Final Thoughts

by Walter Russel Mead

Once again, thanks to Roger Alford and everyone else involved with Opinio Juris for a rich discussion and an excellent example of how the Internet can facilitate in-depth exchanges.

I wrote God and Gold hoping to set off a conversation about some important and often uncomfortable truths:

that the modern world has developed under the auspices of an ever growing and deepening system of politics, culture, economics and ideology rooted in capitalist social organization and Anglo-American power;

that this long era of Anglo-American predominance in world affairs rests in large part on a unique cultural fit between those societies and the challenges of rapid capitalist development;

that this cultural fit is best understood in the light of a dynamic religious sensibility that infuses both orthodox and heterodox religious faith in the Anglo-American world;

that this religious sensibility continues to shape the perceptions and values of secular as well as religious people in the United States today;

that both the cultural and the geopolitical conditions of today’s world seem favorable to the continuation of the “American era” in world affairs well into the present century;

that much of the world objects to various features of this international system and that these objections are often deeply rooted in cultural and political preferences which will not easily or quickly be changed (and which in any case many people want to preserve);

that the Anglo-Americans are not and often have not been wise, generous or just in their use of the power they’ve achieved;

that the very cultural qualities which have helped make the Anglo-Americans so strong tend to blind them to certain important features of the emerging world system;

that the accelerating social and technological changes which liberal capitalism promotes are simultaneously liberating and destabilizing;

that while it is impossible to predict where all this is heading, humanity seems fated to continue along this path.

At least from where I sit this does not look like a triumphalist message. I respect the power of Whig optimism to shape world affairs, but I cannot share the easy optimism that the Whig tradition promotes. My own view of the future is a bit darker and more Delphic than the intoxicating and enticing visions of a peaceful, stable and democratic world order resting on capitalism and the rule of law which so many British and American observers have thought they discerned during the last couple of centuries. I honestly do not know where all this will end, and I am sometimes staggered at the perils we face.

In the end I do share the Abrahamic faith that all the turmoil and trauma of human history will lead to something greater and richer than anything we now know, but I suspect that the consummation of history will be something more unsettling and unexpected than a peaceful and easy transition to the Paradise of Whigs.

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/02/08/final-thoughts/

One Response

  1. First I’d like to publicly thank Mr. Mead for this quite extraordinary discussion and Opinio Juris for hosting it. My general comment is one that is decidedly tangential, which is why I haven’t raised it earlier, but I wanted at least put it on the table.

    I have been trying to figure out how God and Gold, as a theory of long term economic, cultural, political, and social development, fits, or does not fit, with Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, which appeared last year.

    The reason I raise the two together is that Clark’s economic history of the world is also highly focused on the Industrial Revolution in England and the Anglosphere. It is a cultural account of economic development – not an institutional one or political one, but specifically cultural. I realize this is off the specific topic of God and Gold as a book, but there seem to me important affinities and disaffinities, for those of us who want to use these books as a way to think about international economic growth and development.

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