Judt's Prophecy and 'Occupy the Globe'

So, the late Tony Judt proved to be extremely prophetic after all.

So began his book, Ill Fares the Land:

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today.

For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come. And yet we seem unable to conceive of alternatives. This too is something new.

His was a sense of gloom, and a call for sound reason.

When we follow with interest "autumn of neo-capitalism" as some sort of (natural?) follow-up on the Arab Spring, it is time to return to this book (which he said he wrote mainly for the young, "lost" generations of the world), which emerged as a strong call for a fair global order, lamenting the breakdown of Keynesian policies and letting go of a "dog eat dog" system. Only a year after his death, we are in the midst of global turmoil, mainly due to economic wrongdoings and profound injustice.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is happening at a time when millions of Americans are struggling economically in the cradle of capitalism. But the "land of plenty" leaves them out there with huge unemployment, debt and little hope. But the burden is not shared fairly, and the outrage is at Wall Street, which caused the crash that led to the loss of jobs. The main question is whether or not the voters will any longer tolerate a tiny elite that continues to grow in wealth, the much talked-about 1 percent, while the rest suffers.

Consequently, for the first time since the 1920s there is a strongly visible mistrust of politics in the mainstream. The system displays signs of disintegration with the Tea Party on the radical right, and it is apparent that Democrats' overemphasis on social policies rather than economic ones may force a popular outcry against the left. The quick spread of OWS into the cities of the globe -- from Sarajevo to Sydney -- should only be a reminder that a) everything is interconnected in today's world, and b) it demands leadership that exercises new thinking.

In this context, interestingly, one cannot avoid acknowledging Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After repeatedly questioning what he called the "old order" symbolized by the UN and lashing out at the West for extreme greed over Africa, he told Turkey's rich elite on Saturday that "you should drive a Fiat or something, instead of a luxurious Porsche." He was defending new taxes. Did this come out of an awareness that the gap between a tiny elite and the masses has increased considerably, lately? Perhaps.

Some observers predict that OWS and its global followers may fade. I have a sense that the opposite is true. Apart from the US, the EU faces a much more dramatic decline -- led by a Greece beyond any control -- and it will only help consolidate discontent and eventually lead to identification with a youth movement. The first sign was the anti-authoritarian WikiLeaks, and the massive, solid infrastructure of the social media. The SOS signals will inevitably be louder, telling governments to return to policies that serve the masses rather than corporate leadership.

The major point is it will leave no country, no society, untouched. That is what seems to have forced Judt to write his book. He envisions a future in freedom and justice, and sees the solution in the framework of a libertarian form of social democracy. You may disagree with his political leanings, but he is right in that the decline of the middle classes is the harbinger of war. This must be avoided. There must be a new awareness that a total restructuring is possible for democracies whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc., in their roots.