October 1st, 2008

This Magic Moment

As the regimes of Eastern Europe began to fall one by one in the fall of 1989, the energy released by their disintegration could be sensed thousands of miles away. There was a chance, one felt, that the domination of the many by a privileged few, which was as much the case in the West as in the East, might be exchanged for a "third way." By the early 1990s, though, that possibility had been so thoroughly extinguished that it seemed, in retrospect, like the eptiome of starry-eyed idealism to have considered it in the first place. Perhaps the new boss wasn't the same as the old boss, as the Who song lamented, but the differences between them were less consequential than what they had in common: a steadfast commitment to maintaining an unjust order. That's what we see today, when we consider the nations of the former Soviet Bloc. And it's what we are finally wiping the sleep from our eyes to see here in the West, right in front of our faces.

It may seem excessively optimistic to hope that the current conjuncture, painful as it is to witness, will provide an impetus for a change in management, not only in terms of the names on the desks, but in the very approach to "managing" society. But hope, frankly, is one of the few resources that can still secured even when credit dries up like a puddle in the desert. Perhaps we will even find a way to recognize, not only for the short term, but a more substantial durée, that
failed economies are not the exclusive province of state-planning in the name of Communism, but can just as easily be the result of state-planning in the name of Capital. Whether you believe that the solution is the dissolution of the state or the dissolution of the market, it should be clear that the spaces in between these two extremes are dominated by orders in which differentials are inevitable and, despite their denunciation in the public sphere, the desired outcome for those who stand to benefit from systems that turns freedom into a luxury good.