Openness is Not Negotiable

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recently published a comprehensive research review on homeopathy. It concludes that there is no evidence that homeopathic treatments have any effect, and they certainly should not be used in life-threatening conditions. This is a typical collision between the authorities of our time: the homeopathic doctrine, with its minimal ingredients, on the one hand, and the established scientific medicine on the other.

Max Weber described the modern state’s authority as bureaucratic-rational, with licensed representatives of professional groups and agencies that have extensive knowledge and practise their profession with integrity in the spirit of science and the Enlightenment. Ambassador, doctor, lawyer and civil engineer are still among the highest in the measurements made of professional bodies’ status in society.

Other types of authority that Weber identified were charismatic – exhilarating and natural – and traditional authority, from parents to religious leaders, chiefs and royal families.

You can also see various ‘fields’ in society – law, business, family, journalism, religion, politics, science, and others, after Weber and the French sociologist Bourdieu. Each of these fields has its own hierarchy and authority, its own codes and distinctions. Bourdieu spoke of each corps having its own markers of good taste. There is also a variety of authority figures in our modern societies. But is there any unity in diversity, some overall authority? Should there be any?

In the open society, for which science philosopher Karl Popper argued, it is precisely the openness, transparency but also the critical-rational examination that claims to be the overriding criterion.

Democracy, with peaceful political opposition, legal and civil rights and freedoms can be seen as a political approximation of the critical-rational method.

In the West, certain periods have particularly accentuated the idea’s free trial: ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy and the Enlightenment, in the wake of which we still live today.

Perhaps different kinds of fundamentalism are the most obvious challengers to the authority of the open society.

Terror group, Boko Haram, is behind the growing number of bloody attacks in northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries in the Sahel region. BokoHaram means, ”Western education is sin”. The group harbours beliefs that the Earth is flat, that the rain comes from God and that evolution is wrong. These beliefs are, moreover, not far from those that fundamentalist bible groups have in the Midwestern United States.

In a way, this kind of fundamentalist movement makes a correct analysis: ’Western’ education in the Enlightenment spirit clearly risks undermining their learning and leading the proselytes astray.

The Dutch humanist, John Huizinga, wrote the 1938 book Homo ludens, ”The Playful Man”, in which he treated the game as a phenomenon in our culture. He believed that play is an essential part of human existence, and that many parts of our ‘serious’ society are deeply influenced by the rules of play. Children’s games, as well as sports and competitions are examples, but also serious parts of our society such as the judiciary and the courts. The judge, prosecutor and lawyer play all the roles in a performance that sets them apart from their roles as individuals in a strictly regular process.

Fundamental to the civilised human is the ability to put their own person and their own interests in perspective. Play is a way of doing this – you go into a role, and play it with others, according to the strict rules of play. Thus was created the great dramas of Shakespeare and Racine, Holberg and others. Here, even the highest rulers and prelates are reflected in the game’s – the performance’s – mirror of laughter.

We could call this an aesthetic form of the critical-rational examination.

For the fundamentalist, these games are not only blasphemous but also impossible. They would pull the rug from under the literal believer’s conviction that their very own prophet cannot be seen and understood from a different perspective than what the scriptures and the authoritarian preacher claim. The ‘one truth’ and the ‘one leader’s’ authority would be threatened.

There are many variations of fundamentalism’s fallacy. The postmodern discourse analysis can sometimes, in a similar way, degenerate into pure shadow boxing, such as when one uses the absence of certain concepts or phenomena in texts as evidence of discrimination. Such an analysis can be conducted in a reasonable and meaningful manner, but can also become an excuse for unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

We saw an example of a similar fallacy in a debate programme on Swedish Radio at the beginning of the year. There it was asked which forms does ‘structural racism’ take. One of the participants claimed that she, for her part, has not seen that much of it. Then, the host interrupted and argued that, because the guest was white, Christian, beautiful and European, she could not see the ‘structural racism’ in society.

In an intellectually honest debate, the point is to challenge the premises for debate – but this was not allowed here.

In classical logic, there is a rule that says that an argument based on ‘ad hominem’ (to the person) is not valid. This debate trick is to claim that an argument is wrong because it is being made by a certain person with a certain background, gender or appearance, so it is not logically correct.

It is with the argument itself we must deal. The opposite leads to an intellectual Balkanisation and prevents meaningful interpersonal communication. The idea that the value of your argument should be measured by your ethnicity or gender, or the like, is another example of basically invalid, fundamentalist thinking.

How are we then, in an open society, to see the established, traditional authorities like the church and religion that represent a value-realism, and thus the belief that there is an ethical truth that is real?

During the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, there emerged Muslim movements in opposition to many authoritarian regimes, such as in Egypt. It turned out, however, when the Muslim Brotherhood was elected to power, that it was not the road to an open society. Emergency laws were passed, and the president took the opportunity to rule by decree.

What then took place, with a coup d’état against President Morsi, is difficult for the West to handle. Someone wrote that the United States responded in three ways: the president is against the coup, the Pentagon is for military leadership, and the State Department is negotiating with the new regime. The Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation has been banned and many of its representatives have appeared in court.

If we look at the Christian world, the Catholic Church is a strong authority for many millions of people, and a key player in many countries the world over. The church has, in recent years, been hit hard by scandals of sexual abuse of children by some priests, questions about the Vatican’s financial organisation and several cases of bishops being criticised for extravagant living.

Pope Francis I has shown that he not only has a traditional authority, but also very much a charismatic one. There are also clear signs that he intends to tackle the major problems revealed in the church. He has also made statements implying that he does not want to put traditional sexual moral issues at the top of the agenda, and said in a debate on the church’s view of homosexuals, ”Who am I to judge?”

During the 1980s, the Catholic Church showed that it could be a very powerful force for pluralism and openness in Poland. The Pope and the church exercised a strong and legitimate authority within civil society’s framework, and challenged a fundamentally illegitimate state monopoly of violence by peaceful means.

An earlier, interesting example is the encyclical by Pope Pius XI, issued on the developments in Germany in March 1937, MitbrennenderSorge. It was written for once in German, and was smuggled into the country. It was read from all pulpits over Easter.

Those who were already suffering from racial persecution and violence knew what was going on, but the regime’s violence was also directed against the churches. The concord the Pope had reached with then president Hindenburg in 1933 had consistently been breached, they reasoned. In the encyclical, it was emphasised that ”whoever exalts race, the people, the state, or a particular type of state, or who uses state power […] to a level beyond their everyday value, for the highest good of all, or to give them a religious value in the form of idolatry […] scrambles and falsifies the order that a true belief in God requires”.

The encyclical also stressed that, ”None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe”. Hitler spoke in messianic terms about the 1000-year Reich, and the Pope writes: “‘Immortality’ in a Christian sense means the survival of man after his terrestrial death, for the purpose of eternal reward or punishment. Whoever only means by the term, the collective survival here on earth of his people for an indefinite length of time, distorts one of the fundamental notions of the Christian Faith and tampers with the very foundations of the religious concept of the universe, which requires a moral order”. This citation shows that there were those who, even before the Holocaust was seriously implemented and the wars of aggression started, saw that the fundamental beliefs of National Socialism were dangerous, and pointed in a very disturbing direction. There was also a penetrating theological criticism of the quasi-religious claim that the National Socialist ideology posed.

An organisation like the Catholic Church can also, through its position and long experience, its fundamentally ethical orientation, at its best, serve as a corrective – perhaps this is why so many variations of the abuse of power can be seen in the organisation itself. Today, one can only do this while maintaining legitimacy, if one accepts the open society’s basic normative foundation, which is the critical-rational stance, including freedom of religion and freedom of association.


Radio Gaga

En av de mer talande historierna om vår tid är när Stefan Löfven var Sveriges enda ickerasist. Eller kanske mer rättvist, när Stefan Löfven med all önskvärd tydlighet visade att rasismen inte finns ”överallt”.

If we compare with Muslim and other communities, the touchstone is extent to which they recognise the open society’s foundation. The religious orientations that accept this may be legitimate authority figures for their followers also in an open society. They can also contribute through an ethical review of the political exercise of power based on their standards.

Maybe it’s something of a paradox, but really the open society’s critical-rational approach is not negotiable. We who are followers of the open society cannot truthfully assert that the critical examination, liberties and the rule of law are relative values ??and that other options are equally as good. Therefore, there is also a kind of value-realistic basis for the open society ’s authority.

It is not compatible with the open society that a party that claims to want to abolish these fundamentals wins decisive influence in elections. This was the case in Germany in 1932-33 and in Egypt in 2013. There are such disturbing trends within the EU itself in this direction, especially in Hungary.

There is, notoriously, no easy solution to this problem. The political solution in Egypt is hardly optimal or uncomplicated from the open-society perspective.

This also shows that democracy is far from infallible, and that its development path is far from obvious. Neither is it the case, as the so-called ‘Modernisation School’ argued, that greater economic prosperity and ”unilateral openness” in the economic sphere – as has happened in China, Vietnam and parts of the Arab world – necessarily leads to more openness in the political sphere.

When we create institutions protecting the open society, we also provide space for the various forces competing for influence over the state. Then there is the risk that the normative authority on which openness rests is challenged or undermined.

It does not sound trivial to say that one way to maintain the normative authority of the open society is to thoroughly study the earlier times when the open society was seriously challenged or defeated.

It was with good reason that ancient Rome demanded a solid education for its citizens, and later John Stuart Mill did the same for democracy and the early labour movement in Sweden did ??it for its members.

Thus remains the Socratic dialogue, the ancient drama, ”The Playful Man’s” various ways through literature, historical knowledge and reflection, to analyse human error and abuse of power. It’s about making our elites and, hopefully, the general public friends of the open society and critical examination. It is obviously a difficult task. But who said it would be easy?

Emil Uddhammar

Professor i statsvetenskap vid Linnéuniversitetet.

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