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Copyright

VOLUME 1 (1999), ISSUE 1 (SUMMER), EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

THE TROUBLED WATERS OF THE POWER’S POLICY

 

PATRICK HUNOUT  

 


 

Patrick HUNOUT is the President and the Founder of The International Scope® Review. 

 


 

Dear readers, 

 

Creating a new Review is necessarily a big challenge. All the more because it is about launching an innovative, powerful stream of analysis and discussion that should continue, and allow some social transformations processes to become conscious. As a communication tool that is intended to be read by a public with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, The International Scope® Review will bring to the expectations, needs and reactions of a broad and various public the answers of science - a challenge that scientists are not always prepared to undertake. 

This Review is devoted to the understanding of contemporary transformations in our societies. The thirty years after World War II had been characterized by a considerable prosperity and - a phenomenon new in History - the building of a large, highly educated middle class. In the last decades, on the other hand, most economically advanced countries have been confronted with the development of economic precariousness, the installation of "multiethnic society", and an emphasized atomization of society. A main key for understanding these developments is that they are all connected to the overall strategy chosen and implemented by the ruling class leading these countries - a ruling class all the time more integrated within bigger economic subsets. Thus, the policy initiated by the American ruling class has been imitated later by the new European power, with more difficulties due to the diversity of Europe, the weight of its bureaucratic tradition, and perhaps also a lower level of mental control on citizens in comparison to the United States. 

This evolution started in the middle of the seventies. At that time, the Club of Rome predicted relevantly that the economic growth would never go back to its previous levels. We are grateful to the Club of Rome for its pioneer work, and we would like to continue on the road opened then. The structural erosion of profitability due to the so-called "petroleum crisis" led business and governments to seek scope for greater competitiveness and to reduce manpower costs. The long-term consequence was that inflation slowed down everywhere, but this was at the price of an increasing unemployment, of the comeback of precariousness, and of the re-apparition of a poverty that had been forgotten since the previous century. In the eighties, the Thatcher-Reagan wave in the UK and the USA dismantled the social protection systems in order to promote a greater « flexibility » for business. 

This wave reached the European continent later, where it took a more bureaucratic aspect, and currently, pressures bigger than ever are exerted on Japan and Germany, the two promoters of the « social market economy » and of a type of a communitarian society, in order to let them abandon the type of capitalism they had developed - this in the name of "liberalism", a word that is to be understood in its strict sense as an ideology putting forward the complete freedom of operators on the market, whatever the consequences for society or for certain social groups will be. The comeback of poverty, the cohort of the « homeless people », and the « new underclass » brought new evidence of what was not only the consequence, but the real aim of the process : the restructuring of society, the reconstruction of a new proletariat like in the 19th century, with a middle class torn between the top and the bottom and constantly threatened with a social downgrading. 

This evolution has of course political consequences. A society with a more hierarchal class structure is not governed like a society with weak social stratification. In the former case, the upper class tends to become even less controllable by the rest of society ; in the latter case, the central (rather educated and rich) middle class can play a bigger role in the steering of society - which globally favors more democratic decision-making processes. This is one of the explanations of the divorce that deepened these years between civil society and the political class, and, as a consequence, of the civic apathy shown by a growing number of « citizens » : for a number of them, politicians indeed do not present a correct view of the issues at stake, and they are all, beyond the rhetoric they use and whatever political stream they belong to, running the same policy: the policy of the ruling class - what we call the Power's policy. In this context, antidemocratic tendencies rise to the surface, such as the reinforcement of hierarchal and authoritarian regulation within the organizations, as well as the building a stronger and even less controllable state power, as shown by our article on the Maastricht treaty published in this issue. 

Also in the 1970s, the direction towards "the multiethnic society" was taken. As a matter of fact, immigration to the Western countries had first been used to import low cost and « flexible » manpower. In the first stage, this had helped maintain the old class structure without impeding the local working class members from being promoted individually to the middle class. But by the middle of the 1970s, exactly as the time when the new economic policies were initiated both at global and corporate level, the installation of migrant workers took a definitive character, and families were authorized to regroup or to settle. The book written by 20 French and German colleagues on migration policy to France and Germany that is published in this issue, shows that, at least in a country like France, the decision to go this way was consciously taken by the public authorities. Governments tried to regulate, to brake temporarily or to organize this flow of migrants, they never attempted to really stop them. The objectives of the immigration policy were to have a new working class available, like in the 19th century, in terms of labor costs as well as in terms of submission to authority and methods of government. This was coherent with the other aspects of the Power’s policy, all the more because this ethnic new class had no consciousness of the issues at stake and did not have the same progressive models like the local one. Thus, the call for immigration was taking a less economic and a more sociopolitical character. This policy was destined to have huge consequences on our societies as a whole. Beyond the reinforcement of the vertical, non-egalitarian social structure, it deepened the erosion of the social link, which the articles by Pam Geller and Alan Wolfe published in this issue consider. The loss of cultural benchmarks, common values and references due to the interaction between the local « majorities » and migrant « minorities », strengthened by the quantitative importance of these minorities, raised the level of anomie in society - an absence of norms of which we know since the works of the first sociologists that it is correlated to the rates of suicides -, contributing thus to diminish the quality of interpersonal relationships and to increase social tensions, and affecting the mental health of both the local and the migrant population. By destabilizing society and diminishing the cultural capacity that people have to reach spontaneous agreements, it reinforced the authoritarian and statist regulation of society, as the formal authorities appear in such circumstances as the only warrant that remains for social cohesiveness. As a matter of fact, social cohesiveness is the necessary element to thwart this power, all the time more concentrated in all the time fewer hands, that we call The New Leviathan. 

But social cohesiveness was struck by a third effect of the Power’s policy. In the 60s and the 70s, most western countries experienced an evolution in their public morals and personal behavior. Traditional family structures, male/female role division, sexuality and education were put in question by the young generations, in the name of individual freedom and of the right of the individual to his/her own personal development, opening up and pleasure, in all areas of life. This led to youth movements and sometimes to intergenerational conflicts at the end of the 60s and at the beginning of the 1970s.This development, partly correlated to the new economic prosperity, could have positive aspects in itself. But, more in depth, it was also correlated to consumerism and to liberal individualism - two systems of values that could only contribute long term to atomize society and to accelerate the decline of the shared values, of the sense of community and solidarity, and of the civic engagement. This evolution facilitated mass consumption and flexibility policies in the economic area, but it diminished the quality of personal ties and favored selfishness, isolation and broken families in the social one. It favored the search by each individual of his/her own way, but in a context where the precious support of shared values and models was lacking. 

This is why we publish in this issue several texts by communitarian authors. The communitarian movement has its roots in the ancient tradition of the countries (such as the German speaking countries, Benelux and Japan) the culture of which puts forward a strong solidarity based on the existence of a collective good of society, superior to the respective interests of its component parts. It is not surprising that this movement comes back today in the countries, such as the USA and the UK, that have been the first to engage in the current destructive evolution. 

Communitarians pointed out rightly the failure of contemporary morality, and indicated remedies to the civic apathy, the atomization of society and the economic inequalities that characterize our society. This is a powerful track for the future. But the communitarian movement is certainly not the only stream to bring a response to this evolution. The International Scope® Review will continue to explore all possibilities - with the help of its readers.

 

 

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 Copyright  The Social Capital Foundation 2003, All Rights Reserved

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