Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The Left, the Right, and the People

with 5 comments

I have long seen a difference in the way the Left and the Right typically look at the mental capacities of humans: The Right (at least the libertarian and parts of the conservative Right) sees humans as reasonably rational and capable of making their own decisions; the Left (at least in its typical European incarnations and many Marxist, feminist, or PC variations) sees the average human as a sheep that needs to be led to have the right (i.e. Left, PC, whatnot) opinions, do the right things, and generally get by in the world. This is often referred to as “förmyndarsamhälle” (“legal-guardian society”; however, with a stronger implication of society being patronizing) by the Swedish Right.

As is often the case with early observations, they pale into the background. Recently, however, I have come across several posts (e.g. [1]e) that are so explicit on this issue that it has re-emerged into the foreground. To my own surprise, I find that I must give the Left at least a partial credit for being right—a very large portion of the population is simple so stupid that they would be better of led by the hand in at least some situations. This is evidenced e.g. by the politicians that manage to get elected, the credulity with which some absolutely nonsensical PC statements are believed, how unwilling people are to re-evaluate their believes in light of new evidence, etc.

Yet, all this does not matter:

  1. If 30, 50, even 90 % of the population is lacking, this does not give the government (the Left, the Know-It-All think-tank, whomever) the right to decide for the remaining 70, 50, or 10 %.

    What we arguably should do, is to increase the requirements on voters, e.g. in that a certain degree of critical thinking and general knowledge must be demonstrated before a citizen is given the right to vote. (Effectively replacing the age based limits of today with “capacity” based limits. Great care would have to be observed during implementation, however: It is vital that no test of opinion is made, but that capacity to think is the main determinant. In contrast, it is manifestly clear that many on the left equal “being worthy” with “having PC opinions” or “being ‘progressive’ ”.)

    In this manner, the damage they potentially do would be mostly limited to their own private lives, where they have a natural right to exert influence, but protect us from society-wide influence. (Interestingly, in my experience, the Left is usually keen on relaxing the conditions for who is allowed to vote even further—probably knowing that their own type of propaganda and often populist demands goes over better among those weak in critical thinking.)

  2. If the people needs a “förmyndare”, who decides his identity?

    Well, the unsatisfying answer is that it probably cannot be done in a fair and objective manner. If nothing else, there seems to be no end to the people and organisations who consider themselves called for the task, but have opinions that are incompatible with each other and/or idiotic on closer inspection. In some cases, it would even be a matter of the blind leading the one-eyed: Consider e.g. former PM-wannabe Mona Sahlinw—who regularly talks to voters as if they were little children, yet herself is uneducated, unintelligent, and of dubious morality and competence. (And, no, that is not merely a portrayal by a political enemy, but what is clear from her CV.)

  3. Similarly, who decides where to draw the border between who needs to be shepherded and who is allowed to deal for himself (or is even allowed to become a shepherd)?

    The answer is equally similar. In a nut-shell, these common Leftist attitudes are best answered with: Who are you to decide?

  4. The typical implementations tend to be such that they worsen, possibly even create, the problems they were intended to solve: The Swedish school I went to, e.g., did nothing to teach critical thinking, but was hell-bent on instilling the “right”, determined-from-above values—the UN is good, women are oppressed, nuclear power is evil, democracy is the only civilized form of government, … To actually teach the children about the limitations of the UN, or how perverted by special interests it is, was never on the table; a differentiated and more up-to-date view on the situations of men and women was absent; a compare and contrast between different energy forms (which, if fair, would have been far more favourable to nuclear power) unthinkable; and no deep discussion of the disadvantages of democracy, the least evil of the popular alternatives, ever took place.

In the end, a blanket treatment of people like sheep is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, we should try to give them the tools to both fend and decide for themselves.

(Note that I do not rule out that those who have failed despite having received the tools should be given further help. The first step, however, should be to give out fishing equipment and fishing lessons—not fish. Indeed, it would be presumptuous even to decide that fish should be a major part of the diet.)


Written by michaeleriksson

June 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

5 Responses

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  1. The Right (at least the libertarian and parts of the conservative Right) sees humans as reasonably rational and capable of making their own decisions

    Libertarian economic policies fail every time. The deregulation of the late 90s and 2000s as well as lack of enforcement of existing regulation resulted in the Enron scandal and of course, the housing bubble and its inevitable collapse. Deregulation of the 1980s resulted in the S&L scandal and bailouts.

    People who vote for people who promote libertarian policies are generally idealistic and devoid of reality.

    Ben Hoffman

    June 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    • There are at least two problems with this view:

      1. You compare speak of idealistic libertarianism without considering its pragmatic counter-part. Every ideology needs “pragmatic brakes” and most modern libertarians (in my subjective impression) have them.

      2. You ascribe a certain set of problems to a certain line of thinking without making a comparison how the world would have been otherwise. Similar problems are nothing new, other problems may have arisen, and it is far from clear whether libertarianism or e.g. lobbying and industry influence on politics should take the blame.

      (Besides, you are off-topic.)


      June 13, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      • 2. You ascribe a certain set of problems to a certain line of thinking without making a comparison how the world would have been otherwise.

        Without the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the banking sector would have never been on the verge of collapse in 2007.

        Ben Hoffman

        June 14, 2011 at 12:03 am

      • There I do not feel qualified to make a definite statement; however, I note that Wikipedia currently says:

        This repeal may have directly contributed to the severity of the Financial crisis of 2007–2010.[4][5][6][7][8] Others argue that repealing the provisions had little impact on the financial system and even helped restore stability during the financial crisis.[9][10][11][12][13]

        Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_Act

        (I stress, however, that as a pragmatic libertarian, I am in favour of regulation that makes it harder for banks to get away with poor decisions that someone else must pay for—and similar market failures. The exact shape and form of that regulation is another issue.)

        In a bigger picture, there are two sub-issues that you would need to address:

        1. Would not repealing the act have given a net benefit?

        2. Was the act repealed for reasons of libertarianisms or was there other motivations involved? Note, in particular, that neoliberalism and libertarianism are not the same thing—even if they are related and overlapping.


        June 14, 2011 at 12:38 am

  2. Saul Bellow, and, strangely, Kurt Vonnegut fretted about what would become of Americans who did not have the where with all to face the looming technologically oriented future. Sadly, they go to the bottom of the heap as factory fodder, I suppose. The world is cruel in that way.

    Bob Robson

    June 19, 2011 at 4:29 am

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