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Friday, March 20, 2015

Political Thinking 3

Political Order and Decay by Francis Fukuyama is an excellent, illustrative exercise and demonstration of political thinking. I do not pretend to criticize the thesis and conclusions of his book though I find them quite convincing. My own purpose in these essays is not to think about the political order, but about thinking itself and argue to my own thesis and conclusions regarding this singular human capacity by which we engage with each other in the world and continually transcend our limitations on our way to Infinity, Universality, and Integrity.

What Fukuyama gives me in this book, in its precursor The Origins of Political Order, and others that I have read (Trust, End of History and the Last Man, America at the Crossroads) is what political thinkers Max Weber and Hannah Arendt gave me before him. These are categories developed by interacting with historical records and other thinkers that you and I can use to understand where we have come from, where we are today, and what we might do to advance a better future for humankind. These are categories that can be worked into a complex model for political thought and action that can be tested, refined, and transcended into new categories and models.

Max Weber gave us the way to think about the modern bureaucratization or rationalization process following its moments of charisma and tradition that give rise to different kinds of authority and power in social organization. He also indicated the role of culture, including religion and ideology. Hannah Arendt distinguished the economic and the political realms, the economic centering on the means of biological life and the political centering on the human desire for recognition through power and the quandary of subordinating the latter to the former.

Fukuyama has articulated three elements of the political order: the bureaucratic state, the rule of law, and accountability to the governed. And he shows their relationships with economic growth and social mobilization creating a model by which we can understand the development and decay of nations and international relations. He uses those five categories and the differing relationships among them to interpret the history of nations and other political entities, to gain insight on where they stand today and the troubles that plague international and global relations, and to point possible paths to the future.

All these political thinkers and many others (whether left wing liberal or right wing conservative oriented) are "progressive" in that they assume the possibility of progress and decline based on standards of "better" or "worse" that are consistent with their notion of human good. But none of them assume the inevitability of progress. None of them are simplistic or reductionist in that they articulate many variables and determinants in the development and decline of modern, desirable states and civilizations. These include geography and climate, geology and material resources, presence and rate of industrialization, available technologies, nationalization, experiences of wars, colonization, inherited class structures, and, perhaps above all, ideas.

I only wish that politicians and pundits, journalists and opinionators, would wrestle with Fukuyama's and other original thinkers categories and their applications to avoid the useless stereotyping, sloganeering, and polarizing name-calling and fear-mongering that is a mark of thoughtless speech and action, which is destroying our political space and possibilities. I also wish that social workers, philanthropists, and well-meaning activists would also struggle with these concepts and their applications in their understanding of when and where and how to intervene to help people and to learn from the mistakes that have been made in political and economic development and peacemaking.  (I want to say more about this in a future essay as we create an organization in and for Haiti, i.e. Community Empowerment Network.)

Francis Fukuyama himself is a model for me of political thoughtfulness. He was accused of being a simple believer in free-market, capitalist liberalism and progressivist determinism in his End of History writings (wrongly, I believe). He was also accused of being a neoconservative advocate for war in the mid-East and missionary of the American religion. And indeed he was a signer of the Neoconservative Principles of the Project for the New American Century from which he distanced himself by repudiating the war on Iraq in America at the Crossroads; Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy. He is hardly a simplistic or reductionist thinker, i.e. a simpleton.

But, again, I am not defending all his theses and conclusions. I am finding in him an illustrious model of political thinking which I offer to all elements of the political ideological spectrum including my communty organizing colleagues and cynical Cousin Willies.

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