The Shape of Future Politics

Posted by M ws On Saturday, October 27, 2012 0 comments

This post is a review of Seumas Milne's book 'The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century'
which gives a perspective of what has brought us to today's crisis and the shape of the future politics.

A recurring theme in the tragedies of ancient Greek theatre was humanity's helplessness before the decrees of fate. Characters such as Laius in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex would attempt to defy powers greater than themselves, only to meet precisely the end that had been foretold at the play's beginning. An interrelated tragedy from the canon is that of Cassandra, whose warnings of the future are fated to be dismissed, then later vindicated. It is from here that the Cassandra metaphor of modern parlance is derived.

The analogy is not exact, but for fate as the power greater than humanity in the worldview of the classical Greeks, let us substitute, in the modern world, the perpetual development of social, economic and political relations through history, which have no divinely pre-ordained outcome, but which nevertheless provide the inescapable wider context for our actions.

Both today and in the myths of antiquity, it is those in positions of power who would presume to defy these greater forces, while the modern day Cassandras are the ones who contradict power, point out its hubris and speak truths that it would rather ignore.

The triumphalist atmosphere in Western capitals following the demise of the USSR produced assessments of America's status as the world's only superpower that ranged from the hubristic to the outright irrational.

As Bush the First announced a "New World Order" based on Washington's military and economic supremacy, Francis Fukuyama famously declared the "end of history" itself - meaning that Western liberalism (in the benign sense in which he viewed it, as a force for democracy and prosperity rather than imperialism and exploitation), had emerged victorious from history's struggles, becoming a settled and uncontested ideal to which all would now aspire.

Fukuyama united with other neo-conservatives under the banner of the "Project for the New American Century", later using the events of September 11, 2001 to promote the aggressive foreign and military policies of Bush the Second.

Catastrophic failure in 2008

In 2004, a senior presidential aide told a writer for the New York Times magazine, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality... we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

In the end, the neo-conservatives' "New American Century" lasted around seven years, from the al-Qaeda attacks on Washington and New York that fired the starting gun on the "War on Terror" to the departure from the White House of a much diminished George W Bush, with the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan having demonstrated "the limits, rather than the extent, of US military power", in the words of British newspaper columnist Seumas Milne.

Meanwhile, the banking crash of 2008 exposed the Anglo-American model of hyper-financialised, deregulated capitalism as a catastrophic failure. For the Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the fall of Wall Street was to "market fundamentalism" what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism. The idea that "democratic market capitalism [is] the final stage of social development" and "that unfettered markets, all by themselves, can ensure economic prosperity and growth" had now been conclusively discredited.


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