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David O. Mckay Lectures

Ruling Free and Equal Humans to Foster Peace, Unity, and Diversity

The social and political tumult we’ve witnessed in the United States and around the world this century has people questioning what is happening. Some see a parallel between our Internet age and the era following the Gutenberg Press. Both inventions made it cheap and easy to spread opinions that challenge the common ideas that bind a society together and make cooperation and community possible (Gurri 2018). It is good that ideas are challenged, and oppressive ideas give way to better things. But what is “better”?

One answer is found in President McKay’s and other inspired leaders’ vision that BYU-Hawaii would develop leaders who will foster international peace and respect ethnic and cultural diversity (Olsen 2005; Romney 1973).[1] This is indeed an ideal to strive towards, but how to accomplish it? And how can we reconcile the seemingly diametrically opposed ideals of unity and diversity – for too much unity can become stifling uniformity and destroy diversity, and too much diversity can detract from common values thereby undermining unity and peace.

The social polarization following the Gutenberg Press’s invention resulted in the most deadly and destructive war in Europe’s history. That war ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that sought to impose peace and unity by consolidating power in sovereign rulers who, being advised by science, would rule society in a top-down manner. Another proposal for peace, adopted by many groups that fled Europe, was to disperse power and base leadership and rule on persuasion, compromise and consent (McCoy and Baker 1991; Hueglin 1999; Elazar and Kinciad 2000); Nelson 2010).

Two Types of Rule

These two proposals to create peace and unity exemplify two different types of rule. The first, and more common, is the rule of superiors over subordinates, where power is consolidated in elites who rule over subordinates (Ostrom 2008).[2]

The second type is rule shared between free and equal humans. Its objective is empowering others to be full partners in society by dispersing and sharing power. This is power-to rather than a power-over. Societies ruled in this manner are called self-governing societies.

Anciently, Athens, Rome, and Israel were, for a time, self-governing societies. Each of those ancient societies overthrew tyrants and created political systems without a boss. The systems they created dispersed power between competing institutions that often needed to cooperate to achieve their objectives. These systems worked well until they wanted to rule others or empower superiors.

In ancient Athens, citizens took turns ruling and being ruled. The word “to rule” also meant “to begin”, “to initiate” or “to start”, emphasizing the initiative to start something and the voluntary response from others to accept it (DiZerega 2000, 25).[3] The antonym of “to rule” in Greek is dictatorship, which means the person who rules does what he likes without considering anyone else’s opinion.[4]

The Romans gave us the English word “obey”, but in Latin the word has two different meanings that correspond with the two different forms of rule (Elazar 2018, 70).[5] The first is to be subject or serve, the second is to listen to, to pay attention, to give ear.

In ancient Hebrew, there are two words for “to rule”. One for when superiors rule inferiors, which, when done among humans is tyranny. The other rule is between equals. God’s relationship with humans is as equals based on consent. In ancient Hebrew, there was no word for “obey”, and, while we often translate shamoa as obedience, a more accurate translation would be to hearken, suggesting openness to being persuaded.[6]

Some political systems try to combine both types of rule. In Ancient Egypt, Pharaoh was superior as a god among men, and the rest of humanity were considered equals. Yet this equality between the people was consistently disrupted by the administrative class claiming special privileges due to their proximity to Pharaoh. This caused numerous civil wars and revolutions (Levi 1955).

“To rule” in English implies a strong statist, coercive element resembling domination. The connotation is to rule-over subordinates. Much of my discipline, political science, prefers the top-down, power-over model of rule. This form of rule requires identifying the enlightened or meritorious, and this, as in ancient Egypt, leads to unhealthy social divisions (Sandel 2020).

But the problem with power-over forms of rule is even more fundamental, because recent scientific findings suggest that human flourishing, unity and diversity does better under shared-rule that disperses power and fosters bottom-up governance.

Political Science’s Objective & Limitations

My discipline, political science, as its name declares, considers itself a science. Science began with the promise that it would free humans from anxiety, want, and bondage by helping humans understand and control nature.[7] This claim is based on the idea that our cosmos is a physical mechanism, like a clock, that humans can observe, understand, and manipulate to their benefit. Given that premise, good governance resembles engineering, designed by experts using the latest science, run by an integrated bureaucratic apparatus, and lead by the best leaders who rule through centralized structures with top-down control (Ostrom 2008, 167-8; Morçöl 2004).[8]

A name for this type of rule is statism.[9] Many modern liberal democracies, totalitarian governments, and political scientists favor statism.[10] Indeed, modern democracies are increasingly about choosing which leaders will wield the tools of government rather than limiting government and sharing rule.[11]

When it comes to fostering unity and diversity, statism’s record is not good. Many statists hope to achieve an idealistic society through state-imposed unity. They emphasize the community and view individuals as mere components, and replaceable ones at that. Consequently, when these idealistic governments find utopia harder to achieve than expected, they often resort to mass killings to eliminate the non-compliant, disobedient individuals. Thus, the French Jacobins killed 10,000, and communist nations in the 20th century killed around 100 million (Courtois et al, 1999). The effort to achieve an idealized unity through statism often obliterates difference and diversity.

Statism in other places, like the United States, favors excessive individualism. Here, emphasis is placed on individual authenticity with little regard for community needs, natural ends or higher truths (Snead quoting Bellah 2020, 75). The individual is presumed to have a unique core of feeling and intuition that needs to be expressed if individuality is to be realized. Thus, morality for each individual comes entirely from within themselves with each hearkening only to their own mind and will, and each capable of choosing their own commitments and the roles he or she will play.[12] Government’s role, in such a system, is twofold: first, neutrality – that is, to take no sides in moral disputes, and, second, to remove any obstacles to the expressive individual, which often means shifting responsibility from individuals to government (Deneen 2018; Sandel 1998).

The result is not neutrality but moral relativism that proclaims no one has “the authority to criticize or even fully grasp the choices of others,” and, thus, “my feelings, my truth, my choice supersedes all other claims of right, good or truth” (Snead quoting Taylor 2020, 85; MacIntyre 1984, 23-35). The consequence is a breakdown of communities and social relations, divisiveness, and increasingly individual loneliness (Collins 2021). In short, excessive individualism generates broad diversity but undermines unity.

Whether building idealistic societies are advancing individualism, statism fails to achieve its promises. Some claim this is because politics prevails over science. However, political science has yet to discover anything that can be considered a scientific “law” (Botterill and Fenna 2019, 16-8). The political pundits who fill our airwaves and social media with their enlightened opinions are correct only slightly more often than random (Tetlock 2005).[13] Examples of political science’s failures include the failure to predict Trump’s success, Brexit, the rise of terrorism, the Arab Spring, and the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War. Its bad policy history includes MacNamara’s management of Viet Nam and other proxy wars, transforming former communist countries into kleptocracies, and the war on poverty and healthcare policies (Swain 2021; Shullenberger 2020; Will 2020; Bessner 2019; Saad 2019; and Brooks 2018; Ellwood and Jencks 2004).[14]

Political science’s ontology and epistemology are excessively conservative, dismissing abductive reasoning and restricting acceptable findings to reductive deductions, statistically significant inductions or refined technique (Desch 2019; Shapiro 2005). If the political science of today was present when the U.S. Constitution was proposed in 1787, political scientists would have abstained from the constitutional debates or recommended monarchy as the best form of government.

Political science is not without insight or success, but most of that has little bearing on improving politics or policy, and the regularity it relies on is always suspect. Consequently, political science is increasingly irrelevant to addressing actual political problems (Desch 2019; Botterill and Fenna 2019, 14-5; Mounk 2016; Holmberg and Rothstein 2012, 1; Toulmin 2003). Fortunately, new scientific findings point to a new foundation for political science and all the social sciences.

The New Science of Complexity

These new findings come from complexity science, which studies chaotic and complex systems where change is caused by feedback loops within the system. In contrast, the standard science model presumes a mechanical universe where change is exogenous.[15]

One of the amazing features to come out of the study of complex systems is the concept of emergence, which occurs when the macro characteristics are unrelated to its component elements (Morçöl 2012, 10). For example, water’s slippery wetness is an “emergent” property not found in oxygen, hydrogen or even a few molecules of water (Page 2009). Emergence violates the standard science model’s assumption of reductionism, which claims that the whole is the sum of its parts.[16]

In the social world, emergence often occurs when individuals follow a few simple rules causing complex, unplanned order.

For example, near the end of the 20th century we had no idea how fish school or birds flock.[17] Emergence suggested that few simple rules might explain their complex behavior. We can now simulate this.

In this computer simulation, each individual triangle (called a boid) begins with no rules and their flight patterns are, consequently, random.[18] If we add three simple rules (fly towards others, match velocity, and don’t get too close), we see an emergent order that resembles flocking. If we add obstacles (the red dots), the boids adapt to sustain flocking (dante 2015).[19] This small example shows how simple rules can create complex order that vastly exceeds anything expected from its component parts.

Another example: Wolf packs are incredibly effective hunters, because they appear to follow two simple rules: get as close to the prey as possible without getting injured or killed, and, move away from your closest hunting companion. The alpha male does NOT direct or control his pack on the hunt. Rather each individual wolf, perhaps following an instinct similar to these two general rules, helps create an emergent order that results in an incredibly effective hunting group that easily adapts to a varied landscape (Muro, Escobedo, Spector and Coppinger 2011).

Today, engineers design emergence into their projects. Take, for example, this intersection from Poynton, England, which has no traffic signs or signals. It was designed to instill situational awareness and foster nonverbal communication between drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. Consequently, traffic flows more efficiently, and the number of accidents and fatalities is significantly less than when the intersection had traffic signs and signals.

Martin Cassini calls streets like this “equality streets”, because order emerges from intuited rules of fairness that humans share (Cassini 2013a; Cassini 2013b).[20] Similar intersections and streets have been built around the world with similar results.

One important takeaway from this is that simple rules in the right environment or conditions can lead to emergent, complex, spontaneous order.

Like birds or wolves, humans posses some innate senses (or internal rules) that, while not determinative, do make society and cooperation possible.

What are these innate senses or internal rules that humans possess and which transcend culture? At a minimum, humans have an innate moral sense based on reciprocity and proportionality, logic, and a desire for truth (Christakis 2019; Plomin 2018; Scruton 2017; Haidt 2012; Rothstein 2011, 100-1; Mansfield 2007; Pinker 2002; Ridley 1996; Wilson 1997; Kass 1988; and Lewis 2002).[21]

Evidence for this proposition is strong. A litany of findings demonstrates that humans are not simply self-interested beings but innately moral, reasonable beings (Taber, 449-450).[22] For example, how people define “corrupt” is fairly stable across cultures and time, and even those in “severely corrupt systems do not internalize corrupt practices as morally legitimate” (Rothstein 2011, 100-2; Jordan 2009, 204-19; Karklins 2005).

At the same time, human nature also includes elements that favor tribalism and rebellion. These are not always bad impulses, because what is right and proper is often context dependent, giving place for reason and deliberation to determine the appropriate response.[23]

These new scientific findings suggest two important conclusions. First, the standard scientific model based on a mechanical universe misunderstands much of our universe.[24] That model explains how billiard balls move and crystals form; but, humans are neither billiard balls nor crystals (Gurri 2020). Our interactions are best understood not as pieces in a mechanical universe, but as a complex system.

Second, an anthropology that ignores the innate moral sense humans possess and reduces human beliefs and behavior to either deterministic drives or constructed culture are likewise inadequate for understanding and explaining humans and human society.

Let me give some examples.

One of the strange results of emergence is that the resulting macro order is often counterintuitive. Consider the following two pictures. Can you identify which society represented in the pictures is the more racist?

Society A Society B

These pictures depict two groups of people: blue and orange, who are free to move where they desire. The white squares are unoccupied spaces. In one picture, the households prefer living in an immediate neighborhood where 30% of their neighbors look like them. In the other picture, the households want 80% of their neighbors to look like them. Each blue and orange household moves if its immediate neighborhood has more of the opposite color than they prefer.[25]

These pictures show what results over time. So, which society is more racist and which is more tolerant?

Most would say that Society A has the most racists, because we see clear lines of segregation between the colors. Society B, it would seem, has less racism because the colors appear integrated.

Actually, society A is the least racist; households there want 30% of their neighbors to look like them. 30% isn’t a lot of racism, but it results in segregated neighborhoods. Consider this picture, where households want neighbors 70% like them, and segretation is extensive. In a mechanical universe, any increases above 70% would follow a linear progression of segregation.

Society desiring 70% of neighbors look like them.

However, something strange happens between 70-80%. In Society B, where households want 80% of their neighbors to look like them, the society looks integrated but is actually chaoitic – this is highly disordered, because the people keep moving trying to find neighborhoods that satisfy their desires (Schelling 1971, Schelling 1960, Page 2016).

I’m not saying racism does not exist or is not a problem. My point is that complex systems behave very different from mechanical models. In complex systems, what appears at the macro level can be radically different from micro characteristics and behaviors.

Let me turn to anthropology, or our understanding of human nature. Consider political science’s founding myth - the tragedy of the commons. This metaphor claims that humans are self-interested and, consequently, will exploit common resources to extinction if individuals are left to rule themselves. The tragedy of the commons assumes that people are so individualistic and self-seeking that they cannot see past their immediate self-interest to consider and solve collective action problems. The solution, we political scientists like to claim, is a government that creates and enforces order via laws imposed upon the self-seeking individuals.[26]

Outside of textbooks and laboratories, however, the tragedy of the commons is quite rare. When found in the real world a tragedy of the commons is almost always caused by government intervention (Ridley 1996, 239).[27] Scholars who have left the laboratory and ventured into the real world have found many examples of humans acting cooperatively without government oversight or guidance.[28]

One of the pioneers of this work is Elinor Ostrom, the only political scientist to receive a Nobel prize. Ostrom found examples of humans across the world solving collective action problems without government assistance by devising, agreeing to, and self-enforcing a few simple rules. This happens, for example, in the mountain and Alpine ecosystems of Japan and Switzerland, with irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines, and inshore fisheries in Turkey and Maine. Ostrom found that the result of a few simple rules and a binding agreement among humans can produce an emergent, complex order that is far more than the sum of its parts. She called them “spontaneous orders”, because they emerge bottom-up in contrast to order that is imposed top-down.[29] In other words, contrary to the tragedy of the commons’s conclusion, self-government exists and thrives in the real world (Ostrom 1990).

Ostrom’s findings present two big takeaways. First, much of our politics and culture are influenced by inaccurate theories that reinforce self-interested, individualistic, emotivism and centralized, top-down government.[30] A few common examples include: Darwinism’s claims that life is an accident and humans are just animals with no purpose, meaning, or free will;[31] Marxism’s claims that materialistic forces more than human choice drives human history and determines the world; Freud’s claim that humans cannot master their own desires; and Bentham’s argument that humans are organized around pleasure and pain rather than truth, morality, and meaning.[32] Each of these theories comes from the standard science model’s mechanical universe (Morçöl 2002; Geyer and Rihani 2010; Wells and McLean 2013, 66-84; Toulmin 2003; West 1996). And each faces serious scientific challenges, if not rejected by their respective fields.

The second big takeaway is that human communities may emerge and create spontaneous orders from simple rules under the right conditions. Those spontaneous orders may be beneficial or harmful.[33] To prevent harm, some favor rule by superiors over subordinates or top-down governance. Others, however, argue that rule can be shared between free and equal people if we get the rules and conditions right.

Shared Rule (aka Self-Government)

The natural question that now arises is: What simple rules and conditions will foster flourishing human societies, and encourage peace, unity and diversity?

First, there is no scientific formula, because complex systems defy precise prediction. That is complex systems are non-reductive and non-linear, which means inputs will have unexpected and disprortionate consequences on the system. Instead of rational planning to achieve some idealistic end, which will ultimately fail, the objective is to, first, do no harm, then, maximize freedom and accountability. This allows individuals and groups, even non-experts, to experiment and learn what works and what doesn’t.

For freedom to be productive there must be rules. There will always be people who will use their agency to harm others, because while a moral sense may be natural, moral and virtuous behavior is not (Muir 2012, 15-28). Government is necessary to provide security and foster individual and social welfare. That is rule by a free and equal people, or self-government, entails rules and accountability (Hayek 1978, 54-70; Levin 2020).

These rules are general statements that guide behavior while allowing individuals and groups to act on their own knowledge. The rules should create the conditions that allow an orderly arrangement to emerge, not impose a preconceived order. At a minimum, these rules should protect criticism, competition, and feedback (see Hayek 1978, 54-70, 148-61; Ostrom 1990; Postrel 1998;and Appendix C).

Each society must develop its own rules and institutions consistent with its values and environment (Goldsmith 2005). Getting the rules and institutions right for self-government is very difficult and requires much time and conflict. It requires persuasive discourse with proposals and counter proposals, dissensions, negotiations, compromise, flexibility, and forgiveness. And once the goals are identified and rules established, the respect for diversity and freedom means that there will be ongoing disagreements about what is to be done (Kincaid 1991).

Self-governing societies do not prevent conflict, rather they channel it into institutions that prevent domination and foster persuasive discourse between individuals or groups who are committed to the success of the collective enterprise. This requires individuals with the virtues required for self-governance, which includes the ability to make and keep promises, to think carefully of how to apply the rules to specific situations, to negotiate and compromise, and to tolerate differing perspectives that are consistent with the agreed upon values (Tocqueville 2000; McClay 1996; Mungiu-Pippidi 2013).[34]

Covenantal Rule

If we desire to create such a system, especially one that seeks to balance unity and diversity, then Athenian democracy is probably not the best example, because it did not protect individual liberty and it does not scale (Walsh 2019). The ancient republic of Israel provides a better model. That system united a people around some basic rules accepted by covenant.[35] It protects diversity by limiting unity to the covenant, thus preserving individual separateness and distinctiveness. The covenant model also scales well (Pally 2016; Elazar 1998; Sabetti 2000, 260).[36]

Covenantal rule is the rule of equals. Remember, in Hebrew, any superior-subordinate relationship among humans is tyranny. Even God’s relationship with humans is as an equal, and He agrees to constrain His power in order to protect human freedom. In such a system, while institutions are important, the essence of the system is the attitudes, spirit, and culture it creates (Livingston 1956).

Thus, covenantal rule is based on genuine persuasion rather than command. This requires genuine listening, persuasive discourse, deliberation, negotiation, and compromise (Garsten 2006; Hirschman 1970). The expectation is that all hearkening and negotiating is done in good faith consistent with the covenant.

Covenants are not contracts. Both entail commitment and mutual promises, but contracts maximize individualism while covenants form us into social beings. A covenant takes two or more “I”s and creates something new – a “we”. It creates a new identity, a coming together to form an “us”, with a binding, lasting commitment to the success of this new unity. Contracts, on the other hand, end when the contracts’ terms are fulfilled, the parties separate, each has something they want, but the contract has not changed them (92nd Street Y 2017). Also, contracts are written in excessive detail allowing each to fulfill the contract by doing the bare minimum. Covenants are written in general terms, granting each party the discretion to determine what the covenant requires of them in a given context, but with the expectation that each party is fully committed to the success of the collective “us”.[37]

Covenants create simple rules that order relationships from which complex, spontaneous, social order may emerge. By providing the uniting, founding, defining terms of a new, enduring entity, covenants form its participants and their society. In this way, covenants define a culture rather than being downstream of culture.[38]

Covenants also scale well. Because they are limited rather than all-encompassing or totalitarian, they preserves space for diversity and liberty. Within that space individuals and entities may enter into other covenants creating new entities as long as the original entities are not harmed. The result is a nested system of entities representing multiple perspectives.[39]

When the covenant model is applied to political systems, the result is multiple governments with overlapping political powers and responsibilities.[40] This allows cooperation and competition between governments. To those who prefer top-down, centralized rule, this duplication appears messy, unnecessary and inefficient, but, from a complexity perspective, the overlapping and competition creates a robust and dynamic system (Postrel 1998).

A dangerous tendency of covenant groups is tribalism and favoritism. When a covenant society views itself as distinct and chosen, it may choose to separate itself from others and, thereby, become tribalistic. Favoritism develops within the group from the idea that success comes from keeping the covenant; thus, the successful may feel their privileges are merited and they are favored by God. Ancient Israel countered these problems by requiring hospitality to strangers and rules that redistributed economic wealth.

Covenant in America

When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, its first words, “We the people . . .” appealed to the philosophy of covenant and self-government that Americans had been experimenting with for 170 years since the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1620 (Lutz 1990; Wood 2020; Randall 2020).[41] The Constitution creates a “federal” system of government – federal comes from the Latin word foedus, which means treaty, pact or covenant. That federal system separates powers across and between governments as a means to balance shared-rule and self-rule, community and liberty, unity and diversity.[42] The ideal of a strong unity of limited scope to protect diversity is expressed in America’s motto, e pluribus unum (from the many, one).[43]

America hasn’t always lived up to that ideal. But, that moral ideal is rooted in America’s history, written into its founding documents (the Declaration of Independence and Constitution), and restated in its important speeches like the Gettysburg Address. When America transgresses that ideal and restricts the liberties and diversity of others, that ideal stands in judgment and as a corrective against those actions.

Following the Civil War, intellectuals, influenced by European ideas of government and Darwin’s ideas of evolution, adopted ideas contrary to federal governance. From the Europeans, many American intellectuals learned to favor the centralization of power and rule by experts and elites. From Darwin they adopted a belief that man is not a transcendent being whose thoughts and soul transcend matter, but rather a material accident whose ideas can aspire not to truth but to little more than being useful. Thus, the statist model was slowly integrated into America.[44] Today, statism and federalism inform two very different interpretations of the U.S. Constitution (Kesler 2020; Marini 2018).

Evaluating the Two Forms of Rule

What is the performance record of these two forms of rule?

The statist model seeks unity and peace by consolidating power to scientifically manage the economy and society. Superiors rule over subordinates with complicated and extensive rules. This model assumes that objectivity is possible, that leaders are sufficiently intelligent to comprehend and solve the leading issues and problems of their day, and leaders can marshal an army of bureaucrats to fairly and judiciously administer the leader’s dictates without corruption or undermining the political arrangement.

These are, however, impossible expectations. Objectivity in politics ignores politics’ very nature and purpose is based in values (Botterill and Fenna 2019).[45] The dynamic, emergent nature of living things means they defy precise prediction. Moreover, the nature of information impairs effective centralized rule, because moving information away from where it is produced always entails degradation. Hence, each layer of bureaucracy erodes information. This means that rulers often lack key information; and uniform rules, laws, and policies cannot cover all possible contingencies (Hayek 1978; Shapiro 2005, 8). Consequently, managers and bureaucrats responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws face impossible and unworkable scenarios. They respond in different ways: with a strict (and restrictive) interpretation of the rules, wisdom that seeks to balance competing values, lax enforcement, or dishonesty and corruption (Ostrom 2008).[46] Corruption is often not an individual choice but a social consequence resulting from bad policies (Rothstein 2011, 98-119; Mungiu-Pippidi 2013).

Consolidating power in experts and elites also grants powerful interest groups easier access to lawmakers while making it more difficult for less organized and distant groups to communicate their ideas and concerns (Somin 2020). And public officials often reject local solutions simply because they view them as unofficial, non-scientific solutions (Ostrom 2008, 173-178). The result is often bad policies and popular contempt for the government and its laws.[47]

The mainstream of political science claims that the consolidation and centralization of power improves public services. The evidence, however, shows that federal and decentralized political systems generally provide more efficient human services, have less corruption, are more innovative, and provide more and better opportunities for public participation in shaping the laws that govern them (Bednar 2011; Inman 2007). At the municipal level, centralized city administrations provide the worst services whereas fragmented, overlapping, and small jurisdictions offer better human services at a lower cost (Ostrom 2008). That is, by dispersing power, federalism shifts some powers closer to the people, which means less distance for information to travel and positive competition between governments.

The U.S. military and many businesses, such as Toyota, have found great success shifting from a top-down, power-over form of rule to a decentralized, bottom-up, power-to form of rule (Brafman and Beckstrom 2008, 181-89; Ackoff 1992; Deming 2018).

Statism places scientific experts atop the pantheon of right thinking.[48] It should thus be no surprise that people increasingly try to silence debate or avoid the trouble of thinking by claiming they are “on the side of science” when the issue actually calls for prudential or moral reasoning that all, including non-scientists, are qualified to argue over (Douthat 2020).

Statist government promises to protect individual rights and foster authenticity by consolidating responsibility in distant institutions ruled by elites and powerful interests. But it is our embrace of those responsibilities that connect us to purposes greater than self, which cultivate the character and virtues necessary for self-governance and collaborative work with others (McClay 1996). Without committed relations and connections that bind us to others, we are less secure and fall easier for group identities and extreme ideologies (Kekes 2002; Kass 2017, 109-134; Deneen 2018; McClay 1996).

I am not saying that science is bad or common sense can completely replace experts. I am proposing that a more realistic science would recognize science’s limitations. Complexity science asserts that the tools of political science are insufficiently precise to make the type of predictions common in some of the natural sciences. A more realistic understanding of humans would respect humans’ moral and common sense, and work with human values to build a system that addresses our deepest human questions and our most important aspirations.[49]


To conclude: there are many forms of government but only two forms of rule. The first is rule by superiors over subordinates in a top-down manner that requires extensive rules and a government of broad scope. The second is the rule of a free and equal people, that shares power, pulls people into partnerships, and rules based on genuine persuasion, compromise, and consent.

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville warned that America’s democracy and self-government would not be destroyed by foreign powers conquering America, but by Americans giving up their independence to a powerful, centralized government that promised to make their lives easier by assuming their responsibilites. Tocqueville called this “soft tyranny”, and predicted it would be the natural thing. Sustaining individual independence and local liberties, he said, is an art that requires thoughtful and conscientious cultivation (Tocqueville 2000, 645).[50] His prediction has proven prescient and an ongoing warning.

The art of self-government is very old, hearkening back to the democracies and republics of Athens, Rome, and Israel. Israel’s covenant form of rule, adapted by America’s founders, provides a means for unity through shared-rule, and diversity through self-rule. The standard science model largely dismisses these ways. Yet, new scientific findings reveal the limits and problems of centralizing power and ruling from the top. And complexity science and emergence confirm the ancient understanding that from simple rules and virtuous citizens can emerge self-governing societies of unity and diversity. These societies not only survive but also flourish.

President McKay’s vision for BYUH invites us to think carefully about the type of rule that will foster peace, unity and diversity, and the qualities and characteristics we need to develop to make that happen.


[1] Achieving unity and diversity is what I think President McKay had in mind when he recorded in his journal of watching 127 children of Laie from different countries participating in a flag raising ceremony “as though they all belonged to one nation, one country, one tongue” (February 7, 1921) Brad Olsen, “Genuine Gold,” BYU Magazine, Fall 2005. In 1973, Marion G. Romney spoke of the vision for BYUH as “a living laboratory in which individuals who share the teachings of the Master Teacher have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another. For what can be done here interculturally in a small way is what mankind must do on a large scale if we are ever to have real brotherhood on this earth” Marion G. Romney, “Dedication of the Aloha Center, Church College of Hawaii,” (January 25, 1973).

[2] For a good analysis of these different forms of rule see V. Ostrom, The Intellectual Crisis in American Public Administration.

[3] Socrates declared, “You must either persuade or obey [the city’s] orders” (Crito, 51b).  Aristotle notes that only when citizens have the power to rule can they develop virtue (The Politics, book 3).

[4] Dr. Lica H. Catsakis, DDS – email with author.

[5] The word in Latin is obedire.

[6] Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks interprets shamoa as listen, hear, internalize, respond (92nd Street Y 2019). For an opposing interpretation that puts more emphasis on obedience than hearken, see Brian J. Lee, “The Covenant Terminology of Johannes Cocceius" (2003).

[7] This was Francis Bacon’s description of what science would provide humanity (Bacon and Campanella 2018; Toulmin 2001, 79-82).

[8] For an analysis of positivism, postpositivism and poststructuralism/postmodernity in policy studies, see Morçöl 2001. He found that found that policy professionals widely favor positivistic assumptions. The result is, as Max Weber foresaw, governance by “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart” (Strauss 1965, 42). A similar insight is found in Nibley, “Leaders to Managers” (1983).

[9] Another term is technocracy, but statism better captures this ideological faith in the state to solve mankind’s problems.

[10] The similarities between modern liberal democracies and totalitarian communist governments are a major point in speeches given by former communist dissidents like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vaclav Havel. See Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “A World Split Apart” address given at Harvard University (June 8, 1978) and Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless”, and his speeches given at the University of California Los Angeles (October 25, 1991), The World Economic Forum (February 4, 1992), Philadelphia Liberty Medal (July 4, 1994), and Harvard University (June 8, 1995) Václav Havel, The Art of the Impossible (1998). The fact that statist rule can coexist with democracy is evidenced by France, where the statist model has endured through five republics, two Napoleonic empires, and occupation by the Nazis. For an interesting comparison between the French enlightenment, which, adopted the statist model, and the British enlightenment, which helped inspire the American revolution. Political science’s acceptance of statism is explained by Ostrom 2008, and DiZerega 2000.

[11] Increasingly, democracy means justifying power rather than rule by the people (Garsten 2006). “For the left, ‘ democracy’ is another word for progressive policy aims, especially the widening of special political rights and welfare-state provisions to new constituencies” (Swain 2021). “Totalitarian democracy’ is a real thing, and refers to a political system where the people have the right to vote for representatives but have little or no participation in the decision-making process of government (Talmon 1968). The difference between democracy as traditionally understood and totalitarian democracy is the difference between the British and French enlightenments, where the French use rationalism to design and fundamental reorder society while the British rely on human sentiments (i.e., their moral sense) “stumble upon establishments which are indeed the result of human action but not the execution of human design” (Hayek 1960, 57 quoting Andrew Ferguson). For more on these differences see Hayek 1960, 54-70; Himmelfarb 2001.

[12] Excessive individualism opposes universals but ends up as an extremely arrogant and proud “validation of personal prejudice and desire” (Fox-Genovese 2020). For an excellent review of the anthropology of expressive individualism that summarizes Tocqueville, Robert Bellah, Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, and Alasdair MacIntryre, see Snead 2020. For more on why expressive individualism is based on a false anthropology and my thoughts on what is a more realistic anthropology, see Appendix B.

[13] A recent study found that political experts’ conclusions are shaped 25 to 50% of the time more by their class and demographic biases than their expertise (Kertzer 2020). C.S. Lewis warned of relying on experts: “I dread specialists in power, because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value” (Lewis 1970).

[14] A leading political scientist, Giovanni Sartori, said that political science is ‘largely useless science’ and is ‘going nowhere’ (Sartori 2004). Political scientists have also negatively affected politics, such as Morton Grodzins’ claim that American federalism has long been cooperative federalism which justified centralization or Arthur Schlesinger who contributed to executive governance and Richard Neustadt whose ideas contributed to the Nixon plumbers. There are many causes of policy experts’ failure, but surely one is based on a standard scientific model that is blind to emergence, because emergence means there is “no direct and linear causal link between governmental policy actions and outcomes” (Morçöl 2012, 89). For a counterargument on the relevance of experts see Garett Jones, 10% Less Democracy (2020).

[15] This is similar to teleology in ancient Greek philosophy, the idea that causes of events in nature do not happen in response to external forces, but they are driven by internal and pre-given purposes” (Morçöl 2012, 93).

[16] For a brief introduction to emergence, see “Emergence” on YouTube at: Kurzgesagt, “Emergence - How Stupid Things Become Smart Together.” An interesting example of agent-based learning is “Multi-Agent Hide and Seek” on YouTube.

[17] How fish school was not understood in 1985 (Wilson and Wilson 1992, 121-31).

[18] This is an agent-based program where the agents, or boids in this case, each follows a set of rules. The computer calculates how each agent would act based on the rules programmed for that agent. For more on agent-based models see Gilbert 2008 and Raczynski 2020.

[19] More precisely, the three rules are: fly towards the center of mass of local birds, match velocity with local birds, and don’t fly too close to local birds.

[20] The creator of the shared space intersection, Hans Monderman, explains the intersections, their use around the world, and how they create a sense of responsibility in multiple aspects of life (UrbanNous 2015).

[21] The better explanation of the great diversity among humans and across human cultures is not that it is the result of blank slate humans choosing their own values, but rather it is various expressions of the same innate human values.

[22] Much contemporary science, looking at this evidence, concludes that humans are shaped primarily by nature rather than nurture to the point of concluding that humans are almost entirely determined (Dennett 2004; Plomin 2018). This idea is strongly challenged, however, by growing evidence that the human mind and consciousness exhibit emergent properties that transcend physical matter and cannot be explained solely by Neo-darwinian processes (Nagel 2012). The truth lies likely somewhere between the material determinists and the blank slate constructivists.

[23] This is a call for virtue ethics, which should not be confused with situational ethics. The weakness of human’s moral sense is described in J.Q. Wilson’s concluding paragraph on the subject: “Mankind’s moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul” (Wilson 1997, 251). However, a strong argument for determinism is the regularity of power laws.

[24] For more on different understandings of science and the assumptions of the standard science model, see Appendix A. It might be more accurate to say that the early scientists in breaking with Aristotle denied the existence of emergence that was a fundamental element of Aristotle’s ontology. That attitude persists in modern science’s utter rejection of telos in favor of the mechanical universe model. That presumption leads to the five fundamental assumptions of the standard science model: materialism, reductionism, linearity, reversibility, and predictability.

[25] These pictures were made using Netlogo software. The program was edited to not show un/happiness levels, which, when included, impairs the visual representation.

[26] In addition to the tragedy of the commons, political scientists also refer to the prisoner’s dilemma and the logic of collective action to demonstrate the problems individuals face when trying to achieve collective benefits. Like tragedy of the commons these models are not as pervasive and insurmountable as is often claimed see Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (1990), 1-28.

[27] Studies confirming the tragedy of the commons were done using mostly American college students and prisoners as the test subjects. Later studies of a more diverse group demonstrated these assumptions do not hold for the general population, and other studies found that those taught these ideas become more individualistic and selfish (Ridley 1996).

[28] This is not to say that individuals will not take advantage of others or try to shift costs to others. Such behaviors are common. This is saying that when the responsibility falls to them and cost shifting is impossible or unlikely to succeed, then humans can devise self-governing institutions (Ostrom 1990). For a related interesting case study see Candela and Geloso 2020.

[29] Spontaneous orders aka polycentricity does not guarantee good governance. For a succinct case study on when polycentricity can lead to maladaptation see Biddle and Baelher 2019.

[30] Emotivism is the claim that “there are and can be no valid rational justification for any claims that objective and impersonal moral standards exist and hence that there are no such standards” (MacIntyre 1984, 19). The consequence is emotivism obliterates “any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations, and others are always means and never ends (Ibid, 23-24).

[31] An example of how Darwinism was misused is Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism in America (1955), which argued that American capitalism could be explained by social Darwinism and included callous individualism, rationalized cutthroat competition, and laissez-faire. Hofstadter’s thesis, however, was quickly discredited by Wyllie (1959) and later Burkhardt (1979). They showed that in the period Hofstadter identified, businesses opposed ruthless competition, they emphasized good character, and believed success was based on industry, frugality, and sobriety. Nonetheless, Hofstadter’s image prevails in many minds today. For a study on the social and cultural times that contributed to Darwinism’s widespread acceptance as well as the social and cultural influence Darwin’s Origin of Species had on the broader society, see Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1996). Himmelfarb writes: “What the Origin did was to focus and stimulate the religious and nihilist passions of men. Dramatically and urgently, it confronted them with a situation that could no longer be evaded, a situation brought about not by any one scientific discovery, nor even by science as a whole, but by an antecedent condition of religious and philosophical turmoil. The Origin was not so much the cause as the occasion of the upsurge of these passions” (p. 400). Leon Kass summed up Darwinism’s political-cultural consequences by calling it “ethically subversive” (1999, 5). Contemporary challenges to Neo-Darwinism are coming from scientific naturalism, Aristotelianism (See Turner 2017; Rosen 2005; and Kass 1988), information theory (Gelernter 2019), philosophy (Nagel 2012), and intelligent design (Meyer 2014, and Meyer 2019).

[32] Two other influential naturalist philosophies include Hobbes, who emphasizes the individualistic nature of humans, and Descartes, who emphasizes humans’ cognitive abilities and minimizes their emotions.

[33] For example, political corruption is usually the result of a negative feedback loop that creates a self-reinforcing equilibrium that makes ending corruption very difficult (Rothstein 2011, 98-119). Similarly, 2% of a population engaged in nonviolent civil unrest can topple a dictatorship, but a stable democracy will only emerge if those efforts also result in revitalizing a robust civic infrastructure (Chenoweth and Stephan 2011).

[34] It is better if these virtues are cultivated through social rather than political institutions.

[35] The challenge of overcoming corruption and transitioning to beneficial political and economic institutions, both formal and informal, is ultimately a question about how to insure most of society will make and keep credible commitments (Rothstein 2011, 109-10).

[36] Why should we expect binding agreements to work? In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis argues that all moral judgments are founded on a few ethical principles that are shared by all human beings, these are keep one’s promises and treat others justly (Lewis 2002; West 1996).

[37] In the Jewish community, this idea is expressed by the word hesed, which means loving fulfillment of the covenant.

[38] “Nation building in contrast to state building requires the creation of intangible things like national traditions, symbols, shared historical memories, and common cultural points of reference. National identities can be created by states through their policies on language, religion, and education. But they are just as often established from the bottom up by poets, philosophers, religious leaders, novelists, musicians, and other individuals with no direct access to political power” Fukuyama 2014, 185).

[39] Federalism should not be confused with localism. First, covenants join people together to promote the common good in contrast to the self-serving amoral familism that often prevails in local communities see Banfield 1967. Second, federalism allows power and responsibility to be dispersed between different planes of government in a non-centralized form rather than centralizing or decentralizing it. This result is a common problem gets addressed from multiple perspectives, thus resembling the Hebrew Bible’s epistemology that is sometimes called prismatic, because rather than thinking there is one definitive account of truth it provides multiple perspectives on the same thing.

[40] Covenant philosophers developed the concept of popular sovereignty – that is the supreme authority to rule resides not in the rulers but in the people – as well as the idea to separate powers to create checks and balances, and the right to revolution if the leaders or organization violate the covenant and abuse its powers (McCoy and Baker 1991, 13).

[41] The Mayflower Compact, a written, three-paragraph covenant, created a new society, defined that society’s fundamental values and commitments (order, justice, equality, and rule of law), created a government, and gave its signors a community to belong to, respect based in equality, and the right to be heard. This community “became a model for New England villages and towns and ultimately the nation” that “set the mold for consensual self-government as ideal and practice” for achieving the common good. During the next 80 years, American colonists wrote over 100 other founding documents similar to the Mayflower covenant. Where the Mayflower covenant joined individuals into a society, future covenants joined communities into a larger entity that would simultaneously recognize and preserve the smaller units’ freedom – a precursor to the United States system of federalism (Lutz 1990). For more information on how covenants were used, evolved, and shaped America’s federalism system see my presentations at "American Federalism Looking Forward" (starting at 36 minutes); Covenants, Compact, and the Constitution: Troy Smith and Julia Ernst (start at 4:30); and Troy Smith.

[42] For more on how the philosophy of covenants influenced government structures see Nelson 2010, McCoy and Baker 1991. Vincent Ostrom noted that to understand the Federalist Papers (which were written by Hamilton, Madison and Jay to explain the Constitution and persuade the citizens of New York to ratify the Constitution) requires a covenant approach, otherwise, a reader will catch only “flashes of insights or intuitions” rather than a deeply theoretical and analytical understanding of self-governing societies (Ostrom 2008, 147). Contrary to popular beliefs, the Iroquois confederacy, an important example of federalism in its own right, did not influence the U.S. Constitution (Lutz 1998; Patrick 1998).

[43] In the 1760s, Americans found themselves outside the British tribe, when Britain denied them the common rights acquired by their fathers in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In response, Americans developed the idea of universal natural rights, essentially extending equality beyond covenant partners to include the entire human race (Thompson 2019).

[44] For a history of this shift to the centralized bureaucratic state in America see Moreno 2016; Marini 2018; Ostrom 2008).

[45] There is growing evidence that effective rule requires the consideration of values, see Botterill and Fenna 2019. It is increasingly evident that separating facts and values is nearly impossible (Strauss 1965, 35-80). Referring to scientific naturalism’s emphasis on objectivity and mathematization, Leon Kass wrote, “This doctrine of objectivity necessarily removed the knower from among the things known, thus isolating the passionate and morally concerned human being ever more from nature as studied by his science. Eventually, even the possibility of truth came under challenge, with various skepticisms asserting the ultimate unknowability of both the true being of nature and the true causes of natural phenomena. . . . We have lost our way in the world partly because we no longer believe that our ordinary experience of life in the world may be the privileged road to the deepest truth” (Kass 1999, 4-8).

[46] Montaigne is an example of a civil servant who seeks to respond with wisdom but recognizes the system’s degrading effects.

[47] The democratization of local governments and political parties after the 1960s actually led to a consolidation of power, which, when combined with individualism, fosters an individualism that undermines institutions (Ehrenhalt 1991; Banfield 1985; Levin 2020). James Madison predicted that the centralization of power would increase the power of the executive and decrease the power of the legislative (Derthick 1992).

[48] What advocates of scientism fail to realize is that scientific naturalism discredits science itself, for if humans are the result of natural processes then how can their reasoning be trusted at all (Nagel 2012; C.S. Lewis 2018).

[49] Restoring some boundaries to our federal system will empower local communities and make it easier to hold responsible parties accountable (Gerken 2010; Levin 2020; Botterill and Fenna 2019; Kass 2017; Kass 1999).

[50] Tocqueville’s footnote to this passage is worth repeating: “A democratic people is brought not only by its tastes to centralize power; the passions of all those who lead it constantly push it toward that.

One can easily foresee that almost all the ambitious and capable citizens that a democratic country contains will work without respite to extend the prerogatives of the social power, because all hope to direct it one day. It is a waste of one’s time to want to prove to them that extreme centralization can be harmful to the state, since they centralize for themselves.

Among the public men of democracies there are scarcely any but very disinterested and very mediocre people who want to decentralize power. The former are rare and the latter powerless” (Ibid., 703).