Based on an interview that took place on the verge of the Arab Spring in 2011, French Socialist Philosopher Edgar Morin shares how he is critical of the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s thuggish handshake with, followed by a sudden repudiation of Libyan dictator Kadhafi.
Morin sees in this something symptomatic of a bigger problem: the pursuit of « immediacy » (speed, efficiency) in the modernity project. He took pains to advocate and elaborate the idea of ‘slow life’ (that reconnects our biological clock with that of nature, instead of artificial time on our watches).
But what I find particular interesting fives years in retrospect is this following section- it is the reason I re-post it here:
Le philosophe Jean-Pierre Dupuy estime que de la catastrophe naît la solution. Partagez-vous son analyse ?
Il n’est pas assez dialectique. Il nous dit que la catastrophe est inévitable mais qu’elle constitue la seule façon de savoir qu’on pourrait l’éviter. Moi je dis : la catastrophe est probable, mais il y a l’improbabilité. J’entends par « probable », que pour nous observateurs, dans le temps où nous sommes et dans les lieux où nous sommes, avec les meilleures informations disponibles, nous voyons que le cours des choses nous emmène à toute vitesse vers les catastrophes. Or, nous savons que c’est toujours l’improbable qui a surgi et qui a « fait » la transformation.
Bouddha était improbable, Jésus était improbable, Mahomet, la science moderne avec Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Francis Bacon ou Galilée était improbables, le socialisme avec Marx ou Proudhon était improbable, le capitalisme était improbable au Moyen-Age…
Regardez Athènes. Cinq siècles avant notre ère, vous avez une petite cité grecque qui fait face à un empire gigantesque, la Perse. Et à deux reprises – bien que détruite la seconde fois – Athènes parvient à chasser ces Perses grâce au coup de génie du stratège Thémistocle, à Salamine. Grâce à cette improbabilité incroyable est née la démocratie, qui a pu féconder toute l’histoire future, puis la philosophie.
Alors, si vous voulez, je peux aller aux mêmes conclusions que Jean-Pierre Dupuy, mais ma façon d’y aller est tout à fait différente. Car aujourd’hui existent des forces de résistance qui sont dispersées, qui sont nichées dans la société civile et qui ne se connaissent pas les unes les autres. Mais je crois au jour où ces forces se rassembleront, en faisceaux. Tout commence par une déviance, qui se transforme en tendance, qui devient une force historique. Nous n’en sommes pas encore là, certes, mais c’est possible.
The question was short but ambivalent: do you agree that disaster is the best remedy for human’s problems?
That was philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s idea. Morin agrees with it but provides his own rationale behind the assertion:
Disaster is the extreme condition whereby the ‘improbable’ thing happens to transform the humanity. The birth of the Abrahamic religions provides vivid cases and so are the defeat of Persia by the Athens. The civilizations of Christianity, Islam (and Judaism I’d say), and democracy have roots in these unlikely events.
This provides the basis for Morin’s informed optimism: the future is challenging, but the future is also full of opportunities for transformation.
What’s different, in his judgement though, is that the « force of resistance » nowadays were too disconnected with each other. Once they unite, it will be a power for historic changes.
What we do know is that months later the Arab Spring sprang into action- the social media united them. Just after that, people remain as fragmentary as ever. Are we still waiting for something?
There used to be a conventional wisdom that economic development will lead to democracy, as economic growth produces an educated and entrepreneurial middle class that, per Maslow’s pyramid, would demand control over its own [political] fate, raising the likelihood that effective political competitors will emerge.
However, a Hoover Institution article has already argued back in 2005 why this is not happening in certain countries that apply the « China model » (or « Singapore model ») for their development.
A further breakdown of the conventional rationale helps explain the issue:
Economic growth increases citizens’ individual capacity for playing the political game.
It leads to an increase in the number of individuals with sufficient time, education, and money to get involved in politics- to increased investment in education, which benefits the opposition by producing more learned and sophisticated individuals (per Seymour Martin Lipset, late American political sociologist and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University).
Economic growth expands the public square for strategic coordination.
Strategic coordination is the set of activities that people must engage in to win political power, e.g., disseminate information, recruite and organize opposition members, choose leaders, and develop a viable strategy to increase the group’s power and to influence policy.
Economic growth leads to urbanization and improvements in technology and infrastructure, which dramatically facilitate communication and recruitment by new political groups.
Economic growth raises the stakes of the political game by increasing the spoils available to the winner.
With these in mind, it is not hard to detect what tactics authoritarian regimes would use to reap the benefits of economic development while evading any pressure to relax their political control. They use their policymaking power to rather set the rules of the game to raise the costs of political coordination/participation among the opposition without also raising the costs of economic coordination.
Specifically, this is done by carefully rationing/restricting a “coordination goods”—goods that are critical to political coordination but less important for economic cooperation (political rights, more-general human rights, press freedom, and accessible higher education), while creating a contented constituency of power brokers and military leaders, rendering political oppositions weak and dispirited.
Quoted examples include how
Beijing has run the gamut from creating a special Internet police unit to blocking access to Google’s English-language news service (China).
Vladimir Putin has placed all national television networks under strict government control (Russia).
Hugo Chávez banned news reports of violent protests or of government crackdowns (Venezuela).
Vietnamese government has imposed strict controls on religious organizations and branded the leaders of unauthorized religious groups (including Roman Catholics, Mennonites, and some Buddhists) as subversives (Vietnam).
Most coordination goods are defined in terms of negative freedom (basically it means governmental noninterference), such as minority groups’ freedom of voicing opinions that go uneasy with the majority, freedom from arbitrary arrest and the related protection of habeas corpus; the right to nondiscrimination; and the right to travel, both domestically and abroad; a diverse and largely unregulated press that serve to bring diverse groups together around common interests (the affirmative governmental actions in this area may include releasing what’s been centrally controlled, such as granting licenses to radio and TV frequencies, guaranteeing public access to those and other media, and translating official documents into regional languages).
A study referred to in the article shows that allowing freedom of the press and ensuring civil liberties, in particular, reduce the chances that an autocratic government will survive for another year by about 15 to 20 percent. The stark statistic that helps explain media and political suppression throughout the developing world. In contrast, there is little for the incumbent regime to fear from providing other public goods, such as primary education, public transportation, and health care.
Moreover, the study found that except at the highest levels of per capita income, middle income can be attained and sustained without civic-wide availability of coordination goods.
Lesson for the West as conclusion:
International development agencies (e.g., The US and the World Bank) must broaden foreign aid conditions for developing countries to include requirements of coordination good supply on the part of their citizens, such as basic civil liberties, press freedoms, and greater access to higher education.
In a word, they should make sure that human rights (housing, food, clothing, health care, etc.) and civil rights (e.g., individual freedom and the protection of both minority and majority interests) go hand in hand in the third world’s developments, for their authoritarian rulers typically confuse the latter with the former.
Specifically, broad access to higher education and graduate training is vital if citizens are to develop the skills to communicate, organize, and develop a political presence. Advanced education also helps create a large pool of potential leaders that balance shake the status quo and re-balance domestic political powers.
On this issue, however, I might personally add that education should not merely emphasize civil and political empowerment, as it is typically the case; rather, it needs to be broadened to include traditional/communal/theological ethical formations conducive to moral and civil virtues in political leaderships.
The historical exemplar of how puritanism is conducive to robust early American republicanism remain under-appreciated among political observers and policymakers worldwide, and the fact that emerging political opposition forces usually betray signs of undemocratic charismatic power-centralization, corruption, and political intolerance before they are even in actual power, should be factored in as a stock of criticism used by champions of the « China model » against the very idea of political liberalization.
Namely, on a personal note, political development in relation to a community’s well-being pertains not only to political liberalization; it must include political post-liberalization. This is what distinguishes chaotic liberal democracies from liberal democracies that have social cohesion.
Strauss showed that Machiavelli is the father of the modern world—from civil rights to applied natural science (in the sense that Descartes and Bacon took inspirations from Machiavelli).
Harvey Mansfield, Strauss’s greatest student on Machiavellian studies showed that the Prince, in and in spite of the apparent call for a revival of ancient Roman republican politics, is reflective of an epistemological revolution that entitles philosophy to lead human affairs (vis-a-vis the classical prudence): « a prince must have recourse to the effectual truth of how men do live, as distinct from how they ought to live, so that he may learn how not to be good, lest he come to ruin among so many who are not good. »
For all the ancient [political] writers are idealists who « imagined republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in truth » (but ideals are meaningless unless understood against « facts », and vice versa.), it is until Machiavelli we started have science dealing with hard fact and philosophy with ideals.
« All the sciences demand practice [as opposed to mere theoretical speculation and observation] if one wishes to possess them perfectly, » he wrote.
Here is a story illustrative of how the platonic downplay of the material has deterred the science from developing:
Plutarch tells us that Archimedes of Syracuse, the famous mathematician, slightly vexed his king, who « had eagerly desired and at last persuaded him to turn his art somewhat from abstract notions to material things, and by applying his philosophy somehow to the needs which make themselves felt, to render it more evident to the common mind. » But Archimedes had only been following the injunction of Plato, who « inveighed against [mechanical applications] as corrupters and destroyers of the pure excellence of geometry, which thus turned her back upon the incorporeal things of abstract thought and descended to the things of sense.
On the contrary, Machiavelli teaches [with the story of Publius Decius] that we need hard science to know the particulars and extrapolate to the general, to understand one’s immediate environment and act on the basis of that understanding.
Plato, a realist*, would insist that each part is a wholesome unit and must be thought through on its own terms. Machiavelli retorts that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all
The scientists are intended to be a liberating army, freeing science and philosophy from the prelates of the Church who occupied the mind of man, not only allowing man to choose his own destiny but providing him with the tools to make it work.
But as the secular intelligentsia has replaced the priests but governs our thoughts, it’s ironic then that the mind of man may be less free in the age of liberalism. What’s needed are genuine philosophers to lead us out of this Machiavellian liberal swirl.
Traditional realism is the doctrine that Platonic universals or forms exist independently of language or human thought. That is, there is a correct way to divide the world up into its many objects and this way conforms to the underlying real structure.
somehow the forms of things (e.g. « square », « black », « good ») exist apart from the objects that conform to those forms. In more recent version of realism argues that the things we perceive exist apart from our mental representation of them — so, for example, the tree that fell in the forest with no one around would, according to this view, make a sound, even though no one could hear it. But notice, this recent sense of ‘realism’ falls short of addressing questions about the structure of the world and how it falls into its inherent categories, but that is the question addressed by traditional realism.