Peter Marden, The Decline of Politics: Governance, Globalization
and the Public Sphere. Aldershot, England: Ashgate,
2003. 286 pages.
Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community: A New Approach to
International Relations. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
Irving Louis Horowitz, editor, Civil Society and Class Politics:
Essays on the Political Sociology of Seymour Martin Lipset. New
Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2004. 234 pages.
Jack Goldstone, editor, States, Parties and Social Movements.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 287
reviewed by Ted Goertzel,
Rutgers University, Camden NJ
the Journal of Political and
Military Sociology, Volume 32, No 2, Winter 2004, pp. 277-281.
Peter Marden's The Decline of Politics is the most
dismal of these books. Marden is caught in a miasma of anxiety,
malaise, isolation and discontent. He fears that there is no
alternative to the free trade juggernaut which has hegemony in his
native Australia and almost everywhere else. The villains are the
neo-liberals, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the
large corporations who have colonized the public sphere and reduced the
capacity for open participation in political dialog.
Intellectuals have always been upset by the failure
of political and economic leaders to follow, or even pay much attention
to, their advice. Marden summarizes and critiques the works of
many of them, including such luminaries as Arendt, Aristotle,
Baudrillard, Bauman, Bourdieu, Foucalt, Gellner, Giddens, Habermas,
Hegel, Hobsbawm, Marcuse, Rousseau, Weber and many others. His is
a scholastic method; most of the argument is devoted to analyzing the
works of other scholars. He worries that this can degenerate into
a verbose and pedantic exercise, and writes with admirable clarity
about writers whose books are anything but. His book could be
used as a text by instructors who spend the semester explicating the
works of leading theorists.
The Decline of Politics also includes observations about topics such as
corporate management of health care, China's role in the World Trade
Organization, trade and biotechnology, the September 11 attacks,
increasing surveillance by security forces, the decline of social
participation in wealthy societies, schizophrenic desire as a basis for
postmodern social organization, and the attempts to develop global
civil society. These discussions could serve as a basis for
classroom discussion, but they are not long enough to offer a
Although the title speaks of the Decline of Politics what is really
meant is the decline of the influence of the left intelligentsia and
leftist social movements. Neo-liberal politics, as Marden defines
it, has been ascendant. Leftist movements were much more vital
when they attacked capitalism and offered socialism as an
alternative. Now they attack "neoliberalism," a much mushier
concept, without offering any clear alternative. In his
conclusion, Marden offers little more than a call for politics that is
open, public, contested and responsive to the issues of the day.
But what if the neo-liberals win this political game?
Amitai Etzioni's book is much more upbeat. For him, the vessel of
globalization is half full, not half empty. He is fully aware of
the problems with globalization, but thinks it can also been seen as a
trend towards world government and world community. He offers an
alternative he calls communitarianism. This involves a
normative synthesis of Western scientific, democratic and secular
values with Eastern spiritual and communal values. His views have
something in common with those of social democrats who advocate a
"third way" of social democracy, but he adds a soft religious
dimension. He opposes fundamentalism of all sorts, seeking to
acknowledge the need both for individual freedoms and strong community
norms. He strongly opposes Huntington's clash of civilization
thesis, arguing that the struggle must be against extremism everywhere,
including extremes of rationalism and secularism.
Etzioni's book is based on scholarship and journalism about
current affairs and international relations, with only occasional
references to theoretical writings. He has written elsewhere on
the philosophy of communitarianism, the only part of his work that
Marden discusses. Far from seeing a decline of politics, Etzioni
finds evidence for a global increase in political participation.
He believes that politics still matters, and that the values he
espouses have a chance of winning.
Irving Louis Horowitz has collected a set of articles as a tribute to
Seymour Martin Lipset. Much of Lipset's work was driven by a need
to understand why the socialist parties he favored never had much
success in the United States, when compared to Europe or Canada.
Nathan Glazer observes that this question seems less compelling today,
now that socialism has more or less failed everywhere. Terry
Clark notes that question of the alleged breakdown of class politics,
another debate emerging out of Lipset's work, also seems less
compelling. It depends mostly on how broadly one chooses to
define class. Lipset was a stimulating writer and thinker, and
his autobiographical essay in this volume is a delight. If there
are no comparable figures in political sociology today, this may be
because geniuses are few and far between.
Or it may be because the really big issues that engaged left-of-center
intellectuals have been settled, politically if not intellectually, and
political sociologists have not become really engaged in the issues of
the post-socialist world. One alternative is to retreat into the
ivory tower of scholasticism, as Marden has done. The other is to
escape into complex statistical analyses of quantitative data sets, as
several authors in the Horowitz collection have done. The results
are much less interesting, and less convincing, than those Lipset
achieved with simple cross-tabulations, frequency tables and small-N
Jack Goldstone has collected a set of articles by scholars who worked
together for several years on a common project: seeking common
ground between two different theories of social movements. One
theory views movements as outsiders, challenging the powers that be in
the interests of neglected or oppressed groups. The other sees
them as tightly linked to state institutions and often created and
manipulated by established political actors. The authors soon
discover that neither theory has all the answers. Nor would
synthesizing them in some formal way be helpful. Instead, the
authors offer case studies on topics such as racial contention in the
American south, the FBI's counterintelligence against the new left, the
transition to democracy in Eastern Europe and Mexico, party conflict in
India, racial categorization in the United States and protest cycles in
the American student movement.
Each of the essays is insightful and informative, but none draws much
from the general theories. As Charles Tilly notes in his
afterword to the volume, the authors display a deep ambivalence about
general models of social movements. Resource mobilization,
political process and other theories serve only to raise questions, not
to provide answers.
What then should political sociologists do? Richard Samuels'
essay in the Horowitz volume suggests an answer, one which applies to
anyone who seeks to achieve political as well as intellectual
goals. The successful leader, says Samuels, is a bricoleur, a
tinkerer or problem-solver who uses whatever tools he or she has at
hand to accomplish a goal. In social science, this is best done
when one starts with a puzzle or a problem, such as Lipset's wondering
why socialism had failed in the United States but succeeded in
Saskatchewan. Manali Desai, in the Goldstone volume, raises a
similar question when he asks why social policies have been so
different in the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal. Kim
Williams raises another puzzle, why did so many state legislatures in
the 1960s adopt laws requiring the addition of a multiracial category
on state documents?
Answering empirical puzzles like these requires being a bricoleur,
willing to use any method or theory that can help. So does trying
to solve a policy problem, such as building global institutions to
contain terrorism before some group sets off a nuclear weapon in a
major world city. Amitai Etzioni is to be commended for having
the chutzpah to take on such a topic. Political sociology will be
stronger when more of us rise to similar challenges.