Rational and Irrational Factors in Politics

From Karl Polanyi
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The general will has been regarded by the moderns as a mere rationalisation of the sensations and appetites of the individuals composing the community. Politics according to this almost dominating view is a mere translation of human passions into ideal terms. Indeed the slogans of the parties, as well as the dialectic of the arguments used in political discussion can often be explained in this way. They are intended to make appear as rational that, which is essentially irrational. But the opposite is equally true. The emotions and prejudices, the aversions and preferences expressed in politics are frequently mere irrationalisations of essentially rational attitudes. Just as the human passions seek justification in rational grounds, even the soundest arguments appear to be reinforced by the support of an array of irrational emotions and prejudices. The apparent contradiction finds its resolution in the fact that the general will is necessarily rational in regard to the interest of the community whose survival it serves, while _______________________ which determine this interest are accidental.

This mutual interpenetration of the rational and the irrational is the key to great variety of phenomena produced by the world of politics, in the broadest sense of the term. As a member of the group the individual cannot help wishing the survival of the group and that which is necessary to that end. This is the root of his political rationality.

In every other respect he is predominantly irrational.
[15] His emotions and intellect are organised around his personality and apart from a mere chance, the will not by themselves induce him to move in the direction demanded by the general will. If he nevertheless acts according to that will the effect upon his {mainly} irrational emotions must be that of superficial rationalisation. But the right behavior will be accompanied by a host of {unconformated} arguments and nonsensical association. He will find himself doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. This is the essence of irrationalisation. This is {ever} {non} true of there is uncertainty about the direction of the general will. Citizens often tend to support two different attitudes of the community as a whole. Discussion between adherents of the two parties was then now on lines somewhat like this. The Blues may be justifying their basically rational behavior with the help of emotional and intellectual arguments which are not only irrational in themselves attempting to to refute these arguments and using counter arguments based on their equally irrational and contradictory justifications of their own essentially {abo}rational behavior. Since nothing should be left 'unanswered' in ___________, the unreality of the discussion will be complete. An impartial observer of the proceedings may gain the conviction that there could not possibly be any relation between the rational faculties of the discutants and their ludicrous performance. He would be mistaken. In the heat of the dispute they may be merely irrationalizing even more than necessary their own basically rational attitudes to the direction in which the general will is to be formed. As a matter of {common} ______ _______ _____ conceivable no other way of _____ing their rational behavior at the path is reading . A parallel with the behavior of man in the economic sphere may helpful. Contrast the 'objective) nature of price with the (subjective) states of mind of the individuals on the [16] market. The 'accidental' psychological attitudes of a number of individuals are integrated into a result entirely objective, namely price; and this price reacts upon their stat of mind thus producing the most varied individual effects. From the point the view of the psychology of the consumer the subjective phenomena are relevant, but to the economist the objective fact of price and its relations to other prices may offer legitimate matter for study. In spite of their interconnection economists have found no difficulty in distinguishing between the study of the theory of prices and the study of the psychology of the consumer or market research. We suggest that the discipline of political science is related in a somewhat similar ay to that of the psychology of politics. Since economics has been much better explored than politics, we will attempt to use the analogy in order to elucidate some of the terms of politics.

The integrated character of price is obvious, nothing could be clearer than that price mirrors the various factors that go to its formation. Little is gained by pointing therefore for the understanding of the mechanism that forms market prices, by pointing e. g. to the reprehensible character of motives that may have influenced its working or to the chance nature of the factors to which some of the results owed their existence. For the dependence of prices on other prices will be entirely independent of such antecedents. Should this appear to be the case, then these antecedents must themselves have been prices, in which case the should be included in the prices system, and our assertion will again be seen to apply.

The analogy to market and price in the political sphere community and general will. The latter is the result of integration, not necessarily definite volitions but of something but of something more subjective and individual, namely states of consciousness. In what manner they go to create a general will, is not always as clearly traceable [17] as in the case of the mechanism that creates prices, but here also we should distinguish between institutional mechanism (voting at the {path} versus market bidding) and the structure of the individual consciousness itself (political versus market psychology).

The mechanism of the integration of private will is under the modern democratic system voting by ballot. Polls in the US show how much depends for the expression of such will on the methods employed in ascertaining private opinion. Most probably that method is chosen which allows us to forecast most accurately the results of elections. Actually if ascertained in any other way, we find private will to be very different from political will as registered by the ballot (or by polls made to forecast its results). This could hardly be otherwise. For the reason given for political attitude in 'surface' discussion are not the reasons on which the individual acts. He acts on a different so much simpler and more essential set of motives than those he cares to mention (and quite often even believe to be his actual motives.) This is wether the spurious motives would make him act in the same manner as the underlying ones, or not. In any case, the impression created is that of an emotional, unstable, faith incoherent and cheaply idealistic attitude propped up by half truths and full blooded prejudice. Unless the issue is a vital one, the individuals spurious motives may fairly approximate the underlying ones; on vital issues however this is not so: the two sets of motives, the spurious surface ones and the essentially underlying ones show discrepancy.

Apart from the question of the collective integrating mechanism (e. g. voting through parties, by ballot)there is also the question of the integration of subjective factors into the political will of the _______. The political will is shaped by the requirements of the collective mechanism. For instance, _____ and usual ballot system, the act of{string} answers the question.

[18] For which of the persons are you going to vote of ______ whose name is displayed on the nomination last of your party even though you __________________ for a person you distrust, or detest or otherwise wish not to be elected, if the alternative is to test you party down!

The description of the result of his decisions as his true will is clearly artificial. Actually, all he needs to will is to make a cross sign opposite the name of the candidate. The rest lies in the volitional limbo.

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Date:
KPA: 19/20, 14-18 (4 typed p. with a lot of deletions)