23 December 2013

Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance

Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance

Young Samir Amin

Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance:

The Feeble Rhetoric of the Dominant Discourse

This dominant discourse claims that its objective is to "reduce, if not to eradicate, poverty" by supporting "civil society," in order to substitute "good governance" for "governance" that is judged "bad."

The very term "poverty" stems from a language which is as old as the hills, that of charity (religious or otherwise).  This language belongs to the past, not to the present, much less to the future.  It predates the language created by modern social thought, which tries to be scientific - that is, to discover the mechanisms that give rise to a visible and observed phenomenon.

The overwhelming mass of literature about poverty focuses exclusively - or almost - on "locating" the problem and quantifying it.  It does not pose questions such as "what are the mechanisms that create the poverty under discussion?"  Do they have some connection with the fundamental rules (like competition) that govern our systems and in particular - as far as the countries of the South receiving aid are concerned - with the development strategies and policies conceived for them?

Has the concept of "civil society," even if it is taken seriously (not to speak of its random use), been raised to the level at which a concept should be in order to take its chance and be worthy of inclusion in a serious debate that purports to be scientific?  As it is proposed, "civil society" is associated with an ideology of consensus.  It is a twofold consensus:

1.      that there is no alternative to the "market economy" (itself an indiscriminate expression that serves to replace an analysis of "really existing capitalism");
2.      that there is no alternative to representative democracy based on multi-party elections (conceived as "the democracy") that serves as a substitute for the conception of democratization of society, which is a process without end.

On the contrary, the history of struggles has seen the emergence of political cultures of conflict, based on the recognition of the conflict of social and national interests, which gives quite another meaning to the terms of "left" and "right."  It attributes to creative democracy the right and power to imagine alternatives and not just "alternations" in the exercise of power (changing the names for doing the same thing).

"Governance" was invented as a substitute for "power."  The opposition between these two qualifying adjectives - good or bad governance - calls to mind manichaeism and moralism, substitutes for an analysis of reality as scientific as possible.  Once again this fashion comes to us from the other side of the Atlantic where the sermon has often dominated political discourse.  "Good governance" requires the "decider" to be "just," "objective" (choosing the "best solution"), "neutral" (accepting a balanced presentation of arguments), and above all else "honest" (including, of course, the blander, financial meaning of the word).  On reading the literature produced by the World Bank on the subject, one finds oneself - judging from the grievances presented, usually by men of religion or of law (and few women!) - back in the East of ancient times, of the "just despot" (not even enlightened!).

The underlying ideology is clearly being used to simply eliminate the real question: what social interests does the governing power, whatever it is, represent and defend?  How can the change of power progress so that it gradually becomes the instrument of the majorities, in particular of the victims of the system, such as it is?  It goes without saying that the multi-party electoral recipe has shown its limits in this respect.


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