The western world is an end state: the comfy couch at the end of history

Quote of the Day for Wednesday, January 19th, 2011:

Walter Russell Mead, writing at The American Interest on the on-going decline – and largely unconsidered future – of the structures underpinning modern life in the West:

The word ‘developed’ contains an important assumption: that a historical process known as development (closely related to modernization — another problematic word) not only exists throughout the world, it culminates in a known end which has already been reached.  This word implies that countries like France, Canada and our own happy United States of America have reached the end of history, the summit of human achievement, stable and enduring arrangements in political economy that are unlikely to change much going forward.

Nothing could be stupider or less historically defensible than this belief, yet few assumptions are more widespread among the world’s intelligentsia, planners and, especially, bureaucrats.  Technological change has never been moving faster or with greater force than it is today as the implications of one revolution in IT after another work themselves out; the foundations of the global economic and political order are being shaken by the dramatic rise of new powers. Yet somehow many of us believe that the  western world is an end state: the comfy couch at the end of history rather than the launching pad for another great, disruptive leap into the unknown.

This is a smart essay from Mead that points out just how backward-looking the whole current debate over political economy is in America – and elsewhere. So-called conservatives are, of course, routinely accused of backwards, illiberal thinking (even though, at least in America, those known as politically conservative are almost uniformly advocating classically liberal policy). But even the left, with their pretentions of “progressing,” are not trying to move toward anything new, but are only doubling-down on a project that is already exhausted, even when viewed in the most favorable light.

Mead sees the best path forward in a new incarnation of liberalism. I suppose he’s right, at least at the white-board level, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. I think his view that the current state of liberalism is a continuing bulwark against socialism defies the growing evidence of the mainstreaming of a leftist politics of resentment, and the continued hostility to religion in public life emanating from the liberal institutions of influence (media, academia). Not to mention the ever-creeping scope of government. Maybe I’m misreading him. Then again, maybe he should similarly look at the evolution of socialism. Nonetheless, he’s a good read.