“A commendably hopeful essay. So far the Egyptian initiative has lofted a Mubarak stooge in his place and the elevated overt military control. These are not hopeful yet, and based on past examples of exactly these non-revolutionary, reactionary shifts, not much can be expected… There is little chance of ensconced and comfortable intellectuals to forego their perks… Al Jazeera is a lucrative business not a public service, and in that it is merely another self-promoting journalistic conceit like CNN, NYT and the others… It is disheartening to see Obama and others citing the giants of dissent, metronomically, stupidly… But then Obama is a millionaire, as the giants became as their hard-fought individual efforts became national and global enterprises. So what else is new.”
Thanks for taking the time to comment, John. It is interesting that several nettimers have written to me privately to say that they like and agree with what I wrote, but yours is the only response to be posted so far. Your comment seems to hinge on the optimism/pessimism pair. I have often been called hopeful or optimistic, even once Dr. Pangloss. But I believe that hope is only worthwhile if it comes with a large dose of realism. We are or could be engaged in constructing paths from the actual to the possible, from the real to the imagined. I consider it a waste of time to try to predict the outcome of events like those the world is experiencing now and we are right to fear the worst. Continue reading ‘The Americo-Middle Eastern superstate’ »
“I have been wondering about how to tie the Egyptian revolution into the larger world system. I was not aware that CLR thought there would be two more revolutions, one being Russian and other being American. Yet, as you rightly point out, the America that we understand extends beyond the borders of the geographic America. What does this mean for the potential of a second American revolution? Where would it be triggered? Much as the Egyptian revolution was triggered by the events in Tunisia it is possible that America’s revolution would be triggered from a far-off land.”
Saul, Now that the Egyptian revolution is definite, we can pose your question in a new light. Everyone likens events there now to 1989, not least Obama, who also links Egypt to Gandhi, King and the Ghana revolution. If the fall of the Berlin Wall was the beginning of the second Russian revolution, could Tahrir Square be the beginning of the second American revolution? After all, it wasn’t Russians who started the former, but Germans and Czechs, the Eastern European victims of the Soviet empire.
We know that the American empire was launched by World War 2 and has gone through two phases since. The French called the first les trente glorieuses from 1945 to roughly 1975, which was the heyday of the Cold War, but also a period marked by a developmental state on both sides of the Cold War committed to expanding public services and the purchasing power of working people. It was also the time when European empire was abolished by the anti-colonial revolution. After the watershed of the 1970s, we went through three decades of what came to be known as neoliberal globalization in which the power of big money to organize the world for its own benefit was unfettered. The end of the Cold War, the rise of China, India and Brazil as economic powers and the digital revolution in communications speeded up the formation of world society under American hegemony, even as these developments undermined it. This ended with the financial crisis of 2008 and we are now in the uncharted waters of the third period which might take in a full-scale depression, world war, a global democratic revolution, the end of life on earth, who knows? Whatever happens, it will be different. Continue reading ‘The second American revolution?’ »
My talk makes a number of points that can only be sketched briefly in twenty minutes.
1. Humanity is caught between national and world society. This is both dangerous and an opportunity for us. Yet much of what has been presented here has assumed that we can safely talk about the United States in isolation from the rest of the world.
2. Everything we have heard today has been impersonal and this will not do. People want to relate impersonal knowledge to their personal lives. And this relationship between the personal and impersonal aspects of social life is being radically changed by the digital revolution in communications, as manifested in the internet.
3. I want to offer a vision of money’s role in our lives that emphasizes its redemptive qualities as perhaps the principal means of mediating our relations with impersonal society in ways that can be personally meaningful.
4. The dominant social form over the last 150 years has been ‘national capitalism’. Any future we contemplate beyond the current crisis must take into account its history which I will present as a story of rise and fall in five stages.
5. Towards the end national capitalism resembled nothing so much an ‘Old Regime’, that arbitrary version of unequal society which was overthrown by the American and French revolutions. More accurately, I would say that the world society constituted by national capitalism as the dominant form manifested an obscene inequality and lawlessness characteristic of the Old Regime. Continue reading ‘Beyond national capitalism?’ »
I have been trying and failing to teach world history to anthropology students for 40 years. Here is a Wesch experiment to get students to condense world history into less than 5 minutes using Twitter. Let’s not be critical of the end-product. The point is to scale down the world and scale up the self so that the two can enter into a meaningful relationship.
The period since 1945 saw a revolution in world society which, by the 1990s, had turned into widespread popular emancipation from the repressive state controls installed during the Cold War. The world was becoming more connected and more unequal at the same time, but people in general enjoyed more freedom than ever before. Since the millennium, an attempt has been made, led by but not restricted to the United States, to screw the lid back on. The battle cry of this counter-revolution is the war against terrorism, its theme-song, security, security and yet again security. Freedoms that came to be taken for granted after the war against fascism are now being lost. The left is disoriented and impotent. Who is the enemy and what is to be done? The fragments below reflect the confusion of our era, but they do point to a possible political strategy. They were written in two places at different times, in Europe and in America. Continue reading ‘Notes on the counter-revolution’ »
C.L.R. James is one among many writers who came from Europe to America and subsequently published their commentaries on the society they found there. In American Civilization, he explicitly linked his work to a tradition established by two predecessors—the French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose famous study, Democracy in America, resulted from his travels there in the 1830s; and the English diplomat, James Bryce, who wrote The American Commonwealth half a century later. In recent years, there has been no shortage of European commentators on America, although few have established as profound a connexion with that country as Tocqueville, Bryce and James. Here we seek to place James’s American Civilization (drafted in New York in 1950 and published by Blackwell in 1993) in the ongoing history of reflection on America by outsiders. Specifically, we compare his work with that of two Frenchmen— Tocqueville, the founder of the genre, and Jean Baudrillard, whose America (1989) is one of the more notorious examples of recent postmodernist writing on the subject. Continue reading ‘James, Tocqueville and Baudrillard’ »