Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 171 | Octubre 1995



The Death Throes of Liberalism

Liberals applaud the collapse of communism as a triumph, but they applaud their own funeral. After 200 years of opposing democracy with reforms and illusions about future development, they have been shown to be stark naked and defenseless. It is their final hour.

Immanuel Wallerstein

The first great political expression of liberalism, with all its ambiguities, was without doubt the French Revolution. What happened during that revolution is a question that itself became one of the great ambiguities of our era. The revolution's bicentennial in 1989 was the occasion of an important effort to replace its "social interpretation," dominant for many years though now considered outdated, with a new interpretation of that great event.

Change is Normal and the People are Sovereign

The French Revolution was the final point of a long process, not only in France but also in the world capitalist economy, taken as a historic system. In 1789, a good part of the globe had been inserted in this system for three centuries, and the majority of its key institutions had been established and consolidated: the crucial division of labor, with a significant transferal of surplus from peripheral to central zones; the primacy of recompense for those who operated in the interests of an interminable accumulation of capital; the inter state system composed of so called sovereign states; and the growing polarization of the world system, not only on the economic plane, but also on the social, to the point of demographic polarization.

What this world system still lacked was a geoculture to legitimize it. The basic doctrines were being forged by Enlightenment theoreticians in the 18th century and even before but they would only be socially institutionalized with the French Revolution. The French Revolution unleashed public support and even clamors for the acceptance of two new world visions: political change understood as something normal and not exceptional, and sovereignty attributed to the "people" and not to a sovereign. In 1815, Napoleon heir and world protagonist of the French Revolution was overcome, leading to a supposed "restoration" in France and other places where the anciens régimes had been overthrown. But the restoration did not and could not undo the vast acceptance of these two world visions. A trinity of ideologies was created in the 19th century to face the new situation: conservatism, liberalism, and socialism.
They contributed to the language of the political debates at the heart of the world capitalist economy. Of the three ideologies, it was liberalism that finally triumphed, as seen in what can be termed the first world revolution of the capitalist system: the revolution of 1848 in Europe. Liberalism was the ideology most able to offer a viable geoculture in the world capitalist economy, legitimizing its institutions in the eyes of both the system's elites and, to a significant degree, the majority of the population, the so called common people.

Liberalism Strategy of the Center

Once people were convinced that political change was normal and that they, in principle, were sovereign that is to say, the authors of political change everything else was possible. And this conviction was precisely the problem faced by the powerful and privileged in the structures of the world capitalist economy. The immediate focus of their fears was in great part the small but growing group of urban industrial workers. But, as the French Revolution clearly demonstrated, rural workers could also be problematic and of concern. How to keep these "dangerous classes" from taking the new ideas too seriously and thereby frustrating the process of capital accumulation, undermining the basic structures of the system? This was the acute political dilemma that the governing classes faced in the first half of the 19th century.

An obvious response was repression, and repression was amply utilized. However, the lesson of the 1848 revolution was that simple repression was not, in the long run, the most effective; it provoked the dangerous classes, irritating them more than calming them down. The 1848 revolution demonstrated that repression, to be effective, should be combined with certain concessions. On the other hand, the "revolutionaries" of the first half of the 19th century also learned a lesson: spontaneous uprisings were also not very effective, and could be controlled with reasonable ease. To accelerate a significant change, popular insurrections needed to be combined with conscious and long term political organization.

Liberalism was offered as an immediate solution to the political difficulties faced by the right and the left. To the right, it recommended concessions. To the left, political organization. To both it recommended patience; everyone would win in the long run if a middle road was taken. Liberalism was centrism in the flesh and its offer was attractive, above all because it did not recommend a merely passive centrism, but rather an active centrist strategy. Liberals deposited their faith in a key premise of Enlightenment thinking: action and rational thought constitute the road to "salvation" that is to say, to progress. Men the inclusion of women was rarely an issue were naturally rational, potentially rational and, deep down, rational.

Rules of the Game For Left and Right

Liberalism concluded that the "normal political change" that it proclaimed should follow the path indicated by the most rational: the most educated, the most trained and therefore the wisest. These men could best indicate the path to take, could indicate what were the necessary reforms to be carried out and promoted. Rational reformism was the organizing concept of liberalism, and thus dictated the apparently contradictory position of liberals with respect to the relationship between the individual and the state. Liberals could simultaneously argue that the individual should not be obliged by the collective demands of the state and that the state's actions were necessary to minimize injustices against the individual. They could simultaneously favor laissez faire and labor regulation laws, because what mattered to liberals was not laissez faire or the laws themselves, but rather deliberate and stable progress toward a just society, which could be most easily achieved, and perhaps only achieved, through rational reformism.

The doctrine of rational reformism was extraordinarily attractive in practice, seeming to respond to everybody's needs. To the conservative sector it seemed the way to calm down revolutionary instincts. Some voting rights here, a few state benefits there, bringing together all classes under a common national identity. All of this unleashed a formula at the end of the 19th century that assuaged the working classes, while maintaining the essential elements of the capitalist system. The powerful and privileged lost none of their fundamental importance and could rest soundly, with fewer revolutionaries outside their doors.

To the radical wing, on the other hand, rational reformism appeared to offer a refuge along the way: it offered some immediate fundamental changes without eliminating any hopes or expectations for future significant fundamental changes. This doctrine favored the radicals above all in their personal lives. They could sleep better, with fewer policemen outside their doors.

I am not trying to underestimate 150 years of continuous political struggle, some of it violent, much of it impassioned, the majority of consequence and almost all of it serious. I am trying to put these struggles in perspective: they were all fought within the rules established by liberal ideology. And when an important group emerged that fundamentally rejected these rules the Fascists they were overcome and eliminated. With difficulty, without doubt, but they were overcome.

Essentially Anti Democratic

Something more should be said about liberalism. We have said that it was not essentially anti state, because its real priority was rational reformism. But if liberalism was not anti state, it was essentially anti democratic. Liberalism was always an aristocratic doctrine; it proclaimed "the empire of the best." It is true that Liberals did not define "the best" by their birth, but above all by their educational level and, thereby, the best were not the nobility but rather the beneficiaries of a meritocracy. But even so, it was a minority group. Liberals wanted government by the best, by this aristocracy, precisely to avoid government by all, democracy. Democracy was the objective of the true radicals who were against the system and not of the liberals. It was to keep radicalism from dominating that liberalism was offered as an ideology. And when it was directed to conservatives, resistant to proposed reforms, the liberals always sustained that only rational reformism could impede the advance of democracy, an argument that was finally accepted by all intelligent conservatives.

We should note a significant difference between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. In the second half of the 19th century, the principal protagonists of the so called dangerous classes were still the urban working classes of Europe and North America. The liberal agenda functioned splendidly against these classes, because it offered them universal male suffrage, the basis of a welfare state and a national identity. National identity against whom? Against their neighbors, evidently, but primarily and profoundly against the non white world. Imperialism and racism were part of the package offered by liberals to the European and North American working classes under the slogan of "rational reformism."

Liberalism was Racist

While this was occurring, the "dangerous classes" of the non European world were politically agitating: from Mexico to Afghanistan, from Egypt to China, from Persia to India. Japan's victory over Russia in 1905 was considered throughout the region to be the beginning of the retraction of European expansionism and was an alarming sign for liberals who were above all European and North American that now "normal political change" and "sovereignty" were being demanded by people around the world and not only the working classes of their own countries.

Liberals thus turned their attention to extending the concept of rational reformism to the world system as a whole. This was Woodrow Wilson's message. His insistence on the "self determination of nations" was the global equivalent of universal suffrage. That was Franklin Roosevelt's message. The "four liberties" proclaimed as a war objective during World War II later translated by President Truman in "Point Four" and the initiation after 1945 of the project for "economic development of underdeveloped countries" was the global equivalent of the welfare state.

But the objectives of liberalism and those of democracy were once again in conflict. In the 19th century, the proclaimed universalism of liberalism had become compatible with racism by externalizing the objects of racism beyond the frontiers of the nation, while the beneficiaries of universal ideas, the citizenry as a whole, "were internalized" de facto. The question was whether global liberalism of the 20th century would be able to contain the "dangerous classes" in what was beginning to be called the Third World or the South, as national liberalism had been able to control its "dangerous classes" in Europe and North America. The problem was that there was no way to "externalize" racism at a world level. The contradictions of liberalism thus began to emerge.

1945 1968: USA, the World Leader

In 1945 this contradiction was still far from evident. The Allied victory over the Axis powers appeared to be the triumph of global liberalism, in alliance with the USSR, over the fascist threat. The fact that the last act of war was the releasing of two atomic bombs by the United States against the only non white Axis power, Japan, was hardly discussed in the United States or even in Europe, which perhaps reflects some of the contradictions of liberalism. The reaction was naturally not the same in Japan. But Japan lost the war and its voice was not taken seriously at that time.

The United States was then the most powerful economic force in the world economy and with the atomic bomb it became the primary military force, despite the volume of the Soviet armed forces. With this force the United States was able to politically organize the world system over five years with a four stage program: 1) an agreement with the USSR, guaranteeing it control over part of the world in exchange for staying in its place, not only rhetorically but also in terms of real policy; 2) a system of alliances with both Western Europe and Japan around economic, political and rhetorical objectives, as well as military ones; 3) a modulated and moderate program to "decolonize" the imperial colonies; and 4) an integration program within the United States, broadening the categories of "real" citizenship, completed with a unifying anti communist ideology.

That program functioned very well for 25 years, exactly until 1968. How should we evaluate these extraordinary years between 1945 and 1968? Was it a period of progress and triumph for liberal values? In great measure the response should be yes, but in great measure it should also be no. The most obvious indicator of "progress" was material. The expansion of the world economy was extraordinary, the greatest in the history of the capitalist system, and appeared to be taking place throughout the world: East, West, North and South. There were unquestionably more benefits for the North than for the South and the differences absolute and relative grew in the majority of cases. But, for all that, the majority of countries experienced real growth and a high employment rate. It was a rose colored era, even more accentuated by the considerable increases in welfare spending primarily in health and education that accompanied economic growth. There was also peace once again in Europe. In Europe, but not in Asia, where two long and wearing wars took place; in Korea and Indochina. There was also no peace in many parts of the non European world.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars

The conflicts in Korea and Vietnam were not the same. The Korean conflict should be compared to the blockade of Berlin; both took place almost simultaneously. Germany and Korea experienced the two great divisions of 1945. The two countries were divided so as to be put under the political military sphere of influence of the United States on one side and the USSR on the other. In the spirit of Yalta, the division lines had to remain intact, despite any nationalist German or Korean sentiments.

The firmness of these frontiers was tested between 1949 and 1952; and after a lot of tension and in the case of Korea, an enormous loss of life they remained intact. The Berlin wall and the Korean war concluded the process of institutionalizing Yalta. Another result of these two conflicts was the social integration of each side, institutionalized by the establishment of solid systems of alliance: NATO and the United States Japan Defense pact on the one side and the Warsaw Pact and USSR China accords on the other. Both conflicts also served to directly stimulate a greater expansion of the world economy, significantly nourished by military spending. Recovering Europe and growing Japan were the principal immediate beneficiaries of this expansion.

The Vietnam War was very different from Korea. Vietnam was the emblematic locus but without doubt, not the only one of the national liberation movements throughout the non European world. While the Korean war and the Berlin blockade were integral parts of the Cold War world system, the Vietnamese struggle like the Algerian and many other struggles was a protest against the structure and restrictions of that system.

In an elemental and immediate sense, Vietnam was a product of the movements in opposition to the system, a struggle fundamentally different from Germany and Korea, where the two sides were never at peace, only in truce. For each side peace was the "lesser evil." In the wars for national liberation, on the contrary, one aspect jumps out: none of the national liberation movements sought a war against Europe or North America. What they wanted was to be left in peace to follow their own paths. But Europe and North America did not want to leave them in peace, until finally they were forced to do so.

The national liberation movements protested against the powerful and did so in the name of fulfilling the liberal agenda of national self determination and economic development for underdeveloped countries. This brings us to the third great event of those extraordinary years from 1945 to 1968; the triumph of the anti establishment forces.

The Triumph of the Old Left

It is only an apparent paradox that the exact moment of the apogee of US hegemony in the world system and the global legitimization of liberal ideology was also the moment at which all those movements whose structures and strategies had been formed in the period from 1848 to 1945 as movements against the system came to power. The so called old left in its three historical variants Communists, Social Democrats and National Liberation Movements achieved state power with each of its variants in distinct geographical zones. National liberation parties in much of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Its equivalents in much of Latin America and the Middle East. The social democrat movements or its equivalents came to power or were second in power in the majority of Western European, North American and Australasian countries. Japan was perhaps the only exception in this global triumph of the old left.

Was this triumph really a paradox? Was it the result of the irresistible force of social progress, the inevitable triumph of popular forces? Or was it really a large scale association of the left with the liberal forces? How to distinguish the possibilities intellectually and politically? These were the questions that began to be of concern in the 1960s. If economic expansion, with its evident benefits in living standards throughout the world, relative peace in great areas of the world and the apparent triumph of popular movements led to positive and optimistic evaluations of world development, a more detained look at the real situation revealed other, more negative evaluations.

The Cold War system did not broaden human liberty, but rather assumed an internal repression in all states, justified by the supposed seriousness of international tensions, choreographed in every detail. There were exiles, gulags and iron curtains. In third world regimes there were single parties, with dissidents imprisoned or exiled or assassinated. McCarthyism in the United States and its equivalent in European countries, though less openly brutal, were almost equally effective in forcing conformity and destroying careers when necessary. Public discourse everywhere was permitted only when it was adjusted to clearly defined parameters.

In material terms, the Cold War system took on a growing inequality, both in the international and national sphere. And while anti establishment movements fought against old inequalities, they did not fear creating new one. The nomenclatures of the communist regimes had their parallels in the Third World and in the social democratic regimes of the countries of the North.

The World Revolution of 1968

It is also quite clear that inequalities were not distributed by chance. They were related to various groups coded by race, religion or ethnicity, both worldwide and in the United States. They were also related to gender and age groups and included many other social characteristics. Many groups were excluded; together they made up more than half of the world population.

As a consequence, the fulfillment of old hopes which began to be seen as falsely realized was behind and caused the world revolution of 1968. It was a revolution directed above all against the United States as a hegemonic power and against the economic and military structures that were pillars of the system. But the revolution was directed even more against those who opposed the system with what was considered insufficient opposition: the USSR, in alliance with its supposed ideological enemy, the United States, and the unions and other worker organizations, whose actions were considered merely economic and primarily defending the interests of specific groups.

The defenders of the existing structures attacked what they judged to be anti rationalism on the part of the 1968 revolutionaries. But the time had come for liberal ideology to taste its own poison. Having insisted for over a century that the function of the social sciences was to broaden the borders of rational analysis as a necessary requisite for rational reformism, the liberals had made great gains, as demonstrated by Frederic Jameson: "A great part of contemporary theory or philosophy has implied a prodigious expansion of what we think of as rational or significant behavior. My opinion is that, especially after the propagation of psychoanalysis, but also with the gradual disappearance of "alterity" in a smaller world and a society saturated by the media, very little can still be considered irrational in the old sense of incomprehensible."
Whether such a broad concept of reason still has some normative value is a distinct and also interesting question. If virtually everything has become rational, what special legitimacy remains in the paradigms of established social sciences, what special merit is there in the specific programs of the dominant elite? And I would argue even more devastatingly: what specific capacities can specialists offer that common people do not have? The 1968 revolutionaries identified this logical lagoon in the defense armature of the liberal ideologues and a not so different variant in official Marxist ideology and they took advantage of it.

Liberalism Put in Its Place

As a political movement, the world revolution in 1968 was no more than a sudden prairie fire: it flared up and then, after three years, went out. Its coals, in the form of multiple pseudo Maoist rival sects, survived five or ten years more, but by the end of the 1970s, these groups had become obscure footnotes to history.

Even so, the geocultural impact of 1968 was decisive. It marked the end of an era, the era of the centrality of liberalism, not only as the dominant world ideology, but also as the only one that could claim to be persistently rational and therefore scientifically legitimate. The world revolution of 1968 returned liberalism to the place it had from 1815 to 1848, as one political strategy among others. Both conservatism and radicalism/socialism were, in that sense, freed from the prison camp in which liberalism had maintained them from 1848 to 1968.

The devaluation of liberalism from its role as geocultural norm to a mere competitor in the global market was completed in the two decades after 1968. The material splendor of the 1945 1968 period disappeared during the long cycle of rise and fall that began then. This does not mean that all suffered equally. The third world countries were the most affected. The increase in petroleum production by the OPEC countries was the first attempt to limit the damage. A great part of the world surplus was deposited in banks in the North by the petroleum producers of various countries. Three groups were the immediate beneficiaries: the oil producing states that received revenues, the third world and communist countries that received loans from banks in the North to reestablish their balance of payments, and the countries of the North that could thereby maintain exports. The second attempt to limit damage was Reagan's Keynesianism, which fed the speculative boom of the 1980s in the United States. The collapse came at the end of the 1980s, dragging the USSR with it.

The third attempt was when Japan, together with the "Asian tigers" and some neighboring countries, benefited from the necessary and inevitable distribution of production during cycles of rises and falls. At the beginning of the 1990s we are seeing the limitations of this effort.

The Collapse of Communism and Democracy

The final result of 25 years of economic struggle was world disillusion with the promise of development, a basic idea in the offers made by global liberalism. Without a doubt, the Southeast has so far been free of this disillusion, but it is only a question of time. The consequences have been greater in other places and particularly negative for the old left. First for national liberation movements, followed by communist parties including the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989 and social democratic parties.

The collapse of communism has been celebrated by liberals as a victory, but it certainly means their own demise, since liberals find themselves once again faced with the demand for democracy, as in 1848. This time the demand goes far beyond the simple and limited package of parliamentary institutions, multi party systems and elemental civil rights. Now there is a demand for a genuine egalitarian division of power, a demand that has historically been liberalism's main worry. When faced with that demand, it always offered its package of limited compromises together with seductive optimism about the future. Insofar as there is not enough faith today in rational reformism led by state actions, liberalism no longer has its main political cultural defense to confront the dangerous classes.

The Old Left was a Minority

Thus we arrive at the current era, which I see as part of the Dark Age we have before us, symbolically initiated in 1989 a continuation of 1968 and lasting for at least 25 or 50 years.

I have underscored the ideological defense constructed by the dominant forces against the demands insistently introduced by the "dangerous classes" since 1789. I have argued that this defense was the liberal ideology that operated both directly and even more so insidiously through the socialist/progressive variant, which had exchanged the essence of the demands against the system for a substitute of limited value. I have argued that this ideological defense was amply destroyed by the 1968 world revolution, whose final act was the collapse of communism in 1989.

Why did the ideological defense actually fall, after 150 years of functioning effectively? The response to this question does not lie in the possible discovery by the oppressed of the falseness of ideological appeals. The liberal fallacy was known from the start, and was frequently and vigorously denounced throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. But despite all of this, the socialist movements did not orient themselves coherently in their rhetorical criticisms of liberalism and the majority of their actions were of no consequence.

The reason is clear. The social base of all these movements which claimed to be talking in the name of the majority of humanity was in fact a small part of the world population, the least favored segment of the modern sector of the world economy as it was structured from 1750 to 1950. That segment included the skilled and semi skilled working classes, the world intelligentsia, and the most trained and educated groups in rural areas where the functioning of the capitalist economy was most immediately visible. Together they became a significant number, but not the majority of the world population.

The old left was a world movement sustained by a minority. A powerful and oppressed minority but still a numerical minority in relation to the world population. This demographic reality limited its real political options and in these circumstances it choose to do the only thing it could have done: unmask the liberal program of rational reformism. It had good results in that area. Its protagonists achieved real, though partial, benefits. But as the 1968 revolutionaries proclaimed, many people were left out of the equation. Although the old left had spoken with a universalist tongue, it had practiced a particularist policy.

What broke this ideological blindness of false universalism was the profound change in social reality. The capitalist world economy had pursued the logic of incessant capital accumulation in such a continuous manner that it was reaching its theoretical ideal, total mercantilization. This can be perceived through the new and multiple sociological realities: the extension of the mechanization of the productive apparatus, the elimination of space barriers to merchandise and information, world urbanization, the almost total erosion of the ecosystem, the high level of modernization of the process of work and consumerism, and the enormously expanded commercialization of consumption.

Capitalist Accumulation: Three Limits

All of these developments are well known and are topics of ongoing debate in the world media. But if one considers their significance from the viewpoint of infinite capital accumulation, one finds an enormous limitation in the accumulation rate. The reasons are fundamentally socio political. There are three central factors. The first has been recognized by analysts for a long time, although only now is it being fully realized. The world's urbanization and the increase in education and in communications media has engendered a level of world political consciousness that facilitates political mobilization and makes it hard to hide the level of socioeconomic disparities and the responsibilities of governments in its maintenance.

This political awareness is reinforced by the delegitimizing of any irrational source of authority. Today, more people than ever are demanding equalization of incomes and are refusing to tolerate a basic condition of capital accumulation: low remuneration for labor. This is manifested in the notable increase worldwide in the "historic" level of salaries and of the high, and still growing, demand for redistribution of basic welfare, particularly in health and education, together with the guarantee of stable income.

The second factor is the great increase in costs that states face in subsidizing profit with infrastructure construction and with the externalization of costs by businesses. This is what journalists are referring to when they speak of the ecological crisis, the crisis of skyrocketing health costs and scientific research, etc. States cannot continue to extend subsidies to private enterprise and at the same time broaden their commitments to the welfare of their citizens. One of the two will have to concede in considerable measure. With a more aware citizenry, this struggle, which is essentially a class struggle, promises to be impressive.

The third factor is political conscience, which has spread worldwide. There are global and national disparities of gender, race, ethnicity and religion. The combined result of this political conscience and the states' fiscal crises will be a large scale struggle, which will take the form of civil war at the global and national level.

25 50 Years of Growing Chaos

The first victims of these multiple tensions will be the state structures in their crisis for legitimacy and as a consequence, in a crisis of capacity to assure the maintenance of order. If this capacity is lost, there will be economic and security costs which will make the pressures increasingly intense, weakening even more the legitimacy of the state structures. This is not the future, it is the present. We can perceive it in the feelings of enormously intensified insecurity, the concern over crime and violence, the impossible promise of justice by the legal systems, in police brutality. These feelings have been taking diverse forms over the last 10 or 15 years.
They are not new phenomena nor are they necessarily much more extensive than before, but today they are perceived as new or worse by the majority of people. And without doubt, they are more extensive. The main result of these perceptions is the delegitimizing of state structures.

This kind of growing disorder, which feeds itself, cannot go on indefinitely, but it can last from 25 to 50 years. It is a form of chaos in the system, caused by the weakening of its safety valves. The cause is that the system's contradictions have reached a point at which none of the mechanisms to restore normal functioning can continue working effectively.

But from chaos arises a new order. What options do we now have in front of us, in the present and in the future? That this is a time of chaos does not mean that during the next 25 to 50 years we will not see in action the basic processes of the world capitalist economy. People and businesses will continue to seek the accumulation of capital in all possible ways. Capitalists will seek the support of state structures just as they did in the past and states will compete among themselves to be the principal centers of accumulation of capital. The capitalist world economy will probably enter a new period of expansion and will end by commercializing economic processes worldwide, polarizing even more the effective distribution of benefits.

Blind, But Condemned to Act

What will be different in the next 25 to 50 years is not so much the operations of the world economy, but the operations of the world political and cultural structures. Basically, states will continue to lose their legitimacy and will find it difficult to guarantee minimum security, internally or externally. In the geocultural scene there will be no shared dominant discourse and even the forms of cultural and political debate themselves will be debated. There will be little agreement around what constitutes rational or acceptable behavior. This confusion will not mean the disappearance of rational behavior. There will be groups that seek clear and limited objectives, but many of these objectives will be in direct and intense conflict. And there will be some groups that promote long term objectives for the construction of an alternative social order, though its subjective clarity still takes a poor form and there is no objective probability that those concepts will really be useful heuristic guides for action. Everyone will be acting blindly, without knowing it.

Despite all of this, we are condemned to act. As a consequence, our first need is to create clarity around what has been deficient in our modern world system and has made such a high percentage of the world population unsatisfied. It is quite clear that the primary demand on the system stems from the great inequalities created by the absence of democracy. Although democracy has been virtually absent from the primary known historic systems, capitalism's characteristic is that its great success lies in creating material production that allows it to eliminate all justifications of economic, political or social inequalities. Current inequalities have not isolated a small group from the rest, but rather have segregated the majority of the world population. These two facts the total growth of material wealth and that only a minority of people can live well have exasperated the excluded.

Immigrants' Hour

We will be unable to contribute to a solution to this chaos unless we make clear that the only desirable system is relatively egalitarian and fully democratic. Concretely, we should act immediately on various fronts. One of them is active elimination of the Euro centrist pretensions that have permeated geoculture for at least two centuries. Europeans have made great cultural contributions to common human enterprise, but it is not true that for over ten thousand years their contributions have been greater than those of other civilization centers, and there is no reason to suppose that the multiple centers of collective wisdom of the millennium to come will be less outstanding. The active substitution of the habitual European slant for an historical sense and for more sober and equilibrated cultural appraisals will require an acute and constant political and cultural struggle, one that does not ask for new fanaticism but for intense intellectual labor, both collective and individual.

We also need to take on the concept of human rights and work with determination to make them applicable for us and for them, for citizens and foreigners. The right of communities to the protection of their cultural heritage should never be confused with their right to protection of their privileges. One of the principal battle fields will be that of immigrants' rights. If in the next 25 50 years the great part of the minorities residing in North America, Europe and even Japan will be immigrants or immigrants' children, whether legal immigrants or not, we must all fight to guarantee these immigrants truly egalitarian access to economic, social and political rights in the region to which they emigrate.

There will be enormous political resistance to this, based on cultural purity and the rights of acquired property. The governments of the North are already arguing that they cannot take on the economic load of the whole world. And why not? The riches in the North have largely been the result of a transfer of surplus from the South and it is precisely this fact, which happened over centuries, that has led us to the crisis of the system. It is not an issue of charity, but of rational reconstruction.

In the Center of the Whirlpool: What to Do

These battles will be political, but they will not necessarily take place on the state level. Precisely because of the process of delegitimizing the state, many of these battles perhaps the majority of them will take place at more local levels and among the groups through which we are reorganizing. Once the battles among multiple groups become local and complex, it will be essential to develop a strategy of alliances also complex and flexible, which will function only if we keep our egalitarian objectives clear.

The struggle will also be intellectual: in reconceptualizing our scientific canons, in searching for more sophisticated and total methodologies, in the effort to free ourselves from the compassionate and fallacious discourse about the neutral values of scientific thinking. Rationalism is itself a value judgment if it is anything. Nothing is or can be rational except in the most comprehensive context of human social organization.

It can be thought that the program of social and political action I have outlined for the next 25 years is too vague. But it is as concrete as one can be in the middle of a whirlpool. First clarify which side you want to swim to. Then, be sure your immediate efforts seem to be moving in that direction. If you want more precision than that, you will not find it and will drown while looking for it.

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