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The Paradox of Rationality: Administrative theories and the rise of the ‘Popular Demagogue’

SATTVIKA ASHOK

Foreign policy begins at home, and yet no nation can independently manage the challenges it brings in its wake. Climate change, political instability, financial volatility, terrorist activity, food security and religious conflicts are challenges that do not limit themselves to national borders. These challenges call for international cooperation. However, since 2016, a game changing year in which political developments in the United States of America redefined the global political and economic landscape, there has been a rise in geopolitical rivalry, populism and protectionism all of which are complicating multilateral policy coordination.

The United States is a charter member of the United Nations and one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In addition, it has been, and will continue to be one of the world’s largest economies by its sheer size. The power of the United States as a hegemon however has reduced in the recent past. Apart from the rising power of the BRICS nations damaging the super power status of the country, the biggest threat to America lies within itself. On the 9th of November, 2016 the world witnessed businessman turned television personality turned politician Donald John Trump elected to office as the 45th President of the United States. Globally, citizens were swept over, displaying disheartenment, fear, apathy, anger and plethora of other emotions attempting to draw a sense of understanding and meaning of what a ‘new’ America meant to the world. A narcissistic billionaire with grandiose plans and a disagreeable demeanour, in the time period spanning the first hundred days to six months of his presidency, Trump has taken stances that have left not only the international community but also denizens more disenchanted and disillusioned than ever before. With the discussed global developments as a backdrop, the administrative theories of Herbert Simon and Max Weber can be used to analyse the rationality governing organisational politics and the use of authority and power as a decision-making tool in the global political landscape.

Herbert Simon’s perspective

Here the behavioural approach to organisational theory provides an insight into the interplay of human behaviour in social systems. It is in this arena that Herbert Simon lay emphasis on the idea of administration as a core function of decision-making. He was instrumental in separating factual scientific judgements from ethical or value judgements in viewing administrative action. In understanding the several layers that the state of political administration is in today, the spirit of true democracy has been slowly losing its sheen to the populism wave. Thus it has left a void in the understanding of the role of political leadership in administration. Has power and authority subverted the framework and structure of an organisation to become a one-man show of critical decision making that is neither factual nor moral? While it is becoming increasingly evident from instances witnessed, a close look at models that explain the spectrum of rationality or even so to say encompassing irrationality. Simon propounded a theory of bounded rationality that has its roots in economic decision making. However, Simon preferred to call it as a combination of to satisfy and to suffice, making it ‘satisficing’. According to him, it was important to set the boundary of rationality before setting any administrative ‘principle’. However, contrary to economic theory, he believed that human capacity is restricted and it is not possible for an individual to derive maximum benefit from a course of action as its scope to even understand could be far-reaching. Therefore, bound by ‘cognitive limits’, decisions are so made.  Simon, rejecting the theory of total rationality, examines the spectrum of rationality along the boundaries from the standpoint of an administrative man. An administrative man, not in a position to perceive the exhaustive set of alternatives or solutions resorts to ‘muddling through’ policy framing, as described by Charles Lindblom. However, with respect to ‘good enough’ decision and solutions, the possibility of the area being subjective and grey is higher. If political decisions have an impact on a global level, is there legitimacy in the bounded reasoning by an authority?

Incidentally, ‘Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, the “economic nationalist” wants to sharply curtail immigration, erect trade barriers, reduce U.S. commitments overseas and destroy what he calls the “administrative state”. (Robinson 2017) Their inward looking, populist and nationalist agenda is now being touted as “Trumpism” and includes moves such as attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, imposing travel bans on immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations, increasing defence spending and aggressively promoting protectionist trade policies. Far from making America “great again”, this “Trumpism” coupled with the rise of BRIC nations, climate change, nuclear proliferation and terrorism is slowly but surely eroding the very foundation of the power of the United States. Following Bernard’s ‘zone of indifference’, Simon establishes the concept of the ‘zone of acceptance’ when authority lies within this realm. As a new presidential elect, it could be said that Trump may be basking in the glory of the ‘zone of acceptance’ and it may not be long before the zone shrinks in size. Given, the support from the electorate that he has garnered, as Simon puts it, ‘organisational loyalty’ may be a key driver for the support in the short run but may fail to manifest in the longer run with the zone of acceptance blurring out.

However, as Simon’s critics reinstate that Trump and his compatriots are not merely guided by factual economic judgements, but also use the sentiments of the masses for propaganda and mobilisation. Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, remarked on Trump’s victory saying, “people like me – and probably like most readers of the New York Times – truly didn’t understand the country we live in” (Mishra 2016). This is true, even in the national context of India. The 2014 elections that brought Narendra Modi, a man with the history of the Godhra riots, to power still managed to strike an emotional connect with the masses garnering some sort of faith and support in power of authority.

At this juncture, it is also interesting to draw on the Weberian theory of the foundational structure of authority where traditional authority, charismatic authority and legal rational authority form the tenets of the theoretical base governing bureaucracy. Global politics, however, in recent times has been turbulent, a flight from the liberal rational democratic setup. Trump as well as Modi signal a wave of ‘charismatic’ leadership and authority in the society. Weber’s philosophy explains this phenomenon.

‘There is the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is ‘charismatic’ domination, as exercised by the prophet or — in the field of politics — by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader. …Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him. If he is more than a narrow and vain upstart of the moment, the leader lives for his cause and ‘strives for his work.’ The devotion of his disciples, his followers, his personal party friends is oriented to his person and to its qualities. Charismatic leadership has emerged in all places and in all historical epochs. …Political leadership in the form of the free ‘demagogue’ who grew from the soil of the city state is of greater concern to us…’ (Weber 1919)

Trump is a gifted demagogue, appealing to the prejudices and desires, mirroring the sentiments of the section of the population rather than using rational judgement. Weber describes the historical transition of authority from charisma to tradition to bureaucratic authority. What we witness today with Trump is bureaucratic with underlying shards of charismatic authority that makes many questions the legitimacy of this authority. So is the case with Modi. How can the rationale of Modi being the face and voice behind demonetisation be justified, instigating the debate as to why the Reserve Bank of India did not announce the policy.

Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and the third President of the United States of America, opined that an informed electorate is the cornerstone to democracy. An informed electorate is based on the assumption of relevant information that is backed by facts. The voters are then in a position to weigh the available knowledge to arrive at a reasoned decision, which may not be the gold-standard but is the best available in the given scenario. This relates closely to what Simon called bounded rationality. The onset of Trump however, did not identify with the said assumptions. Instead, it was illusionary and situated itself on the turf of emotion. The use of the rule of thumb and heuristic reasoning in not only the rise of Trump but even critical issues of immigrant labour, healthcare policy et al approached through this channel lays a doomsday ahead for America and the global economy.

Cooperation to Self-Interest?

In this regard, the Paris Agreement of 2015 becomes a stark example. The Paris accord sets out a global action plan and collaborated effort to mitigate climate change. It is a signal from countries to their citizens and industries to collaborate towards low-carbon and greenhouse emissions. It is strange to note the decision of the United States to withdraw from the treaty at a time when the world is in the irreversible transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy. Given this, the time was apt for the US to strengthen their economy for the potential gain of the green economic sector. As Rohit Prasad writes for Livemint, “It is possible the US could miss out on some of the $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the global low-carbon economy represents. More importantly, it could lose its position as the leader of the liberal world order. The decision to make a visible and very public break reflects Trump’s proclivity to adopt sharp policy positions, his preference for hard military power over soft power, and his desire to compensate for the botched exit from Obamacare.” (Prasad 2017) This action viewed closely from the basis of rational decision making has several ramifications. The withdrawal by US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases is a severe international fallout. This is explained by game theorists as the collapse of organised coalitions and the rise of ‘self-interest’ driven players which serves no long-term benefit to the big elephant in the room, the insurmountable effects of climate change (Prasad 2017). The dichotomy is organisational theory behind decisions driven by self-interest and through cooperation and its failure in maximising efficiency is clearly visible. However, well-aware of the effect of the US exit, China, India, France, and other countries committed to the cause have reinstated their cooperation in the Paris Agreement. The means-end construct, that is, rationality in choosing appropriate means to achieve the ultimate purpose that Simon speaks of in organisational theory is largely amiss in the present case.

Conclusion

To conclude the ideas presented in this article, organisational desires and decisions are complex given the myriad issues that we face today. The wave of ‘irrationalism’ rooted in the economic suffering and dislocation of values has inhibited the power of reasoning in understanding the manipulative capacity of authority and power. With the growing concerns of citizenry and the need for international cooperation, expectations of rational motivation and plausible outcomes in both national and global politics remain a question to carefully ponder.

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sattvikaashok@nls.ac.in)

References

Mishra, Pankaj. 2016. “Welcome to the age of anger.” The Guardian . 8 Decemberhttps://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/08/welcome-age-anger-brexit-trump.

Prasad, Rohit. 2017. Donald Trump’s Paris Agreement pullout: Masterstroke, death knell, or farce? 15 June.

Robinson, Eugene. 2017. “We don’t know where Trump stands. Neither does he.” The Washington Post. New York , 13 April.

2017. “The tale of America’s hollow climate change leadership.” LiveMint, 7 June.

Weber, Max. 1919. “Politics as a Vocation.” https://www.balliol.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/politics_as_a_vocation_extract.pdf.

Culture, Politics and Laws: Comparing France and Russia in the 20th Century

DWIJARAJ BHATTACHARYA

With the vast nature and scope of politics, be it in terms of the laws that are governing the society or in terms of mechanisms used for the enforcement of the formal state dictate, there exist numerous approaches in present day literature which provide a theoretical and conceptual framework to enable a holistic and at times focused study of various forms of polity either in a hierarchical environment (federal structures) or in most cases a spatial paradigm (between various countries). Amidst these competing frameworks, two frameworks are held in pre-eminence the institutional approach and the cultural approach.

The institutional approach develops a theoretical framework drawing on the rational consumer theory of microeconomics, where the principal assumption is the rational characteristics of individual actors primarily motivated by utility maximisation. The framework thus results into a metamorphosis of collective action which is a net of all individual actions. The final and most crucial hypothesis of the approach rests in the claim that cost-benefit structure propagated by the institutions of any nation results into the prevalent nature of the political activity, thus making the institutions of a nation crucial, if not sacrosanct in comparing the polity of two nation states.

The cultural approach, on the other hand, deviates from the key assumption of the institutional approach firstly in terms of the nature of human beings and the process of decision-making, and most importantly in terms of defining the incentive structure for such decisions. The approach draws upon the distinction of soft and hard institutions and proposes that political agents are subservient to the cultural and social ethos more than any abstract laws, furthermore the nature of utility (for a utility maximising individual) isn’t unidimensional and has social and cultural characteristics to it which is heavily influenced by historical events. Thus, the key idea in this approach is to analyse the polity through a cultural lens, which shall reveal the political landscape of the actors.

With the apparent ontological dichotomy, it becomes imperative that for the remainder of the paper one approach is selected and later developed for the countries of choice. Thus the paper will utilise exclusively the cultural approach since it is both broader in terms of identifying the stakeholders’ interests and has more depth, given the multi-layered social cocoon under which human agents live. The elements of the institutional approach are mostly derivatives of historical cultural norms and are thus captured greatly by the cultural approach, whose significance is becomes more apparent since there are plenty of cases, where soft norms supersede hard laws especially when looking at cases of dowry, child marriage and other subjects of personal law.

Using the cultural approach the paper will focus on the polity of Russia and France to bring out the key aspects of their political landscape. The reason these countries are chosen is first because of their primary legislations are both derivatives of the civil law system (where France predominantly follows the Napoleonic Code and Russia follows the Napoleonic Code with Germanic influence). Secondly, the countries are both in post-industrialisation phase, suggesting a similar focus on key aspects of welfare politics, like education, health-care etc. Third, historically both the countries have been under oppressive systems and at times under foreign occupation, however, the aftermath of the eclipse of such regimes have been extremely different. Thus, the key distinctions between these two states seemingly originate out of cultural connotations, and thereby enhance the scope of investigation which shall focus on three areas namely, freedom of speech (especially political), individual autonomy and extra-territorial outreach.

The present day conception of Russia and France originated not out of the hallowed Treaty of Westphalia, but out of the October Revolution, 1917 and the February Revolution of 1848 respectively. These monumental revolutions occurred primarily because of the free flow of ideas against the then oppressive regimes, which was able to mobilise a certain section of the population to provide effective leadership to a predominantly peasant revolution. This parochial reading of history suggests that the ethos of a free press and freedom of expression should be widely regarded as a sanctimonious entity. However, the societies have had subsequent cultural conditioning that has for all intents and purposes created a divergent cultural momentum when it comes to freedom of expression.

The February Revolution of 1848 had brought the Second French Republic to life, but the idea of a republic in France has existed since mid-17th Century. The French revolution of 1789 was a result of a free flow of these ideas, but the first republic didn’t survive for long. Following the demise of the first republic, there were a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions by the then military leaders, political elites and leading intellectuals of the country. This series of revolution and counter-revolution generated a plethora of literature, some of which have achieved the status of antiquities, and has established freedom of speech and expression as a sine-qua-non for the present day France.

Though the Russian revolution was similar in character, the resultant political system varied extremely. The founding fathers who arrested the growth of the Russian Empire did reap the privileges of the freedom of expression especially during their exile in West European countries, however once tasked with maintenance of a state, atop the bedrock of the then germinating communist ideals found it necessary to curb such freedoms. The curtailment of the said freedoms didn’t generate a great deal of dissent primarily because the then Russia (USSR) was culturally disposed against the propagation of any but traditional education, given the majority of the population still operated under feudal norms.

Therefore, it is evident that the historical forces created distinct cultural fabrics in the two nations, with a divergent disposition towards freedom of expression albeit their initial similarities and common legal paradigm (since both are predominantly civil law countries). This cultural divide in terms of accessible agency of the citizenry has also seeped into the realm of individual autonomy. The creation of the French Republic with individuals at the centre helped further the culture of individual determinism, thus moulding the subsequent acceptance of deviant sexuality. In the case of Russia, the feudal cultural fabric till date hinders the emancipation of homosexuals. Furthermore, the decriminalising of domestic violence by the Putin Administration is a manifestation of the feudal cultural norms present in Russia which stands at an odds with the French regime of anti-domestic violence and postmodern regime of child rights originating out of the cultural evolution in France.

Finally, the cultural momentum of being a superpower has affected the foreign policies of both the nations. The recent Russian forays into their neighbouring countries, especially Ukraine and places of strategic interest captures the leftover cultural momentum of USSR, something that France also engaged in subsequent to World War 2 (WW2). However, the military losses of France after WW2, especially in Vietnam, has softened the manifestation of the cultural glut of supremacy, thus limiting the intrusiveness of present French foreign policy. This uncanny similarity and subsequent divergence is yet another manifestation of the cultural undertones in the two countries.

It is safe to say that institutions definitely alter the social and cultural fabric of a nation, however, no institution can ever survive without any pre-existing subscription base, which is determined by the cultural undertones of the society. The case of France and Russia, nations born amidst the fire of revolutions and later crumbling down from the zenith of world dominance is a stark reminder of the varying political landscape, curated by cultural relativism.

(Dwijaraj is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at dwijaraj@nls.ac.in)

Image Source: https://www.crossed-flag-pins.com/Friendship-Pins/Russia/Flag-Pins-Russia-France.html