Equal and Opposite Reactions
The law of Newtonian physics that states “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. This is demonstrated by the very popular executive toy of the 80s, the Newton’s Cradle. This seemingly unrelated law can be used to explain what is happening in our current political environment.
The election of Donald Trump in America, the vote for Brexit in the UK and the rise of the Front National in France have been given as examples of a rise in populist opinion. However, it could be viewed differently. It is a reaction to a world that had moved too far left and merely a desire for equilibrium. The only way to achieve this is to have a period on the right before returning to the middle over time.
Only the Minority Want Radical Change
It should be remembered that whilst Trump got elected, only around 30% of the population voted for him. This is consistent with UK elections where the ruling party rarely gets more than 30% of the total vote when you take into account non-voters as well. Brexit was also only voted for by 30%, with 30% against and an equal number of people just not interested enough to vote.
When the Bolsheviks were taking power following the October Revolution of 1917 were able to succeed because they promised “Peace, Bread and Land”. Ordinary Russians were interested in stability, not in the promise of a Utopian communist idyll. Similarly today’s votes in favour of populist movements are generally based on a desire to just get basic needs met, and aren’t all that interested in through what political process that is achieved. If you look at Trump’s core supporters, they fear that Peace is being eroded because of failed policies in the middle east, Bread and Land are being lost because jobs and growth are exported overseas. The same could be said of Brexit voters whose main concerns appear to be about sovereignty and migrant labour. It is not out of xenophobia, but more out of concern to meet their most basic needs.
So overall the public will vote for what they believe will give them “Peace, Bread and Land”. As it becomes clear over time that the latest incarnation is not going to give them that, there will be a swing in the opposite direction and the other side will get the opportunity to enact their policies.
When viewed over a longer time frame, and against some historical examples, we can see a general centrist trend achieved through waves of left/right swings, which ultimately should leave us with confidence that that democratic process is a better option than others
Examples Throughout History
There are examples everywhere throughout history of Newtonian Physics in political action. These examples show what happens when the swing of the Newton’s Cradle goes too far, and rather than having an orderly procession from one side to the other there is a massive crash, knocking all the balls about.
English Civil War: What Happens When Sides Are Taken
The English Civil War was caused by the Absolutism of Charles I. Had he been more conciliatory to parliament’s demands there would have been no need to go to war and no need to chop his head off. To react to his absolutism, parliament had to take an equally opposed position. Each side dug in, war followed and because the victors had a mutually opposing view, the country swung to the opposite of an absolute monarchy and Christmas was cancelled. Nobody apart from a few radicals wanted this, but it had to happen to respond to the extremity of the previous regime. Eventually, a more watered-down version of the Monarchy was restored with the return of Charles II and life drifted back to the centre, relative to the time period.
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The Rise of Communism
Similar to the English Civil War, the Russian Revolution only occurred because the Tsarist regime was unwilling to make concessions and move towards a more moderate position. Tsarist Russia was, by 1917 an anachronistic regime out of keeping with the common experience across the rest of Europe which had more constitutional arrangements. Earlier reforms giving greater rights to the people would have reduced the need for an extreme bolshevik form of communism and perhaps led to a softer form of socialism. As stated earlier, the general populous wanted stability, and unfortunately, it took at least another seventy years and the fall of the USSR to expunge the damage of the Tsarist regime.
Reagan vs Carter
To take a more modern example, and ostensibly a less extreme one, Reagan, at the time the oldest man ever elected to the Presidency, owed his election success to the relative socialism and failure of Carter. Carter had tried to push through too many reforms that took the US too far left for a country that always had a more centre right history. Reagan, with his brand of monetarist policies, known as ‘Reaganomics’ was not what people really wanted, but occurred to bring back equilibrium.
Obama to Trump
On this basis, the swing to the left (Obama) will only be led by a swing to the right (Trump) and vice versa. Hilary could not have been voted in because she offered a continuation of something that was too far from the middle. But also Obama was just a reaction to people being unhappy with the neo-con policies of George W Bush. Newtonian Physics needs an equal and opposite reaction to pull the overall trend back to the middle rather than remaining stationary.
Human Nature Tends Towards Equilibrium, Like a Newton's Cradle
Over time this means that societies will incline towards the middle ground. However, it does that through a series of shifts from left to right. We are currently in a cycle inclined towards the right, because globally collective intelligence has concluded we have moved too far left. Once the drift to the right is complete, we will see a reaction back left. How big that reaction is will depend on the latter stages of Trump’s, and other leaders’ terms. If they drift closer to the centre they will reduce the risk of their policies being obliterated by a sharp shift left. If they go further right, an equal and opposite reaction will shift the next leadership, and the will of the people towards the left.
Nobody Votes for the Centre
Well, almost nobody. Despite the fact that the political process and the examples given suggest a desire for the centre, nobody seems to vote for it. If they did then the Liberal Democrats in the UK would have held power forever. Instead, the one time they did have power in recent memory only led to their destruction at the polls the following election.
The governments of Europe provide a telling example of this. Given that most of the countries still have war and destruction as part of their lived experience, they have a strong interest in ensuring stability. Many governments in these countries are comprised of coalitions. Each party has competing agendas and to achieve anything they must compromise. The European experience of ‘Strong’ government is tinged with notions of Hitler, Tito and Franco. Therefore they end up with complex governments, which are far more representative of the people on a daily basis, rather than on a four yearly cycle.
Democracy Protects Against Violent Swings
This is what makes democracy a good and stable system. It swings slightly left and slightly right with occasional drifts wildly left and wildly right. It is this continual correction and trial and error that keeps things stable. which allows for peace and commerce and therefore prosperity.
The main thing is to ensure that the political process is sufficiently regular and has sufficient left-right options to allow for regular change. This keeps dogma at bay and allows for regular tinkering. And if an outgoing president wants to prevent all their work from being undone, he (or one day no doubt she) will need to spend the end of their term moving towards the centre.
Newton's Third Law of Motion in Action
© 2017 Mallory Eyres