“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go: downtown.” So warbled the British singer, Petula Clark in the 1960s. However, today if solitude is your constant companion, I would suggest that you purchase a copy of this riveting book and read it on the bus and in airports – as I have been doing in recent days, with the dramatic words on the bright red cover of this weighty tome blaring insistently – and no doubt you will find, as I have, that your reading reverie will be constantly interrupted by a stream of anxious interlopers curious to know what the future may hold.
For like Petula Clark, the author too hails from London, though the startling message he brings decidedly differs from her melancholy intervention. For it is the author’s conclusion that sooner rather than later, China – a nation ruled by a Communist Party – will have the most sizeable and powerful economy in the world and that this will have manifold economic, cultural, psychological (and racial) consequences. Strangely enough, Jacques – one of the better respected intellectuals in the North Atlantic community – does not dwell upon how this monumental turn of events occurred. To be sure, he pays obeisance to the leadership of Comrade Deng Xiaoping, who in 1978, opened China’s economy to massive inward foreign direct investment, which set the stage for the 21st Century emergence of the planet’s most populous nation. Yet, for whatever reason, Jacques – who once was a leading figure in the British Communist Party – does not deign to detail to the gentle reader how Beijing brokered an alliance with US imperialism, that helped to destabilize their mutual foe in Moscow, which prepared the path for the gargantuan capital infusion that has transformed China and bids fair to do the same for the world as a whole.
Still, it is noteworthy that this book’s back-cover carries blurbs from the conservative economic historian, Niall Ferguson of Harvard (Henry Kissinger’s authorized biographer); the leading historian, Eric Hobsbawm; the well-known Singaporean intellectual and leader, Kishore Mahbubani (who has written a book that mirrors Jacques’ earthshaking conclusions); and a raft of Chinese thinkers who do not seem displeased nor surprised by his findings.
Within a few decades, according to the author, the size of China’s economy will surpass that of the US (intriguingly, he envisions that Mexico’s will be in fifth place behind India and Brazil – a result that may have more impact on imperialism’s declining fortunes than the rise of Beijing). Thus, the author is unsparing in his critique of US imperialism; having experience with the decline of Great Britain from its once stratospheric heights, he speaks with authority when he avers that “imperial powers in decline are almost invariably in denial of the fact.” However, the changing of the guard today will be much more sweeping that that which led to Washington supplanting London. For not only will the new hegemonic force be a Communist Party, he argues – despite imperialism expending trillions of dollars to precisely forestall the flourishing of Moscow Communists – but, likewise, this will not be just a switch from European to Euro-American elites. “For reasons of both mindset and interest,” he asserts, “the United States and the West more generally, finds it difficult to visualize, or accept, a world that involves a major and continuing diminution in its influence.” Repeatedly, he argues, “we have come to take Western hegemony for granted. It is so deeply rooted, so ubiquitous, that we think of it as somehow natural”; instead, he says, “Western hegemony is neither a product of nature nor is it eternal. On the contrary, at some point it will come to an end” – and that time has arrived, he avers. Choosing his words carefully, the author says China’s rise “threatens Western societies with an existential crisis of the first order, the political consequences of which we cannot predict but will certainly be profound. The assumptions that have underpinned the attitudes of many generations of Westerners towards the rest of the world will become increasingly unsustainable and beleaguered.” For, says Jacques, “the emergence of Chinese modernity immediately de-centers and relativizes [sic] the position of the West. That is why the rise of China has such far-reaching implications.”
There are signs of this decline: it cannot be avoided that “the United States has ceased to be a major manufacturer or a large-scale exporter of manufactured goods, having steadily ceded that position to East Asia.” Yet, as the author sees it, the rise of China is simply a reassertion of historic trends with the era of British, then US ascendancy, seen as the anomaly. For, he declares, as late as 1800, China was the planet’s leading economic force but it was then that the accumulated wealth and power brought by the African Slave Trade and colonial dispossession began to assert itself more forcefully, leading to what has been referred to colloquially, as “the rise of the West and the decline of the rest.” Echoing historians like Walter Rodney, the author cogently writes, “without the slave trade and colonization, Europe could never have made the kind of breakthrough it did.”
As he sees it, the heretofore ubiquitous “Washington Consensus” of “free markets”, privatization and deregulation will be replaced by a “Beijing Consensus” wherein “the state is hyperactive and omnipresent…..the Chinese model of the state is destined to exercise a powerful global influence, especially in the developing world, and thereby transform the terms of future economic debate. The collapse of the Anglo-American model in the wake of the credit crunch will make the Chinese model even more pertinent to many countries.”
He discounts the perception that China’s apparent failure to comport with democratic norms as perceived from Washington, compromises its model of development. In Britain, he says, it was only in 1918 “over 130 years after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that women (over 30) won” the right to vote and in the U.S., it was not until 1965 that voting rights for African-Americans were solidified in law. Moreover, those in Washington who obsess about “democracy,” rarely – if ever – examine the dearth of democracy “at the global level” – e.g. the Security Council of the United Nations (where Africans do not have a permanent seat and Asians are under-represented) or the World Bank (where US nationals rule) or the International Monetary Fund (the bailiwick of Western Europeans). The “global order,” concludes the author accurately, “has been anti-democratic and highly authoritarian” with little objection from Washington – and China’s rise will complicate this scenario tremendously, he suggests.
However, Jacques does seem to be concerned about how China approaches the matter of “race.” He acknowledges the obvious, which – tragically – is not the norm in the North Atlantic community: “white racism has had a far greater and more profound – and deleterious – effect on the modern world than any other.” Jacques, no dummy, is sufficiently perspicacious to acknowledge that “Jesus was whitened in the Western Christian tradition” as a function of the rise of white supremacy. As the author view things, “American supremacy has been associated with the global dominance of the white race and, by implication, the subordination and subjugation of other races in an informal global hierarchy of race.” This is bound to change, he says, for “the rise of China to surpass the West will, over time, inevitably result in a gradual reordering of the global hierarchy of race.” Jacques asserts that “with the rise of China, white domination will come under serious challenge for the first time in many, if not most, areas of global activity.”
On the other hand, I think he could have done a better job in limning this profound area for nowadays hysteria is mounting in Washington about China’s inroads in Africa, the site of a storehouse of precious metals and petroleum necessary to propel a dynamic economy. And news media in the US particularly seem to believe that a “new colonialism” and “new racism” is arising in Africa – with China as the chief culprit. Troubling is the assertion by the author that Chinese-Americans “did not join with black Americans in the major civil rights campaigns” in the US – which happens to be untrue. He harps on the allegation that in China negativity is associated with darker skin. This declaration underpins his notion that changes on the racial front brought by China’s ascent will be of most significant moment for those of African descent, which is rather surprising given the overall tenor of this text. It is disconcerting that Jacques, who has been deeply influenced by the Marxist tradition, fails to ground his racial analysis in the potent realm of property relations and note that white supremacy was turbo-charged in the US because of the direct association of Africans with chattel and the uncompensated expropriation of this form of wealth.
Unfortunately, like many North Atlantic intellectuals, Jacques disparages Japan – which remains the world’s second largest economy and surely, has severe adjustments to make because of US imperialism’s decline and China’s rise. However, the single biggest flaw of this book may be the failure of imagination that causes the author to fail to foresee that just as Washington helped to build up Beijing as a counterweight to Moscow, it is now building up India as a counterweight to China – and this factor will no doubt buoy Japan, whose exceedingly close relationship with India stretches back 2500 years to the founding of Buddhism. Tokyo will probably be a major beneficiary of Washington cozying up to New Delhi, just as Beijing benefited from the crusade against Moscow.
Nonetheless, the author should be congratulated if only for being sufficiently courageous to seek to extrapolate current trends and ascertain what the future may hold: this is not a simple nor easy task. Furthermore, unlike many in the North Atlantic, the author does not hesitate to scrutinize US imperialism critically, referring to the “material and existential crisis that will be faced by the United States” as a direct rule of China’s ascent. The US, he says, has “remained largely blind to what the future may hold, still basking in the glory of its past and present and preferring to believe that it would continue in the future.”
Yet, methinks that this blindness is slowly but surely disappearing as the interlopers who have interrupted – with evident anxiety – my reading this book on buses and in airports well suggests. The author has tackled what may be the most important issue of the new millennium and that alone merits congratulations.