I recently had a chat with someone and became very disappointed. This is a fellow who is exceptionally brainy and all together a nice chap with good values. However, he has let himself be seduced by the economic unorthodoxy of the Hungarian government and has become an apologist for the kleptocracy that Hungary is. He makes light of the pernicious manipulation of the people through the media, of the deliberate stoking of xenophobia, of the cynical dumbing down of the people, of the centrally planned enrichment of philistines and thugs, and the egregious corruption and state capture upon which the current regime is based.
In his view all this is justified. The government is building a new Hungary, with a unique economy, free from foreign influence and failed neo-liberal dogma, liberated from the ravages of foreign investors, recovering that which was stolen by cosmopolitan financiers after the fall of the Berlin wall. All the ills of the past shall be put right by establishing a nomenklatura of thirty or so favoured, loyal dynasties, and the means by which wealth is transferred from public coffers or international companies to those families do not matter. What matters is that by pursuing these policies in five to ten years the Hungarian economy will flourish.
Here is someone so enchanted by radical economic thought that he has completely lost touch of normal moral or social considerations, like an adolescent besotted with a beautiful girl and completely blind to the fact that she is a selfish bitch. (There is some interesting psychology here – some form of extreme compartmentalisation, perhaps, but that would be subject of a separate investigation.)
For a moment I thought I might be wrong. Perhaps, after all, it is justifiable to steal and subjugate, bully and menace in order to build a greater nation. Hmmm. Then I regained my confidence. No, it is not.
All this caused me to list the things which I think are important in the matter of government and ruling a country. It probably sounds awfully naïve and terribly old-fashioned but here is the list:
- Treat others as you would have them treat you. Much of what we think of as moral codes is based on this simple principle. It seems to be fairly universal. It is in contrast to the principle known in Hungarian as: a nagyobb kutya baszik (the bigger dog gets the fuck).
- The elite should behave well. This is not least because the people always copy the behaviour of the elite.
- Ignorance is a bad thing and exploiting ignorance should be avoided. By the same token investing in high quality education for all, appropriate for their cognitive powers, interests and abilities is supremely important. To choose good politicians people need to be discerning and therefore educated.
- The primacy of economic growth is rubbish. Politicians need to read books such as The Spirit Level, Prosperity without Growth and The Joyless Economy before dabbling in economics.
- Mild pride for your country is wholesome, although there are several other levels of social organisation for which positive thoughts are at least as important. Zealous nationalism is bad. Nationalism turns ignorant and intolerant people nasty and tends to be exploited by bad leaders. Failing to love your neighbour is to ignore the first item in this list..
- Care, compassion and acts of kindness are very important for a flourishing society. A wise leader has the courage to distinguish between compassion and indulgence. Leaders who reject compassion are bad.
- In a wholesome society, politics is holistic, in that it considers the social, spiritual and intellectual realms as well as just economics.
- Someone else’s bad behaviour – now or in the past – does not justify your own bad behaviour. We should have got beyond an-eye-for-an-eye.
- Ends very rarely justify the means except in the case of avoiding environmental catastrophe.
- Cynicism must be excised from society and expunged. A wholesome and just society cannot abide cynicism. If people are cynical they should not hold positions of power.
- Hypocrisy should be avoided wherever possible. However, people should be understanding if a leader tries, but fails, to aspire to high ideals which might not be immediately achievable.
- Learn from history and don’t behave like bad people from history. In any case, they often ended up with short lives.
- Integrity is important: try and apply principles and embrace values consistently in all matters. Without integrity a leader is seen as capricious and unsuitable for guiding a large population.
- The most important things for making a society wholesome are the pursuit of truth, the pursuit of justice and compassion (including compassion to other living species – both animal and plant – and to-be-living things not yet born), learning the skills of justice and compassion, nurturing of beauty and love, achieving physical and mental health and passing all the skills for these things on to our children. Political leaders should bear all this in mind.
- Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, create organisational structures which weaken the power of any individual.
- Tolerance of differences is important but tolerance of evil, avarice, cruelty and so forth is bad.
- People thrive by having, in balance, autonomy, belonging, mastery and purpose. These are functions of our alternating needs for freedom and bondage, and our respective dealings with the physical and mental worlds. Political leaders should bear this in mind.
Now you can test whether you have a good government by seeing to what extent they adhere to these principles.