Friday, September 02, 2005

Random thought

In the course of reading Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America, I found this interesting quote by Veblen:
It was the fortune of the American people to have taken their point of departure from the European situation when the system of Natural Liberty was still 'obvious and simple,' [while other colonial enterprises] have had their institutional point of departure blurred with a scattering of the holdovers that were brought in again by the return wave of reaction in Europe, as well as by these later-come stirrings of radical discontent that have questioned the eternal fitness of the sytem of Natural Liberty itself.
In other words, that U.S. was settled and founded in a particular historical age when Europeans were naively impressed enough with liberalism to make it the founding principle of a new nation. (Hartz's thesis is that America basically left behind feudalism and thus missed out on conservatism, socialism, fascism, and all the rest of the European nightmare by maintaining the hegemony of is founding liberalism.)

This made me think about the (admittedly fanciful) possibility of the same phenomenon in the science fiction future: if we humans eventually send out colonies into space (whether to other planets or even just orbiting settlements), what founding ideologies will they take with them? A lot of the analysis of why America turned out the way it did centers on its first colonists - settlers of disproportionately middle classes, particular religious beliefs ("city upon a hill," etc.) - who were not representative of the home population. Would the same thing happen in the future? What ideologies will settlers take and leave behind?

Things to consider:
  • The putative "end of history", or nonexistence thereof
  • Will space colonization be dominated by the West?
  • Genetic engineering
  • Expense of space travel (i.e., will emigrants be middle-class or super-rich?)

9 Comments:

Blogger dearieme said...

" Europeans " eh? And to think I'd supposed them to be Britons.

9/05/2005 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Ah, a good point! Especially as Britain by and large avoided the extreme waves of reaction and radicalism that troubled the continent in the 19th century (no revolution of 1848, there). But there is still the contrast that Britain's Labour Party eclipsed the Liberal Party in the early 20th century while America has no socialist political party - nor, indeed, a capital-c Conservative Party in the manner of the Tories. I think Hartz still has a point that the political debates in America were mostly a family squabble within liberalism as opposed to a grand ideological war between Tories and socialists. But you make a good point: Britain was already a fair bit more "liberal" than continental Europe to begin with (and had a weaker and more reform-minded gentry/aristocracy), so some of the contrast between America and Europe has to be attributed to Britain's own uniqueness.

9/05/2005 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

To make that argument I think you would do best to compare the US, Australia, and India. The US became independent early, the other two did not. India was the only one of the three to have a native population big enough to not be displaced by colonists.

The Brits mostly left the cultures of India alone until the mid-1800s when the same religiously driven reformers who ended the slave trade went to India to reform it. The result was rebellion. But in Australia, the population was mostly already British, so its culture could track more closely the changes back home.

The US and Australia are more like each other than either is like India. So being able to displace the native population was a key element in their developments. I’m not sure I know enough about modern Australia to compare its liberalism with the US’s. But it doesn’t have the strong unions or social welfare system typical of Europe or even the UK, does it?

9/06/2005 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

I like that you bring up Fukuyama. He is one of those sharp, insightful thinkers who I often disagree with; that is, he is interesting. I would think that the very demanding environment of space would require developing a highly regimented culture based on detailed centralized information and careful planning. Somehow I don’t think that free market liberalism is up to the task of keeping people alive out there. Fukuyama wouldn’t recognize the place or the people.

9/06/2005 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

You're right that India is the outlier among the three - the relevant comparison here ought to be among settler societies in which the original inhabitants of the land were basically subject to genocide and exclusion. Unfortunatly, I don't know enough about Australia either, especially not about its unions or social welfare system, but I would note that Australia has both a Labor and Liberal Party. I suppose I'd include Canada as well (which certainly has a more social democratic system than America).

I thought I put this in the post, but must have deleted it: Hartz actually briefly mentions Australia as a contrast to America, saying that Australia's settlement was influenced by Chartist ideas. He doesn't elaborate, but that certainly seems plausible as Australia was settled in the 19th century, and Chartism was important in the mid-19th century. However, I have no idea what the influence of Chartism on Australian political development is supposed to be... Any Australians out there?

You make a good point about the demanding environment of space. The Turner thesis argued that the ever-expanding frontier - with its promise of free/cheap land, opportunity, progress, etc - indelibly shaped the American character. But early settlements in space would have to be very closed in, short on resources, always having to economize: it could shape the character of space settlements in exactly the opposite direction, no matter how liberal the original culture.

9/07/2005 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

I’ve been amused by the standard type of sci-fi movie that has people in dark run-down space colonies chasing each other around with guns in lawless chaos. They actually all would have died long before it got that bad. A real space colony is more likely to be well lit, clean, and very geeky—not so fun for movies.

You mention Mormonism in another post. If you drive through eastern Arizona, you can spot the Mormon towns because they are the tidy, prosperous ones. I’ve never cared for their religion, but their culture has traits that would be useful for space colonists. It is also a wealthy church—another plus for such an expensive undertaking. So maybe it will be Mormons in space.

Or, one could imagine the heavy handed punishment based order imposed on ships during the sailing era. I’d rather see the Mormons, and I’d bet they would stand the better chance of success.

9/09/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous craig "skull m(a)c ODDduckDOWNUNDER" peade said...

Australia is a social democratic system undergoing dismantlement under the auspices of a United States led "free trade market" movement and the economic "reform" associated in this version of c(r)apitalism ...that is to say "union busting" eroding worker's rights and privatisation processes of everything and anything (correction services prisons and social welfare -semi-privatised; telecommunications (legistlation just passed),healthcare(next on the agenda)and our water supplies (the next "world war" instigator, after oil)apparently employ the interests of Dick(headtwofaced"go fuck yourself")Cheney's Halliburton through it's subsidiary Kellog, Root and Brown...

Australia is STILL NOT independant...neither a "republic" that has let go of "Mother England"'s invading british hand...so instead of leaving "home" and "flying the coop" or(is that "coup"?)Australia has grasped on to clutch a new "Australian" dream...of becoming America by being "adopted" into the Eagle's nest as a "little baby brother" and "Deputy Sherriff" for the cowboy Americans, to keep "in check" the "indians" (fundamentalist terrorists) of the Asia-Pacific region...

The australian aboriginals indigenous peoples are still subject to genocide (economic) and exclusion...

...Australia's "Liberal" party is actually a conservative right wing becoming christian party...i think the "liberal" is for "liberal" public monies which they are spending on their own private (business-america) lavish interests...

..the "Labour" party is more left leaning but ultimately the system is like the "States" ie a two party POPULIST(devoid of integrity) system - appealing solely to a...THE middle ground(called in OZtrailya "THE ASPIRATIONAL VOTER"...as(s)piring to be what it is not...America(n))...

Of significant difference is the potential ability of minor parties influence on the politically barren landscape of the parliament (OZtrailya's "congress")...it is this difference which would be the influence of the "Chartists" whose radical elements brought into being the "eureka stockade" on the goldfield's of Ballarat's "Sovereign Hill"...despite this they remained faithful to the Brit's Westminster system...

..i think so-called "democratik liberalism" is becoming ironically a fascist-christian-conservative-totalitarianism...due to the influence of "disproportionate middle class'",who aspire to super-rich celebrity...a post-cold war domino-effect of a white-right-wing, christian "super-human", globalised America...the dictatorship of Fukayama's "top nation" and the world's only "super power"...a modern day aryan-nazi germany...eliminating diversity with a bland, branded and globalised homogenity...these WILL be THE emigrants which inhabit a western dominated space...a fanciful notion which will NEVER HAPPEN because amongst many other things(most importantly) the c(r)apitalist economic rationalist mentality,... which sees the evolution of space travel stall for over 20 years in the form of the obsolete space shuttle ...and an emphasis on scientists "playing god"(genetic engineering), a post-human escapism, leaving us trapped on a god-forsaken planet whose only possiblity of fleeing it, is either psychologically or computer simulated technologies...and thus kill each other and the planet in the name of god and progress...

9/19/2005 11:33:00 AM  
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