Materialism and Idealism: Causation Runs Both Ways

I've long been of the opinion that ideology and material conditions are both important for maintaining existing social conditions and for bringing about social change. (Francis Fukyama's famously flawed but nevertheless valuable article, "The End of History" [PDF] was instrumental in fostering this view). Further, the materialists and the idealists are both right and both wrong: ideology causes material conditions and material conditions cause ideology.

Jonathan touches on this issue while discussing Two Types Of Revolutions, as do Grant and Mark in the comment thread. I just discovered some profound comments from Roderick Long which make this issue even more clear:

A quick postscript on the efficacy of rational arguments: people have debated whether political changes like, e.g., the American Revolution are mainly the result of ideological conviction or mainly the result of people seeing some practical advantage for themselves in the change, but the consensus seem to be that it's both, in the following way: except for a handful of committed ideologues, most people will not be persuaded to overthrow a system unless they perceive that system as harming their interests in some way. But that doesn't mean ideology is irrelevant, because once people do experience some systematic harm, ideology helps determine what they see as the cause, and thus what they see as the remedy. For example, the United States experienced severe economic crises in 1819 and 1929, and in both cases the American public responded by accepting some radical political changes. But because of ideological differences between 1819 and 1929, in 1819 the public clamoured for a *decrease* in government intervention in the economy (eventually leading to the Jacksonians' abolition of the Bank of the U.S.), while in 1929 they clamoured for an *increase* in government intervention in the economy (thereby inaugurating the New Deal). Ideology determined what they saw as the cause, and thus what they saw as the remedy.

Long concludes from this that ideological persuasion and conversion are not necessary, but education and familiarity with libertarian arguments are. "Ours is the lesser (though admittedly still mighty) task of getting them to recognise the State as one of the chief causes of the problems they currently face."

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Exactly. I was leafing


I was leafing through a doomsday magazine from 1998 this morning which predicted the chaos that would ensue from the millenium bug. The homesteading editors of the magazine said this would prove, once and for all, how they had been right about the evils of technology all along and would be vindicated by events. I wonder if this psychology isn't behind a lot of the apocolyptic distopias that many hope will be the catalyst for ushering in a shining new social order.:end:

I tend to think that the examples of the failures of statism are all around us, and that we don't really need any better examples. We just need to calmly go through the history lessons and decide on a course of action that improves our liberty given the circumstances with which we are currently faced.