As regular readers of this blog will have no hesitation in attesting to, in the eyes of our CSO the Financial Times is fast-becoming not merely the United Kingdom’s newspaper of record, but increasingly the only such periodical which does not function as an emetic. Gillian Tett – one of the FT’s most thought-provoking and consistently interesting columnists – provided further justification for this viewpoint in her most recent article, Chinese Lessons for America (5th/6th January 2013).
Citing the Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels instant classic Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between West and East (Polity Press, 2012), Tett notes that there is now a significant mass of disenchantment with the established political order in Western democracies, and not merely at the grassroots level; Berggruen and Gardels’ prescription – that countries such as the United States adopt a more meritocratic, technocratic and managerial approach to governance, albeit one tempered by a measure of direct, highly participatory democracy, is certainly worthy of consideration.
Yet are the problems that are now all too evident in what was, up until recently, unquestioningly classified as the developed world, really remediable by tinkering with (or even overhauling) the political structures of individual countries? While genuine improvements to a given constitutional order may be more or less welcomed, we feel that the real issue – that those in charge of liberal democracies have not read their Fukuyama – is being ignored. In his seminal The End of History and the Last Man (1992), Francis Fukuyama is at pains to point out that liberal democracy, while an evolutionary ideological end-point, is not self-sustaining via liberal principles alone. The most perfect constitution imaginable will mean nothing in a polity populated by utility-maximising ‘barbarians’ (or ‘adult beasts’, to adduce Fukuyama) incapable of anything other than endless curation of already-created culture (and perhaps not even this).
In short, the moral question of democracy – the force that compels a judge to refuse a bribe, the inner voice that dissuades a politician from exploiting his intern, the bureaucratic decision to construct a metro line instead of yet another road to be clogged by cars – has yet to be fully answered. The devotion or otherwise of resources towards resolving this problem may yet determine the very future of governance itself.