Around 1900, as modernity took hold of the great cities with their ever-increasing number of inhabitants, the revolution profoundly changed the ways in which people thought about the world, and about themselves. It also accelerated with enormous might, taking less than a generation to undermine, batter, and eventually crush social structures, moral norms, and traditional ideas that had existed for centuries….Both the interwar years and the first decades of the twenty-first century have been marked by a pervasive sense of insecurity, and in both periods the reasons and possible remedies for this insecurity have been the subject of intense debates….there can be no doubt that compared with the decades immediately after the Second World War, our lives have become more precarious – not because of a war but because of political choices made by us and on our behalf by politicians elected by us….job security is largely gone. For decades, this rapid erosion of social rights and protections was covered by the political idea the this was the flexibility demanded by the free market, and that the reward of such risk taking was a chance of immense gains.
The ideological justification of this…was carried by a growing distrust of the state, of democracy, and of politicians, who were regarded as either unwilling and unable to make the changes necessary or as not entitled to interfere with individual liberty….citizens were no longer regarded as organs of a collective body working in unison, as in fascism, or as cogs in a gigantic machine, as in Bolshevism. Rather, they were seen as independent agents making choices in a free market, governed by principles offering opportunity and freedom without taking sides.
The irony…is that the gospel of the free market is just as ideological as those of communism and fascism. The belief in the seemingly unideological power of the market has helped only a small minority, creating for the rest a world in which hundreds of millions of people live less well and more precariously than their parents….And yet the very people who have to be more afraid for their livelihoods, whose standard of living is more threatened, and who have to pay more for basic needs frequently defend the system, perhaps because it offers something even more fundamental than security: hope, orientation, a kind of transcendence. We treat the market as the fundamental reality of society. It gives us something to believe in. We have chosen to adhere to a political gospel, much like the communists and fascists of the 1930’s.
…After the First World War had crushed mighty empires and the moral universe sustaining their outlook on life, millions took refuge from the challenging void and fled into ideologies or simply danced and shopped until they dropped – or, if they were to poor to participate, at least they dreamed of shopping and the high life. The great political faiths were accompanied by a refusal to engage with the challenges of the time. There is a comparison to be made here, and we can only hope that the verdict spoken about us by the generation of our grandchildren will have cause to be kinder than the judgment we deliver about our grandparents, who lent their lives and hopes and abilities to murderous illusions.
Here is my question: Given all of the above, and everything we know is happening today and might happen in the future, how do you think future generations will judge us?