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Spring 2013

On Intelligent Governance: A View from the South

Fernando Henrique Cardoso was president of Brazil from 1995 to 2003. What follows is his introduction for the Portuguese language edition of “Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century” by Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels. Before becoming president, Cardoso was widely regarded as one of Latin America’s leading sociologists as a proponent of the “dependência” theory. His most recent books are “The Accidental President of Brazil” (2006) and “Charting a New Course: The Politics of Globalization and Social Transformation” (2001).

SAO PAULO—The reflections presented in “Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between West and East” by Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels constitute one of the first attempts made by Western thinkers not centered on the views and strict interests of what metaphorically qualifies as the “Northern Hemisphere.”

The authors live and work in California and are deeply engaged in political reform efforts there. As we all know, this region is the best representative of the hi-tech version of the “American way,” as well as being a liberal region that challenges American conservatism. Thus, prosperity, crisis and contemporaneity are part of the authors’ cultural experience.

This by itself allows for shattering the arrogant fascination of labeling the Western world as history’s culmination. Moreover, California is, so to speak, a region “adjacent” to the East, separated “only” by the Pacific. These are factors that facilitate a broad cultural approach to today’s crisis, sensitive to the world’s economic and cultural diversity and, at the same time, aware that globalization requires the integration of distinct national components in a single system.

In other words, this book embraces a multicultural view and urges the creation of forms of international cooperation that will lead to intelligent global governance, integrating each country’s variable interests, respecting them as it reconciles them within a common-good philosophy.

In a sense, it is about a different sort of return to the dream held by a number of 18th century philosophers, who imagined the possibility of ensuring perpetual peace by having everyone submit to a common legal system (Immanuel Kant). In presenting this universal vision, however, the authors avoid what Marx feared would be the consequence of a Hegelian view of the world that, when speaking of humanity as history’s subject, would fail to discuss concrete issues, such as social classes and their struggles.

In this way, the authors take into account the fact that beyond general economic links, there are political and cultural processes, and concrete, specific conflicts of interests that must be taken into consideration if we are not to be naïve about the realities of governance.

Thus, they refrain from treating the globalization process as if it entailed the unfolding of the “manifest destiny” of a country, which as a result of its economic and technological progress and its cultural and power expansion could become hegemonic. Neither do they see it as a succession of struggles for new hegemonies. They substitute the ideological notions of “manifest destiny” of old or new superpowers with the quest for a “common destiny.”

Setting aside abstract speculations, Berggruen and Gardels attempt to describe the conditions from which contemporary nation-states can and must cooperate toward the reorganization of world power, establishing areas of commitment—or “convergence of interests”—where, while respecting their individual interests, states are able to relinquish shares of sovereignty (a state’s natural selfishness, as Raymond Aron would say) for the benefit of not only peace but, as Greek political philosophers would put it, collective happiness as well: averting atomic catastrophes, epidemics, global warming as well as financial and economic stability.

I would just like to add two points: a general one and one more directly addressed to the Brazilian reader.

THE CULTURAL ELEMENT IS KEY | With regard to the first point, I would like to note that in this book the economic and political facts are addressed in conjunction with the cultural ones. This may seem trivial, but it is not. The primary aspect for understanding globalization is not attributed to the dynamics of the economy and not even to its coupling with technology. The authors point out what became evident since Manuel Castells: the revolutions in transportation and particularly communications has been the engine of contemporary transformations. We live in the era of the Internet and the electronic revolution. However, if the Communist empire fell due to its inability to compete, especially after electronic miniaturization, it was not a lack of technological capability itself that toppled it. The Soviet military developed advanced technologies. It was the authoritarian cultural-political system that prevented the overflow benefits from spreading to the beleaguered population. Authoritarianism hampered the scientists’ creativity.

This way of looking at historical transformations requires updating the old concept of “modes of production.” Moving past the excitement of globalization’s immediate results and the fears that it could lead to the world’s cultural homogenization, we begin again to focus on the set of factors that make up a social whole: the technology and economy that create productive relationships; the political and social forms by which people interact; and the value context which defines objectives, conditions behaviors and motivates human action. It is not by chance that the authors look at American constitutionalism with its liberal practices and representative-democracy requirements and show the challenges of its readaptation to contemporary life, on which technological means of information and communication allow for a more direct participation.

Similarly, they discuss the advantages and limitations of Chinese meritocracy anchored in mandarin traditions, which is none other than a bureaucracy guided by Confucian virtue.

For the Brazilian reader, the presentation of some of the political and intellectual currents of contemporary China is very valuable. Summarizing the analysis made by Zhang Wei Wei—he was a collaborator of Deng Xiao Ping’s—and particularly of Pan Wei, a Peking University professor who developed the notion of “institutional civilization” to characterize China’s signature contribution. The authors argue that the committee that rules China, although not elected by the people, constitutes an educated and experienced elite that follows the neo-Confucian notions of pragmatism.

This elite is the state that promotes stability on behalf of the common good. It possesses certain conditions of stability and preservation, when facing pressures from interest groups and public opinion, which allows it to look at the long term in regard to investments in infrastructure and everything else.

Nowadays, according to Zhang, it is more to the point to discuss the rules of good governance, which may cross different production modes and governments, than to mark the differences between market types and political forms of capitalism or between those and socialism.

Unlike what happens in the American “consumer democracy,” based on the direct electoral system of one person/one vote and on the pursuit of immediate gratification of people’s desires, the Chinese system, with less respect for individual rights, may eventually prove more enduring and more efficient by ensuring the needs of the majority in the long run.

By contrast, a consumer democracy risks incurring perpetual fiscal crisis and lack of continuity, when not bogged down in the stalemate of a divided Congress that is unable to overcome the political parties’ reciprocal vetoes. This democracy mistrusts the state and rushes to meet the short-term demands of the population. On the other hand, the Chinese party officials’ mandarin way becomes a quasi-meritocracy, demanding prudence and experience from its members.

Berggruen and Gardels do not endorse all these considerations without some criticism about how the absence of more accountability, free expression and rule of law can lead to decay through corruption and repression.

Rather than dwell on these well known facts, they look to extract from the Chinese experience the predisposition for searching for converging international interests that would be lessons of good global governance. This search for convergences seems to be motivating the leaders of the so-called “harmonious socialism,” as they themselves call the Chinese experiment, prompting them to share global responsibilities.

THE VIEW FROM BRAZIL | We Brazilians, also, are somewhat removed from the American-style consumer democracy. Being far from experiencing a panoptical state as the Chinese model, and far from being a proper consumer democracy like the one in the United States, we have a certain inclination for a very active state which is distinctly non Anglo-Saxon. This does not imply, however, that we are out of the general globalization process. The plasticity that implies accepting diversity, so proclaimed as a virtue of the Brazilian culture, is a condition for the success of the integration of socio-cultural forms that are required for a globalization process to be accepted as legitimate. But this is not news: let us remember that Japan, until recently the world’s second largest economy, became globalized in the market and in production systems and even Westernized its political institutions—but culturally it remained deeply “oriental,” in other words, Japanese.

The core of this book is concerned with the new dimensions of globalization, in the authors’ language, the passage from Globalization 1.0 to Globalization 2.o. This refers to the emergence of new economic players, of emerging nations, which previously stood on the sidelines of the US or Europe, and which today possess an enviable strength.

The central question that arises is that of gaining space, with legitimacy, both for an intelligent governance, that is, one that avoids the dysfunction brought on by the weariness of old solutions, and for new players in the decision-making process. This will only be possible with the acceptance of cultural differences and by developing networks that connect the sub-national systems to global decision-making mechanisms. Hence the importance of the G-20 as a seed of new forms of international cooperation that show respect for the variety of interests and values of each sub-global system.

These few considerations do not exhaust the richness of Berggruen and Gardels’ contribution, which touches on subjects from the origins of the Chinese examination system to the affinities of the Enlightenment philosophers with Confucian ideas to the rise of social media.

It is high time to address all these issues systematically in a world in which the way we each govern ourselves affects everyone else. Berggruen and Gardels have started us down that necessary path.