Ideologies - or more accurately said, ideologisation of social and political life, seem to show signs of weakness.
In what concerns me, I even argued about their approaching death - disappearance, if not from society, at least from public debate of any importance.
Is this really the end of it, no more wars of ideas, no more ideals to dream of, no more polarisation?
I confess the idea that we would tend towards a sort of a bureaucratic-technocratic society, sounded quite appealing at first - not because of its advantages: jury's still out on that; but as a surprisingly (and terrifingly) accurate assessment of the state of affairs these days, if I were only to mention the multiplication of regulations normalizing everything, in more and more detail.
I'm not just speaking of laws - everyone knows of the battles still raging between for instance those claiming "markets always know best" and those bothered with reducing the risk for systemic financial crisis.
I'm speaking about regulation in the broader sense. The need for more efficiency naturally leads to normalization, standardization, standard processes and procedures, standard forms, standard answers from hotlines and standard decision making. This, like the need to eliminate every possibility of abuse, leads to organization getting more and more pervasive, on a more and more detailed level.
Life is becoming regulated in its smaller aspects, and law has no scruple entering private life any more, since the principle of pre-emptive potential victim protection is irrefutable, by the same logic which helps justify pre-emptive War against Terror or the right for humanitarian motivated international intervention.
Or two of the most important (and usually overlooked) effects of excessive regulation (again, in the broader sense) are these:
1) too much procedure ends up killing efficiency, rather than improving it
2) the road becomes wide open to abuse
The first problem is also known as bureaucracy. Too much specification can kill a project. Too much paperwork will end up doing a disservice to the clients.
The second one is also well known: the pretext of pre-emptive war is used to justify military aggression, and the laudable cause of military intervention for humanitarian reasons is perfect means of achieving much more prosaic and quite less noble geopolitical goals. And war is just one example of many.
Bureaucracy becomes even more dangerous when it is backed by technocracy. The best example is the quite famous Brussels bureaucracy: people claiming to make purely technocratic decisions, with as sole goals, better pan-european competition and improved economic efficiency.
This approach too had an irrefutable justification: politicians have a long-established name for making narrowminded, short term, politically motivated (if not downright populist) decisions, with an eye on the latest poll and the other on the next elections.
The result was that politicians bow to experts, but do not assume decisions anymore, and this deresponsabilization can get populist colours too, only in a different way.
The reason is very simple: technocrats are not elected. They don't necessarily bear in mind the interest of the population, but rather economical goals sometimes as narrowminded as populist politics.
Worse still, whoever thought specialists are only and always neutral and technocratic, has been shockingly disproved by the latest financial crisis. Being fed for years on with news about the competence of the Oracle Greenspan, we are now discovering the mind-boggling extent to which he pushed his activism for implementing Ayn Rand type ideologies.
Technocrats have their own idols, be they Milton Friendman, Keynes, Marx or Engels, and those idols often brought their reflections from economics to broader views of society, hence becoming ideologists.
All this shows where technocratic bureaucracy can lead. This is also why some, especially in France (as opposed to freemarket faithful) appreciated a certain modification Nicolas Sarkozy inspired on the EU constitution:
that the EU goal is not simply unrestricted competition; competition can be a goal for a technocrat, not so for anyone else, because who cares about "competition" (or other technocratic mantras) when the consequence is that service is failing and prices spike.
Technocratic bureaucracy can also be a negative result of careless pragmatism. In fact, the way technocrats justify themselves is precisely by their neutral approach. They'll never devaluate currencies to deal with government mismanagement of economy. They'll never get into a mountain of debt in order to please masses into keeping them in office. Technocrats are pragmatic, rational, they are experts and as such, their arguments are irrefutable, which is why Alan Greenspan was looked up to in awe, even as few actually understood what he was saying (hence his famous phrase on this).
This was a problem some pointed to me on the other ideology post: pragmatism can be about one's own convictions raised at the rank of certitudes.
It is very easy to abuse pragmatism and rationalisation, and use them as debate obstructors. But then it is all about arguments, in the end.
I mentioned Sarkozy in a positive way several times, because I believe in the soundness and inherent balance in a statement like this one:
"there are rights, and there are duties too".
A modern "an eye for an eye", one might say, struggling to see the sentence in a negative connotation, code speech in reality directed against certain parts of the population (like the unemployed).
Sarkozy applied this to many issues, be those about unemployment, public service unions, education, or immigration. The fact that the very idea of "duties" seem to stir certain people into a visceral opposition, is in itself relevant.
As to this being more code speech, we'll just have to see how the thing materializes in terms of policies.
But in terms of rational argumenting, I can't think of any possible objection outright. On the contrary, what can be more trivial, there are rights and then there are duties, well duh!
The fact is that many political situations imply at least two sides, and some are unsurprisingly concerned that the interest of one side (and request for certain advantages or rights) can be opposed the interest (the rights) of the other, and so, rational argumentation can be used to deny rights.
I for one think that this is a baseless fear that implies a largely unfounded assumption of ill will.
Which does not exclude those cases where pragmatism or technocracy gets misused or abused; these cases do exist, as I tried to show with the Greenspan example - what I say is that careful rational argumentation, refusal of ideological postures ("the markets always know best" -- because Milton Friedman proved it?...) and, well, yes, good faith can void this danger.
And the impression EU leaves about "Brussel technocratic bureaucracy" having as sole purpose the interests of capitalists and multinationals can be corrected simply by completing the reasoning that politicians tend to be populist, with one pointing the importance of the role of popular democracy (pleonasm, I know) in all this. Both sides must be taken into account, not just the political one (or saying that finance technocrats work against the people), and not just the economical one either (and saying that all that matters is to insulate economic decisions from political bias). Neither is 100% correct, both must be taken into account.