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Their Status and Social Function


Present-day confrontation of social systems and civilizations implies a confrontation

between various systems of values. As creations of given social forces, each type of
civilization embodies the values of the respective social forces. We distinguish between the
sociological-politological and the axiological approach to values. To some degree the
former disregards the intrinsic substance of value. The axiological approach is based on
historical experience, on the social situation, on the interests and ideology determining the
way in which a social group, a human community, a society ascertains values, nonvalues
and antivalues. In Marxist philosophy, there is a correspondence between these two
approaches. We define political values as political relationships, institutions, organiza-
tions, views and ideas resulting from the transforming, creative sociopolitical practice of
the social forces that meet the requirements of social progress and of the development of
human personality on a social scale. We reject the postulation of an abstract hierarchy of
values or exclusivism of values, but nevertheless emphasize the special role of political
values. Without denying the intrinsic character of political values—a characteristic
procedure of several spiritualistic axiological constructions-we acknowledge their
mediating role in the creation-and, respectively, assimilation-of these values. The man
of today experiences the values centered on political values. For all the differences between
civilizations and their values, the common fundamental interests of mankind—the
necessity of setting up a new economic and political order, of creating a new climate of
peace and cooperation among states and peoples—require the assertion and promotion of
common, general, and acknowledged poltical values.

Questions of political values and norms are extremely complex and

controversial. In what follows we shall state-obviously schematically
-a few points of reference.



We believe that a distinction, though not a break, should be made

between a sociological (and/ or politological) approach to values and an
axiological one. The former approach would define a value as a real or


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imaginary material or ideal object, an idea, an institution, a type of

relation, and so on. Social collectivities, groups, and units show

appreciation and respect for such values; they attribute to them

important roles in their lives; and they view the realization and J or
preservation of them as their own duty. Undoubtedly, the preservation
and cultivation of values is indispensable to the inner cohesion of the
social group or unit. To some degree, this approach disregards the
intrinsic substance of value: To the extent to which the object under
consideration performs the functions mentioned above, it is considered
a value and investigated as such, even if the investigator does not view it
as a genuine value. Consequently, as M. Duverger pointed out with

respect to legitimacy, sociologists and political scientists should not

proceed from value judgments or from their own beliefs, but from the
prevailing meaning of values in a given country at a given moment
(1964: 34-35). The same distinction is made by Carl Friedrich in his
analysis of values as a source of authority: Values are facts deriving from
the experience of the individual (to which we should add the experience
of groups and communities) who is faced with them and, consequently,
values as objective facts should be distinguished from value judgments
which are subjective phenomena (1972: 57-65).
The axiological approach to values is based on historical experience,
social situation, basic interests and the ideology that determines the way
in which the social group, the human community, or the society
(national and/ or international) ascertains values, nonvalues, and
antivalues. This is where evaluation criteria appear, although their
validity is challenged by axiological relativism. For our part, we
consider as political values only the relationships, institutions, ideas, or
ideals that meet the requirements of the free and equitable development
of the human personality, of collectivities, and ultimately, of humanity.
This will inevitably lead to a concept of progress that is often
challenged, especially in the field of politics. We view progress as a result
(which acts as a trend-ultimately through changes of various degrees
and contradictory orientation), an expression of the dialectical unity
between the continuity and the discontinuity of historical processes, not
as a preordained direction. Disregarding simplistic, reductive, or
eclectic trends-which have not failed to populate Marxist criteria of
political progress and of progress in general-we have concluded that
the test of history reveals a common denominator that could unify and
integrate a general criterion of progress: freedom, with its profusion of

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complex individual and social determinations, in its union with

equality, which guarantees its actual assertion.
Applying this criterion to politics, we emphasize that political
progress consists of the process of the transformation of the state into an
appropriate framework for the increasingly free assertion of human
creative forces (Tr6snea, 1979: 89-91). &dquo;Liberty,&dquo; Marx emphasized,
&dquo;lies in the transformation of the state from a body situated above
society into one fully subordinated to it&dquo; (Marx and Engels, 1964: 28-
29). People dominate the state (as a sphere of social relations) to the
extent to which state activity is aimed at meeting their needs and
aspirations, to the extent that the state expresses and incorporates their
will and power and is under their control. That is certainly why Marx
pointed out that in democracy the state system is restored to &dquo;its real
function, to the real man, to the real people and asserts itself as its own
work (Marx and Engels, 1960: 256).
One does not need to be a partisan of the idea of historical progress to
admit that a value should be referred to the historical parameters of
sociopolitical development of the epoch, which always establishes a
minimum standard of dominant values. These also function as legitimacy
criteria. It is therefore plain that, in the last quarter of the twentieth
century, a theocratic government and the pathologically intolerant
theological integrativeness supporting it cannot be sanctioned positively
by axiological standards, no matter the revolutionary attire it may be
cloaked in.


In the same way as value can only be established with reference to the
criteria of progress, antivalue can be defined only along these guidelines:
An antivalue is that which contributes to braking progress, to infringing
individual and national freedom, to the mutilation of human personality.
It would therefore be dangerously simplistic to claim that the two terms,
value and antivalue, denote precisely, unequivocally, and exhaustively
all the human creations and potentials belonging to the sphere
mentioned above. The complexity of the problems of our epoch, the
diversity of the social and political forces in confrontation, the variety of
invoked ideals and promoted values force us to understand political
value as a concept of maximum complexity, requiring at all times a
concrete historical analysis. To this we should add a difficulty specific
mainly to politics: Each political regime or form of state claims its

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superiority, and hence, its progressive character, in comparison with

other, previous, or coexisting ones. As John Dunn ironically noted, &dquo;We
are all democrats today&dquo; (1980: 1). Thus it is a difficult and delicate
question to take a position on an issue from which it is necessary, as
Marx said, to strip some label which &dquo;often misleads not only the buyer
but also the seller&dquo; (Marx and Engels, 1967: 376). Nevertheless, the
historical experience does validate evaluations that condemn fascism-
old and new-as an antivalue and reject terrorism-right-wing or left-
wing-as a means of political struggle, however reparative it may claim
to be. This proves that there can be objective correspondences between
the two approaches to values.


Contemporary debates are concerned about the issue of the onto-

logical status of political norms and values. Frontier lines go beyond the
Marxist/ non-Marxist distinction, separating those who accept the
relatively autonomous existence of political norms and values from
those who deny it, reducing political values to ethical ones, or viewing
them as particularizations of general sociohuman values, under the title
of &dquo;politically relevant values.&dquo; Toward political norms, negativist
attitudes are even more radical, considering that it is possible and even
necessary to reduce them to ethical and juridical norms or, in case they
prove irreducible in this way, to some general sociotechnical norms.
Contrary views have naturally been expressed too. Carl Schmitt’s
decisionism, for instance, is an extremist view that renders absolute the
will of the political leader and, through it, political norms, to the
disadvantage of juridical and moral ones; the practices of totalitarian-
authoritarian regimes have also highlighted the real and possible
consequences of such philosophies.
Perhaps negativist attitudes toward the status of political norms and
values are only the continuation, through inertia, of a double tradition:
on the one hand, of axiological prehistory, illegitimately circumscribing
the sphere of values in the field of ethics; on the other hand, of legal
institutionalism that has long dominated political analysis. But such
traditional views disregard the typical processes of the modern and
contemporary epoch. The scope, weight, and importance of political
decisions for the life of the individual and of society have increased
continuously, acquiring unprecedented dimensions. Even on a world
scale, it has become obvious that the major global issues of mankind,

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including that of the survival of the species under conditions of an

accumulation of destructive potential that can be fatal, require political
solutions. This considerably enhances the importance of political values
proper and determines a great expansion of the scope of &dquo;politically
relevant values.&dquo;
Of course, this new historical situation does not simplify the
problems of value investigation, as long as the differences of choices are
socially legitimate. Different perceptions of human needs, even of
fundamental needs, have generated attempts to elaborate systems of
values, some of which are genuine pyramidal constructions with fairly
rigid hierarchies. We have some reservations about such closed
hierarchical systems of values. They may encourage an aristocratism
and exclusivism in values, generalizing certain values against others.
The universe of values (especially of political values) is polemical
enough as it is without being torn apart by artificial tensions. In
addition, our methodological principles postulate the historical, socially
conditioned character of all values and thus prevent us from establishing
relations of subordination between values belonging to various realms
of social life aimed at grasping and emphasizing the specific and there-
fore legitimate function of each in the plenitude of social life, and the
perfection of man as personality. Generally speaking, abstractly con-
ceived ideas are, on account of the trend to treat them like dogmas,
generating conflicts that are insoluble instead of orienting practically
the axiological &dquo;order&dquo; required by a concrete historical context.


Sometimes, the hierarchization of values appears to derive from the

dissociation of goal-values (or terminus-values) from means-values.
This distinction is nevertheless relative, always dependent on a certain
context. Who would now claim, for instance, that peace is a means-
value, subordinated to other values when, as Arthur Koestler (1979: 13)
pointed out, the possibility of a suicidal nuclear war has caused dramatic
mutations in the human condition: The belief in the virtual immortality
of man as a species has become unfounded.
Naturally, on a more general level, one can accept the inediating,
instrumental role of politics and political values. But, even beyond the
extreme case invoked above, this does not mean that political values do
not play an essential role in the world of values and in actual practice:
Their absence renders the realization of these values impossible. As

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mediating values, they are not inferior to other values; politics cannot be
reduced to the role of ancilla moris or ancilla culturae, since political
values have an intrinsic character. Hence the legitimacy of the concept
of political culture, with its specific content and laws of socialization.
Our age has accentuated the interdependence of values and has
considerably enhanced the impact of political values on other types of
values, including the level of spiritual life and all the other experiences:
individual, group, national, and international. This means that man
today no longer experiences values as autonomous and separate, but as
centered around certain values, mainly political and moral.


Each political system and regime chooses a certain set of values to

legitimate itself. Such a choice implies a selection, which is inevitable
both ideologically and historically: To claim to be able to achieve allthe
values to an equal degree is gross and irresponsible demagogy, and to
strive for such a goal, ignoring concrete historical possibilities, means
accepting a lamentable failure. Viewed in relation to sociohistorical
conditions, there are desirable and possible values: Not every society can
meet any value requirement at any historical moment. The history of
legitimacy principles in the sociopolitical evolution of mankind offer
itself as an example to this effect. Only the lack of an elementary sense of
history can generate such a statement as Jean-Paul Buffelan’s, accord-
ing to which any satisfactory solution today for the legitimation of
authority is St. Paul’s formula &dquo;Omnis potestas a deo&dquo; (1969: 11).
As adepts of the philosophy of praxis, we shall emphasize that
political values are created, generated by and through practice and by
and through political activity, which is one of the specific forms of
objectification of man’s creative force. This helps us to distinguish
between the stated or postulated values and the values realized as such.
We agree with Amitai Etzioni that action guided by conscience and the
values of the social actor are values in themselves, and an active society
is a society fully committed to the realization of its values (1971: 12-13).
Stated or postulated values have their own significance although it is
the activity involved in their actualization that is decisive. This is because
the fundamental political values-freedom, equality, sovereignty, social
equity, and so forth-which are also frameworks for sociopolitical
activities-are a specific combination of the real and the ideal, hence
their normative function. Such political values are, on the one hand,

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actually present to various degrees and in forms determined by concrete

historical conditions. On the other hand, in their capacity as ideals, they
play the role of standards of sociopolitical activities, of political


Finally, two more remarks: First, unity between the real and the ideal
in the shaping of a political value has its own historical coordinates. In
order that the ideal side may act as a true and effective incentive to
political practice, it should not limitlessly transcend the possibilities of
the real. This is where the line is drawn between a plan of action and
utopia. The countercultures that emerged in the turmoil of the sixties
have exhausted their capacity to influence precisely because of their
utopianism. Secondly, it is exactly by virtue of this ideal moment, or its
components, that one can talk of the capacity and willingness to
develop, to continuously improve values. We should add that improve-
ment is conceivable not only on the level of reality, of existential
objectification, but also on that of the ideal, enriched with new
determinations generated by the material and spiritual progress of
mankind. The dialectic of the real and of the ideal in the field of values is,
at least potentially, an important motive power for improvement: It
fosters &dquo;holy discontent&dquo; that is, as in the individual’s life, a strong
subjective incentive to creativity, a factor generating social innovation
in all fields of human activity. The intertwining of the real and the ideal
in each basic political value also legitimates the necessity of concommitant
philosophical (axiological) and scientific (sociological and politological)
study of political values.
Stressing the concrete, historical, and social determination of
political values, the organic link of stated, experienced, promoted, and
defended values, the organic link of civilization with certain types of
civilization, with specific situations, interests, and ideals of given social
and national groups, we remain aware that, in spite of social, political,
and ideological divisions, mankind today pursues certain basic interests.
For all the differences between contemporary civilizations, and between
social and political systems and their world of values, the common
fundamental interests of all peoples-such as the creation of a new
climate of peace and cooperation among peoples and states, of a new
political and economic world order, and other issues considered to have
a planetary relevance-require the assertion and promotion of common

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political values, general in nature and acknowledged as such. For the

common future of man and mankind.


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TRASNEA, O. (1979) "Political progress. Theoretical-methodological considerations,"

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Nicolae Kallós is professor at the "Babes-Bolyai" University Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Ovidiu Trăsnea is
professor at the "Stefan Gheorghiu" Academy, Bucharest, Romania.
He is corresponding member of the Romanian Academy of Social and Political Science,
Vice President of the research committee on "Science and Politics" of the IPSA, and co-
chairman of the IPSA study group on "Political Values and Norms."

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