My friend who is knowledgeable about international politics gave me his copy of May/June Foreign Affairs. It’s Board of Advisors has one of my favorite authors on it, Francis Fukuyama, and one of America’s favorite sons, Colin Powell. This issue deals with the health of democracy around the world. The first article was a bit mushy but the second laid out what I have been trying to say in my Basics category. The writer is Ronald Inglehart, U. of Michigan professor. I will write out what he has said and then add my 2 cents but my eye was drawn to these words first: ‘And in the developed world, the current wave of authoritarianism will persist only if societies and governments fail to address the underlying drivers.” That word ‘drivers’ intrigued me.
From The Age of Insecurity, pp. 20-21:
“Over the past two centuries, the spread of democracy has been driven by the forces of modernization. As countries urbanized and industrialized, people who were once scattered over the country-side moved into towns and cities and began working together in factories. That allowed them to communicate and organize, and the economic growth driven by industrialization made them healthier and wealthier. Greater economic and physical security led successive generations to place less emphasis on survival and more on intangible values, such as freedom of expression, making them more likely to want democracy. Economic growth also went hand in hand with more education, which made people better informed, more articulate, more skilled at organizing, and therefore more effective at pushing for democracy. Finally, as industrial societies matured, jobs shifted from manufacturing to knowledge sectors. Those new occupations involved less routine and more independence. Workers had to think for themselves, and that spilled over into their political behavior.”
Not only political behavior but sexual, artistic, cultural, religious, and so on. When women decided they could be sexual, that drove (speaking of drivers) a stake into the heart of the patriarchy. E. Marie Griffith, in Moral Combat, stress the underlying assault on patriarchy that drives (again, that word) the drive to the right in American society where 40% of the population supports a pussy-grabber aka alpha male (I conflate those 2 into pussy male).
Artistic expression via music, art, literature, and dance gives us a medium for our message. Music and dance especially have given us the driving (there, see) rhythms of Africa and provided a world-wide medium of a new sort of religious expression, a spiritual medium, if you will, as suggested by Robin Sylvan in Traces of the Spirit. Religion informs culture and culture is the bed in which we all lie. A world culture is forming, much to the discomfort of those wedded to comfortable forms associated with hearth and home.
So my first expansion of what Inglehart has said here wants to elevate those drivers to global, culture changing elements. What are the drivers as Inglehart lists them? They are first and foremost modernization. Subsumed under that is just about everything else he mentions: industrialization, urbanization, universal education, and so on, all subject to the drivers, which do not necessarily lead to democracy. Income inequality is a major factor that has pushed populations in the developed world toward fascist or quasi-fascist solutions. He gives a nod to authoritarian states like China which have sponsored most of the drivers toward democracy without overtly democratizing. Cute trick. The author wins me over by observing that an unsettling factor in the U.S. is rising racial equality. Those of us who see Trump’s rise as a result of racial anxiety can take note of this; more and more observers (scholars, pundits, journalists, artists, religious, and public intellectuals) are voicing this perception openly.
The shift in consciousness produced by modernization (or did the shift in consciousness produce modernization?) reverberates through all societies around the world but we can look at the U.S. in the light of works like Lies My Teacher Told Me. The title is a bit light but as a look at some of the blog posts I have placed here dealing with the book, its affect on our society has been noticeable; the strangle hold the giant textbook companies have on our education system combines with the insipid and vapid narrative found in the major history textbooks to first bore students and then render them incapable of critical thought on what has happened and what is happening around us. This accounts for more of the division in our society than you might imagine b/c there is a significant portion of the population that reads books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and takes a critical view of matters. This critical view is seen as irreligious and unpatriotic by those whose education stopped at 1492 and George Washington’s cherry tree. This critical consciousness is seen clearly in the Protestant Reformation where reading critically and even hermeneutics embedded themselves in the consciousness of European and North American thought. The Industrial Revolution broke up the family and the natural routines of the day and year and introduced mass labor under artificial light and artificial working conditions. Fathers no longer taught their son nor mothers their daughters.
This upheaval transformed family life and social institutions as well as the major institutions of the polity like the law, education, health care, military service, and so on. Everything became mass: work, education, health care, the military….. all were reorganized along mass lines. The law struggled to keep up with ever more complex contracts and financial entities and procedures. Violent acts were no longer handled via adjustments within the community but took an inevitable course through the courts and required the service of specialists for the slightest act in the public sphere. Even the private sphere was invaded as family law grew in complexity as the family itself shape-shifted.
The new order puts more power into the hands of the individual rather than the mass. The effect of that is to make each individual prey to the vicissitudes of the economy. A quick peek at any major historical work shows that individuals have always suffered these vicissitudes but the social fabric was tighter. Modern life is heady, with all its freedoms and opportunities and few would go back to rigid norms of behavior and thought. But we are still out there dangling alone.
The key is leadership. Inglehart invokes the Chinese model, authoritarian but made efficient by carefully cultivated leadership (heirs, I would say, to Confucianism). The Chinese family has a similar structure. Might this work for the Chinese exactly due to that tie? But what works for Americans? Unbridled independence sounds good but carries risks just as authoritarian rule does. Who is to say the autocrat is wise and effective? A cadre of leaders was carefully selected and groomed in China? Will the current leadership just place their feckless kids in positions?
In the U.S. we have some faith that out of the chaos of our electoral system and unruly House of Representatives will arise a just and equitable order. Francis Fukuyama thinks differently. He sees disaster looming. So do a lot of other people. Will the Southernization of America, bruited about these last couple of decades, prove to be our undoing, turning us into Alabama or Georgia with local Big Daddies running day to day affairs while maintaining his ties (OK, Big Mommas, too) .