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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Great Disruption?

We have seen such massive changes in our lifetime that I find it odd that key people in Brexit and Trump’s victory talk of the need for “Leninist and Maoist approaches” to help “destroy all of today’s establishment” - 
“Lenin,” Stephen Bannon is quoted as saying “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

The Great Disruption (2014) was an entertaining examination of the scale of recent technical change – and its social and political impact. Many would say that 1789 marks the start of Europe and the modern age’s relentless focus on challenging tradition with reason; others trace it further back – to the Scottish Enlightenment of a few decades earlier; the industrial revolution of the same period; or to the Protestant Reformation two centuries earlier (Martin Luther’s 95 theses were nailed to Wittenburg’s church door all of 500 years ago this October!!)

And yet each passing generation seems to feel that it is being hit afresh with change. The different words – “revolution”, “modernisation”, “reform”, “change”, “reinvention”, “innovation”, “disruption” – reflect the confusion as events have played out in the post-war period.
The Turbo-Capitalism we have seen in recent decades may have undermined people’s confidence in government capacity and integrity; and in routine and formal political activity - but technology and the social media have given people an outlet for expressing their anger and grievances……

Brexit and Trump’s victory seem to show that it’s possible to “take back control”….…..suddenly there seems an opportunity to stop the previously irresistible onward charge of globalisation. But how real is this? Human agency may be back in fashion again after the apparent fatalism of Margaret Thatcher’s TINA doctrine (“There is No Alternative”)
But is this all sleight of hand? We are used to being told by the change managers about the need for thorough preparation for significant change, for implementation strategies…….  But noone had given any thought to the possibility of Brexit winning or prepared any strategies; and the first 3 weeks of Trump rule has consisted of only bluster and ill-considered executive orders    

“Change” is a word that has had me salivating for half a century. According to poet Philip Larkin, “Sexual intercourse began in 1963…” – at roughly the same time my generation began to chafe under the restrictions of “tradition” - so well described in David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain and Modernity Britain 1957-1962.
The notion of “modernization” (as set out in a famous series of “What’s wrong with Britain” books published by the Penguin Press in the 60s) became highly seductive for some of us - …. Coincidentally 1963 was the year Harold Wilson delivered his famous speech about the “white heat of technology” to an electrified Labour Party Conference, presaging one of the key themes of the 1964-70 Labour Government.

The need for reform of our institutions (and the power structures they sustained) became a dominant post-war theme and I eagerly absorbed the writing which was coming from American progressive academics in the 1960s (such as Warren Bennis and Amitai Etzioni) about the new possibilities offered by the social sciences; and listened spellbound on the family radio to the 1970 Reith Lectures on “Change and Industrial Society” by Donald Schon – subsequently issued as the book “Beyond the Stable State”. In it, he coined the phrase “Dynamic conservatism” and went on to talk about government as a learning system and to ask what can we know about social change.
From that moment I was hooked on the importance of organisations (particularly public) and of institutional reform……

In those days there was little talk of management (!) and only a few Peter Drucker books…..Toffler’s Future Shock came the very next year (1971) by which time I had started to proselytize the “need for change” in papers which bore such titles as “Radical Reform of municipal management” and “From corporate planning to community action”…..One of these early papers picked up on the theme of “post-bureaucracy” and anticipated that future systems of (public) management would look very different from those previously known…..
It was a decade later (1982), however, when Tom Peters first burst on the scene with his celebration of entrepreneurial management “In pursuit of Excellence” - presaging the demise of large corporations such as IBM and General Motors….
It was to take another decade for this to be reflected in the Clinton/Gore Government Reinvention agenda and 1997 for the start of the British Modernising Government agenda….  All this coinciding with the dot.com revolution……

These days, what I would call Kerensky liberals suddenly - since Brexit and Trump’s victory – are feeling a bit outflanked by a motley crowd of Bolsheviks, Leninists and Maoists….and are trying to understand the revolutionary doctrine being preached by the likes of Trump’s key adviser - Stephen Bannon – who talks of “tearing down” institutionsDer Spiegel makes a good attempt here - 
In November, the news website BuzzFeed published a 50-minute audio clip of remarks made by Bannon via Skype in 2014 that provides a strong glimpse into his world view. They were made at a conference at the Vatican of representatives of the religious right in Europe.
Exactly 100 years ago tomorrow, Bannon began, the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked World War I. Until that day, there had been "total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties."
 He went on to say that the world is once again at such a point, "at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict." He blamed it on "a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism."Bannon described, first, a system of "crony capitalism" of the elite that only created wealth for the establishment, allowing that he knew what he was talking about from his own background. He said there's a desperate need for a renaissance of "what I call the 'enlightened capitalism' of the Judeo-Christian West," with companies that create jobs and prosperity for all. (although he has also said that the more hard-nosed it is the better!!) 
The second threat, he said, comes from the secularization of society. He noted that the "overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize" millennials under 30. He said Breitbart had become the voice of the anti-abortion movement and the traditional marriage movement.
The third threat, and perhaps the greatest, Bannon preached from the computer screen, is Islam. "We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism." But this war, he warned, is "metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it." He said a "populist revolt" of "working men and women" is now needed to battle Wall Street and Islam at the same time, an international Tea Party movement modelled after Britain's right-wing populist UKIP, which he knows well. The U.S. Republican Party establishment, on the other hand, he described as a "collection of crony capitalists."
An international alliance of populists united in their hatred of the elite, appealing to the workers and brought together by a common enemy -- only with the Muslims replacing the Jews this time. It all makes Bannon, and Trump along with him, sound like a fascist.
But are they? Times are different today, as are the means, paths and goals. There's no longer a need for masses of brown shirts or a screaming Goebbels. The masses are on the internet today and they read Breitbart and follow Trump on Twitter. The manifestations today are modern and the ideology has also been modernized. But the attitudes themselves seem to be enjoying a renaissance.

In future posts I want to explore these issues more deeply

update; regrettably, I had not appreciated that in 1999 Francis Fukuyama no less had produced a book with the same title -  The Great Disruption – human nature and the reconstitution of social order which had tracked the breakdown since 1965!

The painting is one of the few I always remember ........which got away (damn!!!!) It's the amazing Bulgarian,Tony Todorov, who also painted the one heading the previous post....

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