The Building Blocks of Society

Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Liberty Leading the People, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Liberty Leading the People, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Institutions are the building blocks of civilization. Despite the future being unknown, they help individuals to anticipate the consequences of their own actions. Institutions such as marriage, language, markets, justice or money, etc. come to be by the repeated behaviour of many people creating patterns that every individual expects his fellowman to keep. This means institutions have to be stable enough to allow for repeated patterns of behaviour to be incorporated and yet, dynamic enough to allow better ways of serving each and every individual’s goals to spring.

Conservatives are people who refuse to let institutions evolve because they believe the perfect stage has been reached and Progressives are people who want to change them to address concrete matters without fully realizing that existing institutions are solving problems that they not even had to consider. Conservatives are right to believe that better institutions cannot be created by design and Progressives are right to believe that, as society becomes more complex, institutions need to find better ways to serve needs. It is very important then to know what to expect from an institution but also what not to expect. This balance cannot be achieved or prevented by decree. Only by allowing individuals, by mutual accordance, to depart from the established ways and pay the consequences or reap the benefits of their actions can successful behaviour be added to the existing institutions.

Regardless of Left or Right, the 20th Century was mostly a progressive one. Institutions were changed and shaped to solve what seemed the most urgent problems in society and it seemed to work. Yet, the unintended consequences of these changes slowly but surely crept from bellow the visible fabric of society. Regardless of Left or Right, the 21st Century is going to be conservative. Those in power, the ones to whom the shape of current institutions serve the most, will try to prevent them from changing by channelling as much resources as they can into their maintenance. After all, they believe these were the very reason of Western prosperity. But the whole institutional building can only stand as long as people believe it will solve their problems. If they don’t, if it doesn’t, oh well, institutions are the building blocks of civilization.

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