When the Ideas that Run the World Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/09/2019 - 5:56am in

Real political change happens infrequently. The cycles are decades long. So, most recently, there was the crisis of the 70s which led to the rise of neoliberalism: Thatcher and Reagan. Everything that has happened since then, in the Western world and Japan, has been an unfolding of that. There are some important sideshows, but this is a neoliberal world.

Before that the Crisis of the Great Depression and WWII led to the post-war era. In the US, that runs from 1933 to 1980, essentially, but it was in crisis from about ’68 or so.

There are other such cycles, for example, in the early 1900s there was a collapse of support for Imperialism in Britain. It disappeared in a few years (I know a lot less about this). Everyone had to support it for decades, and suddenly they didn’t.

During a period where a sub-ideology reigns (all of these were capitalist periods, but they were very different forms of capitalism) it’s almost impossible to do things against the trend. The best you can do is grip on for dear life and try not to lose too much. You can, alternatively, go orthogonal: Neoliberals are basically okay with identity politics, so you can make gains there. Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it can be done.

But the real fight is over the NEXT period, the transition. Key ideologues created neoliberal thought long before Thatcher and Reagan. When things go to hell (stagflation is the end point of the 70s) for long enough, people become willing to change ideologies.

They choose from the available ideas. Ideas with muscle and money, or which appeal to elites (if the elites aren’t being changed), have a better chance. But the key point is that if your ideas aren’t there, and being considered in the crisis period, you’ve already lost.

The conservatives were and are right: Ideas have consequences. Ideas are powerful. Next to physical facts, they are probably the most important factors in human existence (every invention is an idea first).

We are probably in a transition period. If we aren’t, we will be soon. Take this into account: Whoever wins this transition period will rule, if not the world, then a significant chunk of it. Everyone else will either be working out their ideas, resisting them, or trying to do something orthogonal to avoid them.

Finally, there are different types of ideas. Technological ideas are one subset. They aren’t as determinative as we moderns think. They determine the possibilities, but possibilities can lie fallow for a long time. Certain societies are possible with the steam engine, or the internal combustion engine. Composite bows and stirrups make other societies possible. The stirrup and composite bow were around for a long time before Genghis Khan showed what they could truly do. The Chinese invented gunpowder, the Ancient Greeks had toy steam engines.

So beware of over-determination, and also beware of the idea that histories and societies which didn’t happen–or have not happened–were therefore impossible.

Meantime, transition period, ho. Get to work, your enemies (and you have enemies) are.

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