e live in a world in profound transition where mounting governance challenges have become more complex at both the national and global levels. New technologies have created unprecedented flows of instant information that have magnified the challenge. Governments are seen to be delivering too slowly in a world that is moving very fast.
All this has ignited an international debate on governance in the 21st century. An exciting new book now joins this debate. The authors of Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century, Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels offer sharp insights into why this critical issue needs to be rethought.
The authors put forward an ambitious idea; provocative for those who believe only Western liberal democratic models can produce good governance. They propose instead that both East and West should learn and adapt from one another, combining "knowledgeable democracy" with "accountable meritocracy".
The book discards the West vs East paradigm and the ethnocentric presumption that Western political ideas and systems are bound to overshadow others, popularised by Francis Fukuyama in his "end of history" thesis. For the authors, the question is not if Western style democracy will triumph over rule by a meritocratic mandarinate rooted in China's ancient "institutional civilisation" or the other way around; but whether a "middle way" between them can be evolved. By this, they mean finding a balance between meritocracy and democracy, authority and freedom, to create the most intelligent form of governance.
In a very readable book, the authors examine the strengths and deficiencies of West and East and suggest drawing on the best practices of both to recalibrate political systems and evolve hybrid institutional arrangements that combine signature elements from popular democracy and the Confucian tradition of a learned meritocracy.
The book starts with the proposition that both Western and Eastern political systems need correction, faced as they are with common challenges. They argue compellingly that dysfunction, decay, polarisation and ideological rigidity afflict governance systems in much of the West. Unless it reforms, electoral democracy embedded in a consumer culture of instant gratification is headed for "terminal decline". Citing Fukuyama, who wrote that liberal democracy has become a "dysfunctional vetocracy", the authors argue that electoral democracy is in crisis. This is because it prioritises short-term interests, unmitigated by robust deliberative institutions, which have become weaker and unable to promote the general good. In the US, democracy appears as unable to self-correct as free markets — which the 2008-09 financial crisis testified.
On the other hand, China takes a long-term governance perspective, can make tough decisions and effectively implement them. China's operative system is based on the meritocratic tradition of learned and experienced elites and reflected in the modern mandarinate of the Communist Party. This enables it to chart out a long-term path and is responsible for its remarkable rise.
But the Chinese system is also under stress as it evolves into a more complex advanced economy. It needs correction because it "lacks accountability, is rife with corruption" and faces mounting demands from its people for democratic checks on arbitrary authority and cronyism. China, the authors conclude, will adopt its own version of democratisation.
From this discussion, the authors conclude that the best attributes of both Eastern and Western systems can help to develop a template of intelligent governance. This means striking a better balance between rights and responsibilities, as well as a check on populist and partisan impulses by instituting the perspective of the long term and common good in a strong deliberative body. For the authors, intelligent governance requires "devolving" power, "involving" citizens in areas of their competence and "decision-division" that fosters "legitimacy and consent for delegated authority at higher levels of complexity".
China, this argument holds, would "need more participatory involvement and a more accountable meritocratic mandarinate to achieve balance", while "The United States would need a more depoliticised democracy in which governance for the long term and common good is insulated from the populist short-term special interest political culture of one-person-one-vote elections".
Does Pakistan have anything to learn from this discussion? At a time when a new government is poised to assume office the answer is yes. There are obvious governance principles such as the need to achieve both legitimacy and competence in framing policy actions and giving primacy to merit over cronyism. There is also the principle of taking sound, informed and long-term decisions for the common good — the quintessence of smart governance.
Intelligence Governance for the 21st Century: a Middle Way between West and East, Nicholas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels, Polity Press, USA, 2013.