The Problem of Universalism As Collective Representation for Societal Organization: A System-Culturalist Analysis

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
John Eustice O'BRIEN, Portland State University (ret.), France
Josiane MARTIN-O'BRIEN, ESCP-Europe, France
Dating from Plato vs Aristotle about particulars and universals, the figure of universalism energetically resurfaced during the Italian Enlightenment. Displacing theology and hereditary aristocracy as structuring principle, after penetrating the symbolic space of social organization, the figure fueled the Revolutionary Age, opening the way for parliamentary democracy. From that foothold, universalism was diffused as justification for a special mode of Western future: Political Organization was to be free and representative; state organization was to be social-welfare accountable; and the legitimate world view was to be based on the lingering aura of Humanism, allowing freedom of thought, expression and belief, assuring the West would be forever safe from ideological usurpation. Alas, something went wrong.

Sociology developed in that 19th-century transitional space and has struggled to deal with it ever since. Although Durkheim’s collective-representation is a useful descriptive tool for modeling this war of socio-cultural worlds, it is difficult not to agree that Marx got it right. The technical side of 19th-century development fueled opportunity and by that a rapacious appetite of capital for evermore of it itself. The Humanist Universalist Ethos slid off the screen, replaced by a pragmatic ideology of efficiency and effectiveness.

Despite the crisis of alienation it is fostering at home, expressing a heavy dose of false-consciousness, Westerners are racing to impose this self-serving mode on the world. To exemplify the resulting dilemma for the non-Western world, case material is discussed about the consequences of attempting to export a Western Version of Managerialism into the Industrial Structure of India, via MBA-like training of engineer-managers. With the Indian Symbolic Space occupied by a powerful strain of generic spirituality, penetration by a managerialist ideology meets resistance. An original General Systems Model is used to exemplify these historical-cultural developments, based on which possible paths of redressment are proposed.