20180930 – Why Liberalism Failed
Here is author’s main point: “Liberalism has failed—not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” as its inner logic has become more evident and its self-contradictions manifest, it has generated pathologies that are at once deformations of its claims yet realizations of liberal ideology.”
The main inference that author provides is:” A rejection of the world’s first and last remaining ideology does not entail its replacement with a new and doubtless not very different ideology. Political revolution to overturn a revolutionary order would produce only disorder and misery. A better course will consist in smaller, local forms of resistance: practices more than theories, the building of resilient new cultures against the anticulture of liberalism.”
Introduction: The End of Liberalism
At the beginning author defines liberalism as philosophy, which conceived human individuals as rights bearing entities who could pursue happiness according to their own understanding. It supported limited government, rule of law, and independent judiciary. Then author complains that in current American society it all deteriorated, so Americans do not believe in existing institutions anymore and do not trust them. It resulted from raising division of population into elite and regular people with different resource availability, different believes and overall different life experiences. In short – liberalism achieved equal opportunity meritocracy that led to huge division of society into successful few and unsuccessful many eventually resulting in their separation into different layers of society with the next generation deprived of equal opportunity. Author reviews the most important areas of live and tries to demonstrate how liberalism failed in each of these areas:
- Politics: limited government was substituted by practically unlimited administrative state with unelected bureaucrats and incumbent politicians controlling nearly everything.
- Economics: division of population into very rich and well to do living in completely different economic world than poor and lower middle class. The former benefiting from globalization, when cheap low skills labor from all over the world combined with expensive high skill labor in developed countries dramatically increased wellbeing of these participants at the expense of latter’s dramatically deteriorated wellbeing, leading not only to their material deprivation, but to the existential crisis of these people who are not productive and dignified members of society anymore.
- Education: division of population when children of upper classes provided education and access to technology that make them increasingly more productive, while lower classes provided indoctrination in leu of education resulting in their hate to productive individuals and inability to become productive themselves.
- Science and Technology: Its triumphs led to creation of contemporary world, but now liberalism turned against it in form of environmentalism, the ideology of rich who are seeking psychological satisfaction at the expense of others’ suffering.
- Culture: Liberalism’s struggle against cultural and religious limitation imposed on individual freedom turned into political and ideological limitations, which rapidly becoming as onerous as the old ones. For example, the demand for freedom from religious turns into denial of freedom of religion.
ONE. Unsustainable Liberalism
This starts with the statement that liberalism is committed to liberty and self-government and author goes into history of these ideas starting with Romans and Christianity, which produced Liberal ideology and idea of individual rights. Author however characterizes original Christian approach as an attempt to prevent tyranny by promoting virtue and education in virtue. He points to Machiavelli as the thinker who moved away from this unrealistic approach to the new realistic approach that accepted not very nice human features such as greed, pride, and selfishness, but seek to temper these features via division of power, so different interests conflict with each other, consequently limiting each other and forcing some compromise and accommodation for common good. Author provides more detailed discussion of the nature of liberalism and claims that it became the last standing ideology in 1989 when competing communist ideology practically fall apart. However, after that liberalism itself started falling apart in a number of areas because per author it is running out of cultural foundation that it inherited from religion and previously established society mores. Specifically, unabridged self-interest undermined and made irrelevant virtue that used to be it the core of behavior, mastery of nature produced unacceptable ecological costs, loosening of nearly all social connections undermined voluntarism, leaving individuals mainly on their own and directing all support to needy via formal tools of government. Author characterized this as 2 revolutions: The first: switch from communal objectives and actions to individual, and the Second: war against nature.
Two. Uniting Individualism and Statism
Author begins this chapter with history of left and right all the way back to French Assembly’s division between revolutionaries and royalists and going on until current American political division between conservatives (classical liberals) promoting individual liberty from governmental control and progressives (liberals) promoting collective liberty from limitation on the leaders of collective by either laws or individual rights. Somehow author combines them into one, claiming that both are liberal positions in their philosophical sources and practical implications: classical liberals via idea of social contract, while progressives via idea of social whole (we as people). Both were united in their struggle against aristocracy, but became enemies when aristocracy was gone, leading to interesting result of dual expansion of the state and individual autonomy.
THREE. Liberalism as Anticulture
This chapter is about transformation of culture that occurred under influence of liberalism. The old religion and cultural norms were mainly destroyed by leftist liberal who were seeking to undermine cultural cohesion of the society that impeded their social experiments in forming new humans that belongs to liberal super state rather than to family, religious, and local community. Author defines 3 pillars of liberal anti-culture: conquest of nature, denial of past as it was and its continuing redesign according to contemporary views, and change of notion of place, making it fungible and disconnected from individual’s background. Author reviews in details each of these pillars and concludes that it led to rise of leviathan, but even more important fact is that parasitic liberalism sustainable only until there are still remnants of culture it is trying to annihilate, which provide some cohesion to society. When these remnants eventually liquidated, society would not held together, leading to its demise, which would take liberalism with it.
FOUR. Technology and the Loss of Liberty
It starts with the note that infatuation with technology is a product of modern times and did not occur before. Author discusses a number of cultural artifacts prophesizing awful future catastrophes, and then points out that it could be result of foreboding about powerlessness before technological and societal developments. Then he goes to technology of liberalism that he defines as technology of self-government with interesting quirk that self-rule of collective actually suppress individual’s ability to do as he wishes, which comes only after liberalism become dominant, while before that objective was increasing liberty of individual. Author also discusses political technology such as Constitution and related ideological and legal artifacts that constitute technological society. All this also linked to actual technological infrastructure such as Internet and social media.
FIVE. Liberalism against Liberal Arts
The main point here is that liberalism generally attempts substitute culture with anticulture resulting in substitute of liberal education with servile education. Author discusses here attacks against liberal arts, which were currying on traditions of the culture. He documents multiple examples of these successful attacks in universities that become bastions of liberalism. Author also opposes conversion of universities into what he calls multiversity, which substitutes humanities with purely technical and scientific instruction.
SIX. The New Aristocracy
Here author discusses how anticulture brought in by liberalism and promotion of statist ideology led to creation of new aristocracy that crosses national borders and consists of people all over the world who went to the same universities, obtained the same believes and enjoy upscale lifestyles supported by income from positions in bureaucracies and government supported industries. These people often quite contemptuous to majority of their countries who do not have elite education and similar opportunities and make living in difficult global market place where they are not competitive with low paid works with similar low-level skillset from developing countries. Author also discusses his believe that this new aristocracy came from classical liberalism, which promoted free market place and support for meritocracy at the expanse of commonality. Author reviews a number of recent books dedicated to discussion of these issues.
SEVEN. The Degradation of Citizenship
In this chapter author looks at liberalism’s attack against citizenship and use of democracy as paramount value that justifies suppression of real and previously protected rights such as freedoms numerated in bill of rights and their substitution by materialistic and unrealistic rights like good job, decent income, free healthcare, right not to be insulted, and so on. Interestingly enough liberalism managed simultaneously to idolize democracy in theory and suppress it in practice everywhere where it is possible.
Conclusion: Liberty after Liberalism
Author conclusion is somewhat paradoxical: “Liberalism has failed because liberalism has succeeded”. It succeeded in its destructive function removing old aristocratic system, but it filed in its constructive function to provide something better for individual happiness. Author posits that there is no return and proposes initial steps that he believes would help to move beyond liberalism:
- Acknowledge achievements of liberalism and accept their finality
- Outgrow age of ideology and instead “focus on developing practices that foster new forms of culture, household economics, and polis life.”
- Out of this new practice generate a better theory of politics and society.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that there is quite a bit of confusion that author demonstrates all the time. If by his definition liberalism is about individual freedom and limited government, how one can state that it failed by creating big administrative state that increasingly stifle economy by regulation and keeps subverting constitutional guaranties of Bill of Rights? This confusion probably comes from poor understanding of real or classical liberalism vs. leftist, name-stealing liberalism. As ideology of liberty liberalism in XIX and early XX century was directed against businesses united with state and local, authorities via massive corruption in their struggle to suppress independent business and labor. These independents either presented too much of competition or limited business options by creating unions that tried monopolizing access to labor. At this point of history, the main ally of these groups was federal bureaucracy, who had limited opportunities for enrichment via corruption by virtue of being too far away and above from real cash flows of mainly small and middle size business. This bureaucracy was handily supported by top level journalists and intellectuals deeply infected by socialist ideas that pretty much boiled down to believe in supreme effectiveness and efficiency of big bureaucracy, preferably at the level of total control over society’s nationalized means of production. Early in XX century when old aristocratic forces practically self-destroyed during WWI, liberalism was highjacked by its socialist branch, living only small group clinging to ideas of individual freedom and limited state. The vast majority moved to socialist ideas, with half moving fully into collectivistic direction rejecting both individual liberty and limited state, consequently producing Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes. Another half also forfeit limited government and moved to create ever-growing welfare state, while still retains individual liberty, including limited property rights and some remnants of legal structure. Both failed: the first half quite dramatically as result of losing in WWII for Nazis and in Cold War for Commies, while the second one – Sozis failing much less dramatically now.
In my opinion the solution could not possibly be “outgrow ideology” because there is no possibility of human society without ideology. Neither it is possible to return to liberalism of limited government mainly providing security and legal framework without some serious changes in societal foundations that would support individuals ability fully practice both their individual and economic freedom with such arrangement that would guaranty everybody real access to resources needed for this even if human labor does not have lots of value for production of goods and services.
One such arrangement could be equal rights for natural resources that would allow individuals less capable to efficiently and effectively use these resources for generation of consumable resource would be able obtain such resources by periodically selling their rights to individuals capable to use these resources better.
20180923 – The Expanding Blaze
The main idea of this book is to use historical events starting from American Revolution until 1850 to convince reader that there were two different enlightenments. One was good – radical enlightenment promoting human rights, all things nice, and mainly represented by French revolution and Thomas Paine’s side of American Revolution. Another one bad – moderate enlightenment, promoting populism, nationalism, property rights detrimental to non-propertied people, and mainly represented by other side of American revolution: Washington, Adams, and later majority of politicians of both parties. The Paine’s side is responsible for huge impact of American Revolution on the political development in Europe and America in direction of more democracy and freedom, while Adam’s side is responsible for decline of this influence and transformation of America into ugly caricature by 1850s.
Introduction: The American Revolution and the Origins of Democratic Modernity
From the very beginning author sets up his position of dividing American revolution into two: somewhat conservative national revolution of Franklin and Washington seeking freedom from British aristocracy and mainly retaining institutions of American society, and Atlantic revolution of Jefferson and Paine that was seeking equal rights for all and fundamental change of society’s institutions in manner closely associated with French revolution. Author stresses that both sides were not entirely consistent, nevertheless he defines them as mainly unreconcilable aristocratic republicanism vs. democratic republicanism. He then discusses similar division in Britain, France, and other western European countries. Author stresses that this book traces impact of American revolution on the developments in the world, where it prompted such latent division to develop in some cases into violent French-like revolution, in some cases into British-like peaceful reform, some cases mix of all above, but in all cases moving humanity away from previous hierarchical order of kings and aristocracy of birth to the new world of formal equality and aristocracy of success.
- First Rumblings
The chapter starts with Adams’ letter to Jefferson where he pointed out that revolution actually occurred before 1775 and it happened in the minds of people. From here author discusses developments of 1760 – 1775, which created huge gap between Britain and its citizens that happened to live in America. As usual this gap was mainly between regular people that were trying to use opportunities created by the new country and elite that had different considerations. Probably the most important was imperial decree of 1763 that established limits on western settlement. This followed by increase in duties, monopolization of trade and multitude of other decisions that against interests of regular people like Stamp act of 1765. Author traces these measures and increasingly negative reaction to them that was obtaining more and more violent character. The chapter ends with events of February 1775 when Parliament reaffirmed its supremacy over colonies
- A Republican Revolution
This chapter is retelling of events of 1774-1776 that lead from growing rejection of British rule and recognition by colonials their need in creating the new entity of United States, if they to keep the democratic self-rule as it developed in 13 American States. In addition to narrating events author looks at philosophical underpinning of these events that he defines as Philadelphia Radicalism connected to Thomas Paine and represented by Philadelphia Constitution in competition with conservatism of John Adams and Hamilton. Author also briefly reviews events of Revolutionary war.
- Revolutionary Constitutionalism and the Federal Union (1776-90)
This starts with discussion on dichotomy of two opposing principles that author calls “aristocratic” and “democratic” and how it was played out in States constitutions. The general approach author takes here is that Pennsylvania constitution, with its one level legislature, was democratic, while other constitutions with 2 levels of congress and senate were aristocratic since it provided superior representation in form of senate to the top layers of society. After is reviewing a few states and literature on the issue. After that author moves to Federal government and provides similar analysis. At the end of chapter author discusses issues of church / state separations.
- Schooling Republicans
This is about intellectual struggle preceding the constitution. Author puts Paine, Franklin, and Jefferson on the side of democracy and Locke, John Adams, and Washington with their somewhat conservative views on opposite side. Author expressly stands against “moderates”, their fear of powerful government, and attempts to prevent it by dividing power. One important issue was education with “democrats” pushing for government controlled universal mass secular education, while “moderates” saw it as local issue to be handled without unified control. Similar attitude was extended to everything else from roads to poor relieve. The remaining part of the chapter was about establishment of colleges and general failure of “radicals” in the face of the second Great Awakening that returned many Americans back to their religious and moral roots.
- Benjamin Franklin: “American Icon?
Here author retells story of Ben Franklin and his evolution from prosperous British citizen into American revolutionary who risked everything by getting to the side of revolution. Then author reviews events of French revolution and Franklin’s situation in Paris during preceding period. Author’s conclusion is that “though not classed as radical, Franklin became a leading light of “Radical Enlightenment”.
- Black Emancipation: Confronting Slavery in the New Republic
This starts with trivial accusation of Americans in hypocrisy: “all men are created equal” in country with slavery. Author correctly stresses that the accusers, whether British or loyalists, really did not believe in equality of black and were as racist as anybody but found it useful tool against American patriots. It follows by look at the revolutionary war in which British tried to use attacks against slavery and liberation of slaves in their war efforts with some success. After that author discusses early abolitionist movement in America of 1780-90 mainly based on religious ideals, despite general believe in inferiority of blacks. All this eventually led to slowly moving, but sustainable process of slavery abolition in the North over period of 1780 to 1848.
- Expropriating the Native Americans
This chapter is about another eternal sin of Americans – expropriation of Native Americans. This was also a very long process mainly dependent on arrival of new settlers and their demand for land. Author description of this process follows typical narrative of broken treaties, violence, cruelty, and sometimes genocide. Also, as usual, author forgets to mention that overall numbers of Indians were very small, their societies tribal and poorly organized, even if quite competitive militarily, and constantly fighting between themselves. So the struggle was not between Whites and Indians, but rather between different tribes of whites (French and British) with allied with them Indian tribes.
8 Whites Dispossessed
This chapter is about poor whites and frictions between them and other population. Author discusses economic situation in Pennsylvania in late 1770s when inflation and deficiencies led to armed mob gangs fighting each other and government. Author describes in more details fight over price regulation and other issues. Author laments that radical revolutionary leaders failed fully support the mob against merchants. The net result was the change in Pennsylvania that eventually led to elimination of author’s beloved constitution and switch to more typical American type with main beneficiaries being property owning middle classes. Naturally, author also goes through Shays’ rebellion (1786-87) and related problems caused by machinations with revolutionary debt that ended up with enrichment of well-connected and practical robbery of poorly connected who were first given promissory note in exchange for goods and services during the war, which they sold at small fraction of the nominal to speculators and then had to pay taxes so the speculators could obtain full value of the notes. All this did not go that well for relations between top and bottom of American society.
9 Canada: An Ideological Conflict
This is about failure of American invasion of Canada that left this part of America in the hand of British that then was greatly reinforced by American Tories, resulting not only in it’s staying within British Empire, but also in forming completely different culture to significant extent countering American culture. Author describes an interesting interplay between French Canadian Catholics, British, and Americans resulting in defeat of American efforts. All this did not end with the end of revolutionary war, but continued afterword, all the way until the end of war of 1812, which mainly settled the issue.
- John Adams’s “American Revolution”
This chapters starts with Adam’s diplomatic effort during revolutionary war when he was quite successful in getting loans and other help from Dutch but proved to be no match to Franklin in dealing with French. From here author moves to discuss Dutch colonial problems in South Africa and elsewhere, caused by American example, and eventually to Anglo-Dutch war. Author discusses complex fight between moderates and radical that eventually led to Orange coup of 1787.
- Jefferson’s French Revolution
The author’s take on Jefferson is as an ideologue who somewhat opposed British enlightenment and supported French philosophers. Author retells Jefferson’s diplomatic efforts in France and his strong support for French revolution all the way to the brink of treason against America when he was close to violating Washington neutrality policy. After that author is going into details of French revolution and following years, making the point about American influence on these developments. Author describes Jacobin terror with, not if approval, then with somewhat of understanding, at least when it was directed at “moderates”. However, he points out that it was way too much for Jefferson who believed Robespierre to be betrayer of revolution.
- A Tragic Case: The Irish Revolution (1775-98)
The chapter on Irish revolution does not present some American sponsor like Jefferson for France. However, author still traces it to the American Revolution as the 4thcountry after Canada, Holland, and France prompted to revolution by American example. In addition to national movement against Britain it also had catholic vs. protestant angle that did not make it any easier. Author describes the process of maturing of Irish revolution, which eventually explode in 1798. It failed mainly due to low levels of understanding and support from masses.
- America’s “Conservative Turn”: The Emerging “Party System” in the 1790s
Here author discusses birth of American two-party system that he relates to two opposite revolutionary traditions. One was the party of Federalists and another of Democrat – Republican. Author links Federalists not only to Americans, but also philosophically to Adam Smith and Burke. Correspondingly the other one is linked to French philosophers from Rousseau to Brissot and Condorcet. This follows by the story of citizen Genet and his attempt to establish French control over American republic and push it to the war with Britain. As part of this discussion author brings the Whiskey Rebellion, as and example of struggle between these two directions of democracy. Eventually, this struggle somewhat decreased after Sedition act and its rejection that brought Jefferson to power.
14 America and the Haitian Revolution
This is unusually detailed and very interesting story of Haitian Revolution that first time in history created republic of lacks, mainly former slaves who successfully, albeit with big help from tropical diseases, conducted war against France and managed to obtain and maintain independence not only through war, but also through diplomacy maneuvering between France, America, and Britain. Despite seemingly similar republican ideals, USA rejected to provide serious help and left Haitians alone as well as did all other European powers after massacres of whites. Author seems to be not considers these massacres as a good enough reason for rejection of Haitian state that USA maintained until 1862.
- Louisiana and the Principles of “76
For some reason author starts this chapter with detailed narrative of the story of Thomas Paine and eventually failure of his vision of American revolutionary movement. Author links this to changes in Pennsylvania constitution that until that represented this ideology. Then author moves to the narrative of Louisiana purchase story, which is much more realistic and makes a lot more sense than usual narrative of Napoleon needing money and not knowing what to do with this huge territory. Actually, Napoleon had pretty good plan of strengthening New Orleans and then moving up on Mississippi, cutting off American western movement and creating powerful extension of French Empire in North America. This plan, however, became quite unfeasible, forcing Napoleon to make choice either to take money in exchange for land or just loose it to Americans without compensation. He obviously made a wise choice.
- A Revolutionary Era: Napoleon, Spain, and the Americas (1808-15)
The next stop in review of American influence is Spanish revolution of 1808-14. Author reviews penetration and development of enlightenment ideas in Spain and especially work of Francisco Cabarrus. Author looks at interplay between developments in Spain and in Spanish America, which kind of fed on each other, while moving development to revolution. It was also linked to French occupation of the Spain. The result of this movement was Cadiz Constitution of 1812 that limited role of monarch and to large extent echoed French approach and rejecting American. It lasted only until end of Napoleonic rule and was completely removed by Fernando VII after return to power. After that he sent expeditionary force that successfully suppressed budding republics of Spanish America, returning them under monarchic rule. However this success for only temporary and from 1819 till 1830 Bolivar succeeded in creating multiple Latin American republics with highly corrupted and unstable regimes that continue in this mode pretty much for the next 200 years.
- Reaction, Radicalism, and Americanisme under “the Restoration” (1814 – 30)
Here author moves back to Europe to look at restoration period after defeat of Napoleon. While it looked like monarchy and aristocracy coming back to power everywhere and revolutionary turmoil of the last 25 years left behind, the reality was that population attitude changed and despite restoration of preexisting old order by Vienna Congress, there were no real way back. Author describes initially latent resistance to restoration elsewhere in the world. One of the clear signs of these restorations was laxity with which officials treated former revolutionaries and promoters of radical ideas. During this period democratic America remained the beacon of enlightenment, albeit of conservative, moderate type. Author describes in some detail cultural movements of period, especially romanticism that clearly undermined loyalty to the monarchy. Author also looks at Spanish revolution of 1820-23 and how it led to the end of Spain’s American empire. In short – restoration, while on the surface successful, was anything but, demonstrating internal cracks just about everywhere.
- The Greek Revolution (1770-1830)
Here author describes the Greek’s struggle for independence against Ottoman Empire that was massively supported by European countries, based not only on religious motivation, but also on expansion of ideas of Enlightenment and culture of Romanticism. In this light author reviews the career of Adamantios Korais who promoted Enlightenment ideas especially in their French radical form throughout this period. The Greek revolution failed to create coherent power system and eventually was pushed away by the monarchy imposed by the members of Vienna Congress. In this case as well as in cases of other failed revolutions of the period author looks at American influence on these development, even if it was purely ideological with little if any material resources transferred.
- The Freedom Fighters of the 1830s
Here author initially looks at culture that was developed after 50 years of war and revolution, which was mainly culture of Radical Enlightenment that was targeting removal of monarchy, aristocracy, and religious powers and substitution of these powers with some form of new power structure that would be not as rigid and provided more space for free thinking, communicating, and political acting. Eventually it led to French revolution of 1930 and author again links it to cultural and ideological influence of America. Similarly author discusses the Belgian and Polish revolutions of this period.
- The Revolutions of 1848: Democratic Republicanism Versus Socialism
The next stop in this journey are revolutions of 1848 when the new ideological engine start working –socialism. These revolutions started in Scandinavia and only then moved to other European countries: France, Germany, Italy and many others. The two forces moving these revolutions: Democratic republicanism and socialism proved to be not exactly reconcilable, eventually weakening these revolutions and leading to their morphing in something intermediate between old regime and democratic republic, nicely represented by French regime of Napoleon III.
- American Reaction (1848-52)
In this chapter author returns back to America and discusses American attitude to revolutionary events in Europe and its own development into political crisis. Author looks at various movements in America from collectivistic commune in Ohio to Dorr’s war – militant movement against property qualification for voting that included small scale armed confrontation in Rhode Island. Overall European revolutions of 1848 were met with huge enthusiasm in America. From here author somehow moves to discussion of slavery in America, Wilmot Proviso, fugitive slaves controversies, and overall increasing tensions about these issues. Finally author discusses ideological stand off between Conservative Populism and Socialism with emerging divide between America where socialism mainly lost and Europe where it mainly won. The final part of the chapter discusses American “Forty -Eighters” – European radicals who escaped to America after defeat of revolutions and immediately started building foundation of future American leftism including treasonous communist movement of XX century and educational subversion that came to fruition in early XXI century – nearly 200 years after its seeds were planted.
Conclusion: ‘‘Exceptionalism,” Populism, and the Radical Enlightenment’s
The conclusion of this lengthy book is that American Revolution had huge impact on political and cultural development of the whole world. It especially obvious in European countries culturally and religiously close to emerging American state, which become ideological and cultural superpower prompting and sometimes supporting such developments morally and sometimes materially, long before it become military and industrial superpower in XX century. However author strives mightily to demonstrate that American Revolution is not logical development of British Culture and history and especially the Glorious revolution of 1688, somewhat opposite to French revolution, but rather product of Enlightenment common for both American and French revolution with Paine and to smaller extent Jefferson pretty much in synch with Robespierre and his ilk. Author discusses this controversy and then somehow concludes that victory in America of “moderate enlightenment”, populism, and property rights led to situation when America “ceased to represent a universal model”, become country of “bigotry and prejudice”, and by 1850s was not an internationally inspiring spectacle”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that this book represent the great collection of historical data, nicely summarized and thoughtfully presented. However its ideological underpinning sounds ridiculous for me. I agree that there were two different enlightenments, but I would not call any of them moderate. Both were radical and both were directed to taking power away from aristocracy and substitute monarchy by the new form of government. The difference was in believe who should have this power. The answer of British / American enlightenment is: nobody. The power of state should be limited; people in power interchangeable, and it should be divided in smaller chunks, so that nobody could usurp it. The answer of French enlightenment is: highly educated intellectual elite, that always know “who WE are”, “what WE want to achieve”, “were is ARK OF HISTORY going”, and be ready and willing to use all violence and deception necessary to force and/or cheat all members of society to move in “correct” direction.
The first one – American Enlightenment brought in single-family house with 2 cars, unlimited amounts of food, soap operas, and all other lowbrow staff that regular people want and elite despise. The second one – French entitlement brought in Jacobins, socialism, and communism with their mass killing, concentration camps, and other niceties.
20180916 – The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion
Here is how author defined the main objectives of this book:“The aim is to integrate as much as possible of the dynamics of public opinion within a cohesive theoretical system. The ideas necessary to accomplish this integration are few and surprisingly simple. The first is that citizens vary in their habitual attention to politics and hence in their exposure to political information and argumentation in the media. The second is that people are able to react critically to the arguments they encounter only to the extent that they are knowledgeable about political affairs. The third is that citizens do not typically carry around in their heads fixed attitudes on every issue on which a pollster may happen to inquire; rather, they construct “opinion statements” on the fly as they confront each new issue. The fourth is that, in constructing their opinion statements, people make greatest use of ideas that are, for one reason or another, most immediately salient to them.”
From all above the very interesting inference follows: polling can easily be used to obtain whatever answers pollsters want to obtain and therefore results should be approached cautiously with full understanding of pollsters’ objectives and integrity or lack thereof in achieving these objectives.
- Introduction: The fragmented state of opinion research
Here author states the aims of this book and discusses methodology of building theoretical framework for opinion polling. His approach is not just statistical data collection and processing, but also attempt to understand how people convert political information and argumentation into opinions. In other words, author considers it as a study in political psychology. Author also provides plan of the book and discusses data sources.
Chapters 4 and 5 deals with the nature of political attitudes – or more precisely, how individuals convert the ideas in their heads to answers to closed-ended survey questions.
Chapter 6 turns to the substantive content of people’s attitudes, showing how elite opinion leadership, individuals’ level of attentiveness to elite cues, and differences in individual political values interact to affect opinion statements. This chapter, however, deals only with static distributions of opinion, such that can be observed in typical, one-shot opinion surveys.
Chapters 7 through 10 shift the focus to attitude change by developing a dynamic formulation of the argument used in Chapter 6. A source of possible difficulty in these chapters is that they conduct tests in many different issue domains, skipping from one topic to another (from race to presidential popularity to judgments of the performance of the national economy to support for the Korean War) in order to take full advantage of the limited amount of pertinent data. In consequence, this part of the book seems to be somewhat disjointed. However, author hopes that chapters have a compensating theoretical unity, as they test increasingly complex ideas on how the public responds to competing communications of unequal intensities or “loudness.” The fullest tests of the model appear in Chapters 9 and 10.
Chapter 9 analyzes the evolution of mass attitudes on the Vietnam War over the period 1964 to 1970, and Chapter 10 examines the formation of candidate preferences in contested elections (presidential, Senate, House, and presidential primary). Although the two types of cases seem quite different, the dynamics of attitude formation and change in each seem to be exactly the same. Following the presentation of the core arguments of the book in Chapters 2 through 10, author presents what are, in effect, two concluding chapters. The first evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the model developed in the body of the book, suggests some corrections and extensions, and illustrates the form that future theorizing might take. The second of the concluding chapters is an epilogue that stands somewhat apart from the rest of the book. It shows how elements of the system of political information in the United States are linked to the model of attitude formation sketched in the earlier part of the book.
- Information, predispositions, and opinion
This chapter introduces the principal theoretical concepts and model based on them. Author defines opinion as combination of information and predisposition. Author believes that the information mainly comes from elite discourse and he defines elite as unknown “others”: politicians, officials, journalists, and experts. Author refers to Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” to discuss how regular people fed with information and inferences preprocessed by elite for easy digestion so they would develop elite’s preferable opinions. After that author discussed some specific stereotypes created either over long period of cultural development such as representation of historical events or recently created such as “the homeless”. Competitive stereotypes of some phenomenon supplied by different parts of elite could define attitudes and consequently political actions for example for the level of support for poor. Correspondingly in cases of united elite, the public usually follows elite’s lead mainly without deviations as in case of war.
Author then discusses specific issue of race and how it was processed via elite discourse. He provides a series of graph demonstrating how it moved attitude for elite and population:
Then author moves to analysis and measuring elite discourse followed by analysis of mass attention to this discourse. After reviewing elite discourse and its pushdown to the general public, author discusses predisposition that may or may not allow this pushdown. Consequently, author defines political opinion and discusses process of obtaining reports on mass opinion and problems with such reports:
- Over time instability
- Response effects
- Question-wording effects
- On spot opinion formation with no or little preceding interest in the issue.
AT the end of chapter author discusses overall background of the question-answering model.
- How citizens acquire information and convert it into public opinion
This is about the process of acquiring political information that people do not deal with in their everyday live and how it is converted into political opinion. Author defines a few terms for this discussion: considerations –reason that induce individual to decide on political issue, which is combination of cognition and affect; he defines two types of political messages: persuasive message– arguments or images prompting individual to take a position, and cueing messages-information about ideological implications of persuasive messages. After that author defines his model as build on Axioms:
A1. RECEPTION AXIOM. The greater a person’s level of cognitive engagement with an issue, the more likely he or she is to be exposed to and comprehend – in a word, to receive – political messages concerning that issue.
A2. RESISTANCE AXIOM. People tend to resist arguments that are inconsistent with their political predispositions, but they do so only to the extent that they possess the contextual information necessary to perceive a relationship between the message and their predispositions.
A3. ACCESSIBILITY AXIOM. The more recently a consideration has been called to mind or thought about, the less time it takes to retrieve that consideration or related considerations from memory and bring them to the top of the head for use.
A4. RESPONSE AXIOM. Individuals answer survey questions by averaging across the considerations that are immediately salient or accessible to them.
Author discusses each of his axioms in details and then explains use of the model in this book.
- Coming to terms with response instability
Here author discusses one of the most interesting points: different answers to the same question by the same person at different times. Author describes how it was discovered and how pollsters attempt to go around this devastating problem. He brings in his model based on 4 axioms – RECEIVE-ACCESS-SAMPLE (RAS) and makes some deductions based on it. The first is tendency towards ambivalence and author discusses supporting data and measurements. The second is the relationship between responses to open ended questions and direction of opinion statements. Then author provides somewhat mathematical analysis of response instability overall depending on waves of questioning.
- Making it up as you go along
This is about polling in circumstances when people really do not know what they are talking about. As example author uses result of polling about congressman that nobody really knows. Actually, it is an important point because only 12% follow local politics, 45% look at it now and then, and 22% has low interest and know pretty much nothing. After that author discusses another deleterious effect for value of polling: situation when response if at least somewhat defined by random factors such as sequence of questions. Author makes point that it is well described by RAS model, but it is still disturbing that results of polling are not only inconsistent, but easily susceptible to manipulation, turning it from tool of opinion measurement into tool of opinion formation. Author provides detailed analysis of different methods of framing and priming, concluding at the end that majority of people are ideologically inconsistent and polling results could be manipulated to extent of 30-40% as it was demonstrated with the example of poll 3 weeks before such high-profile event as Gulf War in 1990 after about a half year of extensive coverage in the press and political statements. The final part of chapter discusses relationship between public opinion and democracy and unstable, even contradictory character of political actions in democracy.
- The mainstream and polarization effects
This starts with the story of Nixon’s wage and price controls and how it was supported by republicans who before where strongly pro-market. Author uses it as an example of elite communications that directs mass opinion according to party affiliation, overriding ideology. Author then analyses mainstream effect when elite developed consensus on the issue. In this case it usually able to transfer this consensus to mass opinion even if before it supported an opposite attitude as it happened with race relations. Quite different dynamic occurs when elite is divided, and consequently mass opinion breaks down and moves in polar directions. Author traces how such process is flowing from elite to more politically aware individuals to less aware until groups move far away from each other. Here are some examples of the process:
Author also discusses attitude constrains that lead people to support a number of ideologically consistent position across issues.
- Basic processes of attitude change
Here author presents mathematical model of attitude change as two-step process: reception of persuasive communication and then acceptance or rejection of its content. The first step is highly dependent on awareness, with more aware processing communication easier, but acceptance for them is much more complicated and more difficult because for highly aware individuals it may or may not be consistent with their ideological values.
- Tests of the one-message model
The chapter has three parts. The first analyzes two message-level determinants of attitude change: the intensity of the change – inducing messages, and whether the messages deal with a familiar or unfamiliar issue. These factors create predictably different patterns of opinion change. The second part examines the dynamics of movement from resistance to persuasion at the level of the RAS model’s primitive term, considerations. Finally, the chapter uses the model to shed light on the classic problem of opinion research: generational differences in receptivity to new ideas.
- Two-sided information flows
This chapter expands the model from one source of information – dominant flow from elite, to two sources by adding secondary flow of contradictory information. Author uses history of Vietnam war to analyze how initially unified support was divided when part of elite moved to withdraw its support and then moved to resist the war, turning it from mainstream to polarizing issue. Here is graphic representation of this process:
10. Information flow and electoral choice
This is application of author’s ideas to the situation of election when public divided into two camps by definition. Author looks at inertial resistance and incumbent advantage, which plays big role in House elections. The information flow in this case is pretty much limited to politically aware and therefore mainly serves as confirmation of already existing positions. Defections occur, but not that often. Here is graphic analysis of the process:
After that author asks anotehr question: “Who leads whom?” (leaders or masses). His response is that it depends, but mainly elite shapes mass opinion via communications. Author provides examples from American history demonstrating how elite moved masses without initial popular support: Brown vs. Board of Education, Nuclear freeze movement, Economic boom of 1982 when change in mood preceeded real economic data, Persian Gulf war of Bush I.
At the end of chapter author reviews critic of basic axioms of RAS model.
- Epilogue: The question of elite domination of public opinion
The main point here is that “the voice of people is but an echo” of elite opinion and it sounds in unison when elite opinion is unified and is divided when elite is divided. Author reviews here methods of elite dominance implemented via the political communications system of the United States: Press, Experts, and Mass Media. In conclusion author expresses his believe that people do not have lots of wisdom, but neither do experts and elite, so it is probably works more or less fine since elite is usually divided and the key for maintaining effective democratic system is guaranteeing the existence of vigorous competition among opposing ideas.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a wonderful book from the point of view of technical analysis of polling processes and their deficiencies of which are many. The most important and detailed here is the dominance of elite opinion over people’s believes and political actions. However, in years since this book was written we had communication revolution with dramatic increase of peer to peer and one to multitude Internet communications that are cheap to the nearly 0 level and have only one practical limitation – to get noticed. I think that in the view of this new development, polling is pretty much become an outdated process of collecting information and, I believe, it will be pushed out pretty soon by AI applications supporting in depth many-to-many interactions with individual opinions in search of latent massive support fro some ideas, moving them up from the sea of opinions to forefront and, after some period of continuing polishing, graduating them into viable and actionable tools for legislative and cultural change.
20180909 – The Happiness Curve
The main idea of this book is to present a human life as U curve of happiness / unhappiness with bottom achieved in the middle age. The book is based on psychological research and author’s own experience, which he extensively uses to support various topics related to this idea, as well as multiple examples from other people’s lives.
- The Voyage of Life
It starts with discussion of series of pictures from XIX century by Thomas Cole representing journey through live as sailing along the river and then it intertwines with the stories of a few middle age individuals who express phycological difficulties of middle age that seems to have no reason and author’s own experience of the same. Then he discusses the situation that occurs later with age, when this changed and to his somewhat dismay it changed to the better despite usual bodily deterioration.
- What Makes Us Happy (and Doesn’t)
Here author moves to discussion of what actually makes people happy and uses work and life story of his colleague Carol Graham. She did research in Peru and discovered that even very poor people are quite happy, even if people whose income changed to the better were less happy. The same phenomenon of disconnect between objective economic situation and perception she found in Russia and China. Then he moves to Easterlin and his research that found impact of material condition on happiness is quite limited. Author presents long going discussion of these paradoxes and then discusses nature of happiness and its variations such as evaluative happiness= subjective wellbeing and affective happiness= momentary emotional condition. Author summarizes it as 6 factors:
- A Timely Discovery
Here author moves to the story of discovery of happiness curve, the phenomenon common not only for humans, but also for apes. First it was kind of discovery of middle age crisis in 1965 by Elliott Jaques for which there is still no hard-scientific evidence. However self-reporting provides data that about a half of people are going through some distress during this period of their lives. Then author moves to British economist Andrew Oswald and his research on subjective economics – evaluation of one’s situation based on others’ situation. This research was based on big data, covering some 37 countries and thousands of people. This led to discovery of age dependent U-curve of happiness. Author also discusses some challenges to this theory, referring to dependency of happiness on personality and combination of big 5: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. All of these are heavily dependent on genetic make up of a person, which links it to another research, this time on Chimps, conducted by Alex Weiss, Mark Enns, and James King, which provided support that age dependent psychological condition could be clearly demonstrated in animals.
- The Shape of the River
This starts with discussion of author’s polling of hundreds of middle age people. Generally, they reported unease and hope for change. Here is a nice illustration:
After that author discusses less obvious results that indicate that age dependency is not that clear, but claims that after controlling for health income and such, the satisfaction curve still stands. The next topic is the scale of age impact. Authr refer to research by Oswald and Cheng demonstrating that moving from 20 to 45 compares to negative impact of unemployment or divorce. Author even presents a simple formula:
The final part of chapter is about international research demonstrating qualitative simolarity for all with various levels of happiness depending on the country.Here is part of this comparison:
- The Expectations Trap
Here author moves to search for reasons for the curve. It basically comes to the variance between expectations and reality. It is nicely illustrated by this graph:
It is not only change in ratio between expectation and reality, but also impact of regrets: youth has little regrets – everything is in the future. With age time is more and more limited, so by the middle level of regrets is high and variance between expectations and results is high. With expectations are getting lower; disappointments also are getting lower, while regrets are not that acute any more. Author also discusses how expectations change and refer to works of Tali Sharot on optimism. Finally, author discusses the work of Jonathan Haidt on meaning of happiness and his analogy of the elephant and rider.
- The Paradox of Aging
Here author moves from middle age to older age, and tries to answer to question why older people are happier:
- Stress declines after about 50
- Emotional regulation improves
- Old people feel less regret
However older people are not depression-prone, especially at the very old age.
On the bright side per Tarot: “Optimistic bias increases in older age”. Overall conclusion is that pick of emotional life comes around seventh decade. Even when health starts giving up, older people manage to stay happy despite deterioration. At the end of chapter author relates research of Laura Garstensen on emotional and social live of old people. The inference here is that old people careful with their emotional investments and highly value remaining time of live, resulting in higher satisfaction of its use.
- Crossing Toward Wisdom
The chapter starts with the story of Andrew Sullivan who walked away from his successful blog and author uses it as an example of middle live transition. After that he discusses much more difficult transition with depression and mental problems. It leads to presentation of Dilip Jeste and Positive Psychiatry as extension of Positive Psychology. After that he moves to the notion of “wisdom”, which somehow is considered a taboo. He brings in work of Monika Ardelt who demonstrated quantifiability of wisdom. It was done along 3 domains: Quantitative, Affective, and Reflectiveand author goes into details of what it is and what it is good for.
- Helping Ourselves
This chapter present discussion with Joshua Coleman, who is practicing psychologist, about ways to handle most difficult points on happiness curve and here are key points:
- Interrupt the Internal Critics
- Stay Present (Mindful Presence)
- Step, Don’t Leap
- Wait (It gets better)
- Helping Each Other
This as mainly about Self-Help being not sufficient in some cases so one may need help from others. Author stresses need for psychological support from close people but warns against medicalization and substitution such as buying sports car in early 50s. After that author moves to overall life cycle starting with childhood and adolescence (recent invention of wealth society, which actually was created in 1904). Then he jumps to older ages and discusses ENCORE.ORG – organization supporting the second and following chances in life. Author also discusses various forms it could take.
- Epilogue: Gratitude
The final word here is about Gratitude for life and for opportunities for happiness it brings. He ends with the point that U curve of life, when one achieves the top on the right side in happy old age, makes Gratitude easier to come and therefore worth to struggle through life to get there.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a nice book to read for somebody like me who is rapidly moving up on the right side of the U curve. Actually, I do no remember being at the bottom, but it was probably because my middle age happened to be at the time when I was too busy getting out of the old USSR and building a new life in USA. Somehow this kind of staff consumes too much time and effort, leaving very little for self-digging and psychological complexities. On other hand, being very simple-minded person is, probably, also quite helpful in avoiding psychological complexities of contemporary upper middle class life. Anyway, it is a nice review of life cycle that could be helpful for somebody going through difficult time or somebody just interested in human psychology. It has quite a few interesting references and also provides some information that in my opinion support the idea that humans have evolutionary selected features influencing individual’s psychology and correspondingly action that are instrumental in fine-tuning individual behavior to promote group survival. It seems to be no accident that periods of happiness corresponds to periods when individuals have the highest value for the group: young age with its energy and readiness to make sacrifices for the group, act quickly, decisively, and with little thought applied – eventually making the future of the group; and old age, when accumulated over decades wisdom makes individual into valuable asset for decision making and directing all this youthful energy to some meaningful cause. From this point of view, the middle age with lower energy and not enough accumulated wisdom had to be a lower point when individual’s value to the group is at the bottom.
20180902 – A Short History of Truth
The main idea of this book is to analyze and summarize the meaning of truth, its different presentations in various areas and its interaction with non-truths, half-truths, and such. Also the important point is that truth is complicated and could not be easily presented without understanding of background and believes of both sender and receiver of message, because depending on this the same message could be identified at completely different levels, sometimes contradictory.
This starts with author’s recollection of free magazine from 1980 called “Plain Truth” and contemplation on intertwining of “plain”, “truth”, and linguistical meaning of this. Then he moves to philosophical meaning of truth. This kind of distorted everything, so author finds that problem is not “with what truth means, but by how and by whom truth is established”. Overall author concludes that despite all “post-truth” ideas and discussions, truth does exist, only one should be careful to consider complexity of issue, because this complexity provides for all different kinds of truth and author in this book is trying to define how evaluate truth-claims for different type of truth.
- ETERNAL TRUTHS
This starts with the “Truth” of Mormons and proceed to discuss situation when majority of minority believes in some revealed text, but majority of majority believes that most revealed texts are not revealed. From here author discusses various “eternal truths” of religions and deviations from literal understanding as a method of reconciling them with reality and science. From here follows method of peaceful coexistence – various truths either religious or scientific exist in parallel moral and intellectual universes and therefore do not intersect and could not conflict.
- AUTHORITATIVE TRUTHS
This starts with Indian sect of Sai Baba and goes to discuss how validations of epistemological authority are expertise or divine. Obviously, the underlying foundation is the notion that truth exists. After that it is only question of who can confirm authority, but it could not rely on one’s experience only because it is necessary very limited. It had to rely on communications about this from others.
- ESOTERIC TRUTHS
This starts with discussion of 9/11 truthers and claim that it is not possible to know if their idea completely false or have some truth to them and it was intentionally hidden. It leads to an interesting point: “One of the perennial challenges of being a critical thinker is to be appropriately skeptical without being indiscriminately cynical”.
4 REASONED TRUTHS
This starts with experimental truths as in Jefferson’s “American Experiment” of governing by reason and truth. However, that experiment is complicated and contains lots of contradictory facts. Author brings in Western tradition of constructing “truth” via reason. He discusses in some details Spinoza and his search for truth via formalized reasoning, which now pretty much out of fashion. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful tool if combined with experience.
5 EMPIRICAL TRUTHS
This starts with reference to Francis Bacon – original promoter of empirical method in formal philosophy. Eventually it became what is normally called science. Author provides an interesting example of controversy whether regular Cold is caused by cold or by virus. Eventually it was proved that virus is suppressed by immune system when it is warm, but much less so when it is cold. It demonstrates complexity of reality and a simple fact that real science never provides the final answer, only some approximation to reality, often good enough for practical improvements. It is interesting that this understanding logically forces author to admit that “climate deniers” could be right, which is not an easy thing for Western academic.
- CREATIVE TRUTHS
This chapter starts with Bush’s “Mission accomplished” truth or non-truth. Author uses this to discuss complexity of declaration when truth of simple facts is mixed with hopes and believes. From here author moves to a notion of “illocutionary truth” when “by saying something we do something”. However, it is a complex and not always consistent process so sometimes truth can be created by words, but sometimes it is not, however creative are these words.
- RELATIVE TRUTHS
It starts with difficulty of proving or rejecting popular meme that Intuits have 50 words for snow. It actually depends on interpretation of words and there is even approach of Relativism, which states that the meaning comes only from interpretation, not facts, so truth is always relative. Author somewhat defends this approach based on idea of conventional meaning of language and words. He also discusses contextual meaning that complicates things even more. Eventually it comes to existence of “real truths about relative truths”. The final point here is important in and of itself: “there are no alternative facts, just additional facts” that may or may not change perception of truth.
8 POWERFUL TRUTHS
Autor starts with diets: widely propagated for many years untruth that saturated Fat is cause of diseases. Author claims that it was intentional by powerful interests that wanted to protect sugar. The point here is that truth of health impact of different foods is not defined by scientific facts, but rather by relative power of industries producing different foods. This is an important demonstration of how power to define truth could be converted into financial and other benefits.
9 MORAL TRUTHS
It starts with obvious statement that such truths are culture dependent and author condemns “arrogant oppressors”, but right after that says something about rape and other niceties of non-western cultures are not necessary acceptable and position “Who are we to judge?” is often not really tenable. This follows by funny discussion of passions being a master and reason the slave, so it is not really possible to be tolerant to something that is completely unacceptable for a person morally. The author discusses choice vs. nature moral problems such as “homosexuality could not be morally wrong because it is genetic makeup of the person, not a choice”. Author also discusses in some details Hume’s idea that morality is rooted in “moral sympathy” and how it is impacted by facts.
- HOLISTIC TRUTHS
It starts with discussion of true believers in such things as Bible’s defined creation of universe and note that these believes are logically consistent and so are many other believes. Consequently, one cannot change mind by providing any factual or logical truth if there is not agreement on what to consider as such truths. Author discusses how believes form webs and often filter incoming information to fit these webs. The only way to get to the truth is to keep own believes in check and use diverse sources of information, while keeping filters in check.
Conclusion Future truths
In conclusion author summarizes his typology of truths as such:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of truth is quite complex and analysis of different types of truth, while useful, could not provide what people need most – tool to differentiate truth from non-truth. There is also very important part of it that is usually missing, which is absence of “I do not know” position. Another thing often missing is gradation and relevance of truth. I believe that the only relatively reliable method to define truthful understanding of the subject is analysis of confirmation or rejection of prediction about future. Without this any truth is tentative, especially if it is based on believes that are not subject to empirical falsification. Eventually all really important believes are logically consistent and therefore could not be changed by direct contest. They only could be changed by demonstrating real live consequences of acting or not acting in accordance with such believes, then allowing people to decide which type of consequences they prefer and then decide for themselves whether believes adjustment is required or not. This practically means that acquisition of truth should be done carefully with lots of small-scale experimentation before rolling it out, and preferably without u-e of violence. As example I would offer to review socialism of Robert Owen vs. socialism of Lenin / Stalin / Mao. The former was voluntary and on small scale, but clearly demonstrated socialism’s flows and failures at the cost of a few disappointments and slightly shattered lives. The latter demonstrated the same flows and failures times billion, but at the cost of hundred of millions lives lost and billions destroyed. If humans in XIX – XXI century had a bit better philosophical understanding of truth, the Owen’s experiment would be enough and all this billions of lives would be saved.