A couple of weeks ago, my new book Le capitalisme à l’agonie came out, published by Fayard in Paris. Bénédicte has been so kind as to translate the summary I wrote for its backcover.
Le capitalisme à l’agonie (Fayard 2011). Summary
In 1989, at the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism was triumphant. Deprived by now of any enemies, it had ceased to be just one economic system among others to become the single form under which an economic system could possibly exist. In 2007, a mere eighteen years later, that is for all purposes simultaneously on the timescale of human history, it would itself be carried away by the maelstrom of its upcoming destruction. Capitalism has now reached the point of death. What could possibly have happened?
Looking back, the eighteen years separating the fall of the Soviet-type state capitalism and the fall of the Western market capitalism will seem trivial The explanations offered for a supposedly intrinsic superiority of the one system which outlasted its rival by a short interval only will seem trivial as well. History will remember the irony of this conjunction.
Despite having hardly been mentioned at all, one hypothesis by now stands out: could it be that capitalism and communism were struck down by the very same ailment? Complexity would then be the cause: the make-up of human societies is bound to reach a threshold in complexity beyond which instability gets the upper hand and fragility having become overwhelming, the system heads for disaster.
An alternative explanation is that in order to thrive, capitalism was in need of a powerful enemy to oppose. This enemy, far from being a threat to capitalism turned out to be in actuality its unexpected support. The option was open to citizens of democracies to turn their vote to such an alternative and this by itself was enough to force capitalism’s beneficiaries to keep its functioning within the borders of common decency. Once such an alternative option had vanished, capitalism’s beneficiaries did not refrain from trying de develop its market mentality even further, destabilizing by this the entire system and leading it straight to its downfall.
There is one more possible explanation: that due to the payment of interests by those who have no option but to borrow when trying to meet their productive or consumptive aims, capitalism would inevitably fuel a concentration of wealth such that the whole system would break down sooner or later.
Between these various hypotheses, there is no need for choosing though: the three of them are jointly true, each in its own particular manner and their combined implications characterise the first decade of the twenty-first century. This getting together of lethal factors explains why we are not currently experiencing any of the crises of capitalism which have become habitual in the two most recent centuries but truly, its last gasp.
We are examining in the book the various moments of a time when a behemoth mechanism, first slows down, then stops.
This novel feature of a lack of any serious competitor for capitalism prevents us from seeing with any clarity what is coming next. To enlighten us, we need to focus on what we mean by happiness, the kind of happiness we are wishing our children, our children’s children and ourselves. We need also to scrutinize the contradiction existing between two of our main concerns neither of which we are prepared to sacrifice: ethics, the moral life, and private property, the right of owning, without such possession being ever legitimately questioned. We analyse the quandary of a world where labour is becoming rare but where the income it provides remains indispensible for the large majority.
Some luminaries of human thought did guess that our species would one day be faced with questions which if not unsolvable, require however that we initiate a move as radical as that which led us from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic era, or from agrarian to industrial societies. We will summon to this aim the ground breaking pondering of Robespierre, Saint-Just, Hegel, Marx, Lévy-Bruhl, Freud and Keynes in particular.