El punto clave creo de este libro de Francisco Santibanes, un pensador Argentino, es que la Argentina carece de una vision estrategica de largo plazo para fomentar su desarrollo y tambien fortalezer su posicion en un mundo cada dia mas complicada.
Este es el primer libro de analysis que he leido escrito en la era “post-COVID” (si es que hay un post-COVID, esto parece eterno). Primero, me imagino, de muchos. Porque lo que nos ha pasado – a todos – es algo insolito que cambiara todo. Nuestras guerras van a parecer poca cosa con lo que viene. Pero en fin, lo que Saltibanes opina es que despues de la “tormenta” del COVID, Argentina necessita buscar finalmente su lugar en un mundo bastante mas pobre, muy estresado y con mas conflictos (si eso es posible). Con mayor acercamiento a Brazil. Balanzeando la gran pelea entre EEUU y China.
En una cosa estoy de acuerdo con todo esto – es la necessidad de decidir que tipo de pais los Argentinos quieren (o los Chilenos, o los Peruanos, o los Venezolanos o los de EEUU) y tener una conversacion adulta (sin ideologizar) sobre como llegar a este punto. El discurso toxico en las Americas entre ellos que dicen “hay que tener mas marxismo humano” y los otros que dicen “hay que dejarnos quieto hacer dinero” nos ha llevado a una coyuntura poco sostenible. Desigualdad economica en crisis, y el “whiplash” de elecciones izquierda/derecha/izquierda (como esta pasando ahora en Chile y Peru) resta continuidad y hace un desastre de la administracion publica y las cuentas de las naciones.
Acercamiento, respeto, caracter, honestidad, y amor a patria: es lo que necessitamos ahora mas que nunca. Porque salir de COVID va a requerir trabajo de todos.
This was a funny little book. It was not a work of academic scholarship, nor was it a popularization, novelesque approach to telling about the development of England as a social and political entity. It was more like a pamphlet (pamphlets of old were longer, sort of mini-books) but if it was, what as the point (for pamphlets are most often written to deliver a point, and those most often themselves political)?
“Life Among the English” is a short review of the development of what the English love to call ‘custom’ from the days of the Romans until the early 20th century – food and entertainment and fashion and behavior. And we do love England, don’t we? We need look no further than Downton Abbey, James Bond, The Tudors or Notting Hill – all of which charm and enthrall us. My favorite novelist is W. Somerset Maugham, an Englishman of the Edwardian era – in every sense; and that is extremely cool (he was a spy during the war – of course he was – his novels overflow with England, especially ‘Human Bondage‘ which might be the best novel ever written). Empathy – it’s not something we are very good at (we are often punished for showing empathy these days, making us timid) and it’s not something the English are known for – except that it should be. So many of the great social movements started there. Lots of these described in Macaulay’s quirky little book.
It’s a fun little book too, to a point, but I would really have been interested to ask Rose Macaulay what she was getting at, who was the audience, why this of all the things she could have done (and did) with her talent. Alas I’ll probably never know…
One takeaway, however, for us these days struggling to understand the direction of the future: the English are a singular lot (English, specifically, not the Scottish or Irish or Welsh – this is a book about the English), with a particular way of viewing their island world which developed over many centuries. If nothing else, those who are still befuddled by Brexit might find some insight in Macaulay’s pamphlet. To understand just how diverse, just how different the English are from their neighbors across the channel. And is not diversity important?
“Post Cold War” America, or maybe “globalist” America likes to believe that it has conquered the old tyranny of geography. Olden thoughts meant more for days when it took months to reach America by sea, when communication across the great plains was done by horses galloping at speed, when we were protected on our island continent by un-traversable seas. It’s easier for us, America is blessed with bountiful geography. Had we tried to design a land upon which we would build or lives, we would probably have created a land much like the one we have.
Not so the rest of the world. I recently finished a season in Armenia. A little Christian country nestled up against Turkey and Persia and Azerbaijan in the south, relying on its protection from only the Russian bear. I watched as its permanent enemy took advantage of a moment of global confusion to attack – how the country, so optimistic after a Velvet Revolution delivered to it at last a government by the people and for the people was again befuddled by its geography and reminded of why it has, forever, been the “weeping nation”. “We are in a bad neighborhood” my friends put it simply.
Geography still dominates our world. It defines not only how we will live but the opportunities we will have. It vexes policymakers and is the thing that most smart world leaders think about – much more than they do ‘supra-national institutions’ or conventions. I remember my days in Venezuela, when Hugo Chavez on his Sunday talk show would lay out a map of Venezuela and run his hands over the valleys and jungles and mountains – laying out for those who cared to listen the opportunities and risks presented by the national geography. The mind of a military man, of a planner.
All this is what “Prisoners of Geography” is about. A summary of some of the things going through the minds of successive world leaders as they look at the lands that they are tasked with governing (and protecting). Its a book about war and security, because though we’d like to believe that we are in a post-war world, the reality is that the human race is warlike and might never get over that fatal flaw. It is an introductory book, so not terribly complex. A taste of things to read more about – but also a prescient reminder that we should think about geography first, before ideology, when we consider our place in the world (and the perplexing motivations of our adversaries). That, I think, is the major lesson.
Writers love stories about other writers. “A Moveable Feast” or “The Warmest Country“; the tales of significance and its paucity by others who – like themselves – search for that unique brand of immortality. So a story about a writer who found in a brief chance encounter a situation of intense significance with an even greater writer? Now that’s a story.
And that is exactly what “Borges and Me” by Jay Parini is about. Now I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Jay before this (as he had never heard of Borges before his tale began). But of course we all now have heard of Borges – that legendary Argentine writer of labyrinths. A style so singular and befuddling, how could it not be grand? The “founder of the feast” as it were – the man who started the Latin American Boom in literature. Borges. Those in literati only need that one name.
This story, this tale by Parini is, however, something new and fresh. The unlikely plot: while Jay is draft dodging from the Vietnam War in Scotland, spending his time getting his doctorate and trying to figure out how to become a writer, he is asked by a friend to look after a blind Borges (Borges became blind in his 50s, having to dictate his last stories) and ends up taking the brilliant man on a “sightseeing” tour of the highlands.
The story, written 50 years later with a certain amount of ‘artistic license’ nevertheless holds together well and in doing so holds the reader’s imagination, with the question, “What would you do if asked to tour a blind Borges around the highlands?” Or a blind Hemingway? Or a blind William Saroyan? For I cannot imagine anybody as exacting as a writer – the verbal painter of pictures – who can no longer see.
Back to my point; we who write like to think of times of artistic significance. We love to think about Yerevan in the cold, Aksel Bakunts and Yegishe Charents fighting in the snow in front of Aipetrat Soviet Publishing House before going to the Intourist hotel (now the Yerevan Grand) to drink away their rage. We love to wonder what it was like for Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso sitting around Shakespeare and Company commiserating the drunkenness of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Of D.H. Lawrence painting banned art in Hotel La Fonde in Taos. These thoughts fill us with a sort of foreign nostalgia; of a creative jealousy of a kind – especially as we lament how badly our own belle époque seems to blow. “Borges and Me” fills that spot in our imagination, and is satisfying for that reason. It is a story profoundly human, reminding us somehow even of ourselves. And that is good.
So I recently finished “Towers of Trebizond”, which was a masterpiece. So good that I immediately went on AbeBooks and bought another four books by Rose Macaulay. To see if all her work compares to her masterpiece. Alas, in this spirit, I found “Going Abroad” quite disappointing. Maybe because Trebizond was so good, the comparison did lasting damage to this novel. Or maybe because Rose had only one major story to tell. I’ve started now her book “Told by Idiots”, so lets see – and I’ll tell you what I find out. However, for those who are looking for an amazing book by a little-known author, read Trebizond. I think “Going Abroad” will disappoint you.
A final point. I was reading the other day an article that asserted that a novelist only gets worse over time. That their work degenerates. Perhaps this is due to laziness of some authors to rewrite the same story over and over and over again (Harry Potter series comes to mind). Or maybe its because when young and filled with hubris you don’t realize just what a task you are embarking upon, in whose footsteps you are daring to walk by putting pen to paper. The intellectual descendants of Homer and Cicero. Whatever the reason, I don’t agree. I don’t think the order matters at all. Some people write their first masterpiece and never write again. Rose, with Towers of Trebizond, wrote this novel two years before she died as the capstone of a career and it was magnificent. There are no set rules for this sort of thing, it’s about inspiration. And that makes writing even more difficult.
This is how Rose Macaulay described the Black Sea in her masterpiece “Towers of Trebizond”, a:
“…long strange, frightening, and romantic drama for which the Black Sea and its high forested shores seemed to me to be the stage. Some tremendous ancient drama long since played, by Argonauts, by Jason and Medea, by the Greeks, by the Ten Thousand, by Imperial Rome, by the Goths, by an army of Christian martyrs, by Justinian and Belisarius, by the Byzantines, by the Comneni, by the Latins, by the romantic last Greek emperors commanding the last Greek corner of the Euxine, and ultimately by the Turks who slew the empire; and still the stage was set, and drama brooded darkly in the wings. The deep ravine, shaggy with woodland, the high ruined palace and keep, the broad shining of the sea beyond the curve of the littered shore, the magnificent forested mountains that ranged to right and left behind…”
We in the west tend to think of the Mediterranean as the ancient roots of civilization after it crept west out of Mesopotamia to find trade upon the waters of the Mare Nostrum. Perhaps the Mycenaeans or the Minoans, the ancient Tuaregs of the Maghreb who may have built the pyramids. But actually the Med came afterwards – it was the Black Sea, deep into prehistory, where the Greeks first went, where Jason and his Argonauts sailed in search of the Golden Fleece six centuries before Homer wrote down the tale. Upon whose ringed mountains Prometheus was chained after giving man fire.
Trebizond, the “gateway to Armenia” that most ancient of lands where Noah walked. Erzurum and Lake Van, who came before the Hittites. The gateway of east and west, of ancient trade along silken roads; north and south, of Circassian slaves and pelts from deep in the Russian forests long before the Slavs or Vikings – Amazon and Iberians, the tremulous mountain tribespeople about which legends are still written and read. Trebizond, the first of port-towns; the last seat of empire extinguished, still holding the ephemeral remains of luxury for a few last, desperate years of Byzantium. These places are to be approached with a sense of magic and mystery – they command a nostalgia born of unknowing that is a product of legend and myth still wrapped in the beautiful forested mountains and crystalline alpine lakes where you can still find traces of the ancient – amazingly untouched – which connects us with the unending line of history. The sense of continuity that lends meaning.
Incidentally, I feel the same as Rose – now long dead as well – about the Black Sea and its extraordinary basin – though I have yet never bathed in her waters. There is something so conservative – in the civilizational sense, meaning quite literally that which is worth saving – that it’s hard not to walk down the mountains upon which a petroglyph is written or into a monastery black with the soot of two millennia of candle-smoke without not the sense of one’s insignificance (like so many say) but instead the sense of tremendous human significance (and our part in that), of the struggle still un-fulfilled. Because it never will be.
And who best to introduce this to us than Rose Macaulay – a novelist of such prodigious talent that she captures you to transport you to the silent shores of the sea; with the power of prose to be sure but also with such a sparkling wit and joi de vivre that I often found myself laughing out loud. “Towers of Trebizond” is a story, set in the cold war, of a woman who accompanies her aunt on a trek to Trebizond and then into ancient western Armenia; where Aunt Dot escapes across the Iron Curtain in search of the ancient churches and high mountains of the Caucasus. It is a clever story of religion and compassion and brimming with so much humanity and charm that the humor is contagious even in these the humorless days of the perpetually offended.
Capped off with the final admonishment, which I also feel about the Black Sea basin: “Still the towers of Trebizond, the fabled city, shimmer on a far horizon, gated and walled and held in a luminous enchantment. It seems that for me, and however much I must stand outside them, this must for ever be. But at the city’s heart lie the pattern and the hard core, and these I can never make my own: they are too far outside my range. The pattern should perhaps be easier, the core less hard. This seems, indeed, the eternal dilemma.”
Given the attempts at rehabilitation of Mao’s reputation being undertaken by the Xi regime of the Chinese Communist Party, it is warranted a better understanding of who Mao was and his global legacy in the second half of the 20th century (and through today). One need look no further for a comprehensive introduction than Julia Lovell’s meticulously researched and well written account of global Maoism and its ramifications.
What emerges from this extraordinary work of scholarship is the picture of a tremendously gifted politician, his genius trumped only by his wickedness. And Lovell does not pull any punches. Mao is presented here in all his personal and moral failings, a sociopathic figure bent on wreaking the maximum destruction possible – at home and abroad.
Maoism differs in many (and significant) ways from Stalinism. Stalin was above all a bureaucrat in search of order. His ability to create a massive administrative state that encompassed eight time zones and hundreds of millions of people was prodigious – and thats what Stalinism is. Attempts at order – totalitarian and brutal, to be sure, but above all oxygenless and clean in its implementation. Maoism, on the other hand, is the installation of a permanent peasant revolution against the cities. An insurgency of the body and the mind that knows no limits and seeks no end. It is a celebration of blood and violence and destruction with the hopes that somehow at the end of it all a spontaneous birth of equality will emerge. And it did – to a degree – the equality found in death and misery.
Maoism was also international, finding allies in a world that was rapidly de-colonizing following the end of WWII. The justification of peasant violence against the center was attractive in a post-occupation world where insurgencies were gaining legitimacy as colonialism waned; in places like Cambodia and Indonesia and Tanzania. While Soviet communism was the expression of the semi-Europeanized, semi-industrialized; Maoism was the rebellion of the third world. Maoism was however significantly more violent. One anecdote from the book has stuck with me as particularly enlightening. Upon successfully exporting Maoism to Cambodia in support of the Khmer Rouge, Mao receives Pol Pot. In a private meeting, Mao tells Pol Pot he is thrilled with the Cambodian genocide – because that was the approach he wished to prosecute in China but had been stymied by reactionaries.
The utopia of Maoism is to be found in the killing fields.
This book is also particularly relevant in the United States today; because the debate in the public arena around ‘socialism’ fails to explain that the hard left progressives in our country are not Stalinist but actually Maoist. In the celebration of violence, the iconoclasm leading to the rewriting of history, the attempts at ‘brainwashing’ (this word itself is actually taken from Maoism, or more specifically those seeking to explain what he was up to) through the creation of ‘safe spaces’ and trigger warnings and Maoist style ‘rectification’ ceremonies where the hopes of shaming and purging those who think incorrectly is stymied only by rule of law and free speech rules defended by our constitution, for now. This is all very Maoist, so reading Lovell’s account of the genesis of this approach to control is important.
A final quick point. In the introduction Lovell (inaccurately) compares Trumpism to Maoism. “Intriguingly, the rebellious repertoires of Leninism and Maoism seem to appeal to the architects of Trumpolitics. Steven Bannon sees himself as a ‘tsar of agitation’, as (in his own words) a Leninist plotting to bring the political system crashing down. The Australian sinologist Geremie Barme has compared Trump (‘the Great Disrupter’) with Mao: for his erratic populism, his scorn for bureaucratic establishment, his predilection for brief earthy statements, his rhetorical obsession with national autarky.” In this analysis, Lovell fails to understand that the desired end states matter, as does the approach – to be sure there is a certain amount of iconoclasm in the Bannon/Trump playbook. The desire to see the “deep state” disrupted; however the purpose of this disruption for the Trump crowd is to set people free from what they see as the shackles of the state; it is if anything anarcho-libertarian (a celebration of spontaneous order), and certainly not an overture for the killing fields. There are Maoists in the United States, operating in the far fringes of the left (ANTIFA, for example) – not saying this wrests credibility from Lovell which she is trying to pursue as a neutral observer. But alas it is often most difficult for analysts to see what is going on in their own house – confirmation bias and echo chambers being what they are.
Nevertheless, “Maoism: A Global History” is an extremely important book, especially today. I highly recommend you read it.
I rarely write reviews of television. If the makers don’t put much thought into creating it, why should I try to find meaning where there is none? I will invariably become disappointed. More so for Netflix – Obama’s pet Gramscian project, another institution to march through. As if the wasteland left behind wasn’t enough already; the pandemic was a golden chance for the culture programmers to push what they hope to sell as normal behavior to an increasingly un-skeptical public.
Of course for every rule, there is its exception. And “The 100” for me meets that criteria. I like to watch dystopian movies; the signs of our times really, that we all seem to find solace in the ‘end of the world’. My novels, at least the “San Porfirio” series, are also dystopian to a sense – but in the Latin American magical realist category, more fun and absurd than vicious and brutal.
Most dystopian stories end in one of two ways. Either in the final extinguishing event, onto silence – or the “new heaven and new earth” where after the purging, the trial by fire the utopia finally arrives. The latter is by far the most satisfying. It is after all the story of Christianity and hard-wired into our souls as good and true. Our utopia deferred till the suffering has sorted the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats.
“The 100” is the story of friendship above all. “We do what we have to to save our people,” Clarke (the heroine, who is sort of an anti-hero as well) keeps saying, as little by little the number of people dwindles, as she kills them off in ones and twos and hundreds, forced to choose who to save since humanity, even after the apocalypse, is at each others throats. “Save our people” becomes “Save my friends”. There is no morality whatsoever, the show is a study in utilitarianism. Salvation, the most important thing – at what cost? Turns out there are no limits. “What happened here?” asks Raven appearing through the portal to a pile of dead bodies. “We killed them. It’s what we do.” Says Octavia, Bellamie’s sister who had become for a time the cannibal queen Bloodreina (evoking images of heart of darkness – ‘the horror’). And salvation from the anarchy? “We do better” Kane says, as he is forced to fight in the death arena. “We do better!” Bellamy, Clarke’s best friend, keeps saying, echoing Kane. Till she shoots him too.
Spoiler alert, they never do better.
It is the struggle that defines this movie series. Situational ethics meets philosophy of the struggle, perhaps. “We survive,” they say quite often as one mishap after the next accosts them. “What is the survivor’s move?” John Murphy (my favorite character) asks often. None of this is particularly new or imaginative – the movie series comes from a book series (which I have not read but is now on my not-insubstantial list) by Kass Morgan. And had the series ended (spoiler alert) in humanity being subsumed into the alien utopia, that consciousness of the universe which absorbs all worthy beings after they pass the test of life, I would have shrugged and moved on. An entertaining story. Another paene attempt at meaning, utopia through dystopia (which is more Maoist than Stalinist) which is what the anti-nuclear apocalyptic environmentalists are selling.
But it didn’t. In the final scene (another spoiler) Clarke (of course, our disastrous heroine) breaks through to the final alien test meant to gain admittance for all humanity to the utopian consciousness. Of course she fails, instead of answering the questions she rages against the alien judges, “What gives you the right to judge us? If we fail, you kill us? How is that any different from our own genocides?” She has a point, but misses the fact that there are times when decorum is the better part of valor and when you are representing all that is left of humanity (most the apocalypse killed and the precious few left Clarke did her best to wipe out to defend her ‘friends’) perhaps that is the time to bite your tongue. She scores a rhetorical point – genocide is genocide after all – but she loses the test. And humanity is only saved by Bloodreina averting the last human war, showing that there is something redeemable about us after all. Though frankly that case is a little hard to make after eight seasons of brutality and bad decisions.
But here comes the interesting part. Clarke is of course denied entrance into utopia, though the human race is saved (but only through ascension, if they had been left to themselves they would have kept destroying worlds and planets one after the other – like they did to earth: twice). She is sent alone to earth to die there of natural causes, the end of her race. Only to be met by her friends; who chose a finite time on a regenerating planet instead of an eternity in nirvana, to be together at the end of it all, watching each other age and one-by-one pass away leaving a beautiful, empty planet behind for eternity. “You will have no children, you are the last of your kind,” the alien says to Clarke before leaving.
There is something of Albert Camus joyful nihilism about this ending. “Life is to be lived now.” A beautiful sunset, an extraordinary friendship, a wonderful novel. And Camus found something glorious in this transience that he succeeded in instilling in all of us through his literature (The First Man being his best, read it if you haven’t). But this only works if you believe there is nothing else out there. However what if, having been offered utopia, you turn it down in an act of rebellion and defiance – or an act of existentialist sacrificial friendship?
Utopians, modern and ancient, justify the violence with the belief that after the blood will come peace. This has been what has always bothered me about communist utopians: whether Leninist or Trotskyist or Maoist (I’ve just finished a tremendous book on Maoism, review coming soon). While Christianity offers “a new heaven and a new earth” after the suffering into which we will graduate after we are tested; these atheistic utopian religions cannot offer that. To those who die promoting the utopia, what’s in it for them? And even if they achieve it, after all the violence, for how long? Or is it for the children? Modern environmental apocalyptic utopians would deny us even our right to a better world for our children, preferring as they do a beautiful planet empty of all humanity – green and lush but without sentience to judge it as so.
So what is “The 100” then teaching us, what lessons? A tremendous act of self-harm against our immortal souls, justified by our defiance of a greater power who would judge us for we consider them unworthy – though that is irrelevant because, in the Nietzschien sense their power to destroy worlds gives them the authority to do so: for are not Nietzsche and Camus the two sides of the same coin? Food for thought.
At any rate – all that to say, “The 100” – though certainly not for the faint of heart – gave me pause to think. And for that I’m grateful, coming as it did from our entertainment world which is so deficient in ideas and thinking. I put it up there with “Hunger Games”, which also made me think. I’ll read the novels next, and write a review of them. Stay tuned.
Circassia is an ancient country on the Black Sea coast between Crimea and Georgia, in the heart of the Caucasus. We’ve all heard of Armenia and Georgia and Ukraine; but Circassia has been integrated into Russia following the Russian/Circassian war during which 90% of the local population was killed. The Russians loved the Caucasus – they do to this day. Maybe its the dramatic geography; the extraordinary antiquity of the tribes, an antiquity that predates their own; the privileged weather – the wild places full of adventure and promise. Sure, geopolitically also the Caucasus have always been a buffer area between Moscow and Constantinople – where successive generations of Russian soldiers made a name for themselves fighting in the endless wars of the tribes. Wars that have continued to this day, in places we all know like Chechnya.
Mission To Circassia is about the Russian-Circassian war, about a British man who leaves England to try and fight with the tribes, and his experiences living in that most remote of places. Slavery, the Ottomans – the most committed slavers in history who took the girls, famous for their beauty, to their harems. Violence, clan-on-clan and against the oppressors. Strange, syncretistic religion which is not really Christian, or Muslim, or even pagan but a mixture of the three. All against the backdrop of the Black Sea basin’s dramatic natural beauty.
I have grown enamored by this part of the world. The world of Jason’s Argonauts; of Prometheus and Noah. The wilderness which is untamable and the indominable spirits of the people who continue to strive for self-determination. I spent a season in Armenia, a land which features heavily in all the stories of the Black Sea, due to the transient and merchant nature of the Armenians – and their ongoing struggle to build for themselves a place free of oppression and violence. My time in the South Caucasus was an enchantment of sorts, where all else can be forgotten, time and the petty maneuverings of men, as you walk the leafy streets of Yerevan beneath the indomitable presence of Ararat.
The Black Sea – magical and mysterious – its no wonder the Russians fight so over its control; and no wonder either that those who have always called it home are never fully defeated.
I’ve been writing about the arriving ordeal for a while now; an ordeal which arrived and which announced itself via a pandemic that was first created and then mismanaged by the center – though the peripheries (as usual) will pay the highest price. “The Coming Anarchy” Robert Kaplan called it, 25 years ago when it was at once a vague threat and a clear and present danger. We had a season of “End of History” utopia – the 90s – my generation, when we were gently Camus existentialists in that pleasant “live and let die” sort of way. Before the nihilism came, nihilism which always follows the loss of meaning and which always leads to mayhem. “The Cause of Hitler’s Germany” was also the cause of the West’s malaise. In our case, not through war and genocide were the underlying incongruities in philosophy laid bare but instead through a ‘capitalist’ housing meltdown (fun fact there was nothing capitalist about that) and a global pandemic (which still rages). The third-world-ization of the formerly developed world. That which is accelerating as the West’s culture ossifies and calcifies, becoming more plutocratic in control and aristocratic in administration, a new old power structure of the winners against those now-permanently excluded and broken into camps to wage war against each other on the streets of Portland or the hallowed halls of the capital in the hopes they don’t notice something is seriously wrong and make a real effort to identify the culprit.
I once had a friend to whom I sent a synopsis of my ‘ordeal’, so taken was I with the impressions I had as a spectator of the unraveling of the peripheries (3 years in Nigeria, not to put too fine a point on it. The epicenter of the anarchy that came and like a gangrene is spreading). “You need to come back and spend some time in the suburbs” he said, lightheartedly (but pointedly) brushing me off. “It can’t happen here” as the subtext. “Didn’t you hear? History ended.”
But did it? I stumbled across an extraordinary essay yesterday in American Affairs Journal – a site I frequent, as the newest magazine that writes about our post-post-historical period (the rest mostly fighting with each other about the ordering of the deck chairs on our Titanic which has begun to take on serious water and list dangerously to the left – and sometimes right) – and which offers tremendous insight into the post-post-modern world. The essay, called “The Brazilianization of the World” is a long and involved but extremely insightful analysis of what is happening. Namely, the developing world, the second world, is not in fact developing. The West is un-developing. We are meeting each other somewhere in the messy middle – the encroachment of the peripheries has advanced just the entropy of our own misrule has extended.
I have dedicated what has been (so far) my career to the ‘end of history’, and only recently have come I come to realize my mistakes. It’s not easy for me to admit, not only because admitting errors in thought is humbling, but also because most of my erstwhile colleagues are still firmly ensconced in their ‘end of history’ ideas having totally missed ‘the end of the end of history’ – and would strenuously object to my assertion that the train has gone off the rails (mostly because admitting this is also to a degree admitting blame, which is harder still). To be sure, it’s not all their fault; it takes some courage and clarity to look up from the daily grind to see that things have changed – and not for the better. The water still comes out of the pipes, the electricity still works (well most of the time) and the internet still allows us to stream the endless pipeline of increasingly tawdry ‘content’. Isn’t that what Fukuyama promised we the victors of the end of days?
Yes, my career rested upon the philosophical certitude that the ‘recipe’ had been identified and honed over the generations: free market economics was going to meet representative democracy in an upward spiral to utopia. It was a nice idea. In my work, we were only one judicial training program, one electoral observation, one decentralization seminar away from exporting our model to Mali and Burma and Burkina Faso. That is still the assumption – if there is an assumption; nowadays the philosophy of “buying time” is the most en-vogue. Kicking the can is the best hope of successive “administrations”. Let the next guy (or gal) deal with it, let the political fallout accrue to them (or their party). And the blackouts? The debt defaults? The wars? The “…doomed future, not just of social exclusion and savage capitalism, but also the end of the state’s monopoly on violence, the emergence of powerful non-state actors, criminal gangs”? We’ll muddle through. And that is what we have gotten – our partisan debate meeting the dramatic expansion of the puissance of the state, an entity become so large and so intrusive that fighting over its control has become an existential exercise in the West. Especially for those who eschew classical morality for the positivist, Platonic idea that right emerges from the pen of he in power. Also the cause of Hitler’s Germany, incidentally.
And in this fight, we have all become Maoists. Because there was at least something grand about Stalin’s oxygenless totalitarian state – it was (though corrupt and inefficient and brutal) tremendously productive; they challenged the free world for five generations. Maoism does not build, seeking instead through ‘rectification’ and peripheral insurgency to destroy and level not through growth and fertilizer but through the bulldozing of everything. Cue Portland and our culture wars. New socialism is less Gramsci, and more Pol Pot. It is a temper tantrum; mindless rebellion – and its the only ‘communism’ that we are left with – the communism of the killing fields.
The peripheral problems are meeting us now where we sit, in our protected zip codes with decent wifi under our nuclear umbrella. Because the West cannot forever endure its own misrule; and the misrule of great states, when it arrives, is extraordinary indeed. The solution? The West’s aristocracy has already found it – though they won’t tell you. Admitting it would demand that they surrender their right to rule (and the benefits derived from money stolen mostly in taxes and control of the productive sector of economies and the purse-strings of the world), “The ‘revolt of the elites‘ – their escape from society, physically into heavily guarded private spaces, economically into the realm of global finance, politically into anti-democratic arrangements that outsource responsibility and inhibit accountability (…) polities closed to popular pressures but open to those with the resources and networks to directly influence politics.”
And for the rest of us? Would that we could return to the city states – as was intended, in the Toquevillian sense where “nothing is more opposed to the well-being and the freedom of men than vast empires”. Isn’t that after all what American division of powers was about? Three branches within the central government; and the states against the center? That is after all what the 10th Amendment was written for. Power destruction. Alas, nobody who seeks power ever believes less of it is the answer. That, at least, is probably uncontroversial. So what to do? We should all move to Dubai. Or Yerevan. Or Reykjavik. We can become Prester John or Abgar the V of Edessa. Maybe Peter Thiel’s ‘Seasteading’ is the answer. But for those of us locked as subjects of empire – or worse (so much worse) governed by the peripheries, the future doesn’t look all that bright. So buckle up – because if you thought that an economic meltdown and a pandemic were all that the 21st century has in store for us, you’re in for a surprise.