Archive for the ‘American politics’ Category

Francis Fukuyama “Political Order and Political Decay”

October 4, 2014

Political Order and Political Decay: From Industrialization to the Globalization of Democracy

By Francis Fukuyama

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

The prolific political philosopher Francis Fukuyama has essayed again, this time with a weighty (in all respects) tome that outlines his understanding of political development in the west in the modern era. It’s the second and final installment of his treatise that began in 2011 with The Origins of Political Order.

The two-part series undertakes nothing less than an overview of the rise and fall of institutions of democratic accountability in western Europe, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States since the Industrial Revolution. In the current book, he picks up from the chronology of his inquiry in the first volume dealing with the governmental legacies of imperialist monarchies, the Enlightenment, and the important revolutions that took place before approximately 1800.

Fukuyama cut his scholarly teeth as an intellectual in sympathy with the so-called Reagan revolution that supposedly reasserted American dynamism and global significance following setbacks like the Viet Nam War. However, by the Iraq War he began to take some distance from the ideology and strategy of the George W. Bush administration — and a Republican party that he felt had lost its way. So, with the election of Barack Obama, Fukuyama had earned the uncomfortable distinction of facing criticism from America’s centrist and neo-conservative political thinkers alike. Perhaps such intellectual isolation fosters original work.

Fukuyama is famous, and in some eyes notorious, for the “end of history” theory that he first advanced in an article published by The National Interest in 1989. With Mikhail Gorbachev then championing perestroika and glasnost, and the Soviet system on the brink, Fukuyama posited that the imminent collapse of global communism, and the defeat of German fascism in the last half of the twentieth century, heralded humanity’s rejection of twentieth century grand schemes of social engineering and totalitarianism in preference for the ideals of liberal representative democracy. Fukuyama suggested that the world had taken Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini for a test drive, but opted for Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. His analysis elicited some very negative retorts; among many accusations, he was said to be blindly advocating a global system that privileged the USA and former imperial powers of ‘old Europe.’ Fukuyama insists that he was misunderstood, and accurately identified Hegel and Marx as originators of the ‘end of history’ analysis that describes inevitable (at least to the likes of Hegel and Marx) processes led by emerging bourgeois societies.

In Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama undertakes a further explanation — and perhaps a correction of sorts — of his post-Cold War argument. Its global scope is admirable, but the argument demonstrates its most evident strengths when Fukuyama focuses on the United States. (Born in Chicago, Fukuyama currently teaches at Stanford University.) In looking at the US, he advances some very unconventional thinking — at least for someone once considered to be an intellectual lion of the American right. Charting the historic role of a depoliticized civil service in fulfilling vital administrative tasks of government, Fukuyama makes useful comparisons between administrative institutions of government in countries influenced by either British parliamentary practice, or the American and French revolutions.

For instance, his analysis of the emergence of the US Forest Service, as an example of a body of professional bureaucrats at least temporarily decoupled from political expediency, patronage and lobbying, is fascinating and instructive. Also, his glance at attempts at railway regulation at the beginning of the twentieth century usefully foreshadows clumsy attempts in our own era to regulate telecommunication industries and the Internet. Fukuyama regards an independent bureaucracy — dedicated to serving all citizens — as a democratic bulwark. If he was once a Republican apologist, Fukuyama’s Republicanism goes back to the almost red Tory domestic policies and public duty of a Teddy Roosevelt. This ain’t no Tea Party.

Perhaps most thought provoking in his consideration of political decay in the US. He examines a system of checks and balances run amuck in which a surfeit of interest groups, lobbyists and lawyers create gridlock and stifle democracy while claiming to act in its name. His description of American “vetocracy” in which political actors, including the President, lack effectively representative (but reasonably constrained) decision-making power does not generate optimism in an age of climate change and Ebola outbreaks.

Francis Fukuyama is a contemporary political philosopher to be reckoned with. He has produced an intellectually valid yet readable work that draws on a myriad of examples — and a deep reading of his philosophical underpinnings. At times the book may suffer from being overly ambitious in its reach, but most readers, regardless of their political leanings, will find that Political Order and Political Decay challenges and provokes their thinking.

JAMES CULLINGHAM is a journalism professor at Seneca College in Toronto, and documentary film maker; his most recent film is In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey. James recently received his doctoral degree in history from York University, Toronto, with a thesis entitled “Scars of Empire: A Juxtaposition of Duncan Campbell Scott and Jacques Soustelle.”

This review first appeared in The Journal of Wild Culture.

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Walter Lewis Robbins, 1926-2012 Long may he run!

July 23, 2012

Walter Lewis Robbins died on Wednesday, July 18 2012 in a Kingston, Ontario hospice. He was lovingly surrounded by his family.

Walter was my father-in-law. I admire him hugely. Walter was an unrepentant social democrat, a wondrous fiddler, an environmentalist, husband, father and grandfather.

Walt and the family moved to Canada from Washington D.C. after the election of Richard Nixon. He had served as a civil servant in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In Winnipeg, he first put his War on Poverty experience to work for the NDP government of Ed Schreyer. Walter Robbins was among those gifted, left-leaning Americans of conscience who came to Canada during the Nixon and Vietnam war eras. He made a significant contribution to Canada where he lived for 40 years.

He was a wonderful father-in-law to me. Thank-you, Walter. Peace and love.

Commander in chief Obama

April 19, 2012

This week’s stunning new from Los Angeles Times (www. latimes.com) about American military personnel apparently posing for ‘zombie’ photos with the body parts of dead Afghan insurgents is part of a sad pattern. That being the consistent abuse of power by various branches of the American military and intelligence community under Obama’s watch.

In the summer of 2010, Rolling Stone exposed the weirdly derisive and even disloyal behaviour of then American commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal. That cost McChrystal his job and ended his military career after a brief, unpleasant tete a tete with the President.

In the last number of months, there have been further stories of American military and intelligence malfeasance: urinating on bodies and burning Korans in Afghanistan…Secret Service types allegedly caught with prostitutes in Colombia.

Barack Obama has striven mightily to counter the false perception that his Democrats are soft on foreign policy and America’s military stance. A 30,000 person surge in Afghanistan, a massive expansion of drone attacks on ‘terrorist hideouts’ as well as the killing of Osama bin Laden in allied Pakistan all attest to that. However, what is striking, and perhaps harmful to Obama’s on-going re-election campaign, is this disturbing pattern of misbehavior.  One wonders if it is causing some long nights and misgivings among Obama’s campaign team.

Top Docs

January 6, 2012

In recent days, I had occasion to see both “Surviving Progress” and “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie.” Both films rail against unbridled development and warn of the possibility of ecological catastrophe.

“Progress…” is based on ideas in a book and series of lectures by Ronald Wright. It’s a BIG IDEAS film which is threaded neatly with stunning visuals and provocative commentary from Wright and the likes of Margaret Atwood and the aforementioned Suzuki, among other deep thinkers.

Suzuki will be well known to Canadian readers – he’s been the leading figure in Canadian environmental and scientific broadcast journalism for decades. The film sprouts evocatively from clips from a ‘legacy’ lecture Suzuki delivered as he reached his 70s and began to scale back his public life. Like “Progress…”, this film, superbly directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, also touches on  ideas about the folly of limitless growth and the arrogance of contemporary economics.

The Suzuki film is remarkable for its intelligence, intimacy and sensitivity in revealing private aspects of a very public man. The film follows the arc of Suzuki’s life from forced removals of Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II, to the legacy of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, the American civil rights movement and aboriginal protests in Canada.

Young Guns Over Libya

March 27, 2011

So NATO is “saving” Libya.  Doesn’t that seem kinda 19th or even 16th century to anyone?  An enlightened West which knows best will now impose order in a North African country.  Buena suerte.

It’s clear that French President Nicolas Sarkozy sees domestic advantage in projecting French power abroad.  He’s running for re-election next year. Sarkozy’s big threat is to his right. Re-inventing France’s mission civilisatrice could well sell to the voters Nic needs to save his rear-end.

What’s less predictable, and even more discouraging, is the bellicose enthusiasm of British PM David Cameron and America’s inexperienced President Barack Obama.  Obama declared war on a trip to Brazil. At least it appeared he understood some of the domestic political risks, and the fretting abroad that might arise from an overt appearance of American dominance in the mission.  Cameron’s performance in the early days was sadly risible (unless you were under a British bomb). He strutted out under full TV lighting to a designated spot in front of 10 Downing Street to announce in a lame Churchill-like manner that British forces were in combat in the skies over Libya.  Puh-leez!

Of course, Cameron faces serious street protests over his attrition budget.  Perhaps like Sarkozy, he hopes that appearing to save the world will gain him favour at home. Obama just seems confused. As Niall Ferguson has argued, Obama seems to be making foreign policy up as he goes along – in Libya, as in Egypt, and, as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  His only foreign policy certitude, it appears, was to ramp up the war in Afghanistan.  How’s that working out?

As for Canada?  We joined NATO’s bombing party without discussion or debate. Apparently  matters such as going to war are not even worth discussing in Parliament. I hope the doughnuts arrive safely. Given that we are now in an election campaign, that’s the last Canadians will hear of the matter until at least May 2. Why discuss something substantive in election campaign? That would be downright non-Canadian.

So…favoured nations, you’ve made your priorities clear.  At a time when Japan is suffering unspeakably, you’d rather use your war toys in North Africa.  What’s next? Syria anyone? How about Gaza?  Yemen?

After Tucson

January 16, 2011

American President Barack Obama delivered a beautiful speech earlier this week at the memorial for the victims of the recent Tucson blood bath and the attempt on the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Obama has been lauded, even in unexpected places such as Peggy Noonan’s resolutely neo-liberal column in the Wall Street Journal.

I believe the speech, being a fundamental slice of the conversation Americans are having after the tragedy, is equally notable for its omission.  Obama did not seize the opportunity to talk about laws which could strengthen gun control in the United States. The young man who is suspected of committing the crimes was legally able to obtain a killing gun with a clip designed to fire off up to 30 rounds in rapid sequence. This despite a life history that smacked of mental instability.

President Obama’s speech is part of the discourse of silence in the United States about gun control. Gun control is not a meaningfully permissible part of the conversation, even after such a dire episode. In Washington, a majority of congress members apparently agree there is no need to create stronger gun control legislation. In fact, such legislation as exists was weakened federally in 2004; and as recently as last year, the Supreme Court defeated an effort by the city of Chicago to limit use of guns there. Some reports this week claimed that sales of the clip used in the attack were brisk. In Arizona this weekend, a major gun show, “Crossroads of the West”, went on in Tucson as scheduled.

One might suggest that the aftermath of such a “heinous’ (the adjective used by the suspect’s family) act was no time for Obama to raise the contentious topic of gun control; that the moment called for healing and compassion, for a large gesture aimed at bringing the American ‘family’ together.  In all regards, one might also ask, how could there be a better opportunity to renew the discussion about one of America’s singular failures: the nurturing and maintenance of a murderous gun culture.