How to run a society

This is a "freedom" (civil liberties)-related blog post, a nice break from all that military hardware I recently wrote about (even though I wasn't *really* writing about hardware, but I suppose superficially it looked like I did).
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It's fairly obvious these days both in comparison between certain developed countries and in close looks at certain recent politics changes in several countries that the Western world is in a conflict of very basic ideas about how to run a society.

On the one hand there's modern liberalism with its emancipation movements. Liberalism tries to create an ever better society by bursting shackles, freeing the people from restrictions. Followers of different bible interpretation or even altogether foreign deities are allowed to. Women are allowed to wear pants, work, have sort uncovered hair, vote etc. Gays are allowed to be gays and so on.

 "In meinem Staate kann jeder nach seiner Façon selig werden"
"In my dominions every one may be happy in his own fashion."
Frederick (II.) the Great, King of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg
There's also an altogether different way of how to run a society: This way demands of everyone to behave according to tight limits of tolerable behaviour. Women got to respect men. Gays do not exist. You better pray to the Christian god or better perfectly hide your faith and don't dare apply for public office or do a speech.

It's fairly easy to see how this authoritarian and relatively oppressive system causes discomfort to many women, all gays and most heretics and heathens. That's why it seemingly fell out of fashion in the Western world, and supposedly increasingly so.

Yet by now it's obvious that the liberal approach causes discomfort as well. Those who felt this discomfort have come to sunlight during the last few years in Hungary, United States, Netherlands, France, Poland. Their heroes are (supposed) strongman politicians who promise to establish order - the order in which all those deviations from a tight set of acceptance rules are pushed back into acceptable behaviour, or else. Me being a Sozialliberaler (this doesn't translate literally into English) with a hint of green, I called these people "dangerous idiots". I may have underestimated their numbers, and grossly so. 5-10% was optimistic. In the United States it's rather ~30%.

Maybe it helped me that some liberals got so progressive that even I was a little bit left behind and baffled by the most avantgardist (or most "extreme") views about supposed emancipations. Today I have developed a little bit more respect than calling them "dangerous idiots". "Enemies of liberty" would suffice. Then again, some of them do really deserve both descriptions.

What drove me to write this article is that recalling my economics education I found a way to interpret their behaviour with well-established tools, in fact one of my favourite tools; preferences.
They may be horrible bigots against gays, women, Muslims et cetera, but their discomfort with living in a liberal society (where other people are allowed to deviate far from their behaviour) is real. They really feel this discomfort, because they have a preference for a more orderly, homogeneous society.
This preference is actually as legitimate as is the preference of gays for living the gay way of life.

The discomfort that authoritarians force on gays etc. in pursuit of homogeneity is equivalent to the discomfort that liberals force on authoritarians by creating a heterogeneous, "diverse" society with emancipated subcultures.

There's no real golden rule to solve this conflict known to me; migration is not really a solution because the issue reappears in every generation, even before the children leave their parents' household.

Maybe it would help in the current domestic dissonances if both sides learned to understand that the other side endures legitimate discomforts if one has one's way. In the end, one might learn to at least tone the rhetoric down, to not artificially increase the visibility of some deviations, to respect the idea of liberty a bit more on the other side of the aisle (not just in theory, but in reality) and most importantly; respect the legitimacy of majority rule.

On the other hand, from a progressive's point of view those people REALLY ARE dangerous idiots.


P.S.: What worth has the defence of freedoms against foreign powers if you have no freedoms at home anyway? The whole idea of a military as protector of freedom only begins to make sense if you enjoy freedom at home!


  1. I quite like your post on the progressive vs conservative theme. The way I see it, the divide is much more granular and the extremes actually tend to be mirror images of each other. The reason why there is progressivesness is because societies need to adapt to changing circumstances. The reason why there is conservatism is to prevent too rapid and aimless progress. Some new fashion can end up being useless (or maybe even dangerous).

    I'm reminded of the current breaching techniques. It is a fad that was originally developed for the right reasons but over time has turned into a dangerous practice. Young recruits practice against static targets and are taught to ignore their (correct) instincts. In a real encounter the moment of surprise wouldn't be on your side and the targets wouldn't be static (and stupid).
    A while ago there was a special forces exercise in Estonia. The goal was to rescue hostages and eliminate all threats that were bunkered up in an old schoolhouse. The moment of surprise was gone from the first step they made in that building. The stairs were barricaded with random junk and it took a fair amount of time to clear the obstacles (I was surprised that nobody threw a grenade or two during that time). And then they reached a room where the 'terrorists' were, everything went sour. Instead of a smooth breach, they met a curtained door, a barricade and a hail of rifle fire. Several operators were swiftly 'killed' during the breach and the encounter got drawn out to several minutes. This would mean that most hostages could have been executed before anybody reached them. The 'terrorists' also sat with the hostages all along the walls (in a dark room no less) so as to create serious confusion during entry. Yet, a lot of time is invested to execute "flawless" breaching techniques, which will fail even with the slightest deviation in the formula.
    That is thoughtless progress mixed with blind conservatism. They adapted something they didn't understand and now perpetuate it without bothering to understand it.

  2. Germany is still OK, IMHO. You can split "enemies od liberty" camp merely by allowing CDU to shift a little bit back rightward - and by modest, reasonable anti-terrorist measures. Part of phobes then returns to mainstream parties, AfD can be back on 5-7 % very soon. Democratic conservativism can absorb a lot of phobes. Then hysteria will die slowly, almost without pain.

    On the other hand, in Central and Eastern Europe democratic enculturation is still very poor, two generations had spend their lives in almost completely closed societies (alhough DDR`s was probably the worst variety). 60 % of Czechs now stands by demented islamophobic president, who, by the way, is heavy drinker too, full of vodka`s "wisdom". Majority behaves as bunch of intolerant, inherently insecure authoritarian personalities, longing for closed borders and a strongman`s rule. It can take decades to update their geistige "software". In the meantime, expect complete fascination with Liliputin.

  3. Having a better understanding of preference differences, both in principle and how they exist in the actual population, would go a long way in understanding politics (and possibly organizing it in a "better" way). However, I think there are powerful incentives against such an understanding. Even admitting the legitimacy (as you do) of differing preferences is thought to undermine that of your own, or at least that of the figure that is expressing it. Thus why political leaders are quick to exaggerate differences and misrepresent the opposing faction, but rare to attack their honestly held positions and try to find compromise.

    I do think that your opinion of the resurgent right wing factions reflects a similar problem: their growth does not represent aversion to the liberal society per se. Such aversion has not substantially grown (though there are some signs that it may indeed do so in the future). Their support comes mostly from aversion to the very specific practice of mass immigration from certain cultures that are thought to lower the general quality of life - a legitimate thought and interest that will quickly be misrepresented by the political opponents as flat out racism, nationalism, anti-liberalism. (Of course, those that actually do hold these opinions will then think themselves both confirmed and in good company...) To be fair, these groups are doing their best at misrepresenting the left/liberal side as well.

    1. Legal immigration into the U.S. has been quite flat since the early 90's. The quantity of illegal immigrants in the country ceased growing years ago.
      The debate about immigrants there looks more like a battlefield of the war that is about white mens' fears about of dominance. That's a separate issue from the homogeneity / heterogeneity issue. It's rather about fears of losing social standing, which are hard-coded into us.

      Meanwhile, the new far right wave in Europe easily predates the 2015 immigration wave and cannot be explained by it. It merely changed focus and gained some additional protest votes due to it.

    2. The only place where the 2015 wave had much effect was germany, which notably did gain a new right wing party. But there's been immigration since decades now. Those parties rarely have much agenda besides lowering immigration, or sometimes (in the case of the AfD) economic programs detrimental to those actually voting them. I suppose one disapproving of their central intent does find it practical to find alternate rationalisations why they are voted - protest against the elite or the political process, economic fears, what have you. It absolves the other parties of the need to acquiesce to their demands to regain voters. Until they reach critical mass and the ruling parties have no other choice that is, see austria as example.

      Hungary and Poland are different cases here, where one was actually far right all along and the other voted the right wing establishment party for purely domestic reasons. You'll meanwhile see no anti-liberal parties springing up in other european states not affected by immigration (admittedly few at this point.)

  4. This dichotomy is at the heart of political "discourse" in the United States and to an ever-increasing degree in Canada as well. There is no compromise, there is no comprehension of even parts of the other's position. It is simply Othering and a competition to see who can gain the most Righteous Victim points with any given narrative, thus demonstrating their moral superiority and for some reason fitness to lead. I think you said it quite well and by legitimating the right's complaints, which is not something that's been done for some decades now, common ground begins to be established. This prerequisite is generally not done - screaming matches substitute for it.

  5. Czechs invented protestantism in 14th century. This development started long, bloody internal and external conflict and only in 16th century (and only in eastern part of country) religious tolerance developed itself - "out of nowhere". Without any previous political plan. - You always have to simply start "living with your enemy" first, living with people holding only "absolutely idiotic, unacceptable, dangerous" opinions, without any explanation. Maybe this is "antagonistic cooperation" of German philosopher Wolfgang Welsch. Some ideological fairy tale comes only after that. - Alternatively, you`ll get civil war.