A Precarious Balance: Economic Opportunity, Civil Society, and Political Liberty
a book by Ralf Dahrendorf
(our site's book review)
The First World needs to maximize wealth creation, social cohesion, and political freedom, realizing that any one of these is achieved at the expense of the others. The task may be impossible, he says, but one can get close to it—which may be all we should hope to achieve.
The author later reports that a sense of anomie, lawlessness and deep insecurity is spreading in our country, since the disadvantaged in society are truly not needed, so they’re marginalized. We can expect the following scenario as conditions further deteriorate: The marginalized don’t live by the rules, since such rules are made for the Haves. They opt out of society, becoming a threat. The Haves pay for protection. Those still in our society that cannot afford protection become victims. Not a pretty picture. Many people in gangs in 2013 are already a threat, sometimes demanding protection money, and victimizing others as a way of life, when not selling illegal drugs.
The global competitiveness, social disintegration, and Third Wave forces which usher in all of the above dilemmas don’t favor liberty, in this scenario. Chaos and danger of the above pre-feudal scenario lead the fearful to seek strong authority in America, but not totalitarianism, since that would destroy whatever freedoms are left and trash the economy. As in the authoritarian Asian countries (e.g., Singapore and China) that are doing well at the turn of the century, citizens find that they must tread lightly or suffer the consequences. If they criticize the leaders or government, they get swatted down as an example of how the authorities feel about disloyalty. But social chaos, danger, criminality and overt immorality are ended—mostly.
Dahrendorf says “Is this, then, the alternative with which modern societies are faced: one choice being economic growth and political freedom without social cohesion, and the other being economic growth and social cohesion without political freedom?” Is this Asian alternative an acceptable tradeoff for Westerners? People would still have many freedoms—even if not the political ones—and they wouldn’t need to live in fear of the Have-nots, since if the latter caused trouble, they’d be swatted down vigorously.
Many people on the right already like the new model where political authoritarianism must be used to insure social stability that protects the economic progress and national security, both internal and external. Don’t we all care more about security than voting rights? What good is voting if you’ll be mugged on the way to the voting booth? Of course, there’s a caveat to this enforced stability: Who’s to say the people placed in power will not get greedy like Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos did in the Philippines and prove that absolute power corrupts absolutely? How will such a thing be prevented? Authoritarian proponents say: by following the Asian model. Opponents say: yes, but we’re not Asians—we’re used to freedom and we hold it as very precious.
The Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom
Dahrendorf says that instead of resorting to authoritarianism, we need to:
- Add a humanistic and civil dimension to economic discussions that now primarily dwell on GNP numbers—so the GNP and measures of civic health and political freedoms are all used in analyses.
- Revamp schools so they get kids ready for Third Wave jobs.
- Change the education of the underclass so that all get vocational training and some sort of national service that supports shared common values with the rest of us, to counteract the tendency toward anomie.
- Sustain local communities.
- Reassess the role of the state.
(These seem vague and not well thought out, as if someone was trying to meet a publisher’s deadline. Clear explanations of how we do the above were missing. The points may be in the right direction, but the book needs thoughtful follow-through.)
Note: Consult Slater's A Dream Deferred for some ideas on avoiding resorting to authoritarian thinking. Dahrendorf seems to be stymied by the tendency to resort to authoritarianism to avoid social chaos, giving no coherent alternative. His amelioratives merely help us adjust to Third Wave realities a bit, and more people employed (because of his job-training recommendations) will mean less people rebelling, to be sure. But the problem goes deeper than that. A read-through of the content on our website will hit upon the many ways in which social unity may be restored without authoritarian solutions. (In your reading, it will soon become clear that authoritarianism is part of the problem, and will never be part of our solution, Asian successes notwithstanding.) A shorthand way of stating it is this:
Chaos isn’t a necessary and incontrovertible response to our entry into Third Wave reality in which various entities in a civilizationally trisected world jockey for position. If war-forms prevail and peace-forms are stillborn, chaos will indeed rule. If win-lose thinking prevails and win-win thinking is rare, chaos will indeed rule. If parenting is mostly either form of win-lose (permissive or authoritarian) rather than win-win (P.E.T. or authoritative), chaos will indeed rule. If the ludicrously prolonged failed experiment of steep-gradient nurturance (with its built-in win-lose context, its Second Wave foundation, its unnatural Oedipal forces, and its irrational surrender to resourcelessness, isolation and overwhelm/overcontrol in the context of the hopeless attempt to have one person successfully fill all the needs of another even though they often don’t feel like it so they merely go through the motions) is not replaced with a return to what has actually worked well for the vast majority of time humans have been on this Earth (flat-gradient nurturance), chaos will indeed rule.
If democracy is not restored to health again by the restoration of viable civic and social community forms that dovetail with Third Wave realities [think MC—see Why Register for an MC?], chaos will indeed rule. If the new, ecological-holistic paradigm doesn’t begin balancing the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm soon, chaos will indeed rule. If Third Wave human knowledge is not diligently and carefully applied to our lifestyles (via individual choices and self-reliance and not social engineering and reliance on the State), rather than seen as interesting, entertaining and academic, then chaos will indeed rule. If Second Wave exploiters hold back the society too long from its adjustment to new Third Wave realities, chaos will indeed rule. If the young continue to be raised abusively, so they fill with fear and hate, and these emotions continue to be socially and “religiously” redirected from actual anger at parents and society to misplaced loathing of the “Others,” which may mean any other ethnic group, tribe, nation, religion, or race, chaos will indeed rule. And if no unifying force for compassion, understanding, and win-win coexistence of all humans on the planet comes into being [think MC], chaos will indeed rule. In each case, above, chaos results if the right things are not done. BUT WHAT IF THEY ARE DONE?
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