Did the world need another book on the breakdown of public trust in government? Political strategist Doug Schoen apparently thought he could contribute to this indisputably important subject with his latest book The End of Authority: How a Loss of Legitimacy and Broken Trust Are Endangering Our Future. However, judging by Schoen’s own summary of the book, The End of Authority fails to deliver noteworthy insights into the collapse of institutional legitimacy. Even more importantly, Schoen’s ideas for addressing this crisis are not only dull but also dangerous.
Schoen lays out a “three-pronged strategy”:
1. Reform and improve international institutional leadership—whether the UN, the European Union, or the World Bank; we simply must make international institutions more effective, whether in mediating violent disputes or enforcing fair trade and currency practices. Where this effort requires new institutions, this, too, should be pursued;
2. Strengthen nation-state governance; we may live in a global economy and, increasingly, a global mass culture, but the nation-state, changed as its role may be, is not going away; people of vastly different cultures demand governments that speak to their needs and aspirations, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for this task;
3. Direct specific reform and relief efforts, wherever possible, as locally as possible, in order to ensure that the benefits of these policies reach the people for whom they’re intended; in an age of technological wizardry, micro-targeting of resources, if done well, can deliver results efficiently and effectively.
Only a career bureaucrat could take these ideas seriously as antidotes to the global crisis of institutional legitimacy. Band-Aids applied to gushing wounds do not heal the wounds; they only deepen our collective distrust and our pessimism about the prospect of substantive change. Contrary to its purported thesis, the book seems to aim primarily to persuade readers that we can change the system without changing it, simply by applying to the problem the balm of cheery clichés and the hollow language of reform.
In any crisis, the remedy needs to match the depth of the crisis. In a sincere attempt at reform, we should replace Schoen’s ideas with the following:
- The End of Nations — The nation-state is a geopolitical anachronism whose continued existence causes many of the problems that undermine institutional legitimacy. This obsolete social construct continues to fuel the belligerence of many nation-states to the detriment of the global community, not just the immediate victims of unchecked military aggression.
- Election Boycotts — We have a more effective path to genuine reform that millions of eligible voters are already embracing. They simply don’t vote. Some of them don’t vote out of sheer apathy. But a deliberate boycott of the electoral process — a refusal to elect the lesser of two evils — could reduce voter turnouts to a level that would immediately remove any veneer of legitimacy from the business-as-usual political culture. This outcome would speak more eloquently and persuasively than a thousand manifestos. Under this scenario, the kind of fundamental change that Obama promised (whether naively or insincerely) would become an inevitability.
- Restoring the Separation of Church and State — Many false and anti-human beliefs have seeped into politics from obsolete religious doctrines clinging to existence. Restoring the separation of Church and State would set the foundation for better decisions in the areas of civil rights, freedom of speech, end-of-life care and reproductive choices.
As long as Americans and the global community view these ideas as extreme or radical, the crisis of trust will only deepen.