Political systems and success

In a comment on my previous post “History is not the case against collectivism”, Mark asked

I also just realized, that a system/ideal can be judged from a moral standpoint separately from a history: then is it possible for an ideology that is inferior from a moral standpoint to actually succeed in history?

The question is important enough to deserve a post of its own, so here goes.

A judgement based on history(and nothing else) is a consequentialist judgement. It is based on a consideration and evaluation of the consequences. It is of the form “X is good (or bad) because what followed X was good (or bad)”. The problem with such a judgement is that consequences do not necessarily indicate causality. To arrive at causality, one needs a theory that explains why X led to the consequences. Consider an example: Dictatorship is bad because the Soviet Union collapsed after several dictatorships. To which someone might say: Dictatorship is good because Singapore (or China) is doing well under one. An appropriate theory of market behavior and the difficulty of determining prices without markets can be invoked to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union. But what if a ‘wise’ dictator is able to replace (if only partially) the market with his commands? Would his dictatorship ‘succeed’?

political ideal is a moral ideal, not an economic one. A political system is an economic/organisational structure that attempts to realize political ideals. A political ideal of economic equality leads to a political system of communism (example: The Soviet Union). A political ideal of ‘equality of opportunity’ or ‘social justice’ leads to a political system of socialism (example: India until the 90s). A political ideal of national superiority leads to a political system of fascism (example: China). A political ideal of liberty leads to a political system of capitalism (example: the early USA).

Only political ideals can be judged morally. The construction of a political system is a matter of science (political, legal etc…), not of morality. For example, whether to have a presidential system, or a parliamentary system; whether the tenure of elected representatives should be 4 years or 10 years; whether copyrights should be granted for 20 years or 50 years; whether the minimum voting age should be 18 years or 21 years; etc.. are not moral questions.

The success of a political system is the extent to which it achieves its ideals. Just as the construction of a political system is a scientific matter, the evaluation of its success is a scientific matter. It involves analyzing the relevant historical facts with an appropriate theory of causality. It is like measuring the efficiency of an equipment.

There is no such thing as the success or failure of a political ideal.Ideals do not succeed or fail. They are accepted or rejected. While the failure of a political system might cause some people to reject (or at least question) their ideals, the failure does not prove that the ideals are wrong. As long as one still holds the same ideals, the failure of a particular political system is simply useful empirical data for constructing a better political system.

Now coming  to the question “Is it possible for an ideology that is inferior from a moral standpoint to actually succeed in history?”

Consider some concrete cases:

The political ideal of economic equality is an impossible ideal. Men are not equal in their abilities or their experience and nothing can make them equal. No political system that holds economic equality as an ideal can ever succeed and none ever has.

The political ideal of equality of opportunity is also an impossible ideal for the same reason. No political system can ever achieve it. But since, equality of opportunity is a less extreme ideal than economic equality, systems which attempt to realize it merely cause economic stagnation and not collapse.

The political ideal of national superiority is a fuzzy ideal (like all collectivist ideals). Because of its collectivist nature, it can never be defined or understood precisely. Depending on how it is defined, political systems that attempt it may or may not succeed. If winning the maximum number of gold medals in an Olympics is a measure of national superiority, then China’s political system succeeded. If achieving a high economic growth rate is a measure of national superiority, then China’s system has succeeded.

So my answer to Mark’s question is:

As long as its political ideals are not impossible to attain, a political system can succeed even if it is not moral. Of course, that raises the question “How does one decide what ideals are moral and what are not?” My upcoming post on my case against collectivism should answer a part of that question.


Today’s Cultural Vacuum

This post began as a reply to a comment on my previous post that said “We must do something about it otherwise it will be too late.” but I decided it was worthy of posting as an entry by itself1. So here goes.

Indeed now is the time to do something about improving our culture. The culture around us today is dominated by people who have seen that the ideals they believed in have failed. Instead of questioning the ideals, they have chosen to reject the necessity of ideals and principles itself. They believe that as long as they do not stick to any principles and do not take any definite stands but keep revising their positions everytime a new angle of some issue confronts them, all will be well. But man cannot live without ideals or principles. Since these men have not questioned their ideals, they still believe in them implicitly, and these ideals still drive the decisions they make, but this time unconsciously. The old leaders and trend-setters of this country atleast had the advantage of knowing what they wanted and of being sure of what they chose, no matter how flawed their ideas were. The cultural leaders of today now live in perpetual doubt, ready to change their stands at a moments notice. They are in the position of men trying to navigate a vast desert who have seen that the compass they had is faulty and decide to depend only on the terrain around them but end up using the faulty compass everytime they get confused. Except that the compass here is a code of ethics and the terrain is a world that gets more complex by the day as technology progresses. It is no wonder that our politics is now dominated by crooks (in place of the misguided do-gooders) who know how to take advantage of the cultural vacuum and the lack of any principled opposition. The time is indeed ripe for those who know the importance of ideals and principles to discover the right ideals, advocate them and take control of the culture. Cultural trends are set by those who dare to set them. Today India is in a position where no one will present any real opposition to anyone who dares to set the trends. If those who have the right ideas fail to set the right trends, the fault will squarely be theirs.

1) Since it integrates the content of some earlier posts and has to do with the purpose of this blog.

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