Saturday, December 03, 2016

Does the long arc of history bend toward justice?

Despite the recent election, the world--and probably the United States with it--is probably in better shape in most ways today than it has ever been. More people are living better, levels of poverty worldwide are falling, and we've made tremendous strides in protecting the rights of minorities. But I wonder now if we have reached peak civilization. My faith, in Martin Luther King's words, that "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," is not as strong as it used to be.

The rise of liberal democracies, and concomitant increases in political freedom and living standards, may, in the long run, prove to be largely a 20th-century phenomenon. What we have witnessed in other countries, like Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and now (to a lesser extent, so far) in Britain and the US, may be signs that the world is returning to its pre-1900 baseline of mostly unfree societies, where wealth and political power are almost entirely within the hands of the extremely wealthy.

Yes, that's not going to happen with one lost election. But I worry that the world's response to the challenge of maintaining the 20th century's progress will be like its response to climate change--halting, myopic, deliberately sabotaged, and, to the extent that it has been effective at all, probably too little, too late. We may be at the proverbial hockey stick of authoritarianism, oligarchy, and plutocracy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are basically correct, except that you are leaving out one-half of the story for possible future trajectories. As Immanuel Wallerstein has written many times since the 1970s the capitalist world-system has been in a terminal crisis, resulting in a bifurcation, which will likely be resolved by about mid-21st century. For example, see his Monthly Review article, "Crisis of the Capitalist System: Where Do We Go from Here?-- which I am quoting below a relevant section of the two possible paths forward.
-- Christian_Left

"We may think of this period of systemic crisis as the arena of a struggle for the successor system. The outcome may be inherently unpredictable but the nature of the struggle is very clear. We are before alternative choices. They cannot be spelled out in institutional detail, but they can be suggested in broad outline.

We can "choose" collectively a new stable system that essentially resembles the present system in some basic characteristics -- a system that is hierarchical, exploitative, and polarizing. There are, no doubt, many forms this could take, and some of these forms could be harsher than the capitalist world-system in which we have been living. Alternatively we can "choose" collectively a radically different form of system, one that has never previously existed -- a system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian.

I have been calling the two alternatives "the spirit of Davos" and "the spirit of Porto Alegre." But the names are unimportant. What is important is to see the possible organizational strategies on each side in this definitive struggle -- a struggle that has been going on in some form since the world revolution of 1968 and may not be resolved before circa 2050."