are worse in the long run” — I agree that it’s crude, but much less so than “group X has exclusive access to The Truth and you’d better listen”.

    I don’t discount the class analysis from being a worthwhile part of an overall political identity, but it doesn’t get special pre-eminent status as The Truth any more than should, say, religion. One of the major problems with the left, and the socialist left in particular, is that they often feel they don’t have to convince people of the legitimacy of their arguments — they seem to believe that people should simply accept them on faith. ‘False consciousness’ is a part of this: a tacit statement that if you don’t believe the party line, you’re a misguided fool who’s been brainwashed by the capitalist machine. Well, I don’t accept that. It’s destructive because it shuts down debate. It’s an excuse, a cop-out of the ‘contest of ideas’.

    Returning to another of my recurrent questions: if the class analysis is objectively true, how come it never takes hold? Or to change it a little bit and put it more specifically in the NZ context: if Labour’s policies objectively benefit a substantial majority of the electorate (and I believe that in general they do), how come they don’t always gain the support of that majority (or anything approaching it?) There are a lot of explanations for this, and to my mind, ‘false consciousness’ is a very poor one. More persuasive are those which explain the matter in terms of imperfect rationality, and place the responsibility on the political parties who have failed to garner support for their objectively-better policies.

    While ‘false consciousness’ arguments seek to shift the blame for voters’ irrational political choices from the left political establishment to the electorate, in my view, it’s the establishment who should shoulder the blame. They have a superior product and inferior marketing, and yet they choose not to fix the marketing, and would rather blame people for responding to the imperfect and unbalanced information which consequently feeds into the contest of political ideas.

    If the left stopped treating the electorate as (either) purely rational political actors who respond to crisp policy logic (or) as sheep who need to just follow the guidance of their ideological betters, and then berating them when they fail to act in approved ways — and instead attempted to win them over, I think it’d be onto a winner.

    L

  3. Idiot/savant on December 9th, 2009 at 11:24

    I think the whole line of argument around false consciousness of who knows whose desires better fundamentally misses the point. Freedom includes the freedom to make your own mistakes. And it doesn’t matter how much better off you’re going to make me by stepping in to force me to act according to my “true” or “rational” desires – I’m still going to resent it and resist it.

    The Rosseau – Kant idea that only rational freedom is real freedom, and that the irrational can or must be “forced to be free” is a poison at the heart of traditional left-wing thought. It lets anyone with an axiom system and a red book simply define your freedom away with an analytic w**k.* Which is a licence for the authoritarianism and human rights abuses that have tended to characterise actually existing socialist regimes.

    * censored out of consideration to my hosts.

  4. Idiot/savant on December 9th, 2009 at 11:27

    If the left stopped treating the electorate as (either) purely rational political actors who respond to crisp policy logic (or) as sheep who need to just follow the guidance of their ideological betters, and then berating them when they fail to act in approved ways — and instead attempted to win them over, I think it’d be onto a winner.

    What, treat us with respect, as citizens rather than peasants? Surely not…

  5. Keir on December 9th, 2009 at 12:31

    The Rosseau – Kant idea that only rational freedom is real freedom, and that the irrational can or must be “forced to be free” is a poison at the heart of traditional left-wing thought. It lets anyone with an axiom system and a red book simply define your freedom away with an analytic w**k.* Which is a licence for the authoritarianism and human rights abuses that have tended to characterise actually existing socialist regimes.

    This is awfully close to `a socialist Britain would require a Gestapo’; the ’45 Labour government didn’t in fact involve a Gestapo, but it did build the NHS. Likewise, the First NZ Labour Government left office when it lost an election, as did the French Socialists, the PSOE, u.s.w.

    Interestingly, the British Labour Party’s civil rights record went down the tube when they became less and less socialist; there’s probably something there far more than in dark mutterings about the totalitarian nature of Kant.

  6. Chris Trotter on December 9th, 2009 at 12:31

    First of all, Lew, let me say that there is something ever-so-slightly off-putting about the thought of a grown man, hunched over his keyboard, tap, tap, tapping away in cold academic fury over a throwaway reductio ad absurdum posting on (of all things) a blog. It speaks of such towering intellectual vanity that I hesitate to gratify it further by replying. Rest assured, I will not take as long about it as you did.

    The most important counter to your argument is simply to point out that the basic premises to my little thought experiment, which you claim to be false, are not false at all.

    As anyone who has read Tariana Turia’s speeches will attest, there are still Maori whose world view, cosmology, call it what you will, is deeply rooted in the pre-European period of Maori history. A great many of the claimants to the Waitangi Tribunal similarly rely on traditional ideas that go all the way back to the mythological origins of their people.

    Certainly, there’s another group of Maori (probably a significant majority) who embrace the European world-view, but they do not tend to figure prominently in the Maori sovereignty movement – just as they do not register on the Maori electoral roll.

    The tino rangatiratanga movement is not only philosophically dependent on the maintenance of traditional belief systems, but these beliefs are absolutely crucial to their entire political project. Your concessions in regard to the Treaty, for example, would be violently contested by the nationalists. Just read Donna Awatere’s book on the subject.

    The nationalists would also take issue with your idea that indigeneity is open to definition and re-definition by agencies external to the indigenes themselves.

    And that’s your whole problem, Lew.

    You would have the ethnic political movement you so strongly support conform to the philosophical norms you have so obviously (and impressively) mastered during your university career. But it doesn’t. And that’s why your defence is really no defence at all.

    At base, your counter-argument relies (as it always has done) on name-calling and false characterisations. Worse still, it is intended to inspire hatred and loathing: “back away slowly”, “rotten totara”, etc.

    It is clear that you cannot accept that I, or anyone else who takes a different philosophical and/or political position to yourself is actually entitled to do so. This, I’m afraid, is nothing short of totalitarian thinking. Be he Hitlerite of Stalinist, the totalitarian simply cannot accept that disagreement denotes anything other than a deliberate and dangerous urge to spread disease in the body politic, and that those responsible should be (at best) isolated, or (at worst) exterminated.

    Exterminism is, unfortunately, a growing problem in contemporary politics. It is, however, usually associated with rogue elements of the Far Right. The thought that a man of your obvious erudition might fall prey to its deadly allure is deeply disturbing.

  7. Lew on December 9th, 2009 at 12:43

    Chris, you deigned to comment on my blog! And after all these months of shouting from the battlements, during which time I assumed by your refusal to engage that you were above that sort of pettiness. The mighty tōtara falls yet lower.

    It’s not that I don’t think you’re entitled to hold and profess your opinions — it’s that I think they’re wrong, for reasons I’ve given at extraordinary length. You’re free to be wrong — but you’re not free to attack others who disagree with your holy truths without bringing criticism upon yourself, and you’re certainly not free to resort to the vilest of rhetorical devices in lieu of genuine engagement when such has been offered.

    We’ve had the holy trinity of intellectual and argumentative bankruptcy from you in the past few days: the pig-fucker argument; the Hitler/Stalin comparison, and now the Lebowski Defence: “that’s just your opinion, man.” You should be better than this.

    As to the time I took in dismantling your fallacious attack on me: you wanted a reply, and you got one. I shan’t be spending my time on it any further, though: you’re just not worth debating.

    But if you decide to mend your ways, let me know. There’s an actual debate to be had on the issues, and I intend to continue it with or without you. And that’s all from me on the topic. I’m done, and this blog will no more be sidetracked by this futile and damfoolish dispute.

    L

  8. Tom Semmens on December 9th, 2009 at 13:04

    Crickey you don’t half bang on about bullshit Lew.

  9. Idiot/savant on December 9th, 2009 at 13:09

    This is awfully close to `a socialist Britain would require a Gestapo’; the ‘45 Labour government didn’t in fact involve a Gestapo, but it did build the NHS. Likewise, the First NZ Labour Government left office when it lost an election, as did the French Socialists, the PSOE, u.s.w.

    Yes, they did. And its precicisely because they weren’t infected with that poison to the same degree as, say, the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. Operating within a democratic system tends to result in accepting the very freedom to make mistakes I’ve been arguing for. Establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat” does not.

    (I went with Lew’s terminology in an effort to avoid endless terminological quibbling over who was and wasn’t a True Scotsman. Clearly the effort was wasted. I am fundamentally uninterested in such theological nitpicking, and I’m happy to take the entire waste of time as read, so we can both get on with our lives)

  10. What would Hayek say on December 9th, 2009 at 13:15

    heh – rational vs imperfect rationality, value judgements – you sound more like an economist every day.

    We await with mirth.

  11. Keir on December 9th, 2009 at 13:43

    Yes, they did. And its precicisely because they weren’t infected with that poison to the same degree as, say, the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. Operating within a democratic system tends to result in accepting the very freedom to make mistakes I’ve been arguing for. Establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat” does not.

    What on earth does this mean? The French left (for example) operated within a democratic system mainly because they built the democratic system in France. And if you think Mao knew more Rousseau than the PS did — ! (Besides, a great deal of the point of Leninism is the rejection of Kantian universalism in favour of a Platonic conception of the elite and so-on; pinning it on Kant seems odd.)

    And oh god the dictatorship of the proletariat, because as we all know socialist means doctrinaire Marxist, it isn’t like there aren’t perfectly respectable non-marxist strains of socialism is it?

  12. Pablo on December 9th, 2009 at 14:26

    It is times like this that I am reminded that the biggest enemy of the Left is–the Left. Arguments used to be about the utility of vanguardism, peaceful versus armed struggle, wars of position versus wars of maneuver, whether or not all wage labourers should be considered proletarians and assorted other nitpicking about ideological purity, political strategy and how many commies can dance on the edge of a sickle. Here the fraticide is about identity versus class, couched in ad hominem tones.

    Meanwhile the Right continues to set the ideological agenda and use divide and conquer tactics against those who ostensibly represent the interests of the most disadvantaged.

  13. Idiot/savant on December 9th, 2009 at 14:39

    Pablo: You can decry it all you want. But if your solution is that we all STFU and subordinate our interests to those of others in the name of some fictitious and oppressive “unity”, then you’re going to get a very short, sharp, and unprintable response.

  14. Lew on December 9th, 2009 at 14:44

    I don’t think that’s the solution Pablo has in mind. I think (actually, I know) the solution he favours is to carry on the discourse which drives the movement forward in a civilised and reasonable way.

    But such is only possible with goodwill engagement.

    L

  15. Pablo on December 9th, 2009 at 14:50

    I/S: Not sure how you got that impression from what I wrote, but Lew has provided a concise summary of my view on the matter.

  16. Eddie Clark on December 9th, 2009 at 14:55

    *grin*

    I could w**k on about how Habermas’ discourse ethics (which I understand in part resulted from his engagement with and later reaction against Marxism) will solve all our problems, but then this ivory tower of a thread would become even more elephantine.

    …besides, I’ve got a thesis to start next year and I think I’ll save my Habermas for that.

  17. Idiot/savant on December 9th, 2009 at 15:03

    Very glad to be wrong then.

  18. Chris Trotter on December 9th, 2009 at 16:16

    You’re right Pablo. And after this entirely pointless exchange between Lew and myself – for which I accept my full share of the blame – I intend to get back to more important matters.

    Some fights, however, simply must be had. And Labour’s proper course in the run-up to the 2011 election is one of them.

  19. Ag on December 9th, 2009 at 16:51

    I’m not arguing that people’s own decisions taken on their individual authority and reason, are by defninition correct (as do the Objectivists); I’m arguing that, all else being equal, people make better decisions about political identity for themselves than others make for them. Imperfect, but less imperfect than the alternatives. Closer to your reformulation “that persons may not be the best judge of their own needs, but that others are worse in the long run” — I agree that it’s crude, but much less so than “group X has exclusive access to The Truth and you’d better listen”.

    I take it that you would agree, as would anyone familiar with the facts, that the English working class have consistently made poor judgements about their own political identity, including many who voted for Margaret Thatcher. Why should someone be immune from continually making bad judgements purely because they aren’t white?

    Moreover, my attitude toward issues of truth is not as you would have it. My account is Socratic. Ergo: if you can’t defend your belief with reasons, then you have no right to it. That provides a minimum of objectivity without having to get into thorny issues about the nature of truth.

    I don’t discount the class analysis from being a worthwhile part of an overall political identity, but it doesn’t get special pre-eminent status as The Truth any more than should, say, religion. One of the major problems with the left, and the socialist left in particular, is that they often feel they don’t have to convince people of the legitimacy of their arguments — they seem to believe that people should simply accept them on faith.

    Oh, I agree completely with that. However, the bad behaviour of socialists in the past ought not to prevent some from behaving well in the future.

    But we could make the same case about climate change, which has now become a de facto political issue. Climate scientists have provided excellent evidence that human activity is heating the earth to dangerous levels, but despite having done everything that the Enlightenment tradition says they should do, a large portion of the population is still in denial.

    Now I don’t think anyone would deny that the climate scientists have a much better case than the socialists ever had, or, for that matter, anyone who has ever tried to convince the public of anything.

    Now if I was a climate scientist, I doubt I would feel that I didn’t have to convince people of the legitimacy of my arguments, but I would feel that I simply couldn’t convince a lot of people of my arguments, not because there was anything wrong with my arguments, but because there was something wrong with the people I was trying to convince.

    What do I do if public reason fails, and I have excellent warrant for my case?

    I do not think that leaving it up to a vote is an acceptable answer given what is at stake.

    Returning to another of my recurrent questions: if the class analysis is objectively true, how come it never takes hold? Or to change it a little bit and put it more specifically in the NZ context: if Labour’s policies objectively benefit a substantial majority of the electorate (and I believe that in general they do), how come they don’t always gain the support of that majority (or anything approaching it?) There are a lot of explanations for this, and to my mind, ‘false consciousness’ is a very poor one. More persuasive are those which explain the matter in terms of imperfect rationality, and place the responsibility on the political parties who have failed to garner support for their objectively-better policies.

    My own answer is that the class analysis is mistaken for the very same reason the liberal analysis is mistaken. Both assume that, at root, human beings are rational, autonomous choosers. Liberals assume that they are actually such beings, or such as to make it so that the decisions of the democratic community are rational. Marxists more or less assume that people are naturally or potentially rational, but have been brainwashed by ideology to be irrational, and can be saved by education or revolution.

    I object to both. I don’t think people are universally rational. Hence, I don’t object to paternalism in a wide variety of cases, even when it affects me.

  20. XChequer on December 9th, 2009 at 17:53

    Props to Chris for “agreeing to disagree” stance. The Left has big problems at the mo – especially in NZ. There seems to be only the centre and the right of centre – a place that National has taken extremely successfully.

    I have blogged previously on the plight of the left in NZ today and if the left can’t get it’s proverbial together and stop this divisive bullshit (sorry, there was no better word for it) then they will become a political relic.

    Harmony requires balance. The right requires left. And if we don’t have a cogent, erudite left to balance the barking mad hard right, then New Zealand, being the plebian and equalist soceity that we all want to have (i.e the NZ Ideal) will be lost. And the days of No. 8 attitude will be lost.

    And that will be a tragedy.

    XChequer
    http://www.thenzhomeoffice.blogspot.com/

  21. Quoth the Raven on December 9th, 2009 at 20:45

    It is times like this that I am reminded that the biggest enemy of the Left is–the Left. Arguments used to be about the utility of vanguardism, peaceful versus armed struggle, wars of position versus wars of maneuver, whether or not all wage labourers should be considered proletarians and assorted other nitpicking about ideological purity, political strategy and how many commies can dance on the edge of a sickle. Here the fraticide is about identity versus class, couched in ad hominem tones.

    In what imaginery time were arguments in the left only about vanguardism, all wage laboureres as proletarians, etc? Just have a look back at the very diverse socialist movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries. When I do I can’t see what you see.

  22. Lew on December 9th, 2009 at 20:46

    Ag, this is an unexpectedly worthwhile discussion from such an unsavoury post.

    I take it that you would agree, as would anyone familiar with the facts, that the English working class have consistently made poor judgements about their own political identity, including many who voted for Margaret Thatcher.

    That rather begs the question as to what their political identity is. There were (still are) plenty of socially conservative, nationalistic small-state working-class Britons with all the usual authoritarian/populist talkback tendencies for whom Thatcherism was a good cultural match, if not a good economic match. I agree with you that they made the wrong choice, but that’s only to say that, given their decision to make, I would have made it differently. I can understand how they made the decision and I don’t agree that they necessarily got their political identity wrong. If they value all that conservative, nationalist cultural stuff more than having strong trade unions and a decent tax base, then that’s their call to make.

    It’s crucial to distinguish the two things: disapproval or dismay as to the choice, and the veracity of the choice itself given the chooser’s own political needs. These get blurred a lot, and if you sit down and look dispassionately at the offerings, it’s usually not hard to see why someone voted how they did, even if it seems irrational from one perspective (such as the economic).

    Furthermore, I think the left failed those people, just as it continues to fail all the working-class folk who vote National because Labour fails to articulate their agenda in terms such as will make sense to them.

    Why should someone be immune from continually making bad judgements purely because they aren’t white?

    They absolutely shouldn’t! Moreover, they shouldn’t be castigated for it, or deemed to be ‘class traitors’ or ‘race traitors’ or whatever else. Just let ‘em decide; and if they decide differently to how your political movement wanted them to (or how you think their interests are best served) then it’s your own damned fault for failing to convince them.

    Moreover, my attitude toward issues of truth is not as you would have it. My account is Socratic. Ergo: if you can’t defend your belief with reasons, then you have no right to it. That provides a minimum of objectivity without having to get into thorny issues about the nature of truth.

    I don’t go quite so far: I hold that people have a right to their opinions regardless of their validity or whether they can justify them; only that they have no right to expect others to adopt or accept them.

    But we could make the same case about climate change, which has now become a de facto political issue. Climate scientists have provided excellent evidence that human activity is heating the earth to dangerous levels, but despite having done everything that the Enlightenment tradition says they should do, a large portion of the population is still in denial.

    I don’t think it’s that large of a proportion of the population, just that it’s quite a vocal minority. All the anecdotal data of which I’m aware show that a comfortable majority are convinced. I just don’t think people accept the whole case made by climate activists; that is to say, it’s one factor among a complex policy mix rather than a pivotal policy issue. This isn’t all that surprising; it’s only been in the public consciousness for a bit over a decade, and it’s only been a mainstream, orthodox policy topic since An Inconvenient Truth.

    Now if I was a climate scientist, I doubt I would feel that I didn’t have to convince people of the legitimacy of my arguments, but I would feel that I simply couldn’t convince a lot of people of my arguments, not because there was anything wrong with my arguments, but because there was something wrong with the people I was trying to convince.

    That would be a typically scientific view, and also pretty much wrong. Aside from AIT and a handful of other campaigns, I think it’s been spectacularly poorly sold for something with such strong scientific data behind it. A very technical and quite remote policy matter which has been framed as rather sci-fi, and dressed up with urgency to push a whole lot of emotional and quasi-rational buttons, sending folk into a sort of flight mode where they seek reassurance and security rather than change — all while they’re being asked to change. The type of change also gives people the sense that it’s just another wallet-lightening scheme, activating their natural distrust — not of scientists, but of politicians. And the scientific establishment hasn’t exactly done itself any favours, employing shady logic, not going far enough to prevent the quashing of legitimate dissent, and suggesting that the right outcomes are more important than strict accuracy. Don’t get me wrong: I accept that the case is as strong as anything has been; just that it’s not as simple as “it’s right, therefore people should just accept it”. Nor should it be.

    My own answer is that the class analysis is mistaken for the very same reason the liberal analysis is mistaken. Both assume that, at root, human beings are rational, autonomous choosers. Liberals assume that they are actually such beings, or such as to make it so that the decisions of the democratic community are rational. Marxists more or less assume that people are naturally or potentially rational, but have been brainwashed by ideology to be irrational, and can be saved by education or revolution.

    A Platonist, then. I am too, but not of the Philosopher-Kings type; which is to say, a lot of Plato is, for me, how not to run a society (though still enormously valuable despite that). I accept that people aren’t rational in the sense that, if you give them a nice bit o’ logic then they’ll figure out the best course every time; but I know that peoples’ irrationality can be predicted and appealed to. This is why I am more interested in political communication than I am in policy; because it’s about how you get buy-in to policy.

    I am a pretty firm believer that if you have a policy which benefits your electorate, you have a headstart in convincing them to accept and support it; and I’m constantly frustrated at the sense of entitlement to votes shown by those on the left who say “our policy is better, why aren’t you idiots voting for it?” rather than taking that headstart and using it to win the contest of ideas.

    L

  23. Pablo on December 9th, 2009 at 21:01

    QtR: Not sure what your point is, but once again you seem to miss the forest for the trees. By way of illustration I just listed a few points of disagreement, not the entire catalogue. The larger point is that the Left spends as much if not more time ripping itself apart over comparatively small ideological differences rather than confront the common (dare I say it–class) enemy. If I recall correctly, Trotskyites in NZ were still arguing the comparative purity of the Albanian CP in the late 1990s, long after it served any useful purpose. Your focus on nitpicking is of that ilk and it seems that you would like me to do the same. No thanks. I’ll stick with the bigger picture.

  24. ak on December 9th, 2009 at 22:18

    The larger point is that the Left spends as much if not more time ripping itself apart over comparatively small ideological differences rather than confront the common (dare I say it–class) enemy.

    Thanks Pabs, a tiny nugget from the dross: and QED this entire embarrassing episode. Move on please, there’s real work to do.

  25. Ag on December 10th, 2009 at 03:24

    That rather begs the question as to what their political identity is. There were (still are) plenty of socially conservative, nationalistic small-state working-class Britons with all the usual authoritarian/populist talkback tendencies for whom Thatcherism was a good cultural match, if not a good economic match. I agree with you that they made the wrong choice, but that’s only to say that, given their decision to make, I would have made it differently. I can understand how they made the decision and I don’t agree that they necessarily got their political identity wrong. If they value all that conservative, nationalist cultural stuff more than having strong trade unions and a decent tax base, then that’s their call to make.

    That would be fine, except it isn’t the call that they are making. They thought that Thatcher would leave them better off in all these ways. I’ve known a great many of these people personally from my time in the UK. My point isn’t that they are making one choice over another, but that their choice is incoherent. Typically, their preferences don’t survive the briefest questioning, and the response to such questioning is usually characterized by its volume rather than its informative content.

    It’s crucial to distinguish the two things: disapproval or dismay as to the choice, and the veracity of the choice itself given the chooser’s own political needs. These get blurred a lot, and if you sit down and look dispassionately at the offerings, it’s usually not hard to see why someone voted how they did, even if it seems irrational from one perspective (such as the economic).

    You’re assuming that it is a rational response. Yet their political preferences are, at root, incoherent given their own acknowledged needs.

    In real terms they don’t have a political preference, because a necessary condition for a broad political preference to be enacted is that it has to be coherent. You can’t enact a contradictory policy – it’s impossible. Similarly, a contradictory identity is hopeless, but that is what most working class Tories have.

    It’s all very well to construct some artificial situation where people are magically different from the way they actually are, but that solves nothing.

    They absolutely shouldn’t! Moreover, they shouldn’t be castigated for it, or deemed to be ‘class traitors’ or ‘race traitors’ or whatever else.

    I prefer “clowns” myself.

    Just let ‘em decide; and if they decide differently to how your political movement wanted them to (or how you think their interests are best served) then it’s your own damned fault for failing to convince them.

    They can’t be convinced. That’s the point, and something which is proved by the science on RWAs. “They” don’t decide. Their authority figures decide for them. There’s no use denying that since the science has already been done. Again, you are assuming that these people are somehow different from how they actually are.

    I don’t go quite so far: I hold that people have a right to their opinions regardless of their validity or whether they can justify them; only that they have no right to expect others to adopt or accept them.

    Actually, they don’t have any such right (epistemic or moral). Political beliefs by definition affect others and by definition include the expectation that others should adopt or accept them. The practice of voting is simply trying to make such preferences manifest. Because they affect others, people are under an obligation to both examine their own beliefs and to provide reasons to others they hope to convince. Otherwise elections are just manifestations of force (and so can rightfully be resisted by counterforce).

    Ultimately, no coherent account of such a “right” can be given. It’s just a democratic dogma with no support.

    That would be a typically scientific view, and also pretty much wrong. Aside from AITand a handful of other campaigns, I think it’s been spectacularly poorly sold for something with such strong scientific data behind it. A very technical and quite remote policy matter which has been framed as rather sci-fi, and dressed up with urgency to push a whole lot of emotional and quasi-rational buttons, sending folk into a sort of flight mode where they seek reassurance and security rather than change — all while they’re being asked to change. The type of change also gives people the sense that it’s just another wallet-lightening scheme, activating their natural distrust — not of scientists, but of politicians. And the scientific establishment hasn’t exactly done itself any favours, employing shady logic, not going far enough to prevent the quashing of legitimate dissent, and suggesting that the right outcomes are more important than strict accuracy. Don’t get me wrong: I accept that the case is as strong as anything has been; just that it’s not as simple as “it’s right, therefore people should just accept it”. Nor should it be.

    No scientific theory could ever be properly accepted by the public, because the public simply does not have the required expertise to deal with it.

    Explain to me why I don’t have the right of self defense against voters who endanger my life and the lives of my children through their scientific ignorance.

    A Platonist, then. I am too, but not of the Philosopher-Kings type

    Plato isn’t. Read the last page of Book 9 of the Republic.

    ; which is to say, a lot of Plato is, for me, how not to run a society (though still enormously valuable despite that). I accept that people aren’t rational in the sense that, if you give them a nice bit o’ logic then they’ll figure out the best course every time; but I know that peoples’ irrationality can be predicted and appealed to. This is why I am more interested in political communication than I am in policy; because it’s about how you get buy-in to policy.

    I am a pretty firm believer that if you have a policy which benefits your electorate, you have a headstart in convincing them to accept and support it; and I’m constantly frustrated at the sense of entitlement to votes shown by those on the left who say “our policy is better, why aren’t you idiots voting for it?” rather than taking that headstart and using it to win the contest of ideas.

    You’re just assuming it can be won. What about the science that demonstrates that many people are simply cognitively impaired in this respect? We all know that a lot of people will just do as they are told by the authorities, for example. We know this. It has been proven. It is not up for debate.

    My main argument is that your response is to attempt to define away incoherences in the beliefs of some members of the working class. The only way you can get your argument to work is if people’s choice of political identity is never incoherent, because it is only then that they will count as genuine preferences. But you could talk to half a dozen people on the street and find at least two who had fundamentally incoherent political beliefs. What you are doing is simply supposing that any choice of political identity necessarily reflects a genuine preference. But if people have deeply incoherent preference structures, then some choices of politcal identity will not be genuine preferences, and the Marxists will be correct, because false consciousness is simply a species of incoherence.

    In essence, your view, which is typical of liberal views about ethics and politics is trying to recast people’s moral and political beliefs (which are error prone) as kinds of moral and political knowledge (which is not error prone). Such is the original of moral relativism (since if people disagree, but do not err, then relativism follows). But in the end, this view fails against the incoherence objection. Plato was right about that, but not in the Republic.

  26. Lew on December 10th, 2009 at 07:16

    Ag,

    Now that you mention it, I think we’ve had this discussion about Plato once before.

    There’re only two things I have any time to address:

    Explain to me why I don’t have the right of self defense against voters who endanger my life and the lives of my children through their scientific ignorance.

    Because that way lies the arms race. If you invoke this sort of reasoning, what sort of response isn’t justified? If you can invoke it, what’s to prevent others from doing so?

    You’re just assuming it can be won. What about the science that demonstrates that many people are simply cognitively impaired in this respect? We all know that a lot of people will just do as they are told by the authorities, for example. We know this. It has been proven. It is not up for debate.

    If course it can be won. It’s frequently won by the right on weaker grounds of fact; almost entirely on the back of rhetoric and discourse which exploits the electorate’s incoherence and lack of knowledge about technical policy matters.

    So, given that we know pretty well how these irrationalities function, why do we persist in trying to fight them rather than appealing to them, as the right does? Morally, modern democracy requires rule by consent of the electorate, and therefore the purpose of any democratic political campaign must be to build that consent. So if we have a stronger policy base than the right (or one which better suits the electorate), and a growing understanding of how to appeal to peoples’ irrational, emotional, political brains, why can’t we win the contest of ideas?

    Drew Westen has examples where pro-choice wins focus-group polling of Republican audiences in Georgia by framing is as a matter of freedom from government interference in your reproductive rights; a Democrat environmentalist candidate won a Congressional seat in Montana because he stopped talking about ‘sustainability’ and started talking about how much he loved the land. No policy changes whatsoever. No lies, manipulation or trickery — just tuning the message to how peoples’ cognitive processes function.

    As far as I’m concerned, if we can’t convince the electorate of the rectitude of our policies, we have no right to implement them — no matter how good we might think they are.

    L

  27. ak on December 10th, 2009 at 09:01

    There’s the nub: …why can’t we win the contest of ideas?

    Because the other side owns the media.

  28. Lew on December 10th, 2009 at 09:32

    ak, that’s just another cop-out excuse: a whining ‘it’s not fair’ response, like the defence that the precious flower of socialism never had a chance to properly bloom because the bad mean capitalists wouldn’t let it. Successful political movements find ways to work around such obstacles.

    L

  29. ak on December 10th, 2009 at 11:08

    True, Lew, but it’s a pretty big obstacle to work around I reckon: when I hear daily regurgitated the tripe I’ve just read in the paper (and re-read your own excellent expose of talk-back and consider the impact of this last year on people who listen to/read almost nothing else) I can’t help thinking it’s the biggie. Look at the viewing numbers for Fox News and the disproportionate coverage of ACT over the years.

    As for the “failure” of socialism, I think you’re just dead wrong here: Karl would have an orgasm to see what’s been achieved this and last century – a veritable forest of blooms compared to his cruel world – and the bedrock enabler of the “identity” progression you (and we all) admire.

  30. Ag on December 10th, 2009 at 13:41

    Because that way lies the arms race. If you invoke this sort of reasoning, what sort of response isn’t justified? If you can invoke it, what’s to prevent others from doing so?

    What prevents them is that they have no warrant for their beliefs. Liberalism is continually trying to exclude facts from justification. A doctor and a layman do not have equal warrant for their beliefs about medical matters. The doctor may invoke his or her medical knowledge as justification for a certain course of action. The layperson cannot. Contractualist discourse tends to obscure this fact.

    If X is allowed then Y is allowed is only the case when X and Y are similar with regard to morally relevant properties.

    So, given that we know pretty well how these irrationalities function, why do we persist in trying to fight them rather than appealing to them, as the right does?

    Because you can’t to any great effect. It’s a gross but pretty much true simplification that for the most part politics in western societies boils down to a deep preference regarding issues of authority. This is a deep psychological difference, and as far as we know, cannot be overcome (although it may be diverted).

    On one side we have the people who think that everyone should be their own authority and no-one should be anyone else’s, at least as far as is feasible (divergence from the norm of equality always stands in need of justification). These people are implicitly anti-authoritarian, and form what we call “the left” in our societies (especially those who are “left” on social issues). Their values are the egalitarian values of the Enlightenment: that each individual is a rational autonomous chooser.

    On the other side we have a coalition of people who are implicitly pro-hierarchy. These include your garden variety social dominators/darwinists who see human existence as a context in which some people must fail and some people (i.e. them) must win (the idea of a tie or a truce is anathema to them). But there are also a large number of authoritarian followers. These are people for whom submission to a hierarchical authority is necessary for their well being. They’re the kind of people you see in the pews at fundamentalist revivals. They oppose a society of free, equal autonomous choosers on principle (if not overtly), because it scares the crap out of them. Most working class Tories are like this. This is why racism and other forms of bigotry play such a role in right wing politics, because it is a way of enforcing a hierarchy (and the dirty secret here is that there are always some authoritarian members of the minority who accept the discrimination as necessary). It also explains the irrationality of working class tories, because they have surrendered their consciences to their chosen authorities (again, you can see why faith is so important to them as opposed to rationality – this is because they have faith that the apparent contradictions in their belief systems are resolvable, and that their chosen authorities have or will resolve them). It’s also why they love the politics of fear, since fear makes people more authoritarian.

    The error of the left can now be seen clearly. It consists in trying to shoehorn these people into a liberal paradigm of politics and granting them the same respect as anyone else, when it is never going to be properly reciprocated because authoritarians in the end despise the fundamental values of the left. The left simply cannot see why anyone would want to be submissive (although it can clearly see why some people would want to be dominant and spends all its time having a go at them rather than the others who are the real problem).

    Drew Westen has examples where pro-choice wins focus-group polling of Republican audiences in Georgia by framing is as a matter of freedom from government interference in your reproductive rights; a Democrat environmentalist candidate won a Congressional seat in Montana because he stopped talking about ’sustainability’ and started talking about how much he loved the land. No policy changes whatsoever. No lies, manipulation or trickery — just tuning the message to how peoples’ cognitive processes function.

    Great, but it is merely wallpapering over the differences. In the end the “left” policies enacted will be egalitarian, and that will not be tolerated by the right. You’re asking for a compromise between people whose very psychological makeups are oil and water.

    Anyway, other views are appreciated.

  31. Ag on December 10th, 2009 at 14:04

    On the Plato issue, everyone should read this, the last lines of Book 9. The bolded part is the crucial sentence.

    “[interlocutor] for I think that it [i.e. the ideal city of the Republic, Ag] can be found nowhere on earth.”

    [Socrates] “Well,” said I, “perhaps there is a pattern of it laid up in heaven for him who wishes to contemplate it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen. But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into being. The politics of this city only will be his and of none other.”

    The ideal city is a model for internal moral rectitude, not a practical political blueprint.

  32. Idiot/savant on December 10th, 2009 at 15:35

    What prevents them is that they have no warrant for their beliefs.

    Or “I’m right and they’re wrong, so I can do what I like to them”.

    I’m with Lew: that way lies Hobbes. Who as much as I think he got the core essence of politics right, is also someone I’d very much like to keep in his coffin, thankyouverymuch.

    That is simply no basis on which to build a political system. And it gives us no basis to complain when some other fanatic does it to us.

  33. Lew on December 10th, 2009 at 21:48

    Ag,

    What prevents them is that they have no warrant for their beliefs.

    It is solipsism. Having no warrant doesn’t prevent them from doing anything, let alone standing up their beliefs, to which you claim they’re not entitled, but which they hold in spite of you.

    There is nothing more dangerous in the world than a bunch of people with an idea they don’t fully understand but who are forced to defend it as a matter of identity. As a simple matter of pragmatism, whether people are justified in their beliefs or not, it is unwise to take the haughty position you recommend, because you will force them to defend — not their ideas, but who they are. Also, those less-able or less-willing to defend their ideas (or themselves) with reason are more prone to doing so with force because ultimately — as a matter of survival — things need defending. If you take a ‘self-defence’ position, the fact that (by your rules) they’re not allowed to do so won’t prevent them from doing likewise. That way lies madness.

    It’s a gross but pretty much true simplification that for the most part politics in western societies boils down to a deep preference regarding issues of authority. This is a deep psychological difference, and as far as we know, cannot be overcome (although it may be diverted).

    I simply don’t agree with this. What can be created can be re-created; if it’s not inherent in the physical development of certain people’s brains, then it is up for grabs, as it were. Lakoff has a lot to say on this topic, incidentally.

    On one side we have the people who think that everyone should be their own authority and no-one should be anyone else’s [...] On the other side we have a coalition of people who are implicitly pro-hierarchy.

    Given this belief, I can understand why you cleave to the Philosopher-King approach of paternalism. It is distasteful to me.

    However, that’s not why I disagree — it’s also falsifiable: if things were as you say, there would not be the great swings in two-party or simple-choice political systems as we have seen — for instance, in the 2001 British election where the proportion of votes going to the Tories and Labour virtually switched; and between NZ Labour and National from 2002 to 2005, and again from 2005 to 2008. This is quite apart from the begged question as to which party was the more ‘authoritarian’ in rhetoric or in policy (especially in the NZ context this depends very much on your definitions). And it doesn’t explain the fact that groups of voters’ minds can be changed by the application of different electoral strategy. It doesn’t describe reality.

    The error of the left can now be seen clearly. It consists in trying to shoehorn these people into a liberal paradigm of politics and granting them the same respect as anyone else

    I couldn’t agree less.

    Great, but it is merely wallpapering over the differences. In the end the “left” policies enacted will be egalitarian, and that will not be tolerated by the right. You’re asking for a compromise between people whose very psychological makeups are oil and water.

    This ignores the importance of post-purchase rationalisation and other cognitive biases; it also presumes a static, immutable, eternal individual, which I don’t accept. It also goes well beyond the conventional left conspiracy theory, that ‘the bosses’ will not tolerate egalitarianism, to argue that half the population, many of whom are by definition ‘less equal’ will not take the option of becoming ‘more equal’ if it is presented to them in a way they can relate to. I just don’t buy this.

    Peoples’ political choices are more determined by the options offered them: offer different options, you get different choices.

    L

  34. Ag on December 11th, 2009 at 03:54

    Or “I’m right and they’re wrong, so I can do what I like to them”.

    That doesn’t follow, so why did you even bother?

  35. Ag on December 11th, 2009 at 04:23

    There is nothing more dangerous in the world than a bunch of people with an idea they don’t fully understand but who are forced to defend it as a matter of identity. As a simple matter of pragmatism, whether people are justified in their beliefs or not, it is unwise to take the haughty position you recommend, because you will force them to defend — not their ideas, but who they are. Also, those less-able or less-willing to defend their ideas (or themselves) with reason are more prone to doing so with force because ultimately — as a matter of survival — things need defending. If you take a ’self-defence’ position, the fact that (by your rules) they’re not allowed to do so won’t prevent them from doing likewise. That way lies madness.

    You’re forgetting that their “identity” makes claims of others. Hence, they better put up with some reasons if they want other people to change their behaviour, or shut up. Or they can try force, but reasons are more useful and less physically taxing.

    If you want us just to “acknowledge political reality” and put up with their irrationality, then we’ll do the same for racists and so on. When do we stop?

    I simply don’t agree with this. What can be created can be re-created; if it’s not inherent in the physical development of certain people’s brains, then it is up for grabs, as it were. Lakoff has a lot to say on this topic, incidentally.

    This doesn’t follow. Authoritarianism is probably not inherent (likely comes from childhood conditioning), but it does not follow that once people have gone that way that they can be rescued. The current consensus is “no”. The best you can do is stop fearmongering and tone down violence, because it merely rarks them up. A college education also helps.

    However, that’s not why I disagree — it’s also falsifiable: if things were as you say, there would not be the great swings in two-party or simple-choice political systems as we have seen — for instance, in the 2001 British election where the proportion of votes going to the Tories and Labour virtually switched; and between NZ Labour and National from 2002 to 2005, and again from 2005 to 2008. This is quite apart from the begged question as to which party was the more ‘authoritarian’ in rhetoric or in policy (especially in the NZ context this depends very much on your definitions). And it doesn’t explain the fact that groups of voters’ minds can be changed by the application of different electoral strategy. It doesn’t describe reality.

    You seem to misunderstand authoritarianism. It isn’t black and white, but a sliding scale. There are situational factors that determine swings (“change” being the most obvious), but people’s political preferences tend to match up with their position on the scale. All other things being equal, if someone is more authoritarian than you, they are overwhelmingly likely to vote to the “right” of you.

    This ignores the importance of post-purchase rationalisation and other cognitive biases; it also presumes a static, immutable, eternal individual, which I don’t accept.

    No it doesn’t. Where did I say that? At any point in time you are going to have a significant portion of the population who are like this, and who you’ll have to deal with. People do become more or less authoritarian over their lifetimes, but rarely radically so.

    It also goes well beyond the conventional left conspiracy theory, that ‘the bosses’ will not tolerate egalitarianism, to argue that half the population, many of whom are by definition ‘less equal’ will not take the option of becoming ‘more equal’ if it is presented to them in a way they can relate to. I just don’t buy this.

    First, it is not about “becoming more equal”, but whether the basic institutions of society are egalitarian or not. It’s a preference for a hierarchy, and not necessarily a preference for a particular place on it (except not to be at the bottom, and for submissives, not at the top).

    It’s not “half the population”. You have a sliding scale. People who score high on the scale will be more extreme, those who score less, less so.

    But it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s scientific fact. This, if I may say so, is the problem with political science. It’s not science and gets annoyed when genuine science starts making relevant points. Here, social psychology has come up with something incredibly useful.

    What you are doing is simply assuming your liberal theory against the evidence. Authoritarianism is a genuine psychological trait. There is an accepted test for it, just as there are accepted tests for anti-social personality disorder and all sorts of other psychological traits and disorders. It’s been tested to death and beyond, so it’s not really up for doubt.

    Let me say it again. It is a fact that this psychological trait exists, and that a significant portion of society score very highly on the resultant scale. People who score highly on that test tend to have the sorts of traits I described, including problems with rationality, and they also almost always turn out to be political and religious conservatives, so much so that the left/right schema and the anti-authoritarian/authoritarian axis turn out to be more or less the same thing (at least in the western countries).

    You can’t fight facts, Lew. Simply repeating liberal dogma in the face of 40 years worth of research just won’t cut it. That the results of research are unpleasant to certain sectors of the political science community makes no difference.

  36. Ag on December 11th, 2009 at 04:38

    Political science ought to have changed after Stanley Milgram. The fact it has not is a black eye for the entire discipline.

  37. Lew on December 11th, 2009 at 21:52

    Ag, I don’t accept your ‘the science is settled’ argument on this case; but I think we’ve argued to and fro over that one enough. I’m not a scientist; but my arguments don’t rest on science; they rest on political philosophy and observed political behaviour.

    Even if it were settled, the root of my objection is that it’s only settled for a given generation. You concede that this characteristic of authoritarianism is enculturated, not bred — and then you proceed to argue that we should treat those who bear it as if they are beyond hope and (more or less) as subhuman. There are both principled and practical problems with this.

    On the practical level, you (or me, or anyone else just saying so) doesn’t prevent them from having political and social power; ultimately if we want to change their behaviour and preferences we will need to force them to do so — since they aren’t susceptible to the conventional liberal tools of reason, this will be the only way, right? How do you propose to do this? How can a group of thoughtful, self-critical and doubting people who are autonomous in nature defeat (by force) a similarly-sized and better-resourced group who are convinced of their own rectitude, paranoid about losing authority, and prepared to defend themselves by any means available?

    Beyond that, we have a small matter of principle. By setting the bar so low as to decree those of certain political beliefs subhuman (or ‘cognitively impaired’ or whatever you please) such that they should be denied political rights, you open the door to the very authoritarianism you claim to oppose. If they’re that bad, what sort of action is not justified in their persecution? Who decides, and quis custodiet? By declaring a class of people nonpersons, a state claims a mandate to not act in their best interests. If the state may decree one group such status, it may equally decree another, and what follows is the erosion of liberty and political rights observed in authoritarian states. This erosion of political rights, where it has existed, has historically resulted in political impunity among the Philosopher-Kings (or such) of those authoritarian states; they (the states) were able to arbitrarily disqualify people from political participation, so they had no need to act in their best interests, becoming corrupt and venal and self-destructive because there was no incentive to do otherwise. Impunity, not the lack of market price signals, has been the historical bane of communism. The state you imply is founded upon trust placed in the Philosopher-Kings who decide which groups possess the ideological rectitude to participate, without verification or recourse to alternatives if that trust is abused. Except armed struggle, of course — and which group would be the first to commence that?

    If there is an acquired irrational authoritarianism among some segment of the population, the way to be rid of it is that same way that slavery and segregation was eradicated in the US, and the same way sexism and sexuality discrimination and racism and so on are being gradually (very gradually) eradicated elsewhere: the gradual exploitation by liberal civil society of the intergenerational gaps in the irrational authoritarian dogma. There is some backsliding, but it is broadly true throughout the democratic world that each successive generation is more liberal than the last, on balance. The system is working, albeit probably too slowly for you to enjoy the great rational utopia you might seek.

    Get those people university educated; bring them up in a society where people are nominal equals regardless of other factors, expose them to the ‘papering over’ of a politics which includes them in spite of their ‘cognitive impairment’ and offers them the means to mitigate their flaws. By all means, treat them like human beings and they will become like human beings. Treat them like subhumans, and you might find that that’s what they become.

    If you want us just to “acknowledge political reality” and put up with their irrationality, then we’ll do the same for racists and so on. When do we stop?

    This is precisely what I propose. We stop at denying them civil and political rights on the grounds of belief, while reserving the right to criticise them and prevent them from taking certain actions based on those beliefs. In most democratic societies, racism is tolerated, in a way — persons who hold racist beliefs aren’t prevented from holding office or exercising their political rights. This is as it should be; other societal pressures are brought to bear upon them, and the worst excesses — not only physical, but in terms of speech also — resulting from their beliefs are subject to sanction by the state.

    I see this as a great big tactical/strategic tradeoff. Choosing a benign authoritarianism where people who prever ‘bad’ policy outcomes are disenfranchised will result in good policy over the short term, but undermines the very political and social structures which permit the development of good policy outcomes in the long run. Simply, I’d rather live with suboptimal policy in a free political system than enjoy policy which is ‘ideal’ to a certain person’s standard while being required to place unearned, unverified trust in a shadowy bunch of benign dictators.

    L

  38. Keir on December 11th, 2009 at 22:21

    If there is an acquired irrational authoritarianism among some segment of the population, the way to be rid of it is that same way that slavery and segregation was eradicated in the US, and the same way sexism and sexuality discrimination and racism and so on are being gradually (very gradually) eradicated elsewhere: the gradual exploitation by liberal civil society of the intergenerational gaps in the irrational authoritarian dogma.

    Um, slavery in the US was ended by the Union Armies at gunpoint following a bloody civil war; it was hardly a triumph of liberal democracy.

    (Not that I disagree in terms of the application to the NZ context but.)

  39. Lew on December 11th, 2009 at 22:27

    Um, slavery in the US was ended by the Union Armies at gunpoint following a bloody civil war; it was hardly a triumph of liberal democracy.

    And what led to the state of societal affairs which permitted that war to be fought on those grounds?

    (Yes; I’m aware this is an oversimplification. But still.)

    L

  40. Keir on December 11th, 2009 at 22:31

    Well, the US political system; I’d always thought that the fact ending slavery required a nasty civil war was a knock against the US political system?

  41. Ag on December 12th, 2009 at 02:32

    Even if it were settled, the root of my objection is that it’s only settled for a given generation. You concede that this characteristic of authoritarianism is enculturated, not bred — and then you proceed to argue that we should treat those who bear it as if they are beyond hope and (more or less) as subhuman. There are both principled and practical problems with this.

    First, they aren’t subhuman. They are all too human. Given the right circumstances most of us will behave that way. That’s the point of Milgram’s experiments on obedience. But in ordinary circumstances there are a lot of people who are like this, and this is something we need to take account of in our political structures.

    Some of this is genetic, some environmental. As far as is known, it is both.

    There are cultural things we can do, but as far as we know they have a limited effectiveness. I wish more could be done, but it seems hopeless.

    How do you propose to do this? How can a group of thoughtful, self-critical and doubting people who are autonomous in nature defeat (by force) a similarly-sized and better-resourced group who are convinced of their own rectitude, paranoid about losing authority, and prepared to defend themselves by any means available?

    Well, history has shown that it is always possible for a smaller group to rule a larger group. It just depends on the means you are prepared to use, which in my case are pretty limited.

    One easy way to do it is simply deep capture of the rules by which the community is organized. You write a constitution that makes it very difficult for authoritarians to get their way. In some respects the US constitution does this, in others it is less successful. I don’t think that hoping for such rules to emerge from a democratic consensus is feasible. Certain things just shouldn’t be up for a vote. If they want to call it Liberal Fascism, then they are welcome to. It’s certainly preferable to the other kind.

    Beyond that, we have a small matter of principle. By setting the bar so low as to decree those of certain political beliefs subhuman (or ‘cognitively impaired’ or whatever you please) such that they should be denied political rights, you open the door to the very authoritarianism you claim to oppose. If they’re that bad, what sort of action is not justified in their persecution? Who decides, and quis custodiet?

    That’s sort of my underlying point. The existence of persons who seek to overturn the democratic/egalitarian order and are, at root, psychologically opposed to it means that the ideal liberal democracy as a collective rational agreement between citizens is not going to work. In the end, liberal democratic values will have to be enforced by rendering authoritarians politically ineffective. You are very unlikely to persuade them. Threatening them is probably going to be counterproductive. Wrapping them up in bureaucratic red tape and co-opting them is probably the best that can be hoped for.

    I certainly don’t advocate putting them to the sword. I do advocate things like censoring hate disguised as media reportage and commentary.

    By declaring a class of people nonpersons, a state claims a mandate to not act in their best interests. If the state may decree one group such status, it may equally decree another, and what follows is the erosion of liberty and political rights observed in authoritarian states.

    Again, you’re assuming traditional liberalism, which states that political rules must arise out of some sort of universal social contract and that all citizens must be regarded as free and equal rational autonomous choosers. My central point is that it is a mistake to regard everyone as being like this. If it is to be a universal value, then it is to be imposed on others. I’m simply admitting that when conservatives complain that liberal values are imposed on them against their will, that they are right – liberal values are being imposed on them against their will. I simply argue that this is a lesser evil than right wing authoritarian values being imposed on everyone else by right wing authoritarians, and I think I have a good historical case for that.

    If you want a simple version: contractualism no matter how well disguised is a fig leaf for the imposition of anti-authoritarian values on society.

    This erosion of political rights, where it has existed, has historically resulted in political impunity among the Philosopher-Kings (or such) of those authoritarian states; they (the states) were able to arbitrarily disqualify people from political participation, so they had no need to act in their best interests, becoming corrupt and venal and self-destructive because there was no incentive to do otherwise. Impunity, not the lack of market price signals, has been the historical bane of communism.

    Fair enough. I argue in response that the contemporary imposition of liberal values in New Zealand does hobble the ability of authoritarians and religious bigots to participate in politics. It’s not disqualification by law, but by cultural exclusion and it more or less works. Hence the (mostly impotent) complaints about “Liberal Fascism”. But some countries exclude far right parties by law. The Nazi party is, for understandable reasons, prohibited in Germany.

    The state you imply is founded upon trust placed in the Philosopher-Kings who decide which groups possess the ideological rectitude to participate, without verification or recourse to alternatives if that trust is abused. Except armed struggle, of course — and which group would be the first to commence that?

    Based on historical example, the right wing authoritarians. When was the last time you heard of a liberal shooting up an abortion clinic?

    Get those people university educated; bring them up in a society where people are nominal equals regardless of other factors, expose them to the ‘papering over’ of a politics which includes them in spite of their ‘cognitive impairment’ and offers them the means to mitigate their flaws. By all means, treat them like human beings and they will become like human beings. Treat them like subhumans, and you might find that that’s what they become.

    It has nothing to do with treating them as subhumans. It’s stopping them from treating other people as subhumans.

    This is precisely what I propose. We stop at denying them civil and political rights on the grounds of belief, while reserving the right to criticise them and prevent them from taking certain actions based on those beliefs. In most democratic societies, racism is tolerated, in a way — persons who hold racist beliefs aren’t prevented from holding office or exercising their political rights. This is as it should be; other societal pressures are brought to bear upon them, and the worst excesses — not only physical, but in terms of speech also — resulting from their beliefs are subject to sanction by the state.

    OK fine. This is more or less what I was saying above.

    But then who’s going to enforce these restrictions on their actions? What are you going to do if they start making progress in repealing the restrictions because of the freedoms you still allow them? They aren’t stupid and have made considerable progress in the US, and we all know what happened last time they ran things.

    At what point are you going to yell stop, and on what grounds?

    I see this as a great big tactical/strategic tradeoff. Choosing a benign authoritarianism where people who prever ‘bad’ policy outcomes are disenfranchised will result in good policy over the short term, but undermines the very political and social structures which permit the development of good policy outcomes in the long run.

    It looks to me that you just proposed virtual disenfranchisement by preventing them from performing certain actions (incl. verbal actions) based on their political beliefs. You’ve just said you would regulate excessive speech. Whose standards will such censorship be adjusted to? Liberal standards?

    Simply, I’d rather live with suboptimal policy in a free political system than enjoy policy which is ‘ideal’ to a certain person’s standard while being required to place unearned, unverified trust in a shadowy bunch of benign dictators.

    I think you misunderstood my point. You seem to me to be agreeing that it is OK to censor excessive hate speech on more or less the same grounds I argue for above. How is this not “Liberal Fascism”, since the subjects of the censorship will argue vociferously that they are being censored for political reasons (which they are).

  42. Ag on December 12th, 2009 at 03:05

    Let me make the case philosophically, which will get us away from unproductive and inflammatory talk of gulags, kings and dictators.

    Modern Liberalism originates in Kant’s view of ethics, where a moral rule is one that passes a universalizability test. In other words, I can only permit myself to do something if my reasons are good enough for everyone else to do the same thing. It’s supposed to follow from this that the rules of ethics are such as to win the voluntary assent of any rational individual. Such a rule is intrinsically egalitarian, since it doesn’t privilege the interests of one reasoner over another.

    Rawls’ trick is to recast this as a form of social contract. The basic rules of society are supposed to be what all rational creatures in an initial position of equality would agree upon. It just so happens that those rules turn out to be liberal rules, and so by magic liberalism ought to be agreed upon by all rational people. So, given that all people are rational, liberalism is not imposed on anyone, because everyone really agrees with it if they are rational.

    But all that Rawls has really done is define the person in the original position as a liberal anti-authoritarian, so it is no surprise that the rules generated are those that suit liberal anti-authoritarians.

    So here’s an example based on Rawls’ view. In the original position, I don’t know whether I will be gay or straight, so I won’t accept a rule that would persecute homosexuals. Similarly, I don’t know whether I will be a theist or an atheist, or if a theist, what religion I will be, so I will only accept rules that promote religious freedom and religious tolerance.

    Small problem: right wing authoritarians don’t think like that.

    If you ask one whether homosexuals ought to be persecuted, they may well say yes, even if they have a risk of turning out to be a homosexual. They think that any homosexual ought to feel guilt at their “moral corruption” and say that if they were a homosexual it would be good for them to be persecuted.

    If you ask a religious authoritarian about discrimination against atheists, they will say that it is fine because atheists are evil, and evil should never be tolerated. Again, if they were an atheist, they will say, they ought to be persecuted because this is the only way their souls might possibly be saved.

    I’ve heard people say these things in all honesty. Yes, it does seem very weird to me.

    Given this unpleasant state of affairs, it follows that it is pointless to insist that liberal rules are those which command universal agreement among rational beings. Liberalism then involves imposing a certain conception of rationality on others whether they agree to it or not. We can of course say that they must agree to be rational, but then we’ve defined rationality as implicitly liberal and defined authoritarians as irrational and defined their beliefs as ones we have warrant to actively oppose whatever they say. Or we can simply say that our values are objectively better than theirs. But in practical terms that amounts to the same thing.

    The Liberal justification for democracy is supposed to work along the same lines. We are supposed to respect political differences because of an underlying social contract. But such a contract requires deep agreement, and there is no such deep agreement. So liberal democratic values will have to be imposed on other people, no matter what they think. There is no deep agreement, nor any community of rational beings in a practical sense.

    On the other hand, if you just want to accept that democracy is best, whatever people vote for, then prepare for school prayer and creationism because you won’t have a liberal democracy any more, but a tyranny of the majority.

  43. SPC on December 12th, 2009 at 20:56

    Just to bring this all back to the origin of it all – that Foreshore and Seabed issue.

    It will be interesting to see how Maori as a group (iwi by iwi) will assert their rights (under our law), and whether their ability to do so would be different under the current government and one led by Goff.

    I don’t see this so much as an identity issue of itself, but under the premise of universalism, not being discriminated against because of their identity by the majority.

    Goff and Labour seem to be suggesting that iwi were getting justice under the former arrangement (actually getting justice when and where government chose to do deals, that is when and where the government chose to be just). But is the process of justice usually that arbitrary?

    The concept is that the government needed to to be seen as in charge of the outcome, for the Pakeha majority to be reassured about “public domain” access -whereas critics (ACT and Greens) wanted reassurance that the process of justice itself was intact.

    Of some importance is the fact that Maori (as an identity) see themsleves in relationship to the Crown, not part of the Crown (which is an important continuing strand of Maori tradition since 1840). This is why to them, “Crown ownership” is a problem.

    The original idea of public domain (a more nuetral term to Maori) may return and I suspect that where iwi are given customary title there may be a Crown title alongside it (so there is a partnership in management), but where there is no iwi with customary title, there is public domain. Where there is public domain a standard applying nationwide. Where there is customary title and Crown partnership – there being localised agreements and joint management regimes.

  44. SPC on December 12th, 2009 at 21:11

    As to the wider debate – the empowerment of the people.

    This occured in an number of ways. People who were men and who had land. People who were men and who had urban property. People who were men and who had the (skilled worker) means to rent their own property independently of their employer.

    The idea of the working class being empowered came in response to this identity selectivity, which pointedly ignored them. In many ways the work of Marx simply indicated how society was organised and how those less likely to be included in that organising should support an alternative that suited them better until they were included.

    The other identity group not included, women also sought to be amongst the empowered people. My point being the whole process of the expansion of the franchise was very much on a class/identity basis. So identity has always been part of the politics of democracy.

  45. Eddie C on December 12th, 2009 at 21:37

    Ag:

    “So liberal democratic values will have to be imposed on other people, no matter what they think. There is no deep agreement, nor any community of rational beings in a practical sense.”

    …and yet, George Bush was president of the US for 8 years, while a substantial portion of the US populace thought he was a misguided idiot, if not downright evil. John Howard, Peter Costello, et al imposed their small-minded parochialism on Australia for over a decade. Helen Clark, who was vocally portrated a lesbian stalinist dictator, socially engineered New Zealand for almost as long.

    What do they all have in common? They all got turfed out electorally at the end of their terms. There was no armed uprising during those times, despite fundamental differences about policy and, at a deeper level, the proper role of authority. I think you’re right; I think right wing politics is in general selfish and cruel, and I’m sure they think lefties are lazy, naive, and have a ridiculous sense of entitlement.

    The only possibly universalising thing is the democratic process: the idea (which is somewhat untrue, but nonetheless powerful) that if enough people agree with me that the current guys are crap, we can swap them for people with more agreeable policy preferences. The commitment to the process can be built up even more if you have an open administrative state that allows people to comment at a micro level on decisions.

    Sure, some people are not happy with even when the process is shown to be fair (talkbackland, fox news, and I assume similar enclaves on the left), but this is never a critical enough mass to actually jeaopardise the system. If it was, widespread violent anti-government action would (and has, when the government breaches the accepted bounds) result.

    All of this relies on people being able to make their own political decisions. Even if they’re irrational. It seems to me that without ridiculously strong parochial nationalism, the only thing that holds communities (and countries) together in the face of disagreement is faith in the system.

    Which is a long way of saying I agree with your last post except for one thing; commitment to a system that allows and mediates disagreement IS community in a meaningful sense.

  46. Ag on December 12th, 2009 at 23:42

    The only possibly universalising thing is the democratic process: the idea (which is somewhat untrue, but nonetheless powerful) that if enough people agree with me that the current guys are crap, we can swap them for people with more agreeable policy preferences. The commitment to the process can be built up even more if you have an open administrative state that allows people to comment at a micro level on decisions.

    Great. The problem with that is that Bush and his party spent those 8 years flagrantly ignoring democratic norms. Just read about their contempt for the established political process in Congress, for one example. They’re still doing it, and being as ruthlessly obstructionist as they can be. Pablo had a post a while ago about the concept of a “loyal opposition” and how the Republicans have been failing to be one. It’s worth a read. US politics is still dysfunctional because one side is not putting the interests of the country and its political institutions ahead of their own.

    There has to be more to liberal democracy than simple majority rule, because majority rule is compatible with the tyranny of the majority, and that isn’t a liberal form of government.

  47. Eddie C on December 13th, 2009 at 08:26

    Ag – yes, minority protection is the core difficult area in a process-based account of liberal democracy. Lots of people HAVE done work on combining the two (particularly in the area of deliberate democracy)… I don’t know enough about it yet to comment meaningfully, so I won’t. I read Pablo’s post re the Republicans and while I agree, frankly, the Democrats have the numbers to overcome Republican obstructionism and simply lack the political will to do so. Thats a flaw with the politicians, not necessarily with the system itself (Although I do think the American expression of representative democracy does set itself up to be dysfunctional).

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