About studying and forgetting: centrism, populism and the legitimacy disaster of globalization
Summary of the author
Every order is a bargain with disappointments and compromises. So every order is an unstable equilibrium. The first era of globalization, around 1870-1914, led to both international prosperity and internal instability. This instability was fully realized during the interwar years, which were marked by financial chaos, virulent populist movements and war. The political leaders of Europe and America have learned hard lessons from these decades: that the international order must tolerate a variety of national capitalisms; and that capitalism must be tamed within nations in order to be compatible with democracy. A generation later, scientists and politicians alike seemed to have forgotten the importance of post-war bargains in maintaining economic and social stability. Instead, preoccupied by the disappointments of the 1970s, a new market- and capital-friendly consensus emerged between the center-left and the center-right. This gave rise to a second international post-war order: a new era of globalization made possible by this “neoliberal” political consensus. The new order was more transatlantic than American, because the political transformations in Europe made it possible. This era of globalization, like the first era, created both wealth and instability. Instability again took the form of virulent populism, fueled by economic inequality, financial volatility, and a crisis of dignity for those who felt abandoned. Indeed, while we learn that neither national societies nor the international system can handle the tradeoffs between globalization and neoliberalism well enough to avoid backlash, those lessons have been learned before. The cycle continues: learning, forgetting and relearning why these balances are unstable.