Quite often when we discuss the viability of certain political or social ideas we can cite an example, or at least something close enough. We can say that and ideology worked before (or didn’t) and many use that as a basis for whether the idea can or cannot work here and now. When we discuss communism, we can refer to Cuba, the USSR, China (particularly during the Mao era before they opened up more to markets). Even though the MoP wasn’t directly owned by the people it still serves as an example of what can take place when we attempt to implement that ideology.
We could look at what happens with classical liberalism and minarchy by reviewing post-1776 US and how it’s government and economy evolved into what we have today despite its independent and limited government approach at its inception. Having a historical reference can be very important when dissecting a political ideology, but there’s a large issue with this notion on its own.
When we’re attempting to make assessments based on this kind of information we will see people stating “it worked there, so this ideology has to work here.” Let’s break down the errors made with this line of thinking.
On the fallacy side, it suffers from what’s known as the Appeal to Tradition Fallacy. Appeal to Tradition is a pretty basic and straightforward fallacy. It’s the notion that the way things have been done historically is the best way to continue doing things. The reason this is a fallacy is that things change with time and that something traditionally done doesn’t automatically translate to it being done right, or in the best way. The idea that an ideology worked before being the basis of implementing it elsewhere, or continuing to follow it suffers both of the assumptions made by the fallacy. These are the notion that the old way of thinking was right when it was introduced, and that past justifications are still valid today.
On more of a reasoning side, this argument fails because of the massive differences between times and locations. Consider the levels of cultural diversity the planet has, and the way each of those cultures have evolved and changed over time. With that in mind can we really attempt to claim that a singular socioeconomic ideology is going to work everywhere for everyone? In that framing, we can see that it would not be the case, and by extension cannot be the core basis for trying to implement the ideology elsewhere.
Living by Christian values under the king worked great for 17th-century Englishmen, so if that ideology worked before should we not aim to implement that same ideology now? Of course not, because we’ve observed and crafted better systems, times have changed, and culturally these notions would not work everywhere; neither today or during those times. Just because the Paris Commune was a thing doesn’t mean that following in the footsteps of 19th-century group of French people in the midst of various forms of national reforms is going to fit a place like New York today.
Saying an ideology worked before, in a different place or different time makes for a poor argument on its own. Again, while historic proofs are important for the validity of an idea, resting your entire case on it doesn’t work. Neither here and now, or anywhere else.
Read more articles from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.