Sign in to follow this  
Baashi

Two Theories of Change

Recommended Posts

Baashi   

Two Theories of Change

By DAVID BROOKS

 

When I was in college I took a course in the Enlightenment. In those days, when people spoke of the Enlightenment, they usually meant the French Enlightenment — thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Condorcet.

 

These were philosophers who confronted a world of superstition and feudalism and sought to expose it to the clarifying light of reason. Inspired by the scientific revolution, they had great faith in the power of individual reason to detect error and logically arrive at universal truth.

 

Their great model was Descartes. He aimed to begin human understanding anew. He’d discard the accumulated prejudices of the past and build from the ground up, erecting one logical certainty upon another.

 

What Descartes was doing for knowledge, others would do for politics: sweep away the old precedents and write new constitutions based on reason. This was the aim of the French Revolution.

 

But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote in her 2004 book, “The Roads to Modernity,” if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits.

 

They put more emphasis on our sentiments. People are born with natural desires to be admired and to be worthy of admiration. They are born with moral emotions, a sense of fair play and benevolence. They are also born with darker passions, like self-love and tribalism, which mar rationalist enterprises. We are emotional creatures first and foremost, and politics should not forget that.

 

These two views of human nature produced different attitudes toward political change, articulated most brilliantly by Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Their views are the subject of a superb dissertation by Yuval Levin at the University of Chicago called “The Great Law of Change.”

 

As Levin shows, Paine believed that societies exist in an “eternal now.” That something has existed for ages tells us nothing about its value. The past is dead and the living should use their powers of analysis to sweep away existing arrangements when necessary, and begin the world anew. He even suggested that laws should expire after 30 years so each new generation could begin again.

 

Paine saw the American and French Revolutions as models for his sort of radical change. In each country, he felt, the revolutionaries deduced certain universal truths about the rights of man and then designed a new society to fit them.

 

Burke, a participant in the British Enlightenment, had a different vision of change. He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.

 

Burke was horrified at the thought that individuals would use abstract reason to sweep away arrangements that had stood the test of time. He believed in continual reform, but reform is not novelty. You don’t try to change the fundamental substance of an institution. You try to modify from within, keeping the good parts and adjusting the parts that aren’t working.

 

If you try to re-engineer society on the basis of abstract plans, Burke argued, you’ll end up causing all sorts of fresh difficulties, because the social organism is more complicated than you can possibly know. We could never get things right from scratch.

 

Burke also supported the American Revolution, but saw it in a different light than Paine. He believed the British Parliament had recklessly trampled upon the ancient liberties the colonists had come to enjoy. The Americans were seeking to preserve what they had.

 

We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment. Was our founding a radical departure or an act of preservation? This was a bone of contention between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it’s a bone of contention today, both between parties and within each one.

 

Today, if you look around American politics you see self-described conservative radicals who seek to sweep away 100 years of history and return government to its preindustrial role. You see self-confident Democratic technocrats who have tremendous faith in the power of government officials to use reason to control and reorganize complex systems. You see polemicists of the left and right practicing a highly abstract and ideological Jacobin style of politics.

 

The children of the British Enlightenment are in retreat. Yet there is the stubborn fact of human nature. The Scots were right, and the French were wrong. And out of that truth grows a style of change, a style that emphasizes modesty, gradualism and balance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good to see you, old man. How is nolosha? All good dheh.

 

Soori, I can't comment on the article since I didn't read after until Descartes iyo Soltaire, err Voltaire. Dadkaas philosophers lagu sheego magacyadooda markaa maqlaba madax xanuun igu qabto, let reading about what they write or about them. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You don’t try to change the fundamental substance of an institution. You try to modify from within, keeping the good parts and adjusting the parts that aren’t working.

Sounds workable & effective ... this is what they call "slow but sure" ........

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Baashi   

My pal MMA, awoowe shax-shax. Living Dubai and working in Abu Dhabi. Life is good. Family is with me. Awoowe AlxamduLilaah. Awoowe ma guursatay mise wali ishaa falato baa ku jidhaa. Hal carabiyad ah ma kuu habeeyaa :D

 

David is thoughful political commentator. He is Republican -- liberal wing of Gran Ole Party (GOP). Good read I wanna share with you folks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
me   

Baashi,

 

It's an OK read, however what do Burke and Paine have to say to Somalis today?

 

Apply it to the Somali context and then come back with it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Baashi   

Somali version of Potomac River politicking is like this Mr. me: from the big picture there are pragmatists and there are idealists.

 

In their political orientation pragmatists, in the Somali context, can be characterized as nationalists. They accept the reality of Somali social fabric as it is – tribal society at the core. They understand that the current conflict and its different political manifestations, such as unchecked regional autonomies, fiefdoms, secessionism, and anarchy, have its roots in negative tribalism.

 

They acknowledge the folly of the past leadership in both sides – government and the opposition. But they also advocate rather passionately the need for just and all inclusive political settlement through negotiations.

 

They are mindful about the regional power play and the role future Somalia should and must play.

 

They adamantly believe that looking forward the new leadership should take into account the nature of Somali society, the young history of the Somali state, past colonial injustices that was exacted against Somali nation in the region, current state of Somalis in the neighboring states, in any effort to resurrect the old republic.

 

The followers of this worldview understand that Somalis are Muslims and as such – if given the chance – will overwhelmingly support some sort of Islamic governance. They call for the foreign powers to respect the sovereignty of the nation and let things take their course.

 

As any other political platform, needless to say, there are variations within the followers of this worldview. But by and large they’re in line with Burke. They want to manage many challenges that Somalis face in a gradual and prudent fashion. Practical approach is their mantra.

 

On the other hand there are idealists. In their political orientation they can be characterized as liberals (in Somali context). They look at the Somali situation with disgust. They can’t stomach all the bickering that made Somalia synonymous with failed state. They promote new radical ideas – radical to the contemporary Somalis.

 

They want to see change for the better. Some of them advocate secessionism. To them that’s a change of the status quo. Radical but nevertheless a change!

 

Those who advocate for regional autonomy do so because they have no faith that strong republic will do justice to their concerns and sensibilities. Unlike the secessionist, they want to remain in the unitary arrangement but on their own terms.

 

Some in the south advocate 4.5 tribal formula institutionalized in the constitution the same way as Lebanon sectarian issue is handled in that country’s constitution.

 

Islamists are demanding an end to secular and tribal inspired governance.

 

All these idealists want to solve the Somali problem in a way that’s amenable to their base constituents. They are not amenable to persuasion. They are not ready to compromise yet they are not strong enough to sweep their opponents aside and implement their version of change.

 

Theirs is 'my way or the highway'! Most of them think the idea of compromise is a sellout – a betrayal to what their group stands for. They want to scrap status quo and start anew. They have little interest in their chances of success or whether they fail.

 

The latter group is to me what Paine is to David. They are Paine on steroids.

 

Ahem!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oodweyne   

Mr. Baashi,

 

Long time no see, bro... ;)

 

Well, lets just say, your coming out party piece about the divergence paths in which society may follow on for their political transformations do indeed qualify as a good piece (albeit one written by Mr. D. Brooks of NT Times ;) ) to open a decent debate about this argument. Which I believe, is what you were thinking when you've posted it, originally (and your subsequent argument to Mr. Me bears that fact out indeed)…

 

Now, having got that little curtain raiser out of the way, let me say that I do agree with the two philosophical schools of thought that the author described in here (at least in so far their political ramification goes). Hence, it profits no one now to get involve into the origin of these two schools; or for that matter how each of them is really much more "murkier" (both in intent and in action) than the author give credit to in here.

 

Particularly, if you look into the "Burkean version", which originally was counter-revolution tract, intending to defend, all of the silly privileges of the "ancient regime", in which the first amongst those "unearned rights" was the "Royalty" and their prerogative earthly power.

 

But, since that was not your intention, but merely trying to use this piece, as a "frame-work" in which you could "delineate" a conceptual reality in which Somalis find themselves in at the moment; then, let me proceed with the implication of your "template", in which you have deduced it from this piece…

 

In other words, yours is to say that the Islamist (at least in it's Jihadist variety) are the "Jacobin's revolutionaries" of our time, and therefore, they would fit in nicely with the French school of political thought; and even furthermore, if we look into deeply we can see, in Somali's Jihadist a "replica" of Mr. Robespierre murderous agenda of France of that time, acting out in present-day Somalia.

 

Also, you seemed to be saying in here that we in Somaliland's are also in league with those sort of French school of Jacobin's vanguard of a political revolutionaries; whilst at the same time, you are saying all of those who are opposite to the Islamist (i.e., the Jihadist kind), such as the TFG or pirate-land are, collectively in the same "Burkean school" of gradual reformation of society.

 

Now, that been the gist of your "belaboured thesis", let me, firstly, concur with you in so far as the first part of your argument goes.

 

In the sense of saying that indeed the "Jihadist Islamist" of our time, are really a "mirror-image" of the Jacobin's political revolutionaries of yore. And the only difference is that whilst the French Guillotine operators of that time were sporting as their manual of a "political action plan" the right of man and the long historically synthesised "enlightenment world-view"; our Islamist Jacobin of the present-day, do seemed to be parading around their interpretation of our holly book. And, hence, theirs is way of saying, ours is "god-sanctioned" right to murder at will; whilst, in the French version, theirs was a way of saying, ours is the "reason-sanctioned" right to murder those who see things, rather differently to us…

 

Consequently, all of that, I can easily grant you from my end. But, where I disagree with you (and I am sure this will not come as a surprise to you) is your implication towards Somaliland's independence.

 

Hence, I can safely, say in the case of Somaliland, that we really are "Burkean's political sons par-excellence", at least politically. And, by that I mean, it was only after Mr. Siyad Barre's regime abused the “political trust” that was bestowed on the then Somali realm which was in his hand that we in Somaliland have decided, that our "ancient nomadic liberties" that is as "self-evident" as the "Magna-Carta" version is to the descendent of the English people, must be protected and made anew within a brand new political contract (or dominion) call Somaliland.

 

And, this, mind you, is as much akin to the manner that the North American's colonies have behaved particularly after then King George did his worst on to the common and accepted “social-contract” of the then North-America's colonies, in which they had, as a concord, with their mother nation of Great Britain. Hence, their reason to end their political association with their mother country, in pursuit of their version of what the "liberty" of freely born Englishman ought to mean, particularly before any earthly power, indeed.

 

And, therefore, if, in pursuant to that “noble goal”; they may be forced to engaged a conduct that may be befitting a "political revolution" (at least in it’s mild Jacobin’s version of it), then, they thought, what will be gained is much more precious than what will be lost in the absence of that revolution, in which they believe their "god-given-liberty" couldn’t be stored without it, indeed.

 

And, therefore, just, as the colonies of North America have decided to do so what they have done, particularly in the light of their historical circumstances, which was such a necessary revolution; then we can say, at least on our part, that we in Somaliland also felt the same need to "correct" what was missing from our understanding of our “ancient nomadic liberties” of that time, particularly when we were under despotic rule of the then Gen. Afweyne, indeed…

 

So, you see, my friend, we really are the sort of folks who have used a "Jacobin means" to a "Burkean end", indeed.

 

And, by that I mean, we in Somaliland have decided that a ruction of a revolutionary means (i.e., mild-version of Jacobinism) as a "political road" to travel on, will in the end give us the "burkean's end", in which the wisdom of the past (as embodied by our elders) will be our new model of a "social-contract", in which furthermore a gradual pragmatism is the middle name that protect the "ancient nomadic liberties" of our people, that we used to practice in that neck-of-the-wood.

 

Consequently, our political concord has been proving, like a true Burkean in action, to work with the "social grain" of our people; as opposed to working against it, which is the end result of most revolutionary society that embed such a revolution as their political "ideology" of the their state. And in here to get the proof of this point look no further of what became of the French, as well the Soviet Union of their days, not to say anything about what will become, eventually, the Iranian's revolutionary ideology, indeed.

 

Subsequently, I do think that you have missed the boat in here, my friend; particularly, which side of these two competing "schools of political thought", that Somaliland, at least in it's modern incarnation of it, comes down on it, rather decisively, indeed…

 

Regards,

Oodweyne.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oodweyne   

^^^ :D:D

 

I can see why such a "trade-marked" phrase gets stuck into a certain gullets; but, still, lads, lets not hijack this promising thread with our usual back-and-forth banter... icon_razz.gif

 

For, as they say, there is season for everything; and, this kind of post doesn't strike me as the sort of post, in which you lads need to work it out of it your usual "intellectual angst" that you may have against the manner that someone expresses their idiomatic arguments at your "collective expenses", indeed... ;)

 

Regards,

Oodweyne.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
me   

Baashi,

 

I expected so much fro you, but you missed the point, todays Somali Thomas Paine would be an Islamist.

 

 

The adherents of 4.5 or other clan based formula's such as the extreme regionalists in Puntland and the secessionists in the North West are just conservatives trying to save the old clannist system, by putting a new jacket on it.

 

 

So todays Somali Edmund Burke would be a secessionist or a regionalist.

 

Tribalism is conservatism.

 

Islamism is revolutionism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
me   

The secessionist in this thread (who shall remain unnamed, has outdone himself and therefore deserves a worthy reply) rightly he has recognized, the conservative roots of the ideas justifying the regional admins in our country, he has also pointed out the similarities between the Islamists of today and the Jacobins.

 

However as usual, he is trying to justify his secessionist ideas, and is trying to give them legitimacy by placing them at the altar of British conservatism. ( There he remains true to his secessionist roots :D )

 

He also makes a crucial mistake, when he misses the point that the conservative ideas on which his secessionism is based, also provoke anti-secessionist sentiments in the neighboring regions, which also have their ancient nomadic liberties (as he put it)

 

Furthermore, Somalia is unique and the ideas of 18 century European thinkers, will not help us in the Hawd or in Hiiraan.

 

We need to come up with our own ideas, and try to better understand our own situation, instead of mirroring it with 18th century France or 19th century Germany.

 

Ps. If only this secessionist could overcome his secessionist handicap and use that brain of his to help us understand ourselves as Somalis, he might be a worthy son of Somalia. Instead of a cantrabaqash peddling, clan cyber-warrior.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oodweyne   

^^^ As usual I'll take your faint praises that is in here with a large dollop of salt, indeed ( :D ); but, still, your missing the point in here.

 

In other words, re-read my argument in it's entirety, and think of it as an argument penned by someone other than myself; so therefore, without judging the argument on the lens you looked on the person who have written it, you can then "objectively" evaluate what is written up there. icon_razz.gif

 

For, if you were to do that, particularly in that manner of being blind to the person who wrote it (after all, if I may hazard a guess in here, one can say, you'll have difficulty in concurring with me, even if I were to say, sunrise is always to our east) then I think you'll come to the same conclusion that I have reached in here, indeed, my friend... ;)

 

Regards,

Oodweyne.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Baashi:

 

Theirs is 'my way or the highway'! Most of them think the idea of compromise is a sellout – a betrayal to what their group stands for. They want to scrap status quo and start anew. They have little interest in their chances of success or whether they fail.

 

The latter group is to me what Paine is to David. They are Paine on steroids.

 

Ahem!

Well put, Baashi.

 

They are Paine without a pamphlet indeed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this