stability and order vs dynamism and progress

There are many different axes which can be used to describe political positions. There’s free market vs central planning, libertarian vs authoritarian, globalist vs nationalist. The one that doesn’t get considered so much, but which seems to me to be the most important of all, is that I would call the stability/dynamism axis.

This is more than just a political alignment. Where a person falls on this axis has much to do with both personal psychology and cultural traditions.

Some cultures have always seen stability and order as being the most important objectives  of government. China for most of its history is an obvious example, Ancient Egypt being another. Other cultures have seen stability as a weakness. They have valued change, dynamism, expansion, growth and what they like to call progress.

Western society since the Reformation has been a spectacular example of a culture that has chosen dynamism at the expense of stability. Whether this is actually an inherent feature of western culture is debatable. Western Europe during the Middle Ages certainly seemed to put a fairly high value on stability.

Obviously some individuals are also psychologically more inclined to favour either stability or dynamism.

Overall though western culture has become so focused on the supposed advantages of progress that it is difficult to find any mainstream political party in any western country that genuinely stands for stability and order. Self-described conservative parties are in reality, almost without exception, liberal parties that fetishise growth and progress. One of the few institutions that truly stood on the side of stability was the Catholic Church. Since Vatican II even the Catholic Church has tended more and more to favour the liberal concept of progress. Christianity in general has become, if anything, a destabilising force in the West.

The fact that those countries that were formerly part of the communist bloc are now more socially conservative and less inclined to make a fetish of progress seems puzzling at first. The usual explanation offered is that the citizens of those nations were so horrified by their experience of communism that they reacted by becoming ardent conservatives. That’s probably partly true. It is however worth considering a curious fact about communism in practice. Once a communist revolution succeeds the revolutionaries themselves tend to become very suspicious of change. They start to focus on preserving the revolution. They start to put a very high value on stability and order.

It is of course difficult to reconcile stability and order with democracy. Democracies quickly become obsessed by the idea of change for the sake of change. Democratic governments want to to be seen as doing something and doing something invariably means changing things, and changing things invariably undermines stability and order.

I have to say that I’m basically a stability and order kind of guy. Society is a fragile thing. If you try to change society the odds are very high that you will end up changing it for the worse. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are. Not only are changes more likely to be harmful than beneficial, they also tend to make society even more fragile, so the next time you try to change things the risks will be even greater.

Since I favour stability and order it’s not surprising that the one political ideology that really terrifies me is liberal democracy. It’s probably also not surprising that I take a jaundiced view of free markets. Liberal democracy combined with free markets seems to me to be a guaranteed recipe for long term chaos. My inclination is to support any political ideology that stands for stability and order. I guess I’m just a natural reactionary.


6 comments on “stability and order vs dynamism and progress

  1. Stability is cool, but there's one problem: if you stick to it, you'll eventually find yourself incredibly inferior to your “progressive” neighbors in terms of technology and military, and they'll simply defeat and rob and enslave you.

    Basically, this is what happened to Byzantium which was very pro-stability. It could have happened to the USSR at least twice. The elite of the Russian Empire loved stability immensely, and look what it got them into.

    So, stability is cool, but it is awfully hard, nearly impossible, in fact, to secure it properly.

  2. Shaun F says:

    I too like stability and order. Change from above – as a result of government or management change in policy – usually creates chaos and instability for those that it affects. And then there is the collateral damage. For example – “Let's build bike lanes throughout our city to make it greener.” Now our cities have parking problems, bottlenecks with cars at rush hour, businesses are affected because of the yearlong construction, pedestrians are affected as they are re-routed like traffic. But that one cyclist – what a triumph! But everyone (that the media allows to have a voice) cheers cause it’s a victory for the environment. A lot of dumb people say “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I remind them Stalin and Pol Pot lived that mantra. And all these young lost people that have nothing to offer, think they have something to offer – in the form of the creation of chaos through change.

  3. Amfortas says:

    Excellent run down and you did not risk over-taxing. Perhaps that is another axis to consider: Tax. High Tax vs Low Tax / 'Progressive' vs Flat / Income/profit vs Turnover. Maybe another time.

    But the 'change' bizzo is interesting. Once the manpower issue was solved with machine power, intelligence and innovation were released. No turning that back. Now change is 'fast' and technology driven. And money driven. Think credit as another axis.

    There are two problems with the desire and press for 'change' which you rightly say is the mantra of all political thrusts today, and they are changes driven from the political masters which go against natural development; and the fact that change can be and often is for the worse.

  4. dfordoom says:

    Now change is 'fast'

    That in itself is a major problem.

  5. dfordoom says:

    Stability is cool, but there's one problem: if you stick to it, you'll eventually find yourself incredibly inferior to your “progressive” neighbours in terms of technology and military, and they'll simply defeat and rob and enslave you.

    Yes. The trick is to achieve technological progress (which can be useful) without social “progress” (which is almost always catastrophic). Is the trick possible? We'll find out over the next couple of decades because that seems to be what China is aiming for.

  6. dfordoom says:

    Change from above – as a result of government or management change in policy – usually creates chaos and instability for those that it affects

    Change imposed from above by government does seem to have the greatest potential for disaster.

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