Many political philosophers, and most adherents of radical political ideologies, tend to think that an ideal vision of the best social, economic, and political system serves a useful and necessary orienting function. The idea is that reformers need to know what to aim at if they are to make steady incremental progress toward the maximally good and just society. If you don’t know where you’re headed—if you don’t know what utopia looks like—how are you supposed to know which steps to take next?To illustrate why this is so Wilkinson compares two lists of countries, one the "Freedom Index" of the libertarian Cato Foundation, the other the Social Progress Index, which is based on progressive assumptions. It turns out that these two lists of the top twenty countries in the world, based on what purport to be radically different notions of the Good, are very similar. The top twelve countries on the Social Progress Index are:
The idea that a vision of an ideal society can serve as a moral and strategic star to steer by is both intuitive and appealing. But it turns out to be wrong. This sort of political ideal actually can’t help us find our way through the thicket of real-world politics into the clearing of justice.
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
Nine of those countries also rank in the top 12 of the Freedom Index, and Sweden and Norway rank 13 and 14; only tiny Iceland fails to make the Freedom Index top 20. So while libertarian theory predicts that a large social welfare state should limit freedom, the libertarians' own list shows that Social Democratic countries have more freedom.
The world is just far more complicated than your theory, whatever it is, can comprehend. And the farther your ideal world is from things as they are, the less you actually know about how it would work.
The crazy thing about the current political climate is that millions of people are losing faith in both democracy and mixed capitalism despite overwhelming evidence that this is the best system humans have ever devised. The distance that our world falls short of utopia seems to grate harder and harder on our psyches, and the longing for some kind of radical change swell.
All the evidence, though, argues that revolution is usually a disaster, and maintaining systems that have proved to work so well, with a bit of tinkering, is the best course.