Friday, July 15, 2011

Who's for Freedom?

The top to bottom axis in a two-axis political compass usually shows where the taker falls on a scale from valuing freedom to valuing control. According to Virginia Postrel's classic 1998 book "The Future and its Enemies", that's a key distinction, and one that can make strange bedfellows of folks who disagree widely on the usual left to right axis.

Postrel labels those who value control "stasists", and those who value freedom "dynamists." She further divides stasists into those who for cultural or environmentalist reasons want to prevent change, and technocrats who want to control all change top down. Dynamists, on the other hand, are those who want human progress limited by as few rules as possible, and for those rules to be predictable, even though their results therefore can't be.

The problem she notes is that when those who oppose change work together with those who want to be in charge of any change that is allowed, the result can quickly become stasis. She cites this as a key reason why creative and productive societies and empires eventually become set in their ways and unable to adapt to changing conditions.

So, as we head into another election season, it might be a good idea to try and decide for each candidate whether they are a stasist or a dynamist, perhaps even before worrying about whether they are a Democrat or a Republican.

(Interestingly, I bought this book as a used-in-like-new-condition hardbound that turned out to be signed by the author for less than half the cost of reading it on my Kindle. To me that suggests Postrel's publisher is a stasist.)

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