| " I am no
politician, and still less can I be said to be a party-man: but
I have a hatred of tyranny, and a contempt for its tools; and
this feeling I have expressed as often and as strongly as I
"I believe in the theoretical benevolence but
practical malignity of man"
-- William Hazlitt
2. On Politics
3. P.S. + link
I wrote yesterday that I would
reproduce today the essay "On Politics" that I wrote 27 years
ago. Two reasons to do so are that it is, so to say, "typically me",
in style, tone, terms, values and ideas, and that I still mostly agree
It follows below, in my own translation of two years ago, then also
published in Nederlog, but that time in two parts, and I shall here
and now only make some very brief remarks by way of introduction.
"On Politics" was written in the spring of 1983, after I had
given up being 'a student leader', which I gave up because
at the time I had ME; my common law
wife had ME (*); we had no help whatsoever and
lived from student loans; it was very difficult for my wife and for me
to attend the courses we had to physically attend (fortunately only a
small part); and I had been forced to write most of the stuff that my
student-party used, without any help nor any ideas by the others -
after which one of these others started to sanction my prose because I
had written somewhere that rational science could help to gain a
reasonable perspective on "derailed religions". This was a phrase I
had no right of using, I was told, quite seriously, because "it showed
disrespect" to religion, that I anyway was not entitled to, being an
Being also myself in my own inimitable way, upon hearing that
levelled at me also, as it happened, physically in the University of
Amsterdam, in a private meeting, my conclusion was that if that was
the level of my followers - for most others had stood around, said
nothing, and stared as if in deep thought at nothing at all, as if
they were not there or had been hearing real, deep, serious thinking -
I did not want them, and stood up, went home, wrote a letter to that
effect, and immediately ceased to function voluntarily.
At the time - quite possibly now, if they recall - my erstwhile
political supporters in university politics did not understand and
also did not appreciate this at all, but it is quite typical for me: I
am willing to do a good part of the work in a group, for the reason
that it is quite obvious to me that I can do that better, faster and
with fewer problems than others; I am also quite willing to accept
criticism; but I do not accept the sanctioning of some perfectly
sensible ideas and phrases by idiotic moralizing or totally stupid
ignorant mock-arguments. People may think as they please, for the most
part, as far as I am concerned, but they should not expect someone
like me to lead them or work for them if they are ignorant fools who
pretend that they have a right to speak, be heard and waste my time
and good will on what I regard, and they should and could know I
regard, as reprehensible idiocy or lunacy. (**)
Anyway... what follows is ''On Politics",
written in June of 1983, handed out quite a few times in photo-copy to
others in the nineteeneighties, but never published on paper, while it
appeared on my site only two years ago in my own translation.
ONE: Political principles and practices shape, influence and rule men's
actual lives and possibilities, and their hopes, imaginations, and desires:
Always there have been rulers and ruling ideas; always people have, often
violently, disagreed about the order, rights and duties imposed by their
society or its rulers; always people have attacked "the powers that be" and
striven for a better life and a brighter future; always people have contested
the value or validity of the leading principles and ideological underpinnings
of their society; and always the few who have ruled and owned have defended
their power and wealth by force of arguments and of arms, and have competed
amongst each other for prominence and further privilege.
You may be imprisoned or set free for political reasons; you may be killed or
a killer for political reasons; you may be declared super- or sub-human for
political reasons; you may starve or grow rich for political reasons; and if
you do not and have never cared for politics, someone else's politics may
annihilate you; for more people have been killed, repressed, tortured and
persecuted for political reasons than by any other human invention or
So politics is of fundamental human importance and concerns everyone
everywhere, factually, morally and intellectually.
Now, concerning anything of human importance there are always four fundamental
- What are its key ideas?
- What do we know about it?
- What may we expect from it?
- What should we do about it?
These are fundamental questions to pose about anything worth thinking about,
and I shall attempt to answer them concerning politics, and start with the
TWO: Succesful communication requires the clarification of one's
meanings and intentions. All problems ought to begin as problems of
definition, for clear and unambiguous explanations of the intended meanings of
one's vocabulary are always useful and often necessary.
Clear definitions are always important, but especially in politics, for
political terms are often obscure in meaning, as they tend to be used with
strong feeling or malicious intent: I am trying to tell you what I think, and
I am trying to do so in as clear a way as I can, without hiding my ideas under
a cloak of jargon or bad grammar.
I hope that my writing is clear enough for you to perceive my mistakes,
unclarities and exaggerations, but I am well aware that even though we may
sincerely try to understand and be understood, we may easily mislead ourselves
and each other by our choice or appreciation of words, and as I am well awared
that this may happen all the more easily with an emotional and important
subject like politics.
But there is this question of the definition of "politics", and the sooner
we're done with it, the better we know what we're talking about.
"Politics" as a subject for study is usually defined as "the science of
government". This is not such a bad definition, but as it is hardly
enlightening and somewhat narrow I shall try to improve on it by increasing
its scope and precisision.
Clearly, the study of politics is not just limited to the study of
governments, states or political parties: It is concerned with the practices,
principles and people that rule or are intended to rule in any society of
Politics as a science, consequently, results from the study of
power: The men, structures and institutions wherein resides the ability and
organiation of decisions over the social events which control and influence
(groups of) men; and the study of ideology: The ideas, theories
and creeds by which men orient themselves in the world, and which say what the
world is like (metaphysics) and what it should be like (ethics).
These two concepts, power and ideology, seem to me to be the key concepts for
the study of society: What men are depends on what men think they are, on what
they think the world is, and on what they think the world should be; and what
men may be depends on who may or does make which kinds of decisions concerning
The state of society depends on the state of men's minds and on the state of
social organisation. The state of men's minds depends on the ways they have
satisfied the most dominant human need: The need for an ideology.
Man is a rationalizing animal: He can only survive within some system of
beliefs that explain to him what the world is like and what it should be like,
which thus provides meaning and purpose to his life.
The state of men's social organisations depends on the ways they have
satisfied the most dominant social need: The need for coordination.
Man is a political animal: He can only survive within some system of
coordination that constrains and guides the actions of his fellows, and thus
provides the backbone of social life and coherent social action.
Politics results from the interaction of ideas and ideals about man and
society, and the ways the taking of social decisions have been organized.
Thus every society and every man knows politics, for every society is
integrated, kept together and oriented by some form of ideology and some power
THREE: This, then, I understand by politics, and it is with this
explanation in the back of my mind that I seek to answer the remaining three
questions I posed, which I shall now clarify somewhat.
The second question concerns our knowledge and beliefs, and may be expanded
as: Which political beliefs are rational, that is, testable and
adequate to the facts? Which political beliefs are reasonable,
that is, practisable and adequate to our desires? Which of our beliefs and
proposals are defensible on factual and moral grounds against rational,
acute and informed criticism?
The third question, which asks what one may expect from politics, can be
answered only if the second has been answered, for it asks what the world
would be like if our political are (approximately) true.
Naturally, wishes and facts tend to be opposed: What one wishes for is rarely
true, and what is true is often undesirable. So here we have an opportunity to
find out, if we honestly dare, to what extent our political beliefs square
with all the available facts (instead of just with a biased
collection of a handful facts, carefully selected for propagandistic
The fourth question finally inquires what we should do to realize our hopes
and practise our principles, and what degree of success we might expect - here
it makes sense to reflect that what we can do, what we are willing to do, and
what we do do often falls radically short of what we ought to do: It is easier
to preach than to practise; far more difficult to do than to dogmatize.
Questions such as these are very easily answered dogmatically, and very
difficult to answer in a sensible way. As they are fundamental, I will,
nevertheless, try to sketch some answers in as short a compass as is possible
without being doctrinal or unclear.
Of course, complete answers, if possible at all, involve much more philosophy
and social science than I am willing to enter into (and more than is good for
nearly anyone as well), but what I have to say may be useful anyway, as I
believe that most people who think about politics do not face these questions
at all, or else do not face them well.
FOUR: The first thing to do is to make a clear distinction between
facts and values, and to declare my own values and give my own assessment of
Everyone accepts that some statements about the world can be decided as true
or false (in principle) by any competent observer, whatever his
or her personal feelings concerning the subject-matter of the statement. Such
statements are statements of (purported) fact.
Again, everyone accepts that some statements are not primarily about the
intersubjectively accessible world - one man's utopia is another man's
nightmare, even though they may agree completely on its blueprint. Such
statements are statements of value.
It is often not easy to draw the line between factual, and moral or
esthetical, in short: evaluative statements. In part this is due to
intentional and unintentional abuse of language, and in part to the
unavoidable emotional, moral and esthetical connotations most words have.
But I shall assume, firstly, that in any case the distinction between an
assertion of fact (about the intersubjectively shared external world) and one
of value (about our personal appreciation of events) may be
drawn, and, secondly, that in argueing about politics it nearly always is
important that that it is drawn - and with some precision and a
cool head, for the same fact appears very different under differently loaded
descriptions of it.
Even carefully phrased statements of facts tend to suggest values, and
therefore it is of fundamental importance in the social sciences, in politics,
and in many other situations, to state one's biases, values and purposes
explicitly, rather than to suggest or insinuate them in between the lines, as
is still common practice.
FIVE: My own moral desires may be summed up as follows:
I should like to live in a society in which
- all human beings may earn an income sufficient to provide for all their
biological needs (food, housing, clothing, health);
- all human beings have similar chances and opportunities to education and
to decide what to do with their lifes.;
- all human beings are free to say, believe and do what they please,
provided they don't physically hinder others from doing likewise, and may
organize themselves into groups to further their own interests and to
realize their own ends;
- all human beings are equally protected by laws guaranteeing all equal
rights and similar duties (barring inabilities); and
- the prime purposes of society are
- the preservation and protection of human and natural life
- the furthering of art and science, based on
- free cooperation, mutual tolerance and the golden rule.
Of course, this list is neither complete nor precise, but it does state my
biases sufficiently well, while it also gives occasion for some important
remarks concerning these and any other set of political ideals.
Firstly, then, to my knowledge none of these points has ever been realized in
any society of more than a few thousands of men.
Therefore, secondly, this is indeed a statement of my desires about human
society, irrespective of its possibility of realization: Ideals are
overstatements, just as ideas supporting ideals tend to be overbeliefs. Both
points seem to me to be true of any set of political ideals.
Thirdly, to realize any of my political desires rather far-going changes in
any of the known societies are required, for virtually every known society is
based on inequalities of power, income and opportunity, and less concerned
with art and science, or the preservation of life and nature, than with its
own glory, war or money-making.
Fourthly, most persons happen not to share my desires. Most men tend to
believe (whatever they may say in public) that their own group is somehow
better than any other group, and that they deserve preferential treatment,
special rights or special protection. And most men tend to feel that it is
desirable that their opponents are repressed, shut up or "re-educated".
So for these and other reasons I do not believe that I will ever
live in a society satisfying my desires, since most men don't share them, and
I must depend on others to realize them.
Again, I believe that this does not only hold for me, but that this holds for
virtually anyone, whatever his or her political ideals: No actual society has
ever fitted anyone's ideals, and no large-scale attempt at social change has
ever succeeded in realizing its aims: In terms of their originally declared
ends, all revolutions have failed, whatever their blind or corrupt apologists
SIX: Now let's face some facts, and let's do so on a global
scale, for we live in many ways in one world, where the wealth of one nation
depends crucially on the starvation in another, and ideas developed on one
part of the globe alter the course of events in another.
We live in a world in which wealth and economic opportunity are very unequally
distributed: Even in the West the highest income may be 40 or more times as
high as the lowest (I'm speaking of incomes, not of inherited wealth), whereas
the lowest-paid Western worker is rich and prosperous compared to nearly all
inhabitants of third-world countries.
Two out of three living persons suffer from specific or general malnutrition;
about 50% of the world's population can neither read nor write; and every year
millions upon millions starve to death.
Many countries don't have equal rights and no country provides equal chances
or opportunities for all its inhabitants. In all countries some people are
denied the right to express their opinion or profess their faith, and in most
countries many political and religious groups are forbidden and persecuted.
Every year millions of people are arrested without lawful reason and
sentenced without fair trial, and in 65 countries (out of a total of 135)
torture is regularly practised on political prisoners. In many countries civil
wars, coups or regular wars go on and on for years, destroying many
lives and large parts of civilization.
Relative to the actual distribution of food
the earth is overpopulated, and it will be overpopulated by any reasonable
criterion within two generations at most.
The earth's natural resources are rapidly depleted; more and more species of
plants and animals are exterminated at a still increasing rate, thus
impoverishing nature's gene-pool and variety; every year many thousands of
square kilometers of precious top-soil is eroded, changing wood or crop-land
to desert; the air is poisoned by lead and industrial exhausts; acid rains
destroy European forests, and marine life is seriously threatened by deposits
of radio-active wastage, oil and industrial products.
The cultural life of the mass of mankind is virtually nil: Superficial
American series and pop-muzak without the least intellectual content rule
world-wide on TV and radio, and culture has become an industry for profit,
which no longer seeks to educate or enlighten but aims to exploit people's
desire for sensation and easy amusement.
Most science and research money is tied up in research for war ("defense"),
and considerable parts of the social sciences are futile, fraudulent or
muddle-headed drivel, while large groups of the population, including many
intellectuals (usually from the soft sciences) have turned away from science
to all sorts of emotionally attractive delusions.
And everyone everywhere is every day subjected to political and economical
propaganda, false information, lies and dishonest persuasion.
These seem to me to be some of the pertinent political facts of our time. No
doubt they are inaccurately phrased; no doubt they reveal my personal biases,
but they do square with what any intelligent reader can find out for himself
from the leading papers and UNESCO reports.
And of course I've painted a one-sided picture: There are many social, cultural
and scientific current events I could wax enthusiastic about. But they are, I
feel, a small though brilliant minority against a dark background of worldwide
misery and destruction.
SEVEN: There are two important points to be made concerning this sum-up of
First, it has always been like this: Human history is by and
large a history of exploitation, starvation and war. Only a small proportion
of mankind has ever lived a long, peaceful, healthy and interesting life -
most have lived miserably and died early and painfully.
Second, until recently much of this misery was unavoidable: There were no
known means to check the plagues; there was no technology adequate to feed,
clothe, house and heal everyone decently and sufficiently; and man's
comprehension of nature and himself was altogether too poor to serve all of
Now, for the first time in history, the knowledge
and the means are available to provide everyone's basic needs: To feed, house,
heal and educate all of mankind. But it doesn't happen.
Aristotle defined man as the rational and political animal: The animal that is
capable of systematic and abstract understanding of his environment, and which
cooperates purposively to adapt himself and his environment to his needs and
Why then do so many human attempts to think and cooperate result in misery and
destruction? Why "homo homini lupus"?
There are many reasons, but the fundamental one seems to be the bad quality of
most of the ideologies people have adopted to motivate and guide their lives.
Most ideologies have been, and are, false and misleading illusions, motivated
by impractisable ideals.
Just consider the histories of christianity, of communism, of mohammedanism, of
fascism: They have wrecked the lives of literally millions upon millions of
people, and they are at the root of literally tenthousands of wars; literally
millions of killings, tortures and enslavements.
The political history of the predominant human ideologies is a record of a
horrific, nearly continuous series of slaughters, sanctified by impractisable
ideals, embedded in fanatically held false dogmas.
Consider how people select their ideology: They are spoonfed or they are
converted. In either case an ideology tends to be chosen not on rational but
on irrational grounds: False information, unrealizable hopes, fear, ignorance,
anger, envy, provably false ideals and implausible assumptions.
Nearly always a man adopts his world view to satisfy his needs or fancies, not
his understanding or curiosity.
And consider how people retain and defend their ideologies: Once converted to
an ideology (and nearly everyone has one, at least, for everyone is educated
in some society, and every society is integrated, kept together and orientated
by some ideology), once men have acquired a set of emotionally satisfying
sophistries and illusions about what the world is like and should be like, the
enormous human capacities we all have for wishful thinking, for blindness to
unpleasant facts, for selfinterest and for fallacious reasoning, seem to make
it virtually impossible for most men to think clearly, objectively and
dispassionately about their chosen creed.
Most men find it very painful to doubt their dearest beliefs or even to hear
them doubted, for this undermines their world(-view) and their sense of self
and purpose, and nearly all men find consistent rational thinking very
Indeed, man is a rationalizing animal:
He first selects what he desires to be true, and then proceeds to make it come
true by bending the facts accordingly.
This may be sound practice, but it leads to bad thinking. Very few man, so
far, have been able to look at all available facts while correcting
consciously and honestly for their prejudices, their ignorance and their
uncertainties: To dogmatize is always easy, and very pleasant to most people
as it means that they can indulge in their dreams and desires. Also, the more
complex something is, the easier it is to dogmatize about it, for about
complex situations one may easily deceive or be deceived.
So with Hazlitt "I believe in the theoretical benevolence but practical
malignity of man": Men are as they are because of their beliefs about what
they are and about what the world is and should be. And by and large these
beliefs are such, I am very sorry to say, that most men seem stupid, ignorant
and negligent (the inital letters spell "sin"), for most men believe in some
blinkering and false ideology, which keeps them from thinking the right
thoughts, asking the right questions and doing the right things.
This is not due to inherent stupidity (at least, so I hope, for stupidity
knows no cure, and society is remediable only to the extent men are
remediable) nor is it necessary or wise to stipulate which thoughts are right,
which questions sensible and which actions good: The quality of ideas does not
only depend on contents but also on the methods by which they are reached,
just as the quality of actions does not only depend on what is done but also
on the intentions with which they are done. It is means and intentions, not
ends, that count most in life.
EIGHT: Indeed, I am skeptical about doctrines and creeds.
Although I know of quite a few thinkers whose opinions on politics seem to me
to be sound and often adequate to the facts, I do not know of any rational and
reasonable political ideology.
That is, I do not know of any more or less systematical set of beliefs about
and plans for a society, adopted by some group of men, which I consider
scientifically sound, actually practisable and morally acceptable (and as I am
a philosopher I should, at least, know of such an ideology if it exists).
There are many reasons for this sad lack of sensible political ideologies, but
they may all be suggested by a question:
Who can say, without delusion and without lying: "I know and understand the
various social philosophies and sciences; I have carefully weighed the
different proposals, priorities and the available factual evidence: I, at
least, have the rational right to claim that my theories and plans, if not
true, are the best, the most plausible theories and best practisable plans a
man in my circumstances could make?"
Not one in a million, for nearly all men tailor the available evidence to fit
their prejudgments, turn a blind eye to any painful fact, and are ignorant of
nearly all relevant theories and facts.
What determines men's political preferences tends to be their passions and
preferences, not factual evidence or sound reasoning: In politics, at least,
"Reason is the slave of the passions" (Hume).
So I will not answer my question about political knowledge by
saying what is political knowledge: What is needed to think well
and to come to an adequate understanding and evaluation of one's situation is
not some set of supposedly "factual" beliefs someone else has
prefabricated for you, but, firstly, methods of reasoning and
insight into the fallacies of thinking we all so easily fall into, that is: A
good grounding in logic and philosophy of science, and, secondly, (more)
knowledge of culture, for we all depend on and are part of a very
great intellectual and artistic heritage so deplorably few of us have more
than a superficial knowledge of or appreciation for.
But if I cannot point to political knowledge I can, at least, give an answer
to the question "When are beliefs about politics sensible?".
Indeed, this is the proper way to pose the question "What do we know about
politics?", for the basic question is not for some list of
dogmas but for a set of criterions to decide whether any
set of political beliefs make sense.
In my view any political theory, whatever its purpose, whomever its adherents,
must satisfy two types of criterions:
First, it should be rational: A political theory should be based
on adequate empirical evidence; it should be argued clearly and logically, and
it should be well supported by sound statistics and knowledgeable statistical
Put negatively, a political theory should not be heavily
philosophical or metaphysical; it should not be jargon-ridden,
ambiguous, vaguely grandiose or illogical, and it should not be
exaggerated, imprecize or improperly qualified in its factual claims.
Second, it should be reasonable: A political theory should
clearly state its philosophical assumptions and moral desires; it should be
based on a clear distinction between facts and values (the denial that such a
distinction exists is a sure sign that someone wants to gloss over some
painful facts or has an axe to grind), and it should link its theories with
clear and practisable plans and proposals, that have a chance of realization
that is considerable given the actual facts.
Again, put negatively, a political theory should
not hide its presuppositions and principles; it should
not confuse hopes and desires with purported facts; and it
not merely list or imply the desirability of utopian ends, but
actually propose practisable and probable ways of reaching the ends one
desires (for all too often the possible good done by some desired political
end is far offset by the actual evil brought about by the means used for its
I think these are the demands a political ideology should
As a matter of fact, of course, political ideologies are based on wishful
thinking, propaganda, false hopes, unpractisable ideals, biased reports and
blind faith in principles, parties or authorities.
The fundamental fallacy which seems to underly all ideologies is that people
let their hopes and desires dictate their version and appreciation of facts:
Wishful thinking, self-induced blindness and all delusions and logical
fallacies the human mind is capable of are at the roots of all creeds.
And in politics there seem to me to be two fundamental difficulties, one
theoretical, the other practical:
In matters of theory all men are apt to believe false, deluded and harmful
political ideologies; in matters of practice those who obtain power are apt to
be incompetent and corrupt.
For truth is a singular raft adrift on an ocean roaring with falsehoods;
competence requires an apparently rare combination of wit, skill and morals;
and "all power corrups, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (Lord Acton).
NINE: What does this entail for our second question: What will the
world be like if, as I've said, nearly all men lived by false and harmful
ideologies, and are ruled by incompetent and corrupt politicians? Evidently, I
am not optimistic.
Of course, you may congratulate yourself on your civilization, your
understanding and your human kindness, and you may feel optimistic about the
potentials of mankind.
But consider: In terms of absolute and relative numbers this is a warring and
dictatorial age: Hundreds of millions have fallen in wars; hundreds of
millions have died for no better reasons than their being in the way of
someone's political plans; and never has so much of the world
been so effectively tyrannised by so few and so mad dictators: Hitler, more
than 50 million killed; Stalin, more than 20 million killed; Mao, millions
killed - and each, by his own light and by the lights of millions upon
millions of their contemporaries, a superhuman genius, a man as good and as
great as the world has ever seen. And then I have not even started to list
monsters like Amin, Duvalier, Pol Pot, Somoza, Pinochet and many other
If we count what really counts: The scores of millions of human lifes
destroyed for no reason but political fanaticism or "glorious war" or the
scores of millions of needlessly starving small children, and if we try to
"balance" this by recent products of science and art (the bomb? the TV? the
motorcar? modern urban architecture? to mention a few things nearly everyone
faces daily) we see that ours is not a civilized age but one of the most
barbaric ages man has known - barbaric not only in stark numerical terms, but
also in the sense that for the first time in history the knowledge and the
means to prevent it all, and to feed, clothe, house, heal and educate all of
mankind, are available but hardly used.
This provides some bitter consolation, of course, for it is good to know that
what you desire is practisable. It doesn't console me much, though, for I
perceive that, in fact, the opposite is happening:
More and more people starve; more and more people are persecuted or killed in
wars; more and more of nature is destroyed every day; and the whole world is
in continuous danger of atomic annihilation.
In stark figures, the world production of arms if averaged out over all
men costs some 200 dollars per person per year, which also would have been
sufficient to feed a person for a whole year in a third-world country.
Again, the explosive power of the assembled nuclear weapons if averaged out
over all men, women and children is at present equivalent of 5 tons of TNT per
person. And the production and sales of ordinary and atomic weapons is still
Of course, if nearly all men live by false ideologies and are ruled by
incompetent and corrupt politicians this is more or less what one would
Since I see little reason to believe that this state of affairs will rapidly
or radically change for the better, I think this is what one should continue
to expect: Misery for most; wealth for some; happiness for hardly anyone.
Life, like nature, is both beautiful and horrible. To refuse to see both sides
TEN: Finally, what should and what can one
do in politics?
In all probability I have failed to convince you of my main points - that all
political ideologies are dangerous and false delusions; that most men are
rarely rational, and least of all as regards ideologies; that most men are
rarely reasonable, and least of all when their interests are involved; that
those who hold or desire power are normally incompetent, and that even if they
are not, they seek power not for "the good of the people" but for their own
good; that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"; that more
people have been killed, repressed, tortured and persecuted for political
ideals than for any other human invention; and that political beliefs are
often the most dangerous delusions man is capable of - and having failed to
convince you, my answers to this question may very well fail to convince you
But it is not difficult to say what one should do:
Distrust power; disbelieve ideologies; believe only what is rational; and
support only what is reasonable.
Like most things this is much easier said than done, but it is also something
everyone is capable of, even if few succeed.
To think rationally; to find and weigh all available evidence; to distinguish
facts from values; to speak and write clearly; and not to deceive oneself and
others are eminently human capacities very few humans know how to use well.
The reason is simple: It has never been
fashionable to think. Plain, uncritical belief is appreciated everywhere, but
rational belief, based on a hard, dispassionate and careful look at the
pretense, the humbug and the idiocies all men are capable of is beloved by
few, for few things are more pleasing to the human mind than dogmatic
Clear and sound thinking are necessary but not sufficient
for intelligent action.
To do something in a reasonable way one needs a
clear and realizable aim; a plan to realize that aim; and a set of priorities.
If I limit myself to political ends, it seems to me that we all, whatever our
specific political ideals, have or should have three fundamental aims:
- The preservation of natural and human life;
- the preservation of
the preservation of personal freedom.
These seem to me to be aims all men must subscribe to, whatever their plans
for nature, society and culture, and whatever they want to use their freedom
for, for life, nature, culture and freedom are necessary to realize any
specific political ideal.
So I conclude that all men have the same interests if not the same ideals, and
I perceive that these interests are seriously endangered by political
dogmatists who are prepared to repress and persecute anyone who disagrees with
them (or even those who just happen to be around, in the case of sundry
terrorists); they are seriously threatened by incompetent rulers; and they are
seriously threatened by the billions of decent, well-behaved citizens of good
intentions and dubious mental facility, who are too stupid to see that the
causes they believe in are illusions, and that the leaders whom they support
are corrupt and incompetent.
What can be done about this?
In any fundamental sense not very much, I'm afraid, for I don't believe there
is much any ordinary person can do about the state of the world, for lack of
power, lack of knowledge and lack of opportunity: There are more men in the
world than seconds in your life, so if your aim is to save (a large proportion
of) mankind, you are pretty pretensious.
But if you want to do something in politics (and remember it is better to do
nothing than to wreck havoc due to a false ideology), I think you should
support organizations concerned with clear and specific moral issues, which
concern your own life, which are realizable from the present situation, which
are strifed for in a non-dogmatic, rational and reasonable spirit, and which
preserve life, nature, culture and freedom.
Examples of such organizations, the activities of which are consistent with
the contents of this essay, at the time of writing, are Amnesty International,
Unesco, Greenpeace etc.
Do not support organizations like political parties the plans
and proposals of which seem propaganda or difficult to realize, and do
not support organizations which claim a unique insight into the truth:
They are dogmatic.
Distrust power to the extent of its strength; disbelieve ideologies to the
extent of their promises, and remember politics is only a means to an end, not
an end in itself.
In the end it is to science, art and culture that I feel my strongest
commitment, not to any doctrine or creed.
Intellectually and morally I only answer to myself, and guide myself by what I
consider to be the ablest and best philosophers, scientists, writers and
artists - men like Montaigne, Locke, Hume, Lichtenberg, Jefferson, Hazlitt,
Tocqueville, Mill, Whitman, Thoreau, Peirce, James, Mosca, Russell, Miller
(Henry), Orwell and Mills (Wright).
These men, and others like them (for I have limited myself here mainly to
writers and philosophers), are, in my opinion, the great men Western culture
has produced, and it is from them, I believe, that sensible answers and
methods of reasoning, ways of orienting oneself in the world, do and should
come, rather than from fashionable, ill-informed and superficial ideologies
you meet with everywhere nowadays, and which will in all probability destroy
many more lifes and much of civilization before men learn to be more rational
and more reasonable than they are now.
June 14, 1983
P.S. + link:
1. I may eventually add some notes to
the above, although it seems to me the above can and does stand by itself for
any intelligent knowledgeable reader without need for clarifications.
Also, since I gave the day before yesterday a number of links concerned with
the possible imminent collapse of society that I intend to discuss on this
place, here is a briefer link to one version of the argument, as articulated
by Cenk Uygur:
This is 10 minutes 36 seconds of clear and well-spoken
verbal exposition - and in case you missed it: While I do believe
there is rather a lot to be said for this line of argument (in brief:
the world's financial institutions must be well regulated if
another collapse is to be prevented - and if such a collapse comes
soon, as well it may, what with still totally absent regulation, it
will end in a collapse for lack of money, credit and resources), it is
a speculative argument, based on quite a few ifs.
But that is the same for any argument about the
future, and indeed the ifs are what I am most interested in, since I
also have no personal means whatsoever to do anything against a social
2. In case you read Dutch, there is a piece
with some Dutch clarifications and comments by me about "On
bij "Over Politiek".
3. And a final remark, more or less incidental, and for
those who might be interested in understanding something about the
American political right, neo-conservatives, libertarians (of some
forms), and especially conspiracy theories:
The day before yesterday I watched a video called "The
Invisible Empire", which is an evident piece of rather hysterical
and manipulative conspiracy-thinking such as seems to influence many
Americans upon the political right, such as the Teabaggers and Glenn
Beck (though in his case the final explanations are psychiatric).
Its thesis, when freed from a lot of collateral
nonsense, is that world domination is imminent, in the form of A New
World Order, by a collectivist elite, that have been working for just
that since many decades, mainly through shady organizations like the
Bilderberg group, where the political elites meet and engineer their
bids for world dominance, that are made also by such apparent
opponents like father and son Bush, Bill Clinton, David Rockefeller,
and the Dutch Queen Beatrix.
As I said, I've sat through almost all of it, and it
gets more and more sleazy and warped towards the end, where one gets
suggestions that most Western political leaders, including Bush Jr., are in
fact closeted homosexuals and may well be praying to the devil, all
totally unlike the noble folks who made the video, who all have good
democratic Christian democratic values, while being perfectly
straight, for which reasons, next to the utter lack of evidence and
the great amounts of innuendo, I have saved you the link.
Even so, it is mildly interesting as an example of a
quite fargoing conspiracy theory without any evidence - through
a lot of innuendo, unsupported suggestions and claims, of course - or indeed any
rationality. It quite probably does fairly well express rather a lot
of the thinking of the American political right, or at least of the more
stupid, outspoken and active part of the American political right.
But it's interest is mostly only that: A hardly sane
conspiracy theory of the more stupid part of the present American
right - which does not make it less dangerous, for all its
stupidity, for the folks it addresses and likes to convince are
stupid or ignorant, and it is a safe bet that whatever will happen
politically in the future, it will not be based on rational