The idea that contemporary Venezuela represents a social model superior to liberal democracy is absurd. ~Francis Fukuyama
Via Steve Sailer
Of course, it is absurd to think that contemporary Venezuela is superior to very many things. But Fukuyama misses everything important when he says this, as he often does. Something that seems to forever elude Fukuyama (in addition to his ignoring the salience of questions of race and ethnicity as forms of identity that are very powerful in driving history, as Steve Sailer notes correctly today) is that rival ideologies and worldviews might, in fact, be absurd, inferior and doomed to ongoing failure in their attempts to acquire the political and economic goods that could improve certain aspects of life for billions, but this is entirely irrelevant to whether or not people will embrace them. It is irrelevant whether these ideologies actually ever “provide the goods” or are even capable of providing them: what matters is that the ideology appears to be true, appears to make sense and, in this day and age, appears to represent an alternative to American and Western models, be they “neo-liberal,” “neoconservative,” “liberal democratic” or what-have-you.
Ideology is not so much a way of seeing the world as it is a set of blinders designed to keep you going in the ‘right’ direction, even when you would normally bolt and run the other way from horror at the sight of the place your faceless rider, Ideology, is taking you.
The capacity for self-deception under the influence of ideology is tremendous (see, for example, Republican believers in Iraqi WMDs if you doubt the relevance of this discourse on ideology to the contemporary scene). The age of triumphant liberal democracy has seen progressive losses of freedom and real popular control over government in the last 100 years in the very centers of the “liberal democratic” world, but the conviction that something called liberal democracy, which the current system calls itself, is the political equivalent of deliverance and the best form of government going is as strong as ever. At the same time, a people’s belief in the ‘pure’ form of its political system or ideology can sometimes grow even stronger as that system becomes more corrupt and ceases to do the job that it once did.
This is a sort of natural survival mechanism that people have when their political world begins to fall apart; it is also an ideology’s means of survival. Thus you will hear people object that the problem with the managerial state today is not too much democracy but too little, and work on the assumption that more democratic “engagement” and participation would fix many of the problems of a managerial state that was itself a product of the centralising impulses and social policies of mass democracy. In many cases, one of the only appeals against the managerial state that people have today is to invoke “people power,” mistaking a method of rule for its content and thus making the same mistakes of past democrats and populists in emphasising the democratisation of process and the consolidation of power in the hands of “the people’s representatives.”
The point here is not only the Moscian claim that structure and hierarchy are unavoidable and elites inevitable in any system of political power, which makes the “more democracy” mantra fairly futile in our specific case, but that an ideology structures our responses to its own inadequacies in ways that end up reinforcing our belief in it. It is a codependent relationship that we seem almost incapable of being able to end without some serious shock to the system to break us loose.
If the Big Idea has failed, it has not really failed, because we are the ones who have actually failed the Idea or because some perfidious enemy has sabotaged or undermined the project (this is why highly unrealistic revolutionary ideologies always fall into the ugly habit of denouncing and killing internal enemies with alarming frequency after they have finished wiping out the external enemy–they always need someone, anyone, to blame for the fact that things are not going as they should, and so deviationist and traitorous enemies from within have to be manufactured to keep the revolution on track). If an ideology begins to fail, the ideologue will look for circumstances that explain away the apparent failure or he will attribute failure either to an abandonment of the ‘true’ ideology or an insufficiently zealous application of the ideology’s tenets. Ideas that are manifestly wrong to others are ideas that will sometimes inspire people to redouble their efforts to make these bad ideas “work.” Disillusionment may take a whole lifetime and require some truly shocking atrocity at the hands of fellow ideologues or monumental collapse on a large scale to shatter the world of delusions the conditioned people have been living in.
In the uncritical mind of an ideologue (and an entire people can come to see the world as the ideologue does and believe just as strongly as he does), there is no question that the assumptions he uses are wrong–there must always be something wrong with some part of the world, whether it is a case of counterrevolutionaries and reactionaries holding back the progress of the revolution or a misapplication of the correct assumptions by incompetents. The people, for their part, know that the fault cannot ever lie in them–they are The People, after all, not fallible human beings–so it must always be the fault of corrupt officials or leaders who have “betrayed” the ‘true’ revolution (see silly people in Ukraine complaining about the appointment of Yanukovych for an example of this).
The main point is that if an ideology or worldview gives a people sufficient meaning, purpose and strengthens their identity, they may well embrace it and interpret all their misfortunes in terms of their temporary failure to realise the ‘true’ form of that ideology. They will only grudgingly and only after great suffering give up on it all together, and even when they give up on it there will be a tendency to want to emphasise the “good” aspects of the revolution that were simply eventually outweighed by the bad, which is a whimsical sigh of regret that it did not turn out as they had hoped but that it always had potential.
The “Orange Revolution” was not a fraud, you see, but Yushchenko the fraud has now “betrayed” it–the ordinary believers in the revolution have to hold to this myth, even when the supposed revolution was all along the vehicle for this particular oligarch to rule as he and his allies saw fit. The people naive enough to believe that it had something to do with making the Ukrainian government accountable to “the people” are pitiable in their sincerity, but they mistake appearances for substance. The remedy to the corruption of “people power” movements by “traitors” and elitists is always more “people power,” as if massing more and more corrupt human beings (and we are all corrupt to one degree or other) together would eliminate the flaws in the political movement.
Perhaps for a neo-Bolivarian revolutionary like Chavez, the revolution can be never-ending and thus always potentially successful–this is what its miserable supporters have to keep believing, because they cannot stomach returning to the ways things were (not because things were necessarily verifiably worse under the oligarchs, which is almost certainly not the case in many respects, but because people believe them to have been worse because one of “their” guys wasn’t in charge). Chavismo is always the right answer for the Chavista, because it has to be. The rest is just a matter of sorting out a few loose ends. So, of course, the belief that Chavismo is superior to all other political doctrines is absurd as far as we are concerned (and a true believer in liberal democracy like Fukuyama is virtually obliged to believe this in any case), and there are strong, empirical arguments that can be made to demonstrate that Chavismo really is a ludicrous grab-bag of failed ideas, but this has nothing to do with whether or not Chavismo will continue in Venezuela or spread elsewhere. It certainly does not guarantee against the spread of authoritarian populism or any number of other such fun combinations across the Southern Hemisphere and Asia. It absolutely does not verify Fukuyama’s fantasy about the ‘direction’ of History (which does not actually have a discernible, necessary direction) or his notion that History is against anyone.
Here is an important lesson of real history: the actual absurdity of an idea is no guard against its adoption, and may in fact be of positive benefit in making it successful. It also helps if the idea is very simple to understand and preferably flattering to the listener. Consider the notion of political equality: there is nothing more counterintuitive and easily disprovable than the notion that men are by nature political equals, yet this is one of the most enduring and powerful ideas to have come out of the Enlightenment because it tells people something they would like to believe (expressed in the self-affirming phrase, “I’m just as good as anybody else” but with the added boost of, “I am, or ought to be, just as powerful as anybody else”), regardless of whether or not it is true. Everyday we encounter political inequality as a fact of life, but we stage elaborate rituals and processes to confirm for ourselves that ”we” are all on the same level and that “we” consent to have someone rule over us; a good name for the modern election process might be “state of denial.”
Equality of this sort is a myth, but just try to demystify it and you will be met with outrage and disgust, because this myth is fundamental to the broader liberal ideology to which so many Westerners and others belong today. Even though this basic tenet of the ideology is contrary to the way things actually are, this does not present a flaw in the ideology but a problem in the world that the ideology exists to “fix,” and thus we are always on the move combating inequality of every form (this is usually associated with calls for “more democracy”). Chavismo is the same way. There is no guarantee that any number of failures and poor policies under Chavez will shake the faith of his supporters in their revolution or persuade them that “liberal democracy” or neoliberalism is the correct alternative, because these beliefs will not be constrained or overthrown by the negative consequences of putting them into action (which is why, gentle reader, there are still true-blue Marxists and always will be in spite of the fact that Marxism in practise always failed even by its own measures), and in the end it is the beliefs and ideas of men that drive human action and thus all of human history.