December 03, 2011

La longue durée

La longue durée is an expression used by the Annales School of French historians to indicate an approach that gives priority to long-term historical structures over short-term events. The phrase was coined by Fernand Braudel in an article he published in 1958. Basically, the Annales historians held that the short-term time-scale is the domain of the chronicler and the journalist, whereas la longue durée concentrates on all-but-permanent or slowly evolving structures. Thus beneath the twists and turns of any economic system, wrote Braudel, which can seem like major changes to the people living through them, lie "old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic." An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.

The “arc” of capitalism, according to WSA, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In the classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through. One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss (brilliantly depicted at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest). What is on deck, so to speak, is largely unknown, and to have to hover over the unknown for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well (on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose).

I was musing on all of this stuff last week when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, “Capitalism vs. the Climate” (The Nation, 28 November 2011). In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British blogger James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

What Naomi is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate action is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius. Folks like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”

In one of the essays in A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of our so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all). Of this, Naomi writes:

“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits....These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.” (This is exactly what I argued in The Reenchantment of the World; nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, for what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to above. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the OWS protesters need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means.

Naomi then provides us with a list of six changes that must occur for this new paradigm to come into being, including Reining in Corporations, Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich and Filthy. I found myself writing “good luck” in the margins of much of this discussion. These things are not going to happen (think Wal-Mart on Black Friday), and what we probably need instead is a series of major conferences on why they won’t happen. Although the answer is already embedded in her essay: vested interests, in both the economic and psychological sense, have every reason to maintain the status quo. After all, no one wants to have to admit that their lives are a mistake.

In terms of recommendations, then, the essay is rather weak. But it offers something very important by way of analysis, and also by implication: Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the inanities (and popularity) of Ann Coulter and Ayn Rand, the farce of electoral politics, the box office sales of violent movies, the epidemics of depression and obesity—these are ultimately not separate spheres of human or natural activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Naomi says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.

What then, can we expect, as the arc of capitalism comes to a close? This is where Naomi shifts from unlikely recommendations to hard-nosed reality:

“The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. ‘Free-market climate solutions,’ as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks.

“As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed.”

To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today. In the case of the Roman Empire, as I discuss in The Twilight of American Culture, there was the emergence of monastic orders that began to preserve the treasures of Graeco-Roman civilization. My question in that book was: Can something similar happen today? Naomi writes:

“The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She believes that the OWS movement embodies this; that they have taken “aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying...radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.”

Is this true? Three things to consider at this pt:

1. I personally haven’t been down (actually, up) to Zuccotti Park, but most of what I see on the Web, including very favorable reportage of OWS, seems to suggest that the goal is a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream. The desire is that the pie be cut up more fairly. I don’t have the impression that the protesters are saying that the pie, tout court, is rotten. But I could be wrong.

2. The Annales historians, along with the World Systems Analysis folks, have been accused of projecting an image of “history without people.” In other words, these schools tend to see individuals as somewhat irrelevant to the historical process, which they analyze in terms of “historical forces.” There is some truth to this, but “historical forces” can become a bit mystical. Just as it is forces that motivate people, so it is people that enact or manifest those forces. I mean, someone has to do something for history to occur, and at least the OWS crowd is doing just that. My own prediction is that the protest movement will probably melt into a kind of permanent teach-in, where Americans can go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that is indeed being taught, and if there are a sufficient number of people interested in learning about it. This is basically the “new monastic option” I talk about in the Twilight book, and it reinforces the history of the marginalized alternative tradition discussed in Why America Failed. Innocuous, perhaps...but in the fullness of time, maybe not. After all, as the system collapses, alternatives are going to become increasingly attractive; and just as 2008 is not the last crash we are going to live through, so OWS is not the last protest movement we are going to witness. The two sides go hand in hand, and ultimately—I’m talking thirty to fifty years, but maybe less—the weight of the arc of capitalism will be too onerous to sustain itself. In la longue durée, one is far smarter betting on the alternative worldview than on capitalism.

3. That being said (ceci dit, in French), the WSA folks are probably right in their argument that historically speaking, effective revolt tends to emerge from the periphery rather than the core. The core countries are the ones that dominate the globe with their power, economy, and ideology. They are crumbling from within, again because of the very pursuit of that power etc.; but it remains very hard to confront them directly—they’ve got the guns, and the police and military are not likely to defect. Thus WSA claims that the most effective counterattack is at the edges of the empire, not at the center of it. Mexico, for example, has no clout vs. the US because it is too close; 80% of its manufactured goods are sold to the US market. But resistance to the World Bank and the IMF is rife at greater geographical distances: Ecuador, for example, or Bolivia. According to the core-periphery argument, we should be expecting protest movements to emerge in places like these, where sympathy for the US is not exactly great. Some of it might come in the form of terrorism; that’s what 9/11 was all about, after all. (“If you terrorize other people, eventually they are going to terrorize you back.”—Rev. Jeremiah Wright) But some of it might just consist of pursuing the alternative, the new civilizational paradigm; just living in a different way, along the lines Naomi Klein suggests. And as the old way of life dies, a new way of life comes into being.

(c)Morris Berman, 2011


Anonymous shep said...

I also hear both share the Dream and you have to be asleep to participate in the Dream. Share the dream ideas depress and discourage me. Hope it evolves into the latter. Yep! We are all toast but luckily I do not have too long to suffer because of my age alone.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Shep,

Thanks for writing in; we need ol' timers on this blog, their insights and wisdom. Plus, u might wanna stick around for the show: there are so many aspects of it that are funny (think GOP candidates--a scream; when Herman Cain called Wolf Blitzer "Blitz," I nearly popped an artery laughing).


9:15 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Just after I wrote the above, I discovered that Herman Cain has given up his bid for the presidency and is going to start a website instead. What the hey, they are roughly least in his 'mind'. But I confess to being in deep mourning, as I was when Sarah faded from the scene, and for the same reason. Herman is so stupid that having him in the Oval Office would be material for an endless series of SNL shows. As the police and the army start to burn books, gun down protesters, and haul folks like me off to Guantanamo, we are going to need more and more things to laugh at. Sarah, Herman: we are impoverished by your absence, and we weep. Douche bags like you are worth your weight in gold.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Nebris said...

After reading this excellent article on the new George F. Kennan biography [ ] and in the aftermath of watching "Inside Job" [ ] I said to a fellow traveler, "It will likely be the Military Class that will pick up the wreckage left behind by Wall Street." The irony here may be that the US Military is becoming, for purely pragmatic reasons, one of the most 'green' organizations in the world.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Nebris said...


2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think America is really due for a slight name change. My suggestion is: United Security States of Anxiety (USSA). And hey, while were at it lets get rid of the "Star Spangled Banner" (un-sing-able anyway)and just have them belt out the Randy Newman song "Political Science" before their Moneyball games. The song is even more current now than when it came out nearly 40 years ago. (..."they all hate us anyhow, so lets drop the big one now, lets drop the big one now"). So greatful to have escaped the USSA while the escaping is good (though it looks like I and other ex-pats will be subject to USSA military arrest and indefinite confinement sans legal counsel anytime, anywhere, for any reason they can come up with forever and ever). Finally, even if only a few of us read them I hope you keep writing those wonderful books Mr. Berman.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"Obama defends American faith amid GOP critique" by Ken Thomas (AP):

In the battle over 'American exceptionalism', Obama used a recent trip to Asia to highlight America's role as the strongest and most influential nation on earth...."Sometimes the pundits and the newspapers and the TV commentators love to talk about how America is slipping and America is in decline," Obama said Wednesday at a New York fundraiser. "That's not what you feel when you're in Asia. They're looking to us for leadership. They know that America is great not just because we're powerful, but also because we have a set of values that the world admires. We just don't think about what's good for us, but we're also thinking about what's good for the world," he said. "That's what makes us special."

Please tell me I'm dreaming.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Bart said...

Prof. Berman,

Yes, the Republican field is an unending source of absurdity. Down here in the Southwest with the entire region turning into a dustbowl. Mile high and 100 mile long dust storms passing into Phoenix. Fires in Arizona so large that their smoke blanketed Albuquerque for weeks.... it was a great comfort to know that Rick Perry was assembling the flock to pray to the Good Lord for rain. No need for any sensible environmental policies at all. The Lord will provide, as long as your faith is strong.

Anyway, being an artist, my primary source of dark laughter is the contemporary art world which keeps striving mightily to hit new lows.

At any rate, if the political burlesque ever dries up (fat chance of that) there will always be the High Arts.

To "deconstruct" the cartoon below one needs to know that Saatchi is holding in his hands an immortal piece of art by one of his discoveries, Tracey Emin. And the Guardian link gives the context for the cartoon. It's tough satirizing the art world because nobody gives a crap what's happening in it or follows it.... except for those inside it. (Who can blame them?)

Tracey has recently had a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, which was greeted ecstatically by Guardian critics who hail her genius as she announces her preference for the Tories as reliable patrons....

Boy, do I wish some of you brilliant cultural critics would turn your focus on the art world ponzi scheme, which no doubt dwarves the housing or bubbles. That's where the 1 percent park all their money. Koch Bros. as patrons of the Met, etc.

Ten of the top 20 collectors of contemporary art are investment bankers, hedge fund managers, etc. The rest are media chieftains, luxury goods, casinos (Steve Wynn), etc.......

7:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Re: your last message: just a bit too long. If u cd compress by a third and re-send, I'll be glad to post it. Many thanx.


9:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Your request is a reasonable one, don't worry, but best to discuss it in e-mail:

Talk soon,

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Paul C said...

Consider this book, "Cathedral, Forge, And Waterwheel" by Frances & Joseph Gies. It's a History of technological development in the Middle Ages. They contend that things didn't just go dark with the fall of Rome and with it transformation set the stage for an expansion in technology for war and the comforts of society being built on the support of a merchant class and that tech. on a wider scale than previously. Some that we identify with today (as continually expansive and global). I'm thinking that the early borrowing of tech. from Asia and other far reaches was a movement toward a more tuned 'expansive mindset'. The technological comforts we have become so use to are also based on the tecnology of what we're also willing to fight to protect. As a species this seems hard wired to this and the cat is out of the bag as far as what we're not willing to give up. Hence, how do we have a conversation on what is livable when there is always something 'more'...out there... We've become accustomed to this way of thinking for so long that a major evolutionary shift would seem to be in order to change. Humanity has been struggling with for a while. I'm skeptical with democracy as Greece was propped up with a vast slave population. (Democracy is fine for those who are free...) It would be nice to think we could move forward into some kind of "Star Trek" future where 'want' and 'need' is eliminated and everyone has enough to be 'comfortable' but that is why it's called science 'fiction'. The reality seems more likely we'll be propped up by a vast array of penal colonies. Maybe, like you say, the fringes offer hope to escape to some degree but with the want of more space and the tech. of global satellites and biometrics there's really no rock to hide under anymore. And where only property is of value then what have we got? Our backs up against a wall, not the 1%.

I don't know, it just seems like entropy is at play here regardless of what anyone does...sorry if this seems a bit rambling...

3:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin Barrett said...

"Some of it might come in the form of terrorism; that’s what 9/11 was all about, after all."

Wrong. Ask someone who actually knows something about al-Qaeda - someone like Mohammed Heikal, the Arab world's leading political analyst, who was personally involved with the Egyptian government's infiltration of al-Qaeda, and said on or around 9/12/01 what everyone in the Islamic world knows: That AQ was so completely infiltrated by US and allied intelligence agencies that it couldn't set off a cherry bomb by itself, and that therefore 9/11 was an obvious false-flag event. 97% of people in Pakistan - the nation that knows al-Qaeda best - know that 9/11 was an obvious inside job, and that Bin Laden (who died in 2001) had no more to do with it than the Easter Bunny.

As an American Muslim, a Ph.D. Arabist and Islamic Studies teacher, I noticed all this, noticed WTC-7, noticed the obvious lack of any plane crash at the Pentagon and Shanksville, did some research, spoke out...and was witch-hunted out of a career.

Morris, if people like you had used your eyes and mind in September, 2001, the US government would have been overthrown by an angry mob by October. By failing to notice what 9/11 actually was, and promoting the "Muslim terrorists" myth, you're contributing to an anti-Islam genocide, among other bad things. Please stop!

And if you haven't yet noticed that virtually all the independent experts who have looked into it have concluded inside job, visit:

9:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sorry, I don't buy the conspiracy theory of 9/11 or of Osama's death. As far as I can make out, evidence for these things is circumstantial; there is no smoking gun. In addition, it wd be very hard to keep the lid on these things if they were true. However--I'm not going to debate you about it, because this wd take us down an endless rabbit hole, back and forth, and I honestly don't have the energy for, or interest in, the subject. In addition, there are lots of 9/11 Truth websites and such where these things are debated, and I have asked those writing in who are interested in the topic, to go there. I write this just so you know in the future, that I won't be posting stuff on 9/11 as an inside job or whatever. To me, at least, there are more pressing things to be worrying about, and I don't want this blog to get swallowed up with that whole issue. In the end, it's pretty much He said, She said, as far as I can see; it's hardly open and shut, as conspiracy theorists like to believe.

(Lots more I cd add, such as the theory's ignoring of what we did to the Muslim world since 1953, or the implication that the Islamic world wasn't capable of pulling something like 9/11 off, etc. As I said, all this is an argument w/o end.)


10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true that a more equitable distribution of the "pie" is a big part of what OWS wants. But it goes deeper than that because they also want a radical, direct, participatory democratic process--in fact, a form of consensus decision making, as found in their general assemblies. Their real educational impact would be to introduce thousands of people to this process.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"The story I have to tell, wrote Nietzsche, (1882)"is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. "...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers will appear in the arena of the future."

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the 20th century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God-based moral codes. But then, in the 21st, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old."

When I read your post I remembered reading this in Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up. Nietzsche said it will fail because "you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who says "Thou shalt" or "Thou Shalt Not." Maybe he's right. Even in Buddhism, with no "God" to worship, there's a code of conduct to follow based on justice, compassion and generosity.

What has started out in the OWS movement as simply a slice of the pie could evolve into a larger awareness with a real attempt to establish a different way of being in the world. Lost Valley, Oregon has a permaculture institute (, while it won't save the world, does plant real seeds to renew this one.

I'll miss Herman too. There was something likable and goofy about him; I guess b/c he has blood in his veins unlike Romney's embalming fluid.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I would be interested to know what Morris and others think we can do individually to speed up and hopefully make the journey smoother to the sort of changes suggested in this article. Firstly I think it is worth noting the danger that we may shift towards something worse than our current system - in that respect it is important we take personal responsibility for putting into practice something better. Paul C notes positive science fiction, we should also take note of the dystopian perhaps.

I agree that lifestyle changes that some,(such as Al Gore), suggest will bring about profound change are missing the mark. As the article makes clear it is the system itself that is rotten, and therefore the system needs to change. At the same time I would suggest that projects on a small scale at local level may start to give momentum to wider scale change. This may be the creation of new democratically controlled sustainable communities - with locally generated renewable energy, allotments to provide a high proportion of food, and also opportunities for craft and other types of jobs to supplement income. This could be a direction for the Occupy Movement - at the same time, continuing to challenge the wider structure. Clearly there are big obstacles to this, including access to finance to get these projects off the ground. I would be interested to know what people think to this approach.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Your things abt the possible 'new world' being something worse, rather than something better, is a gd one. Change, after all, just means different; it doesn't necessarily mean improvement. I have no crystal ball, but we cd be in for a serious de-provement, esp. given the relentless increase in world population.


Ol' Nietzsche; he did have a way w/words. Wh/Herman Cain clearly didn't. He was wonderfully moronic, and at this pt my philosophy is, The more morons the better! Yr rt abt Rom Mittney: a walking haircut, really, little more than an empty shell. This we don't need. They guy currently in the W.H. is empty enuf.


10:01 AM  
Anonymous Lorien said...

Excellent post, your notes on the Gore/Friedman/Romm school of environmentalism are right on, and the reason I got disgusted with environmentalists years ago. As Einstein (I hope I'm right here!) said, "You can't solve a problem with the same thinking that caused it".

Interesting too is the recent "rights for mother earth" movement/law in Bolivia and the fact that poor countries are now protesting rich countries' lack of commitment to reducing global warming. It's so obvious that truely caring for the environment and the nonhuman species who live on it is completely at odds with a free market economic growth perspective. Duh, Democrats, duh.

I just read a book by Gary Steiner (_Animals and the Moral Community_) in which he posits that, while classical liberalism is fine as the basis for laws governing interactions between humans, it is completely inadequate to govern humans' interactions with nature and nonhumans, because it is automatically anthropocentric. Most of our interactions with nature and other species wind up being governed pretty much by might equals right.

Anyway, great post. Thank you again.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous joonsae said...

Fantastic essay. I think we are starting to see some stirrings of an alternative worldview along the periphery - numerous indigenous groups in South America have begun to articulate their traditional values - see the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the concept of Panchamama, etc. Their traditional worldview, which has the concept of human interdependence with the earth as its defining feature, is slowly beginning to trickle outside of the periphery. These indigenous groups have also shown they will not be co-opted even by those who claim to speak for them (i.e. the sell out 'socialist' Evo Morales).

2:30 PM  
Blogger Robo said...

".. In the fullness of time .. la longue durée .."

Our culture and mass media are so concerned with the near-term that the long arcs of history are ignored. I have come to appreciate this point of view more and more, and for me it is the most enlightening aspect of your writings. Just got started on your latest. Thanks again. Feliz Navidad.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Nick Berry said...

Dear Professor Berman,
I agree the long-term view of history does provide valuable perpectives. I have read a recent post by the economist Michael Hudson ( entitled 'Democracy and Debt' about the role of debt creation and cancellation and its relation to long-term changes in political systems. For example he quotes Aristotle's view of the 'eternal transition' from oligarchy to hereditary aristocracy. These are in turn undermined by powerful interests taking the 'mob' into the process to bring on democracy, from which in turn oligarchy arises again. He makes the interesting point that creditors in The Netherlands and Britain were supportive of the move to 'democratic states' in the late 17th century because debts to states could be repaid by levying taxes more efficiently, whereas many monarchies simply defaulted.

The trend back to technocracy or fascism in Europe might suggest creditors are moving to support oligarchic power rather than democracy to support their interests. As to rebellion against the system now, the periphery of Europe and South America may be our best hope. Otherwise, as a friend of mine, a regular reader of your blog has suggested, we may end up with a form of 'soft fascism'. Soma, anybody?

Nick Berry

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morris,

Good review of Naomi's piece and I also finished your latest book (yes on an iPad, but one I didn't buy!)

I wonder what you think if about the Collapse literature. I find Dmitri Orlov's writings quite interesting, and there is Linh Dinh's photography which traces the disintegrating social landscape of America.

I think also Naomi has to pitch some kind of path forward, no matter how implausible. The same goes with political activists, although Luxemburg did at least imply that Barbarism was as likely as Socialism as an outcome. Otherwise, one would have to succumb to some sort of survivalist plan as la Take Shelter. Not sure what else to do.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out section on "New Monastic Option" in my Twilight bk, might help.


7:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay Moore said...

Found your blog after hearing yesterday a recorded talk with you about your new book, “Why America Failed,” broadcast on our local Central Vermont community radio station (WGDR). I read your “Reenchantment” book some years ago. I’ll have to catch up on your more recent stuff. Sounds good.

Above you asked about where the “occupiers” are coming from and worried about whether they have a critique of the system as a whole or just want a more equitable distribution of the American Pie. I just returned from a weekend spent at Occupy Wall Street – my second visit down there – and I’ve been involved locally ,too. Among other things in NYC I attended a talk by Arun Gupta, a long-time radical global justice activist and editor of the NY “Indypendent” (a print spin-off from the post-Seattle IndyMedia movement). Recently, he and his partner have been traveling around the country visiting lesser-known occupations like Mobile, Alabama and Youngstown, Ohio and trying to get an overall sense of where this movement which has taken off so rapidly and dramatically – last Saturday the 17th was only its 3-month anniversary -- is at and where the people involved in it are coming from. As Gupta observed at the outset of his talk, the 99% vs. the 1% is a “floating signifier” which can mean different things to different people. That is a big source of its broad power and appeal. But, based on his interactions with people he met on his travels, he was able to categorize occupiers and their supporters into four categories ideologically: (1) conscious anti-capitalists (like himself and yours truly); (2) the anti-corporate (meaning those hoping for reforms that would bring about a better, stronger regulatory environment under existing capitalist relations – e.g, thru restoration of Glass-Steagall and/or rolling back “corporate personhood”); (3) old liberals and those like the displaced Rust Belt industrial workers he met who look back wistfully to the post-WWII Keynesian bargain between capital and labor mediated by the state; and (4) conspiracy “nuts” such as the “gold bugs” and “truthers.” Based on my own observations, I would add a fifth category: followers of Ron Paul which would overlap some, I guess, with Gupta’s fourth category. But in the more politically-sophisticated NYC (and here in Vermont), while they’re around, I don’t see them having that much traction. This movement is too communitarian for them and knows the problem is not just the Fed.

At this point, there are a myriad no. of conversations going on among these different points of view in the occupations. The occupation encampments have been an agora of the sort we don’t have any more in the age of cars and shopping malls (where they kick you out if you try to do anything at all political). It is important to recall that the initial call and early organizing for Occupy Wall Street came from folks in Gupta’s category No. One above – i.e., conscious anti-capitalists (“Adbusters” magazine and anarchists). The “official” Occupy Wall Street Website proudly proclaims in big letters “The Only Solution is Global Revolution.” Many who’ve come into the movement politically naive are being radicalized, I think, by these conversations and through their direct experiences with how the mainstream media lies about us and the brutal repression from the state. But, overall, this is still very much something “in process.” It’s the most hopeful thing in many a year – since the Sixties, I would say. We can make a difference in which way or ways it goes. Maybe you should consider coming back “up” from Mexico!

11:47 AM  

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