Monday, November 17, 2008

Ideological Dynamics

So which is the superior end of the political ideology spectrum: liberal or conservative? Each is appropriate at a particular point in the history of the state. The ideological needs of a people tend to cycle from one extreme to the other. This is because each political ideology addresses certain of the people’s needs while ignoring others.

Liberalism addresses our need for freedom; but in doing so it can ignore our need for security. This is because by not accounting for the worst aspects of human nature liberalism often fails to address the needs of certain segments of the society to be protected from them. In addition, the anarchic tendencies of liberal states can undermine the defining structure of a society.

In its effort to manage the worst aspects of human nature conservatism addresses our need for security; but in doing so it can ignore our need for freedom. This is because conservatism attempts to suppress divergence from the cultural normal. But in the process it often suppresses the best aspects of the human nature and as a result conservatism denies certain ideas and avenues of expression that can facilitate the advancement of the culture.

When a static ideology is right for the times there is relative equilibrium in the state that is governed by it. But, over time, the needs that are being ignored by that ideology become paramount in the political discourse. As these needs continue to go unaddressed by the leaders of the state, the ideology that was once the source of equilibrium will begin to undermine it. Eventually, the degree of dissonance will exceed the tolerance of the people; leading them to replace their leadership with one that espouses the complementary ideology.

During the times of equilibrium produced by an alignment of the needs of the people and ideology of the leaders, the state tends to run in a relatively smooth and efficient operational mode. But the longer the leadership ignores an increasing divergence between their static ideology and the changing needs of the people, the more significant a project it will represent for the leaders to restore political equilibrium. In other words, the longer this growing divergence goes unaddressed the more potentially disruptive the realignment will be.

The forces required to reverse this divergence sometimes produce a thrashing condition in which the corrective action overcompensates for the initial delay in addressing the needs of the people and the newly installed ideology veers too far to the other side. This can trigger an ideological recoil in the other direction, which depending on its strength, can cause a bounce back to the other side again and so on until at some point the ideology of the leadership comes back into alignment with the needs of the people. At this point the political system has returned to its equilibrium state.

In a bipartisan political system one of the two major political parties will invariably embrace a more conservative ideology while the other will be consistently more liberal. But parties are not required to be bound to a static ideology and members of a given party are even less so.

On those rare occasions when the leadership of the political party in charge chooses to transcend static ideology, they can remain in power indefinitely by adapting to changes in the ideological needs of the people. In order to accomplish this, the leaders must be willing to abandon policies and dismantle programs (even those they put in place) that were consistent with the waning side of the ideological cycle and replace them with those that are in keeping with waxing side, which is shaped by the unaddressed needs of the people. To be successful, this leadership must remain attuned to the greatest needs of the people rather than being focused of scoring ideological points.


John Stoner said...

This makes sense within American history... I wonder, though: how does this dynamic play out in other societies? Does it even apply? For example, Russian history might be instructive.

Captain Rational said...

Naturally I'm inclined to say the basic premise does work in other societies. The key is that from a historical perspective, societies initially need the stability of conservatism to "nurture" them through childhood. The emergence of a powerful independent merchant class signals the beginning of a nation's political adolescence. It is this merchant class that makes the first significant demands liberalization. The ideological dynamics I describe begin to play out at this point.

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