Modernization and its Political Consequences
 

Preface


Any investigation, as we know, has a “context of discovery” and a “context of justification.” The latter, in theory, comprises a clear statement of the problem and a coherent and consistent argument. But in reality--and certainly in the human and social sciences--investigations are rarely planned and systematically conducted, though they are usually presumed to be so after the fact. The context of discovery consists largely of wrong turns, dead-end tracks, and nonrational strokes of intuition, inklings, guesswork, prejudice, and so on. And there is nothing wrong with that--so long as the winding paths lead somewhere in the end.

                This investigation thus began, in the usual manner, with little more than a sense of unease. On the one hand, several trends in our society seemed to be curtailing people’s political freedom jointly to give meaning to their communal existence. The term ”modernization” aptly sums up these trends. Modernization is an exceptionally complex process, roughly covering the differentiation, individualization, and rationalization of society. Of these, the most important is rationalization, which entails the growing importance of functional rationality and the diminishing importance of substantial rationality in more and more spheres of life. The consequences of modernization for our political freedom have provoked some generalized laments about the ”gap between citizens and politics,” the ”malaise of modernity,” ”Politikverdrossenheit,” the ”End of Politics,” the ”End of History,” and so forth.

                On the other hand, various proposals for political and administrative renewal advanced over the past two decades--proposals that have since been carried out for the most part in many countries--only seemed to be increasing the widespread feeling of political discontent. These proposals constitute an answer to this discontent or to related problems that are said to afflict the welfare state today: being overstretched, overburdened, and immobile, bogged down in red tape, uncontrollable, and encapsulated, and lacking legitimacy. The proposed political and administrative changes may be subsumed under several fashionable headings: privatization, farming out, marketization, deregulation, decentralization, flexibilization, and globalization. Such changes set the stage for a restructuring of politics, the economy, and society. In my opinion, this restructuring only deepens the political powerlessness or malaise by promoting the very same modernization trend that spawned the widespread political discontent in the first place.

                What made me feel uneasy, perhaps even aggravated, is the state of European social democracy and its ”liberal” American counterpart. This ”progressive” political movement has traditionally been a counterweight to unbridled modernization. In a sense, the attempt to control modernization processes was the raison d’être of socialism, as it was of social democracy, its main heir. Both European social democracy and American liberalism have nonetheless been ”modernized” over the past twenty years. In the process, social democracy in combination with market liberalism has become a driving force of modernization. It seems that social democracy has given up trying to achieve any cultural-political aims that might transcend current societal processes.

 

The overarching goal of my research was thus to outline the political consequences of modernization. Briefly, the central research question is as follows: What are the consequences of modernization for the positive political freedom of citizens to give their society direction and meaning? I took the theories of two American political scientists--Robert A. Dahl and Charles E. Lindblom--as a point of departure for my argument. I shall expand on these theories in the second and third volumes of this study. Together, their work spans more than half a century, thereby offering a vantage point for reviewing almost all of the debates on political thought that took place in the second half of the twentieth century. Moreover, their theory of pluralism may be seen as both a manifestation and a justification of the modernization process, at least until the mid-1970s. In short, pluralists presume that society is fragmented and individualized; all in all, they recommend social and political fragmentation as a means to prevent the concentration of power and to enhance the quality of public decision-making. Indeed, they do not put much stock in the possibilities of discussing values and aims on rational grounds or of governing society on the basis of a well-wrought substantial rational plan. Furthermore, in its original form, the theory of pluralism seemed to constitute a lucid defense of the current social, political, and economic system.

                Actually, I wanted to use the theory of pluralism as a backdrop for my position that a society grounded in pluralistic assumptions cannot transcend itself. That is why its citizens are largely unable to resolve the problems associated with modernization--social and political disorientation, powerlessness, and alienation.

                Working through the vast literature produced by Dahl and Lindblom only raised more questions, however. For instance, I noted that both had grown remarkably radicalized in their later work. Initially (rightly or wrongly) lauded or maligned as apologists of the status quo, they turned into fierce critics of the current social and political system. In their own view, though, their critique remains within the bounds of the traditional pluralistic framework--a standpoint I do not share, incidentally. Moreover, both took a social-democratic stance in their early work, of which the imposing Politics, Economic, and Welfare (1953) is a case in point. Thus, in the course of their intellectual history, they shifted from the left to the right and back again. It is also striking that this shift ran counter to prevailing societal trends. How can we explain this contrariness? In the same vein, it struck me that many ideas that now enjoy currency among European social democrats (and others far afield) had already been extensively articulated and substantiated by Dahl and Lindblom in the 1950s and 1960s. However, they thought they had every reason thoroughly to revise some of those ideas. How can comparable theories on the organization of society be considered untenable but also as a necessary adaptation to modern times?

                Thus, I kept raising more questions on the development of political thought. These questions became ever more pertinent in light of the pessimistic conclusions that Lindblom drew in the 1990s about the potential of the social and political sciences to produce generally accepted ”knowledge” and about the overwhelming capacity of interested parties to construct or channel public opinion. For instance, he wrote that in a genuine science, debate leads to a convergence of ideas and to a broadly accepted ‘”‘body of knowledge.” But as he concluded, “In political science, debate rarely leads to findings. And on any given big issue of fact or value, debate in political science tends to be endless rather than declining (or terminating in a finding)” (1997: 243). In other words, I wondered whether we have made any progress in our political thinking or political knowledge. Can we actually make any progress in these fields? Or is the spread--the acceptance and even the popularity--of political ideas simply a matter of fashion, conventions, or what Lindblom calls ”impairment”?

                These questions became even more poignant in light of the way Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Joseph Schumpeter perceived the modernization of society. Many of their perceptions seemed remarkably topical to me, and it seemed easy to translate much of the current debate on the fundamental social and political problems of our time--and on their solutions--into terms used by Weber, Mannheim, and Schumpeter, although only a few participants in the present discourse seem to be aware of this.

                Yet my main reason for analyzing the work of Weber, Mannheim, and Schumpeter was to bring the modernization of Western society and politics into focus. As I stated earlier, this process forms the overarching framework for the entire study, and these theorists are preeminent thinkers on this subject. Thus, I have formulated the central problematic of this book as follows: What are the effects of modernization on the political freedom of citizens, through participation in the democratic process, to exert influence on the structure and development of their society? This problematic is addressed by asking more specific questions. How do Weber, Mannheim, and Schumpeter define modernization? Which forces underlie this process in their opinion? What are the consequences of modernization for the individual and society? What consequences does modernization have for the ways in which we can and do give substance to politics and democracy?

                The next two volumes of this study will depict politics and policymaking in a modernizing society, mainly in terms of the work of Dahl and Lindblom. There we shall see that Dahl and Lindblom--like many others--have built largely upon perspectives and insights eminently formulated by Weber, Mannheim, and Schumpeter (though their debt to Schumpeter is much less generally assumed). For this reason, the present book also serves as an introduction to the work of these two theorists. On top of that we shall find out that Dahl and Lindblom eventually, at the end of their career, were struggling with problems like those confronting their distinguished predecessors in the interbellum period. Therefore, the overarching question is to what extent the problems that modernization confronts us with today (again) can (still) be solved within the pluralistic political and policymaking framework, a framework that was brilliantly justified by Dahl and Lindblom in the 1950s and 1960s and that is widely accepted today.

 

I shall end this preface with a few words of gratitude. The Department of Political Science at Yale University has been a most gracious host to me over the past several years, for which I am most grateful. In particular, Robert Dahl, Robert Lane, Helen Lane, Charles Lindblom, and James Scott were an enormous stimulus to my work during that period. I thank them for the many written and oral exchanges of ideas, but especially for their friendship. I am grateful to Rudi Wielers, Jos de Beus, and Ton Kreukels for their comments on an earlier version of this book and for our many congenial, though always stimulating, differences of opinion. Finally, I am deeply indebted to Talja Blokland, who offered constructive criticism on every line, sometimes more than once. She has seen it. And that is what matters most to me.