The Politics of Collapse: When The Center Will Not Hold, Things Fall Apart

Sometimes, we have to turn to our poets for real insight into our current global condition.


It was back in 1919 in the aftermath of World War l, that Irish wordsmith William Butler Yeats put pen to paper and came up with “The Second Coming,” verses that have stood the test of time. Yeats was born the year the American Civil War ended in 1865 and died in 1939, the year World War 2 began.


His most famous lines:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre?   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;   

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;   

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,?  

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere?   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;?   

The best lack all conviction, while the worst?   

 Are full of passionate intensity


I am not so categorical about putting down “passionate intensity,” but it is certainly true, as every reader of every newspaper knows, the political center (or Centre in its Anglicized spelling) cannot hold and is not holding.


As a result, we see more volatility leading to instability, along with new stirrings on both the right and the left as the global economy weakens and many nations find themselves saddled with acrimony, debt, disillusion and decline. There is virtually no consensus on solutions.


Perhaps because of the entanglements and interdependency fostered by globalization, governments, right, left and center, don’t seem able to solve their economic crises or governance responsibilities. You see it everywhere as political schisms, irrespective of ideology, degenerate into canyons of disbelief and invective. Both socialist and capitalist governments are broken by endless dickering with patching efforts underway that seem to only lead to more crises, not the end of crisis.


Two recent developments point to issues that almost every country faces, including my own, where stalemate and polarization are the order of the day, or should I say, the disorder of the day?


Consider China:


The NY Times reports fear and loathing as debates emerge, first in private and then in public … ”the private gatherings are a telling indicator of how even some in the elite are worried about the course the Communist Party is charting for China’s future. And to advocates of political change, they offer hope that influential party members support the idea that tomorrow’s China should give citizens more power to choose their leaders and seek redress for grievances, two longtime complaints about the current system.”


Now, turn to, Israel, where for all its talk of a united people, disunity reigns:


“JERUSALEM — The broadest unity coalition Israel has seen in many years broke apart Tuesday evening, rent by irreconcilable differences over how to integrate ultra-Orthodox men and Arab citizens into the military and civilian service, a fundamental question for the future of the Jewish democracy.


After stunning the political establishment with a secret, late-night deal in May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the centrist Kadima Party, failed to achieve their top priority and agreed to part ways.”


In Hollywood, this is known as “irreconcilable differences”


One reason may be that the people who often appear to be in charge are, in fact, not. Elected officials are, in many cases, in office but not in power. They have ceded power to military interests such as Israel’s “War Cabinet” or America’s Pentagon or the lobbyists for economic power structures in Wall Street, the City in London or parallel financial centers in every country. Central banks and international agencies like the IMF seem to be governing by default.


Misgoverning may be a better word for it, according to a top former IMF economist who just resigned and slammed the Fund for incompetence.


The Guardian reports, “In a resignation letter to the IMF's board and senior staff, dated June 18, Peter Doyle said the IMF's failures in issuing timely warnings for both the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and the euro zone crisis were a "failing in the first order" and "are, if anything, becoming more deeply entrenched.”


Everyone knows that Iran’s Supreme Ruler is the ultimate power broker there but unknown, even invisible, “supreme” forces run other countries but hide their existence. In the US, the unelected “Supreme Court” majority more or less has a right-wing agenda. They selected George Bush as the country’s President in 2000 and then imposed through the Citizens United decision a way that corporations and the wealthy can use their money to dominate our politics. These “Supremes” don’t just review laws; they make them.


There are conflicts and structural weaknesses within nations and between nations that undermine a social stability also insuring that the Center cannot hold. Top-down consensus-based liberalism of the technocratic variety has become more volatile.  Third World analysts like Samir Amin have been arguing the Center is hot holding, writing, “The world economy (of historical capitalism) moves from disequilibrium to disequilibrium through changes in the balance of power between classes and nations.”


Deep internal conflicts have destabilized the system even as new forces and protest movements emerge to challenge it.


MIT’s “”Noam Chomsky also warns explicitly that the Center cannot hold, but focuses on the victims of its collapse.


He writes, “There are poignant studies of the indignation and the rage of those who have been cast aside as the state-corporate programs of financialization and deindustrialization have closed plants and destroyed families and communities. These studies reveal the sense of acute betrayal on the part of working people who believed they had a fulfilled their duty to society in what they regard as a moral compact with business and government, only to discover that they had only been instruments for profit and power, truisms from which they had been carefully shielded by doctrinal institutions.”


He fears that growing political resentment will lead to escapes into unreason, feeding the rise of the right, something we are seeing in the US and parts of Europe.  “This is one possible outcome of collapse of the center,” he writes.


He then calls for a renewal of “the radical imagination.” Says Chomsky: “The center is clearly not holding, and those who are harmed are once again shooting themselves in the foot.”


Interesting that a left which has battled the Center for all these years seems to bemoan its disintegration—but for a reason. They see a corrosion of formal democracy with corporations and financial institutions increasingly making key decisions with even less transparency and responsiveness to the public.


They also recognize that there is less and less countervailing power with the unions weakened but still hoping to reform systems increasingly resistant to reform. Activists like the Occupy Movement aspire to speak for the 99% but do not seem strong enough or organized enough to do so.


There are cycles of history just as there are business cycles. Marx once wrote that events happen, ‘the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ We seem to still be in the tragic phase.


News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net. His latest books are Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street and Blogothon (Cosimo Books). He hosts a show on Progressive Radio Network. (PRN.fm) A version of this essay first appeared on PressTV.com. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.  

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