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Boaventura De Sousa Santos is director, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal. In Delhi for a lecture, he spoke to Ipsita Chakravarty on the failures of the modern state and why development is a fallible word:
You have suggested that a certain idea of the modern state has run up against its limits. How should we begin to rethink this idea?
The idea of the modern state is based on four premises. One, that the state is an institutional formation, and one of the pillars of modern social regulation. The other pillars are the market and civil society. There must be a balance between these pillars. But the balance has been destroyed in favour of the market. Global capitalism has become the main principle of social regulation, and the state remains legitimate to the extent that it serves the market. This is creating problems because the market was not designed to think of the common good or sovereignty. Two, there are two markets in a modern state. First, the economic market, where there are values that have a price tag. The other is the political market, the market of ideas. These are not for sale. They have to be in competition through the electoral process. Because the logic of the economic market is becoming the basis for state action, we have seen a fusion between the economic market and the political market. So in a sense, political convictions are up for sale. And we call this corruption.
Three, the monolithic, homogenous state has crushed cultural diversities. Often, one aspect of national culture was elevated over others. Four, the idea that the state has three functions. One of legitimacy, the other of capitalist accumulation. But the state also has a trust function — to ensure resources for people, to meet needs that may arise from illness, unemployment, accidents. Since the market now prevails over regulation, accumulation prevails over other functions. So the state in many parts of the world has become untrustworthy. I have been claiming that we are in a period of global civil war of low intensity.
You’ve spoken of ‘revolts of indignation’ that have a generative potential. But in, say, Egypt, the democratic energies of such a movement have been mostly frittered away.
These movements know much better what they don’t want than what they do. About 30-40 years ago, some of these movements would have a clear idea of an alternative society, premised on socialism. After 1989, this came to a crisis. Since then there has been no clear alternative. Some people think they are becoming dangerous. Others like myself think they are truthful not because they are a solution, but because they signal the need for one.
In that context, what about the AAP, which seems to believe in participatory democracy? Recent events suggest they have transmitted some illiberal impulses into the Indian continued…