Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Book Review: “The Global 1989.”

Posted by democratist on October 11, 2010

11th October 2010,

In line with Democratist’s ongoing support for the Historical Sociology approach to International Relations (HSIR), and of the intellectual legacy of the late Fred Halliday, we would like to take this opportunity to draw our readers attention to the recent publication of a new collection of deeply insightful and thought-provoking HSIR essays; “The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World Politics.” (Ed. George Lawson, Mark Armbruster and Michael Cox, Cambridge University Press, 2010).

The overarching theme of the collection is the question of  how far the end of the Cold War (“1989”) has changed, but also significantly may not have changed the world all that much, over the subsequent 20 years.

Refuting the simplistic misconception that 1989 “transformed everything,”  it addresses the question of the enduring and continuing (although often contradictory and paradoxical) historical social trends that have helped to shape the contemporary world; how these were (or were not) influenced by 1989, and what they suggest for the ongoing trajectory of contemporary societies.

As such, The Global 1989 considers in detail;

  • How the period since the end of the cold war has started to witness an erosion of the trans-atlantic alliance in the absence of the Soviet threat.
  • How, by ushering in an era of liberalism without critique, 1989 has actually served to renew critiques of liberal utopianism which have continued to gain strength both in the West and wider world.
  • The impact of totalitarian legacies on Russian and Chinese development since 1989, and how the restoration of autocratic rule in these countries has produced a class of post-totalitarian nomenklatura, “which seeks to strip the country’s assets rather than engage in contractual politics” (a trend that that has not gone unnoticed here at Democratist).
  • How the neoliberal approach to economics and “casino capitalism” which emerged in the UK and US in the early 1980’s, received a huge international boost after the fall of Communism, only to produce the current financial crisis.
  • The resurgent influence of nineteenth-century Western thought on post-Cold War international relations theorizing and foreign policy-making (not least in relation to the 2003 invasion of Iraq).
  • The way 1989 has brought into question core aspects of European Integration.
  • The crisis of the European left invoked by the loss of Socialism as an “actually existing alternative” to market democracy.
  • The diverse impact of 1989 on the thirty-plus former allies of the Soviet Union in the Third World (and the way in which 1989 had variegated effects in different parts of the world, some with greater and some of lesser import).
  • How the peaceful revolutions of 1989 led differing groups to draw contentious, and sometimes dangerously wrong “lessons” from them: This included (for example) the belief of US hawks that the revolution in military affairs could be used to easily reshape international order.

This is a most impressive and serious work that, regardless of whether you happen to agree with some of its more overt leftist leanings, strikes out against much of the triumphalism, hubris and complacency we have witnessed in the West over the last two decades, and highlights a number of serious and growing problems which will require our urgent attention.

The Global 1989 also demonstrates (to quote from Lawson’s introduction); “…a profound lesson for academic enquiry as well as for policy-makers, reminding us of the need to ask good questions rather than look for easy answers, to use imagination rather than fulfill the requirements of “normal science,” and to work on developing sound judgements rather than on following the latest fad.”

We encourage all our readers to get hold of a copy, and publicize this generally jargon-free and accessible work as much as possible.

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