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Engaging with Phil about his MovingToTheRight, Darius thinks he comes up against an underlying theme.

We both think we're coming from an 'empiricist' position. In this context, that means: arguments about which social institutions and processes are desirable should be backed up empirically rather than with talk of 'dialectical necessity' and the like.

Phil thinks that right-wingers have an advantage here if they argue: 'let social structures evolve piecemeal, and trust those that work; distrust radical schemes that have been reasoned in the abstract but may fail disasterously in practice'. (See TopicsDiscussedHere)

If we are unhappy with the status quo, where can we turn for ideas of alternatives? And if we are empiricists, how can we argue for institutions that do not (yet) exist against those that do?

Some possibilities:

  • just argue negatively against the status quo without feeling the need to provide an alternative
  • identify principles in existing institutions that pick out which parts of them are essential / or beneficial and argue in the abstract from there to something new (isn't this just what the Hegelians were up to? isn't it also what economists do now?.)
  • find an actually or historically existing alternative to point to
  • find an actually or historically existing institution that exists on a small scale within the status quo and use it as the basis of a possible alternative on a bigger scale
  • a combination of these


"isn't this just what the Hegelians were up to?" - Well which pieces of working institution were the inspiration for the way society was set-up in Soviet Russia? China? etc?

Actually, the disturbing thought is that the most obvious working alternatives are rigid hierarchies like the army and bureaucracies. If we can only point to these as alternatives, the right really has won the argument.

CategoryPolitics, CategoryEconomics