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In his comment on Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4), Ed Stevens puts his finger on a number of points that motivate my present research into liberty.
Ed is sympathetic to my hypothesis that
true freedom is based in an evolving and thoroughly "political-participatory" citizenry.
Yet he recognises:
This does however, bring up a troubling question in my mind - active and effective participation in the political process by the populace (apologies for the unintentional alliteration) would seem to demand an extraordinary degree of political acumen from said populace. Alas, I look in vain for anything approaching a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of the vast majority of Americans. Likewise, the level of concern about matters political tends to center for a few weeks around important election dates, and is fleeting at best. So many of us (at least in the US) view politics as a dirty, inconvenient, and utterly boring business, interesting only to the scalawag, the dull-witted, and those generally unsuited for "normal" pursuits.
Simply said, I worry that we will never reach that plateau of astuteness that makes possible rational/sensible selection of, and monitoring of, those who purport to represent ("govern") us. In short, how do we get people to both care about, and learn about, the hugely important and difficult task of becoming politically educated, and hence competent to govern ourselves?
By formulating his "problem," Ed neatly defines the object of my present research.
I agree with every word in the above passage.
If I depart from Ed's comment at one point, then not to contradict him, but to - hopefully - take off to an explanation that places the analysis on a different level.
The crucial sentence from which I attempt to launch myself into that new orbit is this one:
Alas, I look in vain for anything approaching a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of the vast majority of Americans.
In order not to start my argument with a wad of complicated qualifications, accept for the time being a reply that is, in some respects, an over-generalisation:
a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of any majority or individual is an impossibility.
This assumption of mine gives rise to what I call the second problem of liberty:
how to organise, foster, protect, and restrain political activism, given that it is necessarily based on incompetence?
The first problem of liberty is
how to get people into, and keep them in, a position that inevitably produces the second problem of liberty: the creation, exchange, and clash of political incompetence on a mass scale and as a matter of right?
Put differently: the duplex task of liberty is
(1) to emancipated the citizenry to be able to partake in an activity that everyone is insufficiently qualified to pursue with competence, and
(2) to ensure that this "festival of the blind" becomes a vital input to the constant unfolding of a socially cohesive, peaceful, and highly productive society in which the individual (Gellner's "modular man") experiences unprecedented personal autonomy?
My thesis is that the equilibrium state that balances aggravation and placation in a society (under the above conditions of peace, productivity and personal autonomy) is what deserves to be called liberty.
My further thesis is that such balancing is taking place behind our backs, in some considerable measure at least.
One is bound to become frustrated with politics if one does not find a way to appreciate that politics in a free society is not only an exercise in mutual persuasion and other explicit strategies of influencing one another but also a vast system of rites and unconscious practices, of secondary effects of our political actions and intentions, effects that we may not be aware of while we cling to them as their habitual adoption has simply proven useful.
Libertarians like Hayek arbitrarily restrict the idea of a spontaneous order to economics; there is however another spontaneous order out there that we need to grapple with if we wish to live and comprehend liberty: the spontaneous order of politics and the state.
Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.
No, they do not. Unless they realise that they are in no better position than those partaking in "the festival of the blind."
It is the duty of those who plead for liberty to seek in the area of politics and government insight into the nature and conditions of our inescapable ignorance and the interplay of consciously designed institutions and evolved practices by which is delivered the miracle of freedom.
Liberalism is a thoroughly rationalistic philosophy; it is partial to what
Not only is the spontaneous order of politics and the state hard to explain, and unsurprisingly little understood as yet, it does not pass the second test of liberal affinity: it fails to attest a special status of liberalism as being the better point of view compared to other voices in the cacophony of political strife.
Freedom is made to challenge and erode any doctrine.
Yet she gives us an opportunity to improve our theories and to work things out by practical politics where our uncertain and rickety theories are silent, powerless or destructive.
In admitting the impossibility of being fully informed, and in this sense: the impossibility of being competent, in many, perhaps even in most political matters, I only wish to stress the importance of political engagement, of politically active citizens and politicians in an open political system. I do not wish to denigrate the political participants wholesale, fail as some may, but, on the contrary, emphasise how welcome and significant their contribution is to maintaining a free society. We do not have the option to quit politics simply because it is a fuzzy-ended affair. Unless we prefer a much worse political system which does not honour freedom's demand that every citizen is given the possibility of participating in the political process.
For more see On the Importance of Politics, and the links at the bottom of that post.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 07/30/2015 at 06:12 PM in Georg Thomas, Liberty Laid Bare, Pure Politics, Social Philosophy | Permalink
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Nicely put, Georg - I will continue to follow your researches with interest.
Ed Stevens |
07/31/2015 at 08:07 AM
Thanks, Ed, for accompanying me on this journey. I am looking forward to your comments, if you have time and occasion to offer some. May I ask you to keep an acute eye on the formulations and terminology, among other things waiting for improvement.
Thus, I am not happy with the term "aggravation" - as in "aggravation and placation."
What I mean by "aggravation" is the inevitable consequence of freedom to create a population of mutually dissenting citizens. Freedom creates conflict, where it would not exist without her.
I am not sure about the resonances of "aggravation" in American ears. I have heard US military personnel use the term in the sense that I ascribe to it - may be my mis-perception: "creating conflict." But does the term not mean, "making things worse or more acute(ly bad)," rather than "being conflict-inducing?"
There is a good term in German, for which I haven't found an adequate single-world-equivalent in English: Streitbarkeit - meaning: a preparedness to quarrel ferociously - at witch vee Görmans arrr wery gut.
At any rate, I am fascinated by the fact that we live in a civilisation whose millions of members take the right to invulnerably challenge their fellows absolutely for granted.
As the comment section in every blog proves: we are even inviting strangers to write potentially very "aggravating" comments on our most cherished pronouncements.
Georg Thomas |
07/31/2015 at 10:47 AM
Tough call, Georg - I personally have no problem grasping the meaning in your usage of "aggravate", but if you're uncomfortable with it, you might consider the following alternatives: provoke, inflame, agitate, irritate, acerbate.
I admit that none of these exactly fit what I perceive to be your intended meaning, but they're the best I could come up with before my morning cup of coffee.
Ed Stevens |
08/01/2015 at 08:00 AM
You're an exceptionally gifted writer, as I know from your comments and your blog and book writing, with the most sensitive antennae for linguistic distinctions.
I'm glad you have added alternative expressions to my vocabulary (concerning the specific issue) and - upon your confirmation - feel entitled to continue to use the original phrasing ("aggravation").
Thanks for your help.
Ah, morning coffee, to me: an archetypal scene of Gemütlichkeit (cosiness), even though coffee doesn't agree with me - I still like the smell of it, and can't resist the occasional espresso.
Have a great day, and thanks again for much valued assistance.
Georg Thomas |
08/01/2015 at 08:18 AM
You gentlemen continue to keep this blog alive. Ed, if you ever want another outlet, just say the word.
08/07/2015 at 01:57 PM
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