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The New Avant-Garde

Sam Walker describes how the views of Francis Fukuyama on economics and David Selbourne on civic society complement each other

(Originally published in Resolution Summer 1996)

TWO OF THE leading contemporary critics of the liberal ascendancy are David Selbourne and Francis Fukuyama. They have challenged the established assumptions on how best to organise a harmonious society, and the factors which determine economic success. The views of Selbourne and Fukuyama closely complement each other. Their books, ‘The Principle of Duty’ and ‘Trust’ are key texts in understanding how western liberal society has gone wrong.

Liberalism is essentially an abstract utopian theory which takes man out of his natural environment. It is the ultimate in hubris. It treats man as a god and does not recognise that we are biological animals. It is literally an inhuman doctrine.

Liberalism is a fanciful theory which tries to wish away that which does not ‘fit in’. If it cannot be wished away, then an ever increasing set of draconian measures are introduced to compel change. To hammer square pegs into round holes. Political Correctness is just that part of the iceberg that shows above the waterline. Because liberal proponents are so sure that their views are 'goodness' itself, all sorts of repressive measures are justified. And so liberalism, which started off as a critique of the absolutism of past monarchies, has become authoritarian.

In contrast, the new Avant-Garde recognises the essential nature of man. Thinkers such as Selbourne and Fukuyama take into account both the wisdom of past ages and the realities of the present.

Selbourne and Fukuyama belong in the same company as Carlyle, Dickens, Kingsley, Cobbett, Kipling, William Morris, Joseph Chamberlain and Disraeli. These are names to conjure with, drawn from just one brief period in history. Selbourne and Fukuyama are the modern exponents of a tradition which has been all but forgotten - to our cost. They are pointing the way for mankind to rediscover its true direction.

Francis Fukuyama is an American economist of Japanese extraction. He was formerly deputy director of the US State Department’s policy planning staff, and is now an analyst at the RAND Corporation. With the collapse of communism, he wrote ‘The End of History’. The East was suddenly absorbed into the capitalist West and Fukuyama rationalised that this meant that ideological movements would no longer sweep the globe. That the liberal democratic model would reign supreme. In the words of the old hippy anthem, the world would truly be ‘a great big onion’. Looking over the edge

Since then Fukuyama has examined the nature of liberal democratic societies and found that they do not offer the panacea to the world’s problems that he and many others previously thought. Fukuyama looked over the precipice and saw nothing below, just space...

In 1995 Fukuyama published ‘Trust’, and set out to establish why certain economies regularly outperformed others, when under classical liberal economic theory there should be equilibrium. He found many human factors missing from the economists equations, and termed this ‘The Twenty Percent Solution’. He summed it up as follows "the same industrial policy that leads to utter disaster in Latin America may prove effective in Asia...The important variable is not industrial policy per se but culture".

To identify cultural variables which effect they way economies perform, Fukuyama looked at Japan. He found that Japanese society is characterised by a high degree of what Fukuyama calls ‘Trust’. Trust can be gauged by the number of voluntary associations which people within a society engage in. These associations might be churches, working men's clubs, golf clubs, historical societies, residents associations and so on. In other words how ‘social’ the members of that society are. Sociability leads to trust between members of a community. In economic terms lack of trust within a society greatly increases transaction costs, as contractual parties have to enter into protracted legal agreements before they do business with each other. In the absence of trust, lawyers get rich and economic efficiency declines.

Trust is also of great importance in the development of the firm. In a high trust society, family businesses readily appoint professional managing directors from outside the family. Such firms can grow into major economic forces. In low trust societies firms tend to stagnate and decline after the death of the initial entrepreneur, as there is a reluctance to appoint senior positions from outside the family circle. Furthermore, in Japan firms co-operate to make possible long-term strategic planning, and are willing to forgo short term profits for long term gain. Liberalism Destroys Trust

German society has many similarities to Japanese, and has reaped the economic benefits. America also used to be a very high trust society. However liberalism has all but destroyed this, together with the US economy. America is now the land of the litigation lawyer. Once individuals lose touch with their neighbours, no longer empathise with them and no longer share the same values, then trust is destroyed. The bonds that are tied by centuries of social interaction can be cut quite quickly by the corrosion of the liberal melting pot. Like all things it is easier to destroy than it is to create.

Fukuyama identified cultures where trust has never existed outside the narrow family, and this is reflected in how their economies operate. For example, Italian and Chinese societies are dominated by family businesses, while French culture is emotionally dominated by heavy reliance on central control. Hence in these societies, large scale enterprises have to be state run, with all the attendant problems concerning efficiency. It can be appreciated that the mixing of cultures with very different social outlooks within a centrally controlled organisation like the European Union is fraught with problems.

The British Class System

Fukuyama does not directly deal with Britain in his book. However he has gone on record as saying that Britain occupies a midway position in terms of trust. Fukuyama identifies the class system as the reason for this. There are indeed plenty of voluntary associations, particularly at the time of the industrial revolution, when many entrepreneurs shared a common background of Protestant nonconformism. However, the class system has acted as a cleavage within British society, preventing all sections of the workforce from working together. This has resulted in the poor labour relations which so characterised British industry up to the 1980s. Management and staff did not (and do not) identify their aims as being complementary, but as contradictory.

The implication that can be drawn from this is that the Government of Britain should aim to promote greater social cohesion. A feeling somewhat akin to the ‘all pull together’ propaganda at the time of the Blitz. When Margaret Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society, only the individual, she accurately summed up liberal thinking.

The Same Conclusions

David Selbourne has come to essentially the same conclusions as Fukuyama, but from a different direction. Selbourne currently lives in Italy, is an academic and specialises in political philosophy. Drawing perhaps from his socially conservative background (he is the grandson of the noted rabbinical philosopher, M.A. Amiel), Selbourne identified the breakdown of the reciprocal bonds of duty to society and the claiming of rights from that society, as the cause of the collapse in civic stability within western states.

No Sense of Duty

British society for example is one where people are encouraged to clamour for ever more ‘rights’, with no sense of duty to the state given in return. This is the natural outcome of liberalism. Selbourne deals with this subject in detail in his book ‘The Principle of Duty’, in which he sets out the ethical standards for a harmonious society. This he calls ‘Civic Social-ism’.

Selbourne put it this way. "The old socialism is dead; the new civic social-ism, neither of ‘left’ nor ‘right’ but transcending both and resting upon the principle of duty, is waiting to be born." Human society is based upon groups bonding together for their mutual benefit. Groups only bond if they share common values, such as kinship, culture and so on. Outsiders (or ‘strangers’ as Selbourne terms them) can be tolerated so long as they conform to the main group's standards. Once the host community alters its internal workings to accommodate these strangers, the bonds which bind that society together break. Liberalism goes further by denying the need for civic bonds, and turns citizens into strangers within their own land. A typical liberal society has no real citizens, and is only an agglomeration on mutually distrustful strangers. People have no loyalty to each other, let alone to the state. The fabric of society deteriorates, as individuals stand for their ’rights’ but give nothing in return. Society becomes atomised and the individual runs riot. The liberal might piously hope that common ‘humanity’ will prevent any breakdown in civilized behaviour. But the laws, traditions and usages that societies evolved through the wisdom of the ages are the cement that holds civilization together and enables people to live harmonious lives. To discard this in subservience to an abstract doctrine about the ‘Rights of Man’ is the ultimate madness. Yet this madness is the prevailing orthodoxy.

The Prevailing Orthodoxy

This orthodoxy is responsible for ram-raiding, the mugging of pensioners, graffiti, dole fiddling, and tax evasion. For Road Rage, the breakdown of the family and the collapse of discipline at schools. For the greed of the new chief executives. For transnational corporations relocating their businesses in other countries. For the destruction of ‘trust’ within society. For giving away fishing rights to Spain. For complaining about the sinking of the Belgrano, and for those who insist on calling the Falkland Islands the ‘Malvinas’. This is the reason ‘travellers’ and other drop-outs stand by their rights in claiming the dole and the full protection of the law, from a society they claim to reject in toto.

In Aristotle's Footsteps

Both Selbourne and Fukuyama quote Aristotle's 'Politics'. Aristotle, writing well over two thousand years ago, recognised that civic societies were inherent for man's existence if we are not to return to the caves. If man rejects civic duty, then he will become a beast, 'unburdened' by any sense of obligation to any but himself. Man can only avoid this predicament if he is truly a god. Liberalism seeks to 'free' man from the 'irksome' responsibility of duty to the civic order. Liberalism says man is a god. Reason, and simple observation, tells us otherwise.

The 'Stakeholder' philosophy put forward by 'new' Labour appears at first sight to dovetail with Selbourne's view of civic socialism. However this form of 'Stakeholding' is almost totally based on individuals claiming a stake in society by obtaining even more rights. For example, the right for all children to have access to the information super-highway, the right to have smaller class sizes, the right to have a job, the right to have instant access to the NHS, the right for open homosexuals to join the armed forces, womens rights, minority rights - it goes on and on. There is no credible platform of civic duty to counter-balance these rights, as this implies a degree of communal exclusivity that is abhorrent to 'new' and 'old' Labour.

Liberalism has put tremendous efforts into destroying civic bonds. Through propaganda on the television, at schools and universities, the apostles of anarchy have been at work for decades. Increasingly legislation is used to enforce various measures. It is not something that just ‘happened’ naturally. It has been done openly and blatantly. And what has been done can, with care, be undone.

Now liberalism is the ascendancy, the new tyranny of intolerance. To criticize liberalism is to think the unthinkable. But the liberal ascendancy has had its day. The new Avant-Garde has emerged to bring their rotten house down. We are not at the ‘End of History’. Rather, we are witnessing the opening of a new epoch.

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