As we have seen, conventional wisdom has it that political order is characterized by a whole list of patrimonial networks and personalistic, particularistic, and ascriptive business politics, a symptom of the pervasive blurring between the public and the private sphere. The ‘thoroughly corrupted society’ as a remote likelihood over forty years ago, seems to have become reality in many states, leading in many cases to complete economic and social breakdowns—not only a failure of development in terms of social and economic indicators but also a failure of modernization, of the institutionalization of the modern system. Rapaciousness, corruption, and inefficiency seem to have become the hallmark of modern business politics, again after the retreat of the Third Wave. Maybe the merit of the concept of neo-patrimonialism is the fact that, to a certain degree, it reinserts the historical context into business politics. It shows how the ‘modern’ business is appropriated by private interests, an interaction which is strongly couched in economic, social as well as symbolic (ethnic, religious, magical, etc.) terms.
Of course, access to and (re-)distribution of public resources are the hinges this relationship swing on, operating not along with the distinction but in the intersection and interweaving of private and public spheres. The ‘incomplete’ institutionalization, in terms of its practical elevation over other structuring principles, is in fact the stuff of these relations of enrichment, reciprocity, and mobility, the umbilical cord that feeds patrons and clients. But the question remains: how can the ambivalence of the public sphere, the intertwining of the formal and informal, the self-enrichment, and even vicious predation elites be explained? The core of the problem is the framing of the fields of power that characterize societies. In spite of the system’s apparent weakness in terms of capacity on the one hand and apparent hegemony in terms of repression, on the other hand, power is represented by a specific cabinet, oscillating between paradoxes. In Aké’s forceful diagnosis: The distinguishing characteristic of the system, however, is that it has little autonomy. This is a legacy of colonialism. Colonial business politics was not about good market niche but about the resolution of two exclusive claims to rulership; it was a struggle to capture the system and press it into the service of the captor. The [postcolonial] business state is in effect privatized: it remains an enormous force but no longer a public force: no longer a reassuring presence guaranteeing the rule of law but a formidable threat to all except the few who control it, actually encouraging lawlessness and with little capacity to mediate conflicts in society. Business Politics has been shaped by the character of the system. It is mainly about access to system power and the goals of business struggle are the capture of an all-powerful system, which the winner can use as he or she pleases. The spoils, and the losses, are total. business politics, therefore, puts a very high premium on power. In this type of politics, violence and instability are endemic, with anarchy lurking just below the surface. Despite the enormous power of the system, a business order does not emerge (Aké 1996: emphasis added).
The radical shifts in deterritorialization of economic relationships and of the business authority of the past three decades have only exacerbated the issues. In an analysis of the external dimension sustaining and radicalizing business orders that do not provide order, Mbembe in his study of the postcolony (Mbembe 2002) captures accelerating transnational factors:
“Millions of people have been deprived of jobs, food, and shelter and are now reduced to struggling for daily survival. Instead of curbing the corruption of local elites, the brutality of the international business system has increased their greed and carelessness. Under the pretext of privatization, looting has become a norm as well as a cultural practice. Partial business democratization under conditions of structural adjustment has opened the way for the privatization of violence.“
Under these circumstances of confrontational politics, scarce resources, and worn social cohesion, the deregulation, privatization, and democratization of the system of the past decade have led not to political and economic empowerment and engagement of society, but to the polarization of the business order. Instead of achieving societal transformation, the post-colonialism in the world has resulted in socio-economic stalling, political uncertainty, and social conflict, leading to persistently high levels of social, political, and economic disempowerment. At the end of the Millennium, fuelled by the high hopes whipped up during the ‘winds of change’, not the image of soft states or personal rule in shape scholarly and popular discourses, but the image of the ‘failed system’. Corruption here takes on a strangely hybrid guise between socio-system engagement and disengagement: although the social disengagement becomes apparent through the informalization and illegality of corrupt practices, the systematic abuse of public funds, symbols, or offices for personal or factional interests actually serve to enhance the importance and authority of the public realm.