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The Forum
6 Dec
Francis Fukuyama, Chris Patten, Ruth Richardson


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A conceptual meeting point for this week's three ideas, by Emily Kasriel
The Forum, the BBC World Service programme which boldly crosses boundaries: scientific, creative and geographic, presented this week by Robin Lustig.


Political scientist Francis Fukuyama is best known for his controversial treatise The End of History. In it he declared the age-old struggle over political ideologies had ended; liberal democracy, he argued, was the victor. But with Russia, China and the global financial crisis challenging his thesis, could it be that nearly twenty years on we are still hostage to history?

Chris Patten, ex-governor of Hong Kong and former European Commissioner, discusses his new book, What Next?, which looks at the global challenges we face in the next few decades. After every atrocity we always say 'never again' and yet when the next one comes along, we seem to stand idly by? Is now the time to implement the Responsibility to Protect?

As the medical world celebrates 150 years since the publication of perhaps the most influential anatomy handbook of all times, Gray's Anatomy, historian Ruth Richardson considers how some advances in 19th century medical knowledge, were predicated on plentiful supply of corpses of the poor for dissection. And - a century and a half later - are we doing enough to protect vulnerable people who find themselves in situations similar to the destitute of Victorian London?

Listen to the 60 Second Idea To Change The World

Each week one guest presents an idea to enhance the world. This week it's the turn of historian Ruth Richardson.

News Online 60 Second Idea comments

Listener comments...

I enjoyed the programme, as usual. I do not agree with Francis Fukuyama that the world is achieving a consensus in thinking a liberal democracy is the best form of government. Societies will continue to experiment and evolve. Personally, I think some form of socialist regime would be best with people working for the common good but also allowing for, and appreciating, individual differences. I think the American way is too self-centred; I prefer the Scandinavian model.

How do you appreciate the fact that liberal democraty bring extremist groups and groups like hamas in governance? Should it be accepted for the sake of ideology?

I guess the most crucial thing about your suggested New World Order, or rather the end of it, is to establish the principal of JUSTICE - as opposed to USA and UN had shown us in the past (Genocide. torture, Guantanamo, assasinations, Mossad, secret masonary, skulls and bones etc.) if the strive would/should be Global Peace, and not violence, slavery and sweet words.

Liberalism died with the collapse of the free market. The iternal contradictions of the ''free market itself is what brought about the financial collapse . The solution is to socilise world markets and money itself . Dialectical materialism is your only method out of this rabbit hole you've got yourselves lost in.

Nothing the United States has done has in anyway diminished the worldwide wish for democracy. It may have given a pretense to various cliques in power to maintain their power but these pretenses are fig leaves that don't hide the truth. In fact, democracy, in marketing terms, has overwhelmingly won the mindset of the world. Almost everybody, almost everywhere, wants democracy. The Russian and Chinese governments claim to have democracy in their countries they certainly don't preach royalty or anything but universal suffrage. Just Saturday night (December 6) on the BBC show Hardtalkthe author Alaa al Aswany preached for democracy in Egypt. While he complained that successive American governments propped up dictatorships and hindered democracy in Egypt his remarks show that there is a strong, worldwide demand for democracy.

In today's programme, I heard about America losing its moral authority because of the "grotesque double" standard that it perpatrated through its use of certain interrogation techniques, and how Obama's administration may regain some of that moral authority. How can a nation built on slavery, a nation where racism was enshrined in some of it laws as recently as the 1960s, a nation that terrorized nations and its own citizen because of a belief in communism, a nation where its own poor, remeber Katrina, are hope less, a so called leader of the developed world where it is novel that a non-white man becomes president, a nation that has committed atrocites against people in virtually every continent through the decades (Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan, Kenya and more), a nation that is not an honest peacebroker (Israel/Palestine), a hypocritical nation that sells nuclear technology yet prevents others from developing the same technology, a nation that supports abuses of human rights or turns a blind eye when it suits its purpose (Sadam), a nation that supports democracy only on its own terms (Hamas in Palestine, and the list goes on and on. America never had any moral authority. It is a myth, a lie that unravels every now and again.

I appreciated your program very much. Still I would like to highlight two points of the discussion:
I think there is a danger in the assertion of the universality of values i.e. human rights, because it might also mean that the U.S. and Europe are pretending to hold the clue of many more things in their hands, as to telling the world what is right or wrong, good or bad, especially when it comes to interpret single concrete issues (e.g. Somalia: pirates sustainable use of fisheries self sustaining fishers free maritime traffic: who is whose enemy?)

Secondly, if the whole world follows just one principle, there might get lost cognition or finding. If there is no difference any more, you will forget about the fact that you can have a choice!

It may be a lack of liberty, if you as a single state are not entitled to your own decisions that might be contradictory to majoritarian positions because of that almost holy principle of open markets, which in reality doesn't exist (e.g. subsidies in agriculture in USA and Europe). There are so many fields of importance in a society that do not fit into the scheme of open market, like education, public health, infrastructure, free exchange of knowledge between scientists, development of new technologies that are not marketable yet but in the interest of the public (there comes in the claim of competitiveness, which also is a chimera), really existing monopolies that enslave the world. Or there could be a vital interest of so called third world countries, who have knowledge or natural resources that might be exploited by global enterprises to the disadvantage of the former (e.g. patents on plants or traditional procedures of production etc.).

I think, any party who claims to have a universal key is quite questionable.

Francis Fukuyama talks of incredible things that have happened throughout the last twelve months or so. He talks of pendular impetus describing the cycles of economy, and that everything is more complicated than we thought before. ?Now it's a failure to regulate, not of excessive regulation? (Fukuyama). Although we were told all the time that there had been to much regulation still!!! What a poor statement uttered by a world famous scientist!

I was glad about hearing Chris Patten's points, but Ruth Richardson's topics were a little apart from the points of the center of discussion, but that seems to be according to your boldly crossing boundaries.

Certain unexamined assumptions were passed over too quickly:
1) WESTERN DEMOCRACY. There is a teleological assumption implicit in Western religious ideology: things progress toward the Kingdom of God on Earth (or its equivalents).This assumption in not part of the Eastern world view which assumes that things are in constant flux proceeding in great circles ("time's arrow vs. times round")Rule by a specially selected and trained elite could be infinitely superior to what is called Western Democracy. Questions to be resolved: How often should the opportunity be given to change the rulers? How to avoid corruption and nepotism among the rulers?
2) The statement that "traditionally, international law is established by the UN, etc." is wildly in error. What is called "international law" is essentially a series of treaties among states that can be voided at the will of a sovereign state. Unless this concept is understood, an enormous amount of total nonsense will inevitably ensue. The UN and the Security Council are not a World government. Should we move toward a World government? Is the concept of multiple power groupings a step in the wrong direction?
3) The "Right to Intervene" is wishful thinking rather than reality. Lustig is quite right to raise the issue of sovereignty in this connection. A rule of law is desirable. However, a rule of law requires equal application- this is not today's reality. Genocide is often mentioned in connection with a theoretical "Right to Intervene". Genocide has been defined. It is a matter of intent, rather than of body count and includes the forced transfer of peoples. Anyone wishing to grasp this nettle must consider Israel's policy toward the Palestinians.
Bottom line: how much sovereignty should be surrendered to a supranational organization?

The discussion on sovereignty and whether UN or other bodies should be allowed or obliged to interfere when another nation has turned on itself and is self-destructing. And Francis Fukiyama said it would be hard to know how to do it, in practical terms. He is right but perhaps world policies need to be re-arranged a bit so that countries most capable of helping effectively can actually do so.

a) An international pool of Administrators could be set up. These people would have to be of exceptional ability and moral quality. Any troubled country that asks for serious amounts of foreign aid should only get it if it also agrees to employ appropriate administrators from this pool, for a sufficient period to ensure the recovery and stabilisation of said country. The key points are employ and international. While administering the funding now provided for whichever branch of government they are expected to administer, they would answer to the Govt. of the country and there would be no great loss of face for that Govt., any more than when a football team brings in the best coach (however foreign) they can afford, or a big company with some serious glitch employs an expert troubleshooter.

b) "The West" is brainwashed by guilt to feel obliged to constantly pick up the pieces of man-made disasters, even while the disasters are on-going. The end result is that we are enabling the disaster to continue and the costs to us and especially to the country concerned are possibly much greater than if no outside help was given at all until the disaster had played out to its bitter end or if early, very strong, interference brought it to a halt. How come, by the way, that it is always 'the West' held to blame when so many other (most) parts of the world have had their turns at being the baddies?. And the definition of
'man-made disaster' would have to be considered most carefully.

c) The old saying "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" is relevant and should be kept in mind when assessing sovereignty. It has been proved by experience and by experiment (quite a recent one in some American university) that if accountability is set aside utterly, we humans revert at warp speed to the extremely violent primates that we have always been. We have had to evolve our laws, religions, rituals etc. and etc. to allow us to cope with larger and larger numbers of ourselves. An easy example is Mob Violence. In the anonymity of a crowd, perfectly decent people can behave savagely. Afterwards they may be very ashamed and never get into such a situation again, or they will find excuses (I only kicked that fallen policeman once and he was still alive, it wasn't me who gave the final kick). Leaders (of gangs, or companies or countries) who are not held accountable can soon get to the point, it seems, of psycopathy where they really can not recognise the difference between right and wrong. The responsibility of the King's Jester, or the slave in the chariot of a Roman conquerer was to keep reminding him that he was human and therefore fallible. Therefore, support should be given to democracies that stick to a limited number of re-elections for heads of state. At which point does a leader become a dictator or a dictator become a monster.

I contest that Liberal democracy has triumphed.. Europe still arguable is a social democracy, and latin america is to a much greater extent. The problems of free markets are still obvious and manifest in many place today. Democracy itself seems to have suceeded, but by no means has the 'liberal' economic model triumphed. Why else do the people of venezula vote for chavez? Arguably it is the Thatcher Reagan concensus that has caused much of the poverty through free market policies that blights Africa today.

Two men who's complete life has been fixed (for slightly different reasons) in the 'liberal capitalist democratic' structure. Do you expect them to say anything other than 'it's the best, it just screws up sometimes'? They would be surprised how the world will be in 100 years. So would I, but I and they will be dead. Pure arrogance. The end of history - nonsense. And I have read the book.

Yet to really impact on Western-style democracy - or any other system for that matter - is 'open' democracy. In other words, instead of just electing representatives, anyone will be able to influence and generate government policy, legislation and budgets directly, including over the Internet - regardless of who got elected. The Free Software Movement, which creates the free operating system Linux, the free web browser Firefox and the free office suite OpenOffice, has for over a decade now been prototyping the kinds of organisational methods and technologies that 'open' democracy will be able to employ.

Efforts at participatory democracy already being trialed include in the US, ohmynews in South Korea, and TheyWorkForYou in the UK. However in due course, some predict these kinds of 'open' democracy methods will become more important institutions in the national democratic discourse than the processes of representative democracy they are initially designed to help improve upon.

It is far too early to suppose this will predominate.Owing not least to this media, consent will be required, so extremes of theocracy or autocracy fortunately seem doomed.
For democracy to triumph, the general populace must have the power to exert their views, and accept the responsibility for doing so.It will be judged by results.At present opininion is unofficially formed by a tiny clique of global capitalists.
It is not only that financial institutions must be regulated, capitalism is making a bad fist of raising cultural standards, and of making available useful and rewarding work for all.It is also destroying the planet.
within consent government, social, co-operative and communitarian models must be tolerated, and locally tried.
Meanwhile it is wrong for liberal democratic nations to try to export their ideals by force.Abuses within nation states should only be countered through the united nations.
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