Revisiting Thomas Hobbes

I have no political affiliation or convictions. I think policy is contingent on circumstance, environment, economics, security. I don’t think that people can re-make society any way they want and I don’t believe that political economic systems that have been shown to work in one place will work elsewhere. I think that more idealism and sound institutions are possible in the west than elsewhere because of extremely disproportionate prosperity from the New World and the colonial legacy. Maybe western liberal democracy is the best possible system, but that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. I believe like Prof. Hansen that the future of the global economy is not bright. If China’s 1.5 billion rose to the living standards of an average OECD country, a wide array of non-renewable resources would be expended within 40 years. There is accelerating climate change and mass oceanic die-off (due to acidification, plastic gyres, heavy metals and other industrial waste, Fukushima radiation and so on). The Liberal order is not progressing to greater liberty, it’s stumbling from Berlusconi to Assange to Manning to Snowden to Orban to Erdogan, to Trump/Hillary (same shit) and ever higher personal and sovereign debt. Liberalism by itself led to Dickensian conditions. Ironically the perverted Bolshevik revolution lent legitimacy to western social democratic demands to concede social welfare concessions or face violent leftist overthrow. This, contingent on the foundation of colonial prosperity, is why up to now these have been comfortable places to live. Once the USSR fell, this legitimate threat also fell, and the roll-back of social welfare concessionss began and continues. Again, as Hansen points out, many of them are objectively no longer affordable anyway. If you are less pessemistic and think that “liberal ideals” are being pursued and are achievable, good luck. I think geopolitical goals and reduction of limitations on capital accumulation are being pursued. I’m really bored with this obsession with parliamentary elections, there are countless possible legitimate forms of democracy, many developed by traditional societies in dialogue with their own local conditions and environment. Diversity is robust; monoculture, liberal or otherwise, is a liability when crisis hits. Never mind the criticisms of liberal society offered by the Prussian Conservative Revolutionaries, Frankfurt School, Heidegger, Jung, and Marx’s theories of alienation. Why and how should liberals expect that countries can transition to western-style liberal institutions within a few years with no cultural foundation and in disregard for local social and economic conditions? If these liberal crusaders insist on remaking the world in their image, maybe they should be thinking of a multi-generational roadmap. Establish stability and consensus of elites, a unifying ethos, sovereignty guarantees etc, etc first. Maybe promoting liberal democratic reforms prematurely has a counter-effect. For example, I think Russians often become homophobic just to resist western cultural imperiousness. Maybe promoting liberal reforms prematurely makes authoritarian regimes (which, however ugly, are indeed warding off war and chaos) feel insecure and leads to reactionary retrenchment. Maybe liberal crusaders should value the role of the regime in a long arduous process, while promoting non-threatening, mainly economic reforms, biding their time, promoting security of elites, education, etc. No one wants the results of Gorbachyov’s hasty, idealistic reforms- disintegration, apocalyptic living coditions and war. Maybe there are foundational conditions that should be painstakingly built before democratization. It’s nice to sit in a resource rich, only-recently-intensively-exploited, temperate, continental country with impecable security sandwiched between two oceans and say that non-gradual change will definitely work out great. I doubt this kind of optimism will survive the global financial crisis Hansen expects, but good luck!

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