I would like to offer my thoughts below to your letters section. On April 7 I went to hear the famous Francis Fukuyama, a scholar whose work I admire more than any other I have read since my return from having spent ten years abroad.
I had read his book, “The Origins of Political Order.” He spoke on April 7 on his latest book, “Political Order and Political Decay.” I hadn’t read it but was chatting with a Swedish pair next to me who did and admired him also. They said the new book was claiming that America is in some stage of political decay, based on the notion that political institutions in a powerful country must be strong and promote the general welfare. He does not see that here now. (I agree wholly with that).
Then the author continued with a discussion of failed states like Yemen and Libya and what global disorder is doing to other nations. The United States has also contributed to that disorder by participating in tribal conflicts throughout the middle east and elsewhere.
I thought as I listened: now, we finally have a genuine hero, a scholar who speaks with great gravitas and is respected universally. I was waiting for a statement of “truth” about America’s interference in the conflicts of other nations, the expansion of drone use in war and at home, the loss of privacy, the aggression and above all the economic inequality that has been ignited by banks, corporations and the government, supported by media to brainwash Americans to consume. I believe Fukuyama addressed those “truths” admirably.
The speaker ended his talk by saying something vague about the need for a grassroots movement that would function, as such movements have in the past, to address issues of inequality in the U.S.
At the end of his talk I went up to him and said: Do you know why people don’t speak up or form grassroots organizations? The hegemony of wealth and power in America is so great people fear doing that. I wanted to say: here you are, a scholar with a powerful voice, why haven’t you marched with the Occupy Wall Street grass roots group? What they lacked was strong leadership. You could have been another Noam Chomsky. Where were you? There were so many voices during the anti-Vietnam War days. Where are all the American voices now?
I had noticed in Fukuyama’s talk that when he brought up grass roots, he seemed to be uncomfortable, and that was when I knew even this great scholar and voice had been co-opted by the hegemony that literally rules America today, the very thing that George Washington feared in his own presidency, that the government would become too powerful and he would be conceived of as an emperor.
Certainly, Mr. Fukuyama was not going to risk his powerful connections to walk with the disinherited, the lost middle class, and the growing poor.
I was ashamed at what I perceived to be my hero’s feet of clay. And then I understood why I have been unable to publish at all here in Princeton. A writer can be politely critical of the hegemony of power in America but must follow silent rules if he wants to be published, or, as in the case of our speaker, included among the wealthy and powerful, a place which ensures his and his family’s future.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Fukuyama’s lecture. Political decay in the most powerful nation on earth with no one to stop it. Fukuyama had suggested that because we vote — our key to becoming a successful democratic country — we can overcome the present situation and elect a better person. But he is wrong. No one without powerful money from corporations, banks, PACs, and individuals can be elected today with a message critical of conservative entities that control so much of our lives.
Our political order, Fukuyama claims, formed by the founding fathers and our constitution, survived because of leadership that formerly protected most of the people. Now that political order is decaying. Yet few people are acting to stop the decay.
Sartre, if he were still alive, would have used his title “Huit Clos” to perfectly describe American society in our time.
Libby Zinman Schwartz, Ed.D.