Philip G. Cerny


What’s on my mind

Cover Interview of December 21, 2011

The main hopes in my opinion are ones of bottom-up convergence, not top-down political systems:

* creeping democratization and especially pluralization (for example, as in the Arab Spring)—i.e. the growth of the middle classes in the Aristotelian manner and their common awareness of how their situation cuts across borders,

* the dramatic reduction of interstate violence and even civil wars in the last few decades,

* the relative liberalization of ideologies and religions within this context (with Islamic and American/Southern-style Christian fundamentalism just structurally doomed backlashes),

* the inevitable spread of multiculturalism through migration, diasporization, and information and communications technology.

There might even be some progress in financial market regulation through de facto convergence among the main international financial centers (Basel III, derivatives clearing, banning proprietary trading, maybe even Tobin taxes, etc.).  But that is looking rather shaky at the moment. To use Gillian Tett’s phrase, from her book Fool’s Gold, markets and financial institutions are still “dancing around the regulators.”

Actually, I am cautiously optimistic on the whole, as I think there is still a lot of room for overall economic growth in the world and for the sort of bottom-up change I’ve described. But all this will be uneven and unstable—Alain Minc’s description of the New Middle Ages (1993) as “durable disorder.” A lot of “multiple equilibria,” as the economists say, no miracles, and a lot of failures—and inchoate protests—along the way.

New generations will have to feel their way in this environment through what the late anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called bricolage, a word often translated colloquially from the French as “do it yourself” or “tinkering,” but in theoretical terms building up through ad hoc practices into complex social systems.

One can only hope that experience and experimentation will lead to an increasing capacity to confront and cope with these growing problems of global politics, maybe even to solve some of them.