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Read Jane Jacobs' "Systems of Survival" to Understand Donald Trump

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on December 16, 2018 12:44

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Jane Jacobs' 1992 "Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics" might explain Donald Trump's 2016 victory better than Steve Bannon's "Fourth Turning" or President Obama's "Arc of History."

After watching Steve Bannon debate David Frum about Donald Trump, I realized that neither Bannon's cyclical historical determinism nor Frum's knee-jerk liberalism sufficiently explains the rise of Donald Trump.

After all, President Obama's supporters argued he was a "transformative" leader who represented "the arc of history"--in the rise of ethnic minorities, women, and the LGBT community.

Yet, when Hillary lost the 2016 election, she called her fellow Americans "deplorables," "racists," "sexists," "homophobes," and "Islamophobes."

If that doesn't reveal limitations of historical determinism for political analysis, nothing does, since the Obama cycle seems to have lasted only for one Administration. No one knows what comes after Trump, yet.

In my opinion Jane Jacobs' 1992 Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics might offer an analytical paradigm which explains Donald Trump's 2016 victory better than Bannon or Obama's historical determinism.

Jacobs argued there is a conflict between what she calls the "Guardian Moral Syndrome," designed for organizing and managing territories, and the "Commercial Moral Syndrome" invented to facilitate trade and manufacturing...in other words, a fundamental structural tension between Government and Business. Each syndrome requires certain values, mores, and ethical principles--which necessarily conflict.

Thus, Guardians deceive dependents, just as hunters deceive prey, doctors deceive patients under treatment, or armies deceive the enemy in warfare. Guardians basically use guile and force to achieve their ends.

On the other hand, Traders compete openly and honestly, work hard, value efficiency, and love competition. Traders basically use desire and voluntary cooperation to achieve their ends, that is they either pay employees what they earn or sell customers what they want.

The conflict between the two syndromes is worked out through political bargains and compromises. When successful, it produces what Jacobs calls "knowledgeable flexibility." Private or public solutions to social problems are alternatively selected, depending on the particulars of each situation. Choice is the goal.

The important most point, for Jacobs, is not to mix the two...for public-private partnerships lead to "mafia societies" where government favors are traded on a commercial basis, competition is suppressed, and problems permitted to fester.

The worst-case scenario would be what Jacobs calls "caste systems." At that point, shifting paradigms to meet new challenges becomes impossible, as rigid castes mean permanent establishments control government and commerce...much as happened in France before the Revolution. 

Thus, one might see President Trump's rise as a revolt against an attempt to establish such a caste system in the United States based upon the Guardian Moral Syndrome--which some currently call "the Deep State."  Identity politics could be interpreted as caste politics in this regard, with President Obama as a Guardian.

Therefore, President Trump's lack of political experience was an advantage, since he represented the Commercial Moral Syndrome of trade and industry, and sought to restore "knowledgeable flexibility" to the American political system.

For Jacobs, nothing is historically determined, rather should be subject to continuous re-negotiation--as in Trump: Art of the Deal.

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on December 16, 2018 12:44

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Source: Daily Mail

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