In my misspent youth
, along with a few of my anarchist delinquent friends, we’d run down the subway’s up escalator. Why, you may ask. It was a way of trading our subway fare for a slice of pizza. The platform at the bottom of the up escalator was unguarded so once there we’d be like “Charlie on the MTA
” who’d “ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston”
Twenty-five years ago Francis Fukuyama’s essay claimed that democracy had won out over all the other ways for people to govern themselves; indeed it was the “end of history”. The Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall were in collapse; it really did look like, in 1989, the dawning of the age of democracy.
“History, (Fukuyama) wrote, appeared to culminate in liberty: elected governments, individual rights, an economic system in which capital and labor circulated with relatively modest state oversight.”
Fukuyama’s claims upset communists, anarchists, fascists, and other groups that support an authoritarian view of mankind. Man is not to be trusted, man must be controlled. And, guess who will do the controlling?
Recently, things have not gone well for democracy – maybe like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban,
who seeks to emulate Russia, Turkey and China, the world prefers something more “illiberal” in the way of governing.
So it is good to have Fukuyama’s most recent essay published in June assessing how far or not we have come over the past 25 years: “At the 'End of History' Still Stands Democracy:
Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall's fall, liberal democracy still has no real competitors.”
He admits to the problems faced by the 120 existing democratic states: backsliding and corruption in nascent democracies. And (in) the developed democracies like the USA, “financial crises, unemployment, blatant and rancorous partisanship… hardly seem(s) a shining example for other democracies.”
At the same time he points out that democracy takes time; in the long term, democracies have done exceedingly well. “We forget”, he says, “that following the revolutions of 1848— Europe's ‘Springtime of Peoples’—democracy took another 70 years to consolidate.”
“Once societies get on the up escalator of industrialization, their social structure begins to change in ways that increase demands for political participation. If political elites accommodate these demands, (and infrastructures of reliable public services develop) we arrive at some version of democracy.”
And, just like in organizations there is “political decay, which constitutes a down escalator. All institutions can decay over the long run. They are often rigid and conservative; ….
Moreover, modern institutions designed to be impersonal are often captured by powerful political actors over time.”
My introductory paragraph conflates Fukuyama’s up and down escalators. What I am suggesting is that organizations too are subject to decay, we go backward on the up escalator and forces – often an administration’s “powerful political actors” – converge to un-democratize the organization.
For me, global politics bear on how we organize ourselves in the work place. I see democratic nations as macro applications of democratic principles, and I see organizational efforts in this realm as micro applications. For example, see my “Un-democracy flipped.”
Fukuyama’s recent essay will be a required reading in my Democratic Workplace class that I will teach again at the University of Latvia this fall. While the essay is largely about economic and political modernization, I hope, it will help my students better understand why it is important for organizations to move toward more democracy, away from the authoritarian boss, the closed and authoritarian hierarchy.
Today’s organizations – even the most autocratic boss will confirm, albeit ruefully - have already, of necessity, become more open and participatory in decision-making. The boss is obligated to be less capricious, less egocentric and egotistical. A domineering CEO has to mask the blatant power grab, the naked jealousy, and the arbitrary punishment of those in the organization who disagree with the boss. We see more and more leaders who lead more like an unboss (trusting, participatory and encouraging) than the stereotypical KITA boss.
Libraries with copies of Leading from the Middl
e: You won’t find a cataloged copy at Harvard, but you will at London’s British National Library
N.B. ”Leading Change”
: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia
. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh.
At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English.
Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.
On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!
@Copyright 2014 John Lubans