Society & Lifestyle
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|by Dr. Prasenjit Maiti|
Introduction: The Problem
The idea of human freedom is essentially rooted in the concept of human development, according to Noble Laureate Professor Amartya Sen's 'Development as Freedom' thesis [that outlines an entitlement to capacity-building process]. And the idea of human progress is a construct that is designed around the axis of freedom. What is freedom? Is it only lack of societal constraint, withdrawal of discipline and punish, willing suspension of the panoptic Super Ego that they address as the 'mainstream'? Or is freedom a concept much more fundamental, to be read into the texts of Rabindranath Tagore, Roman Rolland or even Walden?
Sociologists claim that civilization is what we are and culture is merely an arrangement of artifacts that we happen to use during the course of our politics in everyday life. But then civilization is also a system of values that is handed down generations as a movement of socialization that laymen identify as 'progress'.
Contemporary state systems guided by the dynamics of globalization are like so many Januses - the phenomenon assumes a most robust character in the developed North but an almost impotent identity in the developing or still underdeveloped South. So globalization necessitates a dialog between the rich and the poor outside its essentialist assumptions of an uneven power discourse as conditions of Good Governance and Structural Adjustment Programs benchmark most Third World postcolonial democracies today.
While there are contentions that aggressive market forces make it difficult for welfarist governments to protect their citizens from transnational actors that are as elusive as their hot money, there are also counter-arguments that institutions like the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization actually safeguard citizens from the administrative limitations of their respective national governments. There appears to be a consensus, however, that powerful markets tend to undermine political elites at home.
John Echeverri-Gent has pointed out that if globalization, on the one hand, facilitates decentralization then, on the other, it also helps develop pockets of dynamic Free Trade Areas in large developing countries like China and India by reorganizing their economic geography, Foreign Direct Investment and global commodity chains. This process, however, creates large hinterlands of economic backwardness and entrenches economic inequality within the developing South. Globalization, therefore, intensifies regional disparities in the Third World. John Rapley has found that Structural Adjustment Programs have varied widely in the results they have yielded. While Latin America has partially benefited from structural adjustment, Africa has not. Rapley has also argued that Rolling Back the State - that is less government as an imperative of contemporary globalization - does not always lead to enhanced economic growth.
Globalization, therefore, would appear to be an open-ended journey toward a globalized world order whose weightless economy may be described as one that defies both national and international borders so far as economic transactions are concerned. This is a situation where freight charges are nil and trade / tariff barriers would disappear. Such a pilgrim's progress, however, is nothing new. Technological innovations during the past five centuries have steadily helped integrate the global community into an emergent global civil society. Transatlantic communications have developed from sailing boats to steamships, to the telegraph, the telephone, the commercial aircraft and now the Internet where even nationalism as a conventional political ideology has been reduced to 'banal nationalism'.
State and Civil Society
Liberal democratic r'gimes like India or even the US can only be politically successful, deliver the common good and thereby continue in power in a more stable [read pro-people] manner if they are able to correctly read the obtainable ground realities and problems thereof. These problems are more or less popular in nature, and have a propensity to develop into discontent of the ruled actors against their ruling institutions. So the actors in power have to continuously shuffle and delicately balance priorities of human development, well-being and accessible freedoms like the ever-important agenda of human rights and civil liberties, a responsive and responsible administrative machinery, transparency at all levels of public expenditures and domestic and international peacekeeping projects rather than playing mutually harmful 'spy versus spy' games.
Eminent political scientist Subrata K. Mitra has quite rightly cautioned that 'If the wielders of power concede the point to those who challenge established values and norms, they risk losing their legitimacy. On the other hand, the failure to give satisfaction to the discontented might deepen their sense of outrage and alienation which can further reduce their legitimacy.'
Powers-that-be ['Cabinets or Foreign Offices'] will do well to continually redress grievances of political actors at the grassroots in a political manner by establishing and ably handling pro-people institutions. Only then organic identification would bind actors with institutions - only then the incipient involvement noticed at the level of 'actors and institutions' would, arguably enough, transcend itself to the level of 'actors in institutions', consolidating both the level and the quality of progress of freedom in the process.
Progress and Development: The Eternal Duo
But how can progress be distinguished from 'development', if at all? A most prominent item on today's humanitarian global agenda, apart from mantras like good governance, social capital, neo-liberal communitarianism, grassroots empowerment, civil societal capacity-building and gender sensitization, is certainly the notion of sustainable development. This has become almost a catchword of sorts in the Third World, decolonized state nations that are more or less grappling to muster a political system around pluralistic identities of nationhood enmeshed in ethnicity, language, religion, region and mutual distrust. It is almost as if 'softy states' are hanging loose and can only be brought back on to the fast track of development by way of external intervention and advocacy on the past of the Eurocentric West.
Development, it may be appreciated at this point, is not anything extrinsic like politics imposed from the above without any regard whatsoever to the end-users of limited political resources. Actors who are supposed to interface with their very own institutions are nearly always better comfortable if left alone with the material conditions of daily life that breed organic ethos of community existence. This is where the colonial masters went wrong in Asia, Africa and South America when they bled the colonies white and left behind a legacy of comprador bourgeois and crony capitalism that, in turn, fostered a repressive state apparatus and a perverted anti-people bureaucratic managerial state system that was not only anti-people but was also occasionally anti-progress.
What Richard Cobden implies by 'Cabinets or Foreign Offices' is actually this mechanistic attitude of the political elite [in capitalist systems] and party leadership [in socialist societies] that are smug in the cocoon of their mistaken convictions that people at the top echelons of power, authority and influence have necessarily a working knowledge of 'the greatest good of the greatest number'. This is not a utilitarian or even a welfarist state approach - it is actually self-defeating as amply evidenced in the erstwhile USSR where an insane arms and space race with the United States [incidentally the only country in the entire world to have actually materially gained from the First and Second World Wars with minimum military casualties] led the once powerful communist country to a more or less incredible situation of mind-boggling bankruptcy.
Military hardware and nukes were being manufactured at the cost of basic consumer requirements like bread, potatoes and vodka, following Stalin's rhetoric of an entire generation making sacrifices [read being purged if found to be politically incorrect] for the cause of a better Russia of the future. Moscow's huge and sprawling department store GUM was always nearly empty while the party's top brass were running around in their imported limousines, shopping in dollar shops selling Swiss chocolates and watches, Scotch whisky, French champagne and perfumes. Add rampant corruption and repression to accept a second-hand political ideology not originating from the ground realities of people and you have ideal recipes for killing fields like the infamous Prague Spring.
Back to Basics: Public Action Enterprises
We are reminded of Professor Mohammad Yunus of Bangladesh in this respect - the magician of the Grameen Bank ['rural bank'] microcredit revolution who even hugely impressed Hilary Rodham Clinton. What Professor Yunus still does is amazingly simple - he organizes self-help groups in the manner of cooperatives and tries to make them economically self-reliant in areas as humble as poultry, weaving, dairy and even small-scale production. But when such cottage industries are linked ['forward and backward integration'] in the larger context of market forces they become formidable in their control of the overall agrarian and even the urban economy. Peasant women in Bangladesh carry mobile telephones to communicate with distant markets, distributors and dealers! This may sound incredible but it is true nevertheless, proving the validity of Cobden's observation.
Operation Flood in Anand [Gujarat, India] and the Lijjat and Kissan enterprises are other such brilliant instances of people working toward their common good [based on innovative techniques like outsourcing of manpower and material resources, subcontracting or leasing of plant and machinery, breaking down the production process to delimit financial risk liability ventures somewhat akin to Adam Smith's exposition of the division of labor dynamics] without any outside intervention whatsoever. One must remember that neither India nor Bangladesh tends to practice authoritarian r'gime maintenance. What was possible once in Beijing's Tiananmen Square when the People's Liberation Army crushed pro-reform students under tanks and armored carriers is unimaginable in either India or Bangladesh [that secured its liberation in 1971 by way of Indian military cooperation]. So democracy is an essential requirement if 'the progress of freedom' is to continue unabated.
Voice of the People: Evolution of Democratic Policy Prescriptions
By democracy we ordinarily mean popular authority or rule. As made popular by Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the ideologues of the French Revolution [that effectively altered the course of European history by beginning the disintegration process of the medieval and feudalistic Age of Empires], the voice of God is heard in the voice of the People. This was a far cry from the autocratic self-styled pronouncement of French Emperor Louis XIV - 'I am the State'. It was no wonder that Louis XVI's wife Marie Antoinette [later sentenced to die to rather unceremoniously at the guillotine] had once expressed her wonder in such a naive fashion on hearing about the simmering discontent among the Parisian mob standing in endless queues or bread lines and more often than not starting violent riots among themselves - 'If they cannot eat bread why don't they eat cake!'
This vulgar ignorance of the ruled on the part of their rulers is rather inimical to democracy. But we must remember that democracy as dynamic capacity-building agency in the post 9/11 world has all of a sudden underscored its long-ignored extrinsic quality. Democracy is not really insular, stretching from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US. If the notion of external sovereignty has suffered quite extensively since the height of the Cold War when the world was almost vertically divided into the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries [save the NAM states being led by Nehru, Nasser and Tito], the idea of external democracy has gained much popular and diplomatic acceptance.
Simply put, powerful nations can no longer ignore internal human rights or civil rights agendas vis-'-vis world public opinion. But this is what the US is consistently trying to follow as its most shortsighted foreign policy since the Malta Summit Conference when President George Bush Senior and CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev officially declared the end of the Cold War, a historic event that even prompted Francis Fukuyama to write a banal work on the end of history and the last man.
Since the days of its Nineteenth Century isolationist Munroe Doctrine the US has put up apparently impregnable walls around itself that couldn't even be dismantled during the Marshall Plan for the Reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War or establishment of first the League of Nations [as an initiative of President Woodrow Wilson's historic Atlantic Charter] and then the UNO, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and now the omnipotent World Trade Organization that apparently dictates the movements of a new specter of the new millennium, namely Globalization.
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