2012/11/05

Patronage

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The idea that Afghanistan was on its way to democracy or republic has faded away. It has become obvious that Karzai is focusing on maintaining power for him and his corrupt clique, not much unlike Putin.
A democracy without democrats or republic without republicans.

A piece of paper with letters on it is only as powerful as much power the people lend to it. Its powerful if people obey the letters, and just a piece of cellulose if not. To call it "constitution" doesn't change this and never did, nowhere.

So what they're having in Afghanistan and Russia as well as many other countries is the system that's competing with democracies: No matter what it's officially like, in reality it's a patronage-based system.
Students of history recall such systems from the ancient Roman Republic; powerful patrician patriarchs were heading an extended familia including many ordinary citizen, who gave followership (especially politically) in exchange for protection. The patriarch was their lawyer, lobbyist and sometimes also their bank.
It wasn't very different in Germanic tribes, where leaders formed group of people following them and getting advantages (such as spoils of war) in return.

ISAF and other Westerners were working a lot along multiple fictions in Afghanistan. One being the fiction of a republic. The people knew there was none, and it was all about patronage. The people in power extracted wealth (for the time being mostly from the naive foreigners and drugs) and this wealth did to some degree trickle down in exchange for followership. The way to government services was followership, not going to court or waiting for government turning competent AND altruistic.

The foreigners were not meant to provide a patronage parallel to the government, for they were supposed to support the government, to stabilise it. This kept them from gaining followership they wanted; even if only followership for their cause. They could buy some followership temporarily, but they're astonishingly incompetent in followership politics. They can tell you a lot about elections and parties which are mere tools of the patronage systems, but have no clue about patronage.
Maybe ISAF lacked enough South Italians and Greeks.

South Italia and Greece are a European region and country respectively which know very well how to maintain the facade of democracy and can fool both EU and Northern Europeans into believing there's true democracy and one could expect their politicians to work along the democracy pattern of politics, even if only along a general populist model (in which the politician addresses much of the population, without a strongly established pattern of patronage). There's a grey zone between patronage in all its forms (even the most totalitarian regimes, monarchies etc are patronage-based; no government runs on intelligence service terror alone) and democracy.

Even Germany has a bit of grey, as for example the conservatives pander to farmers and clerics regularly, while the social democrats can be expected to rarely hurt labour unions. The politicians of both parties expect political support in return; labour unions are expected to have a red-ish political messaging and no poor timing for their actions that could embarrass social democrats in power and the churches are expected to support conservatives on all family policies at least.


A really dangerous form of patronage involves money; lobbying and especially a tight connection between big business or the financial sector and the cabinet. This can range from unusual access by a lobbyist to a politician that distorts a politician's perception of public opinion or public welfare up to Fascist corporatism in which business elites willingly cooperate with a Fascist government and get advantages such as silenced opponents or monopolies in return.
Right now the energy political problem #1 in Germany is that our energy lines cannot transfer the huge amounts of energy produced by wind power from the North to the South. The power lines are simply unsuitable. This issue dates back all the way to a 1930's monopoly law enacted by Nazis to create regional monopolies for the energy big business elite. Said monopoly regions did not connect well with each other, so we had developed in effect a fragmented energy supply grid during most of the time of its expansion. This was even a critical vulnerability in the strategic air war, but the Allies didn't get this in time.
It's not the only such stupid legislation that still haunts us by being in effect legally or de facto.
Another example is a ban on interregional bus lines from 1934 that was meant to please the leadership of the already long ago nationalised rail traffic corporation. We get rid of this nonsense monopoly only now. This nonsense is the effect of patronage policies; they're not efficient at all for anything but sustaining political support.

Cold War propaganda has indoctrinated us for decades that the contest is between Western liberalism and Communist totalitarism. In reality, it's a slippery slope that ranges from politicians being forced to govern for their people to politicians getting away with maintaining power (or trying to do so) with patronage.


The decade-long misunderstandings in Iraq and Afghanistan where  the installation of Western-style democracy failed and the decade-long misunderstanding of Greece as a modern Western country with politicians oriented at national general welfare were probably a late effect of Cold War propaganda.
We should open our eyes and watch out for whether foreign politicians are patronage-driven. That's likely more telling than keeping count of imprisoned journalists.

We should also be alert, and reject patronage attempts at home and punish patronage politics in elections. As mentioned before, it's a slippery slope. There's more than one Western country in acute danger of sliding it down.

S Ortmann
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1 comment:

  1. US is not there for any democracy or whatever similar doctrine.
    They could practice much more easier that democracy stuff in KSA or their other Gulf protectorates.
    They went in order to have a military presence and control over the energy resources from Central Asia. And got handed a military defeat by Mullah Omar and his boys.
    No democracy on either sides.
    Due to a lack of fire power all that Omar can do is keep them besieged and impotent into their basis. Which his troops did with reat efficiency.
    Not much fire power needed to keep the mercs besieged. I do not speak with hostility - I have friend who went there multiple times, not Americans though, Euro armies - and it was a good well payed job. And sometimes interesting.
    Life is usually more complex then seen on TV.
    But why repeat new propaganda inventions like democracy or other useless words? They do it pretty well on TV unaided.

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