Dissenting from the American Empire

Dissenting from the American Empire

How long has it been since we heard that old catchphrase “late capitalism”? The collapse of the Soviet Empire, and the rush of the leftovers of “real existing socialism” to find a place in the global market economy, give that expression a bizarre ring. For capitalism, we now realize, this may just be mid-morning. And such realization leaves us swimming in questions not just about the shape of domestic politics, but also about the new order of geopolitical affairs-now increasingly dominated by the kingpin of international capitalism, the United States of America.

Only command of the international market economy, it seems, can maintain the economic growth, the technological virtuosity, and the command of scarce resources necessary for world dominance today. Terrorists may threaten; rogue states may menace. These challengers may succeed in imposing much human suffering, but they will not change world boundaries or alter the global pre-eminence of the United States. For the immediate future, the United States has no rival in sustained ability to mobilize vast and sophisticated military forces, to capture and hold territory, and ultimately to make and unmake regimes in any corner of the world. Hence the question: what room do these facts leave those of us on the left for an alternative vision of world order?

It’s hard to conceive of a political question bigger or more consequential than this. To get a grip on it, we need to think in terms of what Gunnar Myrdal termed “programs” and “prognoses.” Programs are hypothetical scenarios, chains of events and processes through which the present might evolve into some desired future world. Programs in this sense, Myrdal holds, appeal for justification to prognoses-assessments of underlying social forces, of the constraints of entrenched conditions, or of the ripeness of untested situations for change. Programs without prognoses are apt to be nothing other than wishful dreams. Prognoses without programs are mere analytical speculation, holding little interest except to specialists.

Thus, more than sixty years ago, Myrdal and the co-authors of An American Dilemma posited programs for dismantling Jim Crow institutions-basing their arguments on prognoses of the openness of American society to change. Conservative critics loathed the program and derided the prognoses. As counter-prognoses, they cited the supposed resistance of beliefs and attitudes underlying segregation, the blacks’ and whites’ alleged affection for segregated institutions, the purported unreadiness of black Americans to assume an equal role. Yet today their essential arguments are vindicated. Changes once held utopian or dangerous occurred more rapidly than many could have imagined; seemingly outlandish prospects of formal equality between the races became practical road maps for public action.

The American-dominated world order of the twenty-f...