Rejecting Neoliberalism, Renewing the Utopian Imagination
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 Nov 2011
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 two dismal consequences followed that have been rarely acknowledged:
–neoliberal orthodoxy became unchallenged and unchallengeable in the formation of global economic policy; the World Economic Forum, convening annually in Davos, became the true capital of world order after the ending of the Cold War. Global policy priorities were set at Davos as capitalist materialism infused what became known as ‘globalization,’ a predatory consumerist that was capital driven rather than people-oriented. The Occupy movement is seeking to reverse this ordering of priorities, insisting on an economy for the 99%, insisting on governance that is accountable, participatory, transparent, and ecologically and ethically responsible, insisting on ‘real democracy.’
–the utopian imagination was repudiated as inevitably leading to the sorts of demonic politics that was associated with Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union. Not only was utopian politics linked to Stalinism but also to any promise of social and economic justice premised on human equality, and specifically, of course, to the socialist tradition. Instead, what emerged as dominant was a new brand of realism that encouraged accommodation with injustice, a delegitimation of any politics of aspiration, and an extremely alienating and demoralizing political atmosphere that rewarded the ethics of the casino and punished the energies of the workplace. The Occupy movement, whether consciously or not, is restoring the utopian imagination to its rightful role as the patron goddess of desire, the essential spiritual core of any restorative planetary politics of sufficient gravitas. Such a goddess has contempt for what ‘realists’ call realism, and aligns herself with a militant politics of impossibility.
This is not meant to be a lament for the end of the Cold War or the collapse of the Soviet internal and external empire. After the historical achievement of overcoming colonialism, the greatest advance in the struggle for a more humane world was ending Communist rule in Eastern Europe and freeing the various subjugated republics and nationalities that made up the Soviet Union. Two further positive legacies also can be connected with this ending of the Cold War: the lessening of the threat of a major nuclear war and the emergence of a new geopolitical landscape that was the scene of the gradual dismantling of the Western architecture of world order in the early years of the 21st century.
Critique and reshuffling the relations among states and regions, while necessary is hardly sufficient. The adjustments that have been made are hemmed in by the statist preoccupation with horizons of feasibility that lack will and capacity to meet such globally constituted challenges as climate change, nuclear weapons, global disease and poverty, governmental criminality, and militarism. These fundamental deficiencies of our current circumstance are only perceived in their fullness of menace if we indulge the utopian imagination that alone is able to illuminate distant horizons of necessity and desire.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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