Academic journal article European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Social Capital. Trust and Ideology

Academic journal article European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

Social Capital. Trust and Ideology

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Whilst it is true that there are a number of various definitions of social capital, it is fair to say that the core meaning of the notion is that of a web of social relationships in a community based on trust. The latter is the subject of a study by Francis Fukuyama who - as far as the social capital, and social science literature in general, is concerned - has done most for popularising the notion (although trust is also emphasised by, inter alia, Putnam, 1995; Brehm and Rahn, 1997). Fukuyama's famous, or notorious, if you will, thesis arose, it is important to remember, as a reflection of the collapse of''real socialism"1 in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the apparent triumph of twin free-market doctrines of Reaganomics and Thatcherism undermining the postwar welfare state institutions. That grandiose claim proclaimed the arrival of humankind at its final form of society: "liberal democracy is the only legitimate ideology left in the world, an end of history in the Marxist-Hegelian sense of History as a broad evolution of human societies towards a final goal" (Fukuyama, 1995: 3). With no competing macro-economic systems to market capitalism, and "with the competitive advantages of location or technological innovation being rapidly diminished through globalization, Fukuyama seeks to explain the relative success of national economies in terms of culture" (Field et ah, 2000:16). Apparently in keeping with his anti-statist bent, Fukuyama asserts that circumstances conducive to success are found among communities "formed not on the basis of explicit rules and regulation but out of a set of ethical habits and reciprocal moral obligations internalized by each of the community's members" (1995: 9).

A comment is in order regarding Fukuyama's treatment. To couch trust as a social phenomenon in ethical terms is to overstate the incidence and relevance of the moral in society, as, amongst other things, Luhmann (1979) implies in pointing out that to not trust in its broadest sense would prevent an individual from rising in the morning. He calls this type of trust "confidence" (Luhmann, 1988).

According to the prophet concerned, "virtually all serious observers understand that liberal political and economic institutions depend on a healthy and dynamic civil society for their vitality" (Fukuyama, 1995: 4). "The field of social capital is thus elevated to being the crucial factor, forging the only viable forms of economy and polity" (Field et ak, 2000:16). Fukuyama holds that 'a nation's prosperity and competitiveness hinge upon a single, pervasive, cultural trait: the level of trust present in the society and this depends on "the crucible of trust" - social capital' (1995: 7, 33). He goes on to distinguish between societies characterized by high trust or low trust and, consequently, between forms of solidaristic organization which are "older, economically harmful or inefficient" and those which are "wealth creating" (1995: 159). Trust is defined as 'the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and co-operative behaviour, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of the community ... these communities do not require extensive contractual and legal regulation of their relations because prior moral consensus gives members of the group a basis for mutual trust' (1995: 26). It is instructive to learn how those notions match real-world situations. Now, examples of high-trust societies for Fukuyama are Japan, Germany and the United States characterized by the development of large-scale corporations out of family firms through the medium of "rich and complex civil society" (1995: 130). Low-trust societies are those of China, Italy and France, the first two characterized by the restriction of trust, and thus enterprise, to the 'family'; the latter by the destruction of a rich civil society by a centralizing state. "The test criterion for distinguishing between high- and low-trust, and between inefficient and efficient, forms of solidarity is in each case 'economic progress', necessarily unanalysed as it is assumed to be the universal of human societies" (Field et ak, 2000:17). …

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