After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
By Alan Miller I am not as convinced that Todd’s analysis was very useful. It seemed severely lacking any methodological structure and rigour and seemed to cavalierly make statements that could not be corroborated. Unfortunately, it has become quite acceptable to make impressionistic declarations today – and often be trumpeted as ‘insightful’ or ‘thought provoking.’ While some of his empirical research on birth rates was interesting (and numerous people commented on his diagrams) the leaps he made to generalisations often fell short of explaining and understanding phenomena.With regard to the first point, it seems that the elite of the western world and most certainly within the United States, has lost faith in what their own project is. Rather than the rest of the world losing faith necessarily in the standard of a ‘universal’ or exceptional ‘Americanism’, perhaps it is the leaders of America that are suffering from an existential crisis. No longer able to motivate the American project in terms of opposition to some Soviet threat, with the contesting ideas of Left and Right departed the political stage, what is left is TINA (There Is No Alternative) to the market, with very little inspiration. Worse, perhaps, a sense of anxiety and fear pervades the very culture in which we operate that presents the human project as almost pathological: humans are ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ and somewhat out of control.The ‘culture wars’ in the US saw a protracted debate around the themes of western identity and the legacy of the enlightenment, with ‘Dead White Males’ being presented as responsible for much of the unsavoury activities of the colonial and imperial periods. However, alongside this, the ascendancy of post modernism and a broader unease with reason meant that many of the certainties that previous rulers could count on have disappeared. This has had significant ramifications for the ability to motivate the idea of ‘America’ both domestically and internationally.While some agreed with the points Todd made with regard to the Middle East and emerging stability – contrary to populist presentations of an out of control central Asian region – the very nature of western disorientation often seems to lead to more problems than it solves. The ‘empty proceduralism’ which policy devoid of political intent, just managerial pragmatism can often be just as destructive (or perhaps, at times, more so) than a specific campaign of militarism with objectives and vision.In paraphrasing Nietzsche towards the end of the book on (p.197) Todd suggests that we can ‘wrest ourselves from the hold of ideology, the illusion of the moment, and the media’s permanent false alarm.’ However, while Todd has attempted to dissect the anti American sentiments prevalent within the anti globalisation ‘discourse,’ he has missed the central point that the problem seems not so much to be needing to renounce old ideologies, but the fact that people generally have given up on the idea that politics can be a solution to the problems of the people. As one Salon member noted, the exiting of the people from the political stage has made it largely irrelevant. In effect that means suspending history, until we have decided that we can make it again.