Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proof of Proximity

We learned from Michael Freeden that political concepts make no sense on their own, which is where proximity comes into play. We think of proximity as a relative closeness, and the definition of proximity referring to ideologies really is not much different. Proximity means that an ideology can only be fully understood when studied within a particular realm of ideas. What we refer to as freedom in the United States is not the same as what freedom is thought of in different cultures, such as in the Middle East. Ideologies play different roles in different settings.

Proximity of ideologies could be a possible answer as to why political systems around the world are designed so differently, and in turn what the consequences for these differences mean for the well being of their citizens. An example of an ideology that applies to this topic is democracy. Democracy exists on a spectrum, going from less democracy (i.e. autocracies) to more democracy (i.e. liberal democracy like the United States has). Not only are there different levels of democracy, but also different ways of thinking about democracy. One could think of democracy abstractly—as an ideal, a utopia. Then there is a practical way of thinking about it as a way and means of realizing justice and equity. Lastly, it could be thought of concretely as a balance sheet between past and current efforts.

The complication does not end there. There are different aspects of democracy that are viewed as vital in some societies and trivial in others. Political accountability, competition, and civil rights are just a few that we consider crucial in America. Other places put more emphasis on social movements, quality of leadership, and the system of institutions. We could go on to debate what each of these factors truly signifies as well, but that is not the point. The point is that democracy, a political ideology, does not make sense unless examined within a certain environment with its other ideologies that can be used for comparison. This is what proximity means for all other ideologies as well.

Proximity is an essential feature of Wittenstien’s language game, which we studied a few days ago. Words are like signs that represent something, and they only make sense when compared with other signs. Ideologies can only be understood when observed with their proximate counterparts; otherwise, they would not make any sense. Thus, ideologies are relative.

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