Among the axioms of modernization theory was the assertion that economic growth constituted one variable for democratization and that this, in turn would , catalyze a middle class which would constitute the foundation for a robust democracy. But, a cursory look at the contemporary political landscape across the world suggests that the prognostications of the theory in contention do not necessarily hold. What is being witnessed is a world where politics has gyrated to a blend or compendium of identity politics and populism, a political landscape and ecology eloquently observed in the United States , the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe, with different intensities and velocities. These developments which undercut the claims of modernization theory pose certain questions of a nagging nature: was modernization theory a flawed construct? Did the theory, put the proverbial cart before the horse? Why has politics almost across the world gyrated to an idiom of populism and identity politics? Is there a fundamental flaw in the correlation between economic growth or development and democratization?
It would appear that, shorn of accretions, modernization theory, while not entirely a flawed edifice , rested on faulty premises. This is perhaps best observed in its neat theoretical correlation between economic development and democracy (democratization). To employ a cliché, correlation does not mean causation. Empirically, and in practice, economic growth can also led to forms of political organization and regimes other than democracy wherein the middle or the affluent classes develop a stake in the extant politico economic structures that are far from democracy. However, this begs the question if and whether democracy is the most prudent effective political philosophy, practice or organization. ( This is not to suggest or root for any other political philosophy or organization but to pose a question).
The essence of democracy, it would appear, is the reification of political power , expressed in Rousseau’s “general will” and the sovereignty of reason in public affairs. But, there can be a contradiction between the “general will” , reason and its teleology. The former can revolve and move toward and in directions that are contrary to reason or the general will can be manipulated by the media or a charismatic leader and so on. All this can be not only averse to reason but also defy conventions and axioms of morality and ethics. There then exists a tension between the general will , reason and political morality( which, obiter dictum, is not an oxymoron). The aim here is not to impugn democracy or malign it but to develop a argument in consonance with the thematic concern of this essay.
That there is a tension exists between the general will and reason is best encapsulated by contemporary political trends of populism and identity politics. Consider the following. Reason and its teleology suggests that humans are human and that purely on account of this a set of rights is accrued to them. But, the general will would or does correspond and gyrate to the emotive pull of nationalism where the state and the nation correspond to each other in a neat fit. And, where “outsiders” are excluded from the nation and state container. What this suggests is that while reason upholds a certain view of humans but the general will can root for the converse. The corollary of this argument is that humans being human will prefer to organize along tribal lines but , at the same time, ideally and on account of the attribute of reason , political organization must be predicated along the lines of rationality. This assertion which is not tautological perhaps goes into the heart of the contemporary political landscape of the world. And, in the final analysis, it is the fundamental flawed premise of modernization theory.
But, the question that is posed in this essay pertains to the relationship or the converse between globalization and modernization theory. Much of the impetus behind globalization and its various forms and avatars- economic, cultural and political- was derived from liberalism ( or according to some, neoliberalism). The end goal of both the theory and practice of globalization was homogenization of economics, culture and politics. In this troika, the third prong suggested democracy and democratization as the ultimate political denouement of mankind, a view popularized by the liberal political philosopher , Francis Fukuyama. However, globalization in all its forms had a contra effect. Its economic variant produced stark inequalities in the developed world which, while the causality actually still remains unclear , led to identity politics. Yes, a sizeable middle class was also created in many parts of the world but it remained either politically quiescent and inert or this class also gyrated to the rhythms of identity politics. The catalyst for middle class anxiety and identity politics thereof was largely the cultural fear derived, in turn, from immigration, multiculturalism and the threats these posed to superstructures of many societies. It was , to paraphrase the great political scientist, Samuel Huntington, culture mattered. Fears of cultural swamping , the primeval quest for affiliation along tribal lines, fear of the unknown and the desire for the familiar all added up to a condition where these forces triumphed over democracy understood here as instrumental reason and rationality.
The inference that can be drawn here is that there is no neat correlation between economics and politics as modernization theory posited and that culture matters in alls senses of the term. While some hold that the contemporary global drift toward populism and identity politics is merely a blip in the march of history, but it appears that all along culture matters are more potent and the current idiom of politics is actually the default mode of the “human condition”. First , for real democracy to take hold, a certain cultural matrix has to be internalized and , second, this matrix can actually be alien or even alienating to many people. What can be culled here is that while democracy may or may not be the best political philosophy , organization and practice but it is more potent factors like culture and its concomitants that are or might be more determinative and causative influences. If this holds, axiomatically, modernization theory and the political projects it spawned and were flawed constructs which globalization exposed in all its eloquence. History then has not ended but is moving , not in a linear form or manner but in a way that is as cyclical as can be.
The author can be reached at: email@example.com