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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
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
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
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
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
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
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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