21 April 2015

Global transformation and nostalgia

The Blog

The end of the Cold War didn't bring peace, or the liberal democratic paradise promised by Reagan and Thatcher. Instead it brought ignorance, darkness, and doom. We are living in the "twilight period of democracy itself".

That is the assessment of Tariq Ali, in an op-ed fist published at the London Review of Books and later at Counterpunch. Ali went on to criticize what he termed as "declinism", the idea that America is an empire in terminal decline. This "declinism" has been presented in some depth here in the US coverage at The clubof.info Blog, usually revolving around the theories of hegemony authored by Immanuel Wallerstein about the US rise to nuclear superpower status in Europe in 1945 and its angry decline since those glory days.

Ali sees empires as more "unassailable" than the theorists of US decline will admit, and points out that they are able to take serious setbacks and continue to maintain their disproportionate strength and influence regardless of such developments. Ali argues:
Some of the declinist arguments are simplistic – that, for example, all empires have eventually collapsed. This is of course true, but there are contingent reasons for those collapses, and at the present moment the United States remains unassailable: it exerts its soft power all over the world, including in the heartlands of its economic rivals; its hard power is still dominant, enabling it to occupy countries it sees as its enemies; and its ideological power is still overwhelming in Europe and beyond.
The author, an ardent critic of the 2003 Iraq War, recapped how the US destroyed Iraq, eliminating what was essentially a far more tolerant and progressive society than currently exists in the sectarianism-racked state. He refers to this conduct as the "demodernisation" of Iraq, which aligns with the reality that despite pretending to be committed to the modernity of technology, the US is desperately afraid of any other country harnessing technology and constantly sabotages their efforts. Ali points out that Iran was a necessary ally for the US to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, and that encroaching on Iran and placing sanctions on Iran made little sense in view of the extent to which the US relied on Iranian political support to create any semblance of stability in the region.

On the art of predicting the future, Ali leans more towards the concept of uncertainty and heightened potential for personal agency by individual activists, much as Immanuel Wallerstein seemed to theorize in Utopistics (1998):
Where are we going to end up at the end of this century? Where is China going to be? Is Western democracy going to flourish? One thing that has become clear over the last decades is that nothing happens unless people want it to happen; and if people want it to happen, they start moving. You would have thought that the Europeans would have learned some lessons from the crash that created this recent recession, and would have acted, but they didn’t: they just put sticking plaster on the wounds and hoped that the blood would be stemmed. So where should we look for a solution? One of the more creative thinkers today is the German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, who makes it clear that an alternative structure for the European Union is desperately needed and that it will necessitate more democracy at every stage – at a provincial and city level as well as a national and European level. There needs to be a concerted effort to find an alternative to the neoliberal system. We have seen the beginnings of such an attempt in Greece and in Spain, and it could spread.
Ali argues that people in the former East Bloc countries of Europe are nostalgic for the days of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, feeling that the sense of community and the effectiveness of social services were both better in that era.

In sum, Ali's analysis is more pessimistic or uncertain than most, concluding "it's a mixed and confused world". However, it deserves to be considered at least as one that stands in contradiction to the views of Immanuel Wallerstein on the decline of US power and the inevitability of a structural transition to an alternative form of world order.

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