Thursday, 24 February 2011

The pessimistic passivity of the right - paralysis by procedure

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It is often remarked that the political right are remarkably accepting of trends which they regard as deadly, and prone as individuals to lapse into a state of pessimistic and passive paralysis.

Of course, there is a sense in which this is a 'realistic' response to current and predicted events; yet despair is a sin.

There is a sense in which the right is prone to lapse into a state in which they see events not only running against them, but where they perceive that nothing constructive could - even in principle - be done to stop and reverse these trends.

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I suspect that this is because the right has - over centuries - internalized the (intrinsically leftist) assumption that politics ought to be a matter of procedures: of laws, regulations, practices, systems. 

The idea of legitimate politics then becomes equated with the business of setting-up these procedures.

Wisdom in politics then becomes a matter of foresight into how these procedures will work out.

The notion, on the modern mainstream right, is that only when new procedures have a high probability of benefit with a low predicted incidence of serious harm, is it reasonable to intervene.

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And - contemplating the morass of modern society - thoughtful rightists can see no way through the mass of interlinking leftist procedures.

They cannot - in all honesty - even imagine as a thought experiment, a set of alternative procedures (of laws, regulations, systems) which would reliably (and without too many breakages) lead to the outcomes they desire.

And so they despair, and so they give-up.

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But to concede that good government is a matter of good procedures is to concede the debate before it has begun.

The old ideal of good government was government by a wise man: a King Arthur, or a King Alfred the Great.

Of course there will always be need for some procedure - Alfred was a pioneer of English law - but equally all procedures rely on human wisdom.

The difference is in which direction the ideal lies, and in which direction the system is pushing: is it, as with modernity, pushing in the direction of making a human-proof system; or one in which human wisdom has the best chance of operating.

Are systems and procedures the ultimate authority - or is the wisdom of a wise man the authority?

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The right needs to accept that no systems are human-proof, nor would it be a good thing if they were.

The right needs to stop looking for solutions in terms of an alternative set of procedures,  laws and systems.

The right needs to think in terms of aiming at outcomes; and of government as a matter of having the best people in authority, not in terms of having such a perfect constituion that people are irrelevant.

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The leftist ideal is a government so systemically-perfect that all personnel are interchangeable, indeed perhaps humans could be replaced by chimpanzees (or computers).

That cannot be the ideal of the right.

The right - and this applies to both the religious and the secular right - needs to think in terms of a government which aims to does the right things.

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Doing the right things is therefore a matter of

1. Wanting to do the right things, and

2. Being competent to do the right things.

But the second depends on the first:

among governors, among those in authority: 

motivation is more important than competence. 

Indeed, competence without proper motivation is the most dangerous situation of all.)

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On the right there must be a focus on what needs doing, and on government by those who recognize these needs, then - preferably - by those who are best able to achieve these needs.

Procedures, laws and systems must take a second place.

Human beings should count for most.

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That much is shared between the secular right and the religious right: but the 'ideology' of what is right, what is needed, is of course very different indeed.

However, until there is a recognition that rightist politics is mostly about the outcomes aimed-at - the right will continue to be paralyzed.

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Here it comes:

There does not need to be a plan in order for the right to start work, in order for the right to govern.

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The right must not - ever - place its trust in systems. 

There does not need to be a set of new laws and regulations by which the right hopes to achieve a given outcome - but there does need to be a will that certain outcomes be achieved.

And that will will have at least a chance of finding a way.  

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1 comment:

  1. I suspect that there are people on the right who assume that no substantial improvements can be made until the old system is in meltdown. European exerience is that you can recover from a meltdown in just 1200-1300 years.

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