Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fjordman: Democracy and Universalism

Fjordman’s latest essay, “Democracy and Universalism”, has been published at Democracy Reform. Some excerpts are below:

Not only did Bush perceive his country to be a “democracy,” despite the fact that it was founded as a Constitutional Republic; he perceived it as being “universal.” Every person on planet Earth from whatever cultural background can move to the United States and become an equal citizen. The USA is thus a “universal” nation, and its universal democracy should be exported to all countries around the world. This version of “universalism” would have been profoundly alien to the ancient Greeks, yet has become a prominent feature of the post-Enlightenment West. “We no longer consider any human action legitimate, or even intelligible,” wrote the French late twentieth century philosopher Pierre Manent, “unless it can be shown to be subject to some universal rule of law, or to some universal ethical principle.”

Where does this notion come from? One of the most impressive features of Newton’s theory of universal gravity is that it was literally universal and assumed to apply throughout the entire universe. It is not strange that Newton, a deeply devout Christian man who believed that the universe had been created by a single God, believed this. What is remarkable is that he has since been proven right: Gravity does apply throughout the entire known universe.

Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity in the early twentieth century showed that gravity is not, strictly speaking, a force as traditionally understood but a property of space itself as it curves around massive objects. However, gravity is no less universal today than it was in Newton’s day. Observational evidence indicates that the theories of Newton and Einstein can largely (with some yet-unexplained exceptions) predict the movements of distant galaxies billions of light-years away. A scientific theory cannot be more successful than that.
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The problem is that the immense success of modern natural science has generated the often unrealistic expectation that we can uncover equally universal mathematical laws in the social sciences to describe and explain the behavior of all human beings. Moreover, while the experimental method has been immensely useful in the natural sciences it becomes more of a mixed bag and potentially dangerous when it is applied to politics and societies, and when the subject matter for your experiments is living human beings rather than lifeless substances.

The underlying belief behind the American-led efforts to export “democracy” to Islamic countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is that all human beings should be subject to democracy, just like they are subject to gravity. But as we have seen, gravity applies throughout the entire known universe. What happens if we discover intelligent life on other planets? My bet is that on day one we will all be excited over finding E.T. On day two, American neoconservatives will ask whether E.T. has democracy. If he doesn’t, the USA must promptly send an interplanetary expeditionary force to export democracy to his planet. After all, if E.T has gravity then E.T. must also have democracy, just like Afghan Muslims.

E.T. vote home.

Read the rest at Democracy Reform.


Armance said...

The problem is that the immense success of modern natural science has generated the often unrealistic expectation that we can uncover equally universal mathematical laws in the social sciences to describe and explain the behavior of all human beings.

Fjordman, the same ideas are expressed by a contemporary Romanian historian called Lucian Boia. He believes that the peak of this illusion of trying to decipher mathematically human behavior and "the laws of history" is Karl Marx.

Actually, he believes that Marxism (and cultural Marxism) has two important roots: Christianity and (indirectly) Newton, with intermediaries such as JJ Rousseau and Voltaire.

I quote from Lucian Boia, regarding the origins of Marxism:

It's a history that has started a long time ago and can be followed at least since the end of the Middle Ages and the first centuries of modernity, particularly in the millenarist movements. The millenarist ideology announced the Second Coming of Messiah and the arrival of a new era of justice and harmony, religiously speaking, but at the same time in a very precise social and economical sense. Then millenarism suffered a process of secularization, we start to encounter a millenarism without God, outside religion. And then we have ancestors of Marx like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the XVIIIth century. Basically, this is what Rousseau stated - the primitive mankind was happy because they lived in a society without social classes, private property, and all the troubles started when inequality between men appeared. Since the XVIIIth century, we witness a haunting of "the laws of history". An indirect responsability in this affair had Isaac Newton, who discovered the laws of universal gravity. And then the philosophers said: what Newton did in the physical order of the world we have to do regarding history and society. Karl Marx is just one of the many - but his success was greater - who had the impression that he succeeded to decipher the laws of history in a quasi-mathematical manner.

ɱØяñιηg$ʇðя ©™ said...

I don't as much fear America spreading democracy in the universe. I'm more concerned about the followers of mahound trying to expand their ummah into other galaxies. The mere thought of that makes the space horror classic Alien dwindle in comparison. But as they said back then, you cannot hear someone scream in space. Well, that means you cannot hear shouts of allahu akhbar either. That is always something I guess.

Fjordman said...

Thank you for posting, Baron.

Armance: I didn't read that quote before, but it was right on the money. Success can be intoxicating. We have been exceptionally successful in science and this has made us drunk on our own (past) successes.

In the widest possible sense, the concepts of universal gravity and universal human rights come from the same civilizational genius. In the case of Newton there is no question that he derived his "universalism" from Christianity, and, remarkably, he turned out to be right. The universalism of the Enlightenment was based on that of Christianity, although we can debate whether the roots of Western universalism go back to Stoicism and Greco-Roman Antiquity. Even the Romans before the triumph of Christianity had extended citizenship throughout their Empire. Perhaps Christianity won because it fit the preexisting universalism of the Roman Empire.

Armance said...

I didn't read that quote before, but it was right on the money.

Lucian Boia was not translated into English, he is published only in Romania and France. I translated the quote from Romanian on the spot and in an amateurish way, because I was stricken by the similarities of his ideas with your essay.

He also wrote a book called The Myth of Democracy. What a coincidence, I'm reading it now. Ahhhh, what a pity that he is not translated into English.Maybe I can translate some little excerpts from the book in the following days.

Anonymous said...

"The underlying belief behind the American-led efforts to export “democracy”... is that all human beings should be subject to democracy, just like they are subject to gravity."

I wouldn't say it's the belief that all humans "should be subject to democracy", but rather that all humans have the right to be free of tyranny. It's an important "nuance" many people miss - the Iraqis didn't choose to live under the boot of Saddam, nobody asked them, they never had the possibility to choose.

The underlying belief here is in the "universal law of (human) nature" that all humans, if given the choice, would *prefer* freedom and a political system that gives the most power to the people and the least power to tyrants, bullies and strongmen, which is democracy. "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains", so all is needed is to break the chains.

Well, turns out that not all humans, when given the choice, will choose democracy or even freedom - some prefer the law of Allah to freedom, some prefer a good job, security and solidarity to freedom, even some people on this blog prefer some kind of tyranny. Actually, it's quite shocking how many people don't give a rat's tooshie about freedom.

(I hope 'tooshie' is an acceptable language here).

mace said...


I doubt if the Romans had any idea of truly universal principles, after all, they, like the Founders of the American Republic,and most contemporary Europeans until the French Revolution, divided humanity,into free citizens,foreigners and slaves.

I can't think of any reason why more advanced application of statistical methods couldn't develop politics and history into sciences.Isaac Asimov wrote the 'Foundation' series of SF novels on the assumption on the development of a mathematical 'psychohistory'.

In the mid 19th century JS Mill thought some societies weren't ready for liberal democracy,this idea is probably still applicable, even in the early 21st. Unfortunately,it seems that the democratization of Islamic societies is a total fantasy.

laine said...

I have been thinking along the lines of Doom and Gloom that some tipping point has been reached, and more people shirk the adult responsibilities of freedom than hunger for it. They gladly give up their freedom in return for the promise of being looked after. They trade in the ability to make their own unlimited bread for a government distributed crust.

Perhaps it was ever thus but until relatively recently, the would-be parasites were not given an equal vote to the producers, certainly not in the early days of the US Republic.

Socialist government encourages parasitism to create dedicated voters for its propagation. Socialists are an activist minority of control freaks (who want to run everyone's lives out of their own imaginary superior intelligence and morality) and a majority of incompletely matured minds seeking a return to childlike, even womblike security.

Democracy thus contains a poison pill described well in this quote attributed to various people: A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage. "

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

In hoc signo vinces

The universal gravity law as applied to politics and human action is simplistic and puerile.

Professor L said...

mace - a concept that appears in science fiction does not have to be scientific (I might point out that it's called science fiction for a reason). By Asimov's own admission, psychohistory is hogwash. He came up with it in a taxi when he was asked to do an epic space opera.

I won't deny it's an interesting concept, but it is utterly rediculous to say that it has any basis in fact.

As for the application of "more advanced" statistical methods, I don't think human behaviour can be so easily represented by an equation. In fact, I view that sort of reductionism as insulting.

Humanity is subject to the laws of the universe in their physical bodies, for certain. But humanity itself does not obey any set of logical rules in its behaviour (except for those mandated by society). We don't behave logically, which is why economists and social scientists are view so poorly by proper natural philosophers like myself (a physicist).

4Symbols puts it quite succinctly and elegantly. Humans are too complicated to behave in any sort of predictable way, and to attempt to apply behavioural laws similar to the physical laws of the universe is to reduce humanity to mere cogs in a machine (which we are not).

doom and gloom - unfortunately, you're right about the freedom from tyranny part. Even the exporters of freedom have missed it. As a monarchist, I view monarchy as far less inclined to tyranny than a republic (for how can one fight against a tyranny of the majority?), and a constitutional one even more so. Unfortunately, most people conflate freedom and democracy as being one and the same (which they most certainly are not, though the two tend to occur together), and as such, monarchy is dismissed as a tyrannical system (which it is not - not event the worst monarch can match the evils of many a republican president).

mace said...

LAW Wells,

Please don't be so patronizing,it's really irritating,of course I understand the difference and yes it's an interesting concept,I just happen to like the 'Foundation' series.In my opinion a statistical approach to human behavior could be valid,it certainly shows promise in crimimology for example. With the utmost respect, I don't think whether or not you're insulted by it is any criterion for the value of a hypothesis.

Actually I'd agree with your comments in regard to economics,the discipline is not a science,yet-I've always found economic history more informative.I realized,when I majored in economics at business school economics has few real "laws" in the scientific sense.
I doubt that your comment that since humans don't behave logically we can't derive laws(or statistical probabiities)from our behavior is logical in itself.There's no reason to believe that illogical behavior is not predictable,one of the recent Nobel laureates in economics is in fact a psychologist.

Many social scientists and biologists regard their disciplines as intrinsically more difficult than physics.They're certainly less arrogant than some physicists who pontificate on the probability of extra-terrestrial life without even a rudimentary understanding of biology.

What sort of monarchy are you referring to constitutional or absolute or some hybrid? An absolutist monarchy is by its nature tyrannical. Also what do you mean by 'republican'? Stalin's Sovet Union was an oligarchical republic for example.

Armance said...

The universal gravity law as applied to politics and human action is simplistic and puerile.

That's not the point of Fjordman's essay, as I understand it. The point is that after Newton discovered the universal gravity law, the Western thinkers were so intoxicated with this unprecedented scientific success, that they attempted to explain human societies and their development according to universal laws/schemes.

Actually it was something in the air since the late Middle Ages/Renaissance, when Christian millenarism, "a new era of harmony and justice" met the newly discovered passion for science. We can see the line of utopias from authors such as Tomasso Campanella, Thomas Morus, Francis Bacon, etc. and Rousseau himself.

Francis Bacon's New Atlantis is, I think, a perfect example of the convergence between millenarism and naive scientism which will define the narrative of the Western man in the next centuries.

EscapeVelocity said...

Most social scientists are hard core Leftwingers.

I guess they like the idea of social engineering via the power of the state.

Professor L said...

mace - there's nothing wrong with liking the Foundation series. Hell, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jules Verne and HG Wells (no relation) are all listed by many scientists as inspirations. Things don't always come out as they are in TV, but oh hum.

With regards to statistics, trends become more accurate only as more data is acquired. In the case of humans, however, such data could be very easily influenced one way or another. Hence, I don't think it is wise to attempt to use statistics to lay down iron-clad laws on behaviour, as akin to the iron-clad physical laws of the universe (rules of thumb, being merely observational and more open to change, do not apply).

And illogical behaviour... does that include a whim?

As for other sciences being more difficult than physics... I'm not convinced. Seriously, quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, optics, plasma physics, astrophysics are all incredibly complicated and diverse scientific fields. Seriously, the Schrodinger Equation (underlying the core of QM) is a horrid piece of maths, and that's just the tip of the iceberg! Extra-terrestrial life I leave to the astro-biologists, who, I might add, do only have one example of life's evolution to go on (and probability as well. I'm not holding my breath though. As my Astronomy lecturer said, space is a waste of space).

Finally, with regards to monarchy, I regards both constitutional and absolute monarchies as superior to republics. A monarchy (whether constitutional or absolute) is a nation that is ruled by convention as much as decree, which is to say that there are unwritten rules that have been developed over time that govern the way a monarch rules. I define a republic as a place where such strictures must be written down, else they have no power of the Head of State.

Don't let the name "absolute monarchy" confuse you. The strictures of religion and the expectations of the people (including the aristocracy and peasantry) were often more than enough to constrain even a monarch with absolute power. And I tell you what, you'd probably be freer in the Ancien Regime than under today's Fifth Republic (you've got to wonder how many more they'll go through).

Elan_tima said...

Early last century their was also criticism of "rationalism" and its attempt to solve social problems with percieved universal laws. Trying to find answers to developing social conundrums with mathamatical equasions was mocked as linear thinking. We can see the results of rationalism in both Russia and Germany in the first half of the century.
Many looked to historical empiricism and to the often unpredictable group instinct of the "Mobilizing Myth".

In the book -The Greek Acievement- the author points out that the Greeks believed there could only be equality among equals. Hence universal egalitarianism was not part of their intellectual vocabulary.

Their is hope. In the field of Epi-genetics Scientists are finding that many aspects of who we are are easily influenced by varying factors in the enviornment not only in the past but in the present, (pre and post natal). This may help change the idea that one size can't fit all when dealing with social situations across cultures and continents. It could possibly slowly bleed across to the rest of the sciences and further into philo-ideological arenas.