Sunday, August 09, 2009

I see the world as a messy, complex place with theory as only the best approximation

Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Myles, our disagreement in the specific reflects our disagreement in the general. The supposed ultimate outcomes of “classical liberalism” and libertarianism are, in my opinion, mostly beside the point. Postulating so is a bunch of hand-waving. I’m not very interested in political theory that has little relevance to what’s actually happening in the world. The same was true when I was in school (and now) with regard to philosophy.

I am interested in what I believe is the most meaningful descriptive level upon which to examine a political philosophy that has influence in this world: the psychological/sociological/historical context in which it formed and exists. I think that context is both far more predictive as to what particular positions will be widely adopted as orthodox by that philosophy and how the group which holds this philosophy will influence the greater polity.

People have, and will, construct elaborate intellectual edifies rationalizing their favored political philosophy but, in practice, the larger group of people who hold that philosophy will adopt beliefs and positions largely independent of that rationalization and, more to the point, they will be quite often inconsistent beliefs and positions. Coherent theory has utility at some rarified level where the intellectuals and the powerful intersect—occasionally at pivotal moments—but, generally, comprehension of the politics of the matter is more greatly limited by ignorance of the sociological context of the political philosophy than by its theory.

Those who write and talk about libertarianism (as distinct, I think, from those who merely adopt libertarianism as a felicitous set of political beliefs) are the type of people who have a great fondness for simplifying abstract theory and naturally expect the world to conform to it. In this they are quite like, say, Marxists. I am not like this. I have a great love for, and facility with, theory of all kinds but I see the world as a messy, complex place with theory as only the best approximation for something we probably don’t understand very well, anyway.

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