Sunday, 19 September, 2021
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Fear and hegemony grind down world order -II



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Weakened state

Piotr Dutkiewicz

The fourth contradiction is an old one, between the state and the market. Economists and politicians take a sinusoidal approach towards this issue: how the state and the market are cooperating (or not) and what the relations between them should look like; whether the state should spearhead development or the market should be responsible for development—in other words, whether the state should be in charge of our well-being or the market should create conditions for our well-being.
This contradiction is sinusoidal because some claim, following the Keynesian way, that the state should lead the market. The biggest projects of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, such as capitalist interventionism (the New Deal), socialism, and fascism, were quite similar in how the state subordinated the market. Then we had the 1970s and 1980s, when the neoliberal economic order began to dominate and the market served as the main stimulus for development and wealth creation. In fact, neither of these models lived up to expectations. The crisis in 2007–2008 showed that neither the market nor the state alone could deliver on their promises.

Weakened state
The problem is that if we would like the state to cooperate with the market, we need the state to be relatively strong, which is not the case. States cannot withstand the pressure of globalisation; they are becoming progressively weaker. A wave of neoliberalism has led to the privatisation of many state-run services, including core state functions such as security. What, then, is the role of the state in protecting our interests as citizens? This debate between the market and the state is not solely about economic forces – it’s about the shape of the future of our political system. We are being transformed into consumers and are no longer needed as citizens – because as citizens, we would like to make our own choices, not have choices imposed on us by the market.

Power vs Politics
The fifth contradiction, which follows the previous one, is power vs. politics. We agree with Zygmunt Bauman’s thesis that ‘power’ is in the process of being separated from politics. Power represents the ability to fix things, to deliver, to make things happen. Politics involves selecting choices for ‘power’ – or in terms of public administration, an executive power – to be implemented. Politics is about whether we need a school or a swimming pool, whether we need to spend more on the army or schools or hospitals. Then those priorities are ‘transferred’ via parliamentary process to the executive power, whose task is to implement them. So there is a link between politics and power: politics comes first, power comes later.
Now this system is collapsing because there is less and less power in the hands of the state. Due to the privatisation of many state functions coupled with globalisation (i.e., internationalisation), certain state prerogatives are located elsewhere, beyond the national state. Capital is mostly outside the control of national states; as such, power is outside the national state as well. The capacity of the state is therefore changing, but the state cannot cooperate with the market the way the market would expect it to because the state has no way of meeting ‘capital expectations’. Therefore, the market is more dependent on external forces than on those in the national state. As a result of these processes, power and politics are separating nearly to the point that they are living independent lives.

Fear as a substitute
Now I can elaborate upon the second part of my hypothesis. In this section, I will argue that the consequence of the above mentioned contradictions is an emergence of a systemic fear: we fear that we are no longer subjects of most processes at all levels of governance. The main point is that, rather than fear acting as an expedient but ad hoc political tool, it has become the de facto essence of politics. Fear now provides an impetus and reason for politics, replacing other sources of legitimisation of power such as democracy, justice, and the common good. In other words, fear as politics has a transformational capacity to change politics, norms, and institutions.
I contend that, rather than simply seeing the most recent exercise of ‘politics of fear’ (e.g., Donald Trump’s trade restrictions, increased migration, or terrorism), our contemporary moment is distinguished by the emergence of ‘fear as politics’. If we accept Bauman’s (2013) proposition that “politics is the ability to decide which things are to be done and given priority” (p. 189), then three conclusions follow:
Fear provides key input to the ‘ability to decide’, as politicians use fear as a necessary pre-condition to decisions (e.g., “We have to do that because of immigrants, Muslims, etc.”).
Fear provides selection criteria ‘for things to be done’. For instance, instead of environment or education policy, priorities would include fear-driven topics such as security, migration, or race relations.
Fear contributes to the contents of ‘things to be done’ (e.g., if we fear immigrants, then the content of the immigration policy will be quite restrictive to newcomers).

Re-hegemonisation of politics
In this last section, I argue that within an environment characterised by a high level of uncertainty and fear of the future, there is demand (at both the economic and social levels) for more stability and predictability at any cost. These two qualities are conditions sine qua non for smooth market operations, security, and planning at any level of governance, be it for state or non-state actors. One potential solution for these actors is to re-invent local, regional, and global hegemonies to provide at least some control over domestic and external affairs.


So, the next question is “How can hegemony be established and sustained in world politics today?”
Hegemony combines (a) concentrated control of material resources; (b) leadership in setting societal rules; and (c) mindsets that convince people that the dominant power rules in their interests. Essentially, hegemony involves legitimacy, whereby the dominated embrace their domination.


(Professor Dutkiewicz is a Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Carleton University)

Taken from the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute