Friday, March 23, 2012

lessons from the 1970's..,

aljazeera | General accounts of radicalism tend to concentrate on the 1960s. They also place a particular emphasis on those elements that later proved useful to marketers. We constantly hear about the students' revolt against the staid morals of earlier generations - the music and film industries have retold that story ever since. But we hear less about the joint efforts of American students and civil rights campaigners to create an alternative to the Republican-Democrat duarchy. Apple was happy to use clips of Martin Luther King in its adverts, but the mainstream has little time for his opposition to the war in Vietnam and his demands for economic and racial justice.

The high watermark for popular engagement in politics comes some time later, in that unloved decade, the 1970s. In Britain a series of strikes against Ted Heath's inept administration eventually forced an election in 1974, which the government lost. In the same year Nixon resigned the presidency as the Watergate scandal metastasised. In 1976, the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence, the Americans elected a President promising change and democratic renewal. The popular movements that first emerged in the 1960s seemed on the brink of transforming both America and Britain.

That's certainly how it seemed to those who ran politics and the economy. Scandinavian social democracy haunted the waking nightmares of American businessmen. One of them worried that "if we don't take action now we will see our own demise". Another complained in a revealing metaphor that "we are like the head of a household, and the public sector is like our wife and child. They can only consume what we produce".

Democracy crisis
The Trilateral Commission is an obscure talking shop whose current members include the (unelected) Prime Ministers of Italy and Greece. In 1975 it was sufficiently worried to put together a book entitled The Crisis of Democracy.

One of its authors, Samuel Huntington, identified the core of this crisis, from the perspective of the governing elite. In the 1960s and 1970s, "previously passive or unorganised groups in the population… embarked on concerted efforts to establish their claims to opportunities, positions, rewards and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled to before". Blacks, women, and "clerical, technical and professional employees in public and private bureaucracies" - that is, the vast majority of the population - were seeking the kinds of power that the wealthy and their trusted servants considered theirs by right. Crucially, they were seeking control of the state through the electoral process.

Democracy could only work, explained Huntington, if there was "some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups". The so-called crisis of democracy would only end when the majority gave up their ambitions to secure an effectual say in politics and hence economics. It was time for the powerful to assert "the claims of expertise, experience and special talents" over and above the claims of democracy. Fist tap Arnach.