Samfundsinstitutioner

David Brooks havde for et par dage siden en interessant klumme i New York Times: ‘We used to build things’.

Brooks’ giver den altid gerne i rollen som den store tænksomme (og småmoraliserende) samfundsfortolker, hvilket af og til er ustyrligt irriterende. Men denne gang har han fat i noget, tænker jeg. Med udgangspunkt i det første årti i 1900-tallet skriver han:

When you look back at that era, you are struck by how many civic institutions were founded to address the nation’s problems. Not only the Forest Service, but also the Food and Drug Administration, the municipal reform movement, the suffrage movement, the Federal Reserve System, the Boy Scouts, the 4-H clubs, the settlement house movement, the compulsory schooling movement, and on and on. Four amendments to the Constitution were passed in those years.

In fact, when you look back on most periods of American history you see a rash of new organizations being created. In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin helped build the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Fire Department, The Pennsylvania Gazette, The American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania Hospital and much else.

In the 1930s, the alphabet soup of New Deal agencies were created. The late 1940s saw the creation of the big multinational institutions: the U.N., NATO, the World Bank, the I.M.F., the beginnings of the European market.

When you look around today, you see a lot of history-making new companies being created, but you don’t see too many big civic organizations. There are some great social entrepreneurs, like Bill Drayton, who started Ashoka, but the only vast national civic movements I can think of are the charter school movement and the Tea Party.

Måske det er den slags, man kun kan (og bør) vurdere på årtiers afstand. Altså for med nogen klarhed og objektivitet at kunne forstå hvilke begivenheder og institutioner, der er vigtige og varige.

Men hvis jeg nu alligevel vover en præmatur analyse … så har jeg vanskeligt ved at se hvilke varige danske og europæiske samfundsinstitutioner, der er opstået de seneste 15-20 år.

Vi har ikke opfundet nogen andels- og arbejderbevægelser, kvindefrigørelse, velfærdsstat, undervisningspligt eller lignende. Kan I komme på nogen? Altså, reelt varige og betydningsfulde samfundsinstitutioner, som har forandret noget? Tæller Venligboerne? Eller partiet Alternativet1? De seneste 10 års fokus på klimaforandringer har heller ikke for alvor manifesteret sig i nogen civilsamfundsinstitutioner eller en markant anderledes ført politik.

Måske har vi i Danmark og Vesteuropa levet i den vildfarelse, at vi mangler reelle problemer at løse, nu hvor den Kolde Krig var ovre og vi definerede politik til mestendels at handle om ’spillet’, justeringer af velfærdsstaten og omfordelingen af den velstand, vi efterhånden tager for givet? Eller har vi i vores del af verden faktisk nået topmålet af udvikling, så der ikke er mere at kæmpe for? Som Simon Kuper skrev i Financial Times for nylig efter et besøg i Holland:

I was on a whistle-stop tour of five Dutch cities last week when I found myself thinking: this is peak humanity. No people anywhere have ever lived better. Most town centres were gorgeous, having avoided any destruction for centuries. Cyclists puttered past café terraces. The only hassle was torn-up streets, as perfectly good infrastructure was being renovated.

The knee-jerk retort would be that I was watching out-of-touch elitists party while ordinary people sink.

In fact, the historically egalitarian Netherlands has become still more equal in income distribution since the 1990s. Nor is the typical Dutch person uniquely blessed. Even in the extremely unequal US, median household income is a respectable $59,039. Viewed historically, and contrary to popular belief, most westerners today live pretty well. We’ve had 72 years of peace and prosperity.

Titlen på Kupers klumme er imidlertid ‘Why humanity’s luck may be running out’. Hans efterfølgende pointe er, at de 72 års fred og fremgang i Vesteuropa set i et længere historisk perspektiv er en anomali – og at de store globale tendenser (klima, naturkatastrofer, 3 mia. flere mennesker i 2050, atomkrig lurende rundt om hjørnet) ikke ligefrem er i menneskehedens favør. Så vi bør i virkeligheden begynde at opfinde samfundsinstitutioner, der kan medvirke til at løse problemerne. Her igen David Brooks:

We’ve got just as many problems as previous generations faced — as many as in the progressive era, I’d say. Why has there been this decline in civic institution building?

Political polarization has got to be a big culprit. The federal government can’t build anything new, even something as obvious as a national service program. The churches have let us down, too. The Christian churches have been behind most of the big social movements in American history, like abolition, poverty programs and civil rights. But for the past generation the church has been fighting a defensive war against the sexual revolution, not an offensive assault for opportunity and human dignity.

The affluent have also been less entrepreneurial. Many civic institutions in past decades were created by people like T.R. and Pinchot, who inherited family empires but devoted their lives to civic institution building.

But I wonder if there is also a malaise, a loss of faith in the future and a loss of expertise in institution building, a sense of general fragmentation and isolation. American foreign policy, which used to be about building positive coalitions to make life better, now seems to be based on the idea that we should defensively withdraw from things. There has been a loss of civic imagination.

The good news is that one could have said the same thing in 1890, when politics was steeped in corruption and the economy wracked by crisis. But by 1910 the landscape was transformed. There were new organizations, new movements, a new mentality and a new burst of optimism.

Jeg kan godt lide hans formulering ‘loss of civic imagination’. Måske det er dækkende for tilstanden herhjemme? Vi kan ikke for alvor forestille os noget andet (og bedre eller værre) end vores nuværende samfundsmodel. Derfor bruger vi tiden på at gå op i navnene på attraktioner i Tivoli eller på om 200 kvinder må gå i burka. Derfor indfører vi formålsløs grænsekontrol, hvis eneste effekt er at forsinke trafikken. Derfor laver vi små reformer, der flytter rundt på 2 mia. kr. i et samlet statsbudget på 1.000 mia. kr.

Men måske vi burde begynde at bruge fantasien en anelse. Tag nu bare denne uges forside af The Economist:

Udover at det er en æstetisk meget tilfredsstillende forside, så indkapsler den også på fortrinlig vis, at det er en ganske anden verden, som mine to børn komme til at blive voksne i. Hvis Xi Jinping allerede i 2017 kan betragtes som verdens mest magtfulde person, hvordan mon så den sinocentriske verden vil se ud i 2050? Det vil være en verden med en ganske anden demografisk, kulturel og religiøs sammensætning.

Jeg forsøger af al magt at undgå at lyde for alarmistisk. Men på mig virker det som intellektuel dovenskab og arrogance, hvis vi i Danmark ikke får tænkt grundigt over hvordan vi griber den situation an – og at vores samfundsinstitutioner følger med.

  1. Jeg vil dog argumentere for, at Alternativet siden de blev valgt ind i Folketinget i 2015 har opført sig præcis ligesom alle andre parlamentariske partier i opposition. Derfor vil jeg ikke betegne dem som en institution, der har skabt nogen særlig varig forandring []