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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited
Edited byJohn Coleman
Deputy EditorAidan Rankin
Optimism and pessimism
When one looks at our modern world it is difficult to know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Scientists present us with ever greater conquests of nature and offer endless future benefits to humanity, but are these benefits real and is there a dangerous downside? Roger Scruton, the philosopher, wrote recently in The Sunday Telegraph (14 January, 2001):
The creation of ANDi, a rhesus monkey with an alien gene from a jellyfish, by a team of scientists in Oregon brings us one step nearer the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley, in which human beings themselves are manufactured according to requirements laid down by their benevolent rulers.
Perhaps the truth lies in an idea which I believe originated in Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea, that we need pessimism of the mind and optimism of the will (reversing the order highlights its significance). We should face reality with our minds and strive to overcome all its terrible obstacles and potential disasters.
Yorrick Blumenfeld in his article "2099: A Eutopia" reacts against the dystopian tendencies of our times. "I love utopias", he says. He feels that the very idea of utopia was immeasurably damaged in the 20th century by the ruthless dreams of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, and that ideas and ideas have properly been regarded as inspirational, not authoritarian, since the time of Plato. St Augustine's City of God inspired the Sienna of the Middle Ages and was neither harsh nor authoritarian. Rich and poor lived in close proximity and by surprisingly democratic means created a fine environment for both. An interesting little story from the days of Yalta is told by Eduard Shevardnaze. He overheard a conversation between Stalin and Churchill. Stalin said that after the war only the eagles would count and Churchill retorted that he had wanted a world in which all the small birds could survive.
Jurgen Krönig, the UK correspondent of Die Zeit, expresses what have been the fundamental views of this journal from the outset. He argues that the European Union is accommodating itself to the globalised world that has grown out of post-war American foreign and commercial policy and that a Europe which claims to be against American capitalism is in fact embracing those evils which the great international conglomerates have detached from the true America. It is an example of yet another European utopia in danger of becoming in the twenty-first century what the despotic utopias of the twentieth century became. Europe, Krönig warns, is at a crossroads but still has the opportunity to follow the inspirational rather than the authoritarian route.
Money surely lies close to the core of how our human civilisation has developed. Everybody is screaming for more of it without asking why the modern world needs so much of it. From the so-called "fat cats" downwards, everybody is trying to grab more and more of it from the mass production system and none more so than those who are clever enough to control the monopoly of money itself. At a recent meeting of the Economic Research Council, Christopher Fildes spoke on this subject with characteristic humour and candour:
I wanted tonight, if it's not too politically prejudiced, to develop the ideas of a much under-rated political thinker long before his time, the much-mourned leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party, Screaming Lord Sutch. I am sure you all remember his cheerful top-hatted figure moving from by-election to by-election, and I think it was plotted that there was such a swing over the years in his favour that he might easily have come to power but for his untimely demise. His thinking on economic matters was very far seeing, in a sense as I say, before his time. You'll remember his attitude to competition policy, which was to ask: why should there only be one Monopolies Commission? Now I feel that had he been spared, he would have developed this theory into the one of monetary economics, and the question he would be asking now is surely, "Why should there only be one single currency?" Because put like that it is a very fair question. A currency is a service, the provision of a currency is something that a service industry does, its customers pay for it one way or another, whether they like it or not, and you would have thought that an attempt to establish a monopoly across the continent of Europe would perhaps catch the attention of Mr Mario Monti and the Competition Directorate. Indeed, come to think of it, why should there only be one Mario Monti? And yet, so far from this exercising his mind, all the argument is for extending this monopoly over a wide area. You may have seen that Professor Robert Mundell, Nobel Prize winner for his work on the optimal currency zone, so-called "father of the single currency", was saying when the IMF met in Prague, that clearly the next step was to have a single currency for the entire world. This produces, I think, a wholly new sense of the word "optimal", as in the case of the currency zone it clearly means "big", Indeed it seems to me, on that argument, one might wonder why he stops with the world. What is wrong with the solar system?
Professor Bernard Lietaer has written about his own book on money with clarity and humour, and the book hardly needs any further recommendation. It is clear that without an overhaul of our money system and the attitudes that underpin it we will have little hope of creating our better worlds in small corners such as East Anglia.
Judith Ryser's report on the 46th Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association in Budapest reminds us that there is a vast world outside Western Europe that should be built out of local microcosms, each putting its own locality in order, with people themselves feeling empowered to do so rather than having power-hungry leaders doing it for them.
Ted Dunn draws attention to the United States Institute of Peace and shows that not everything that America does conforms to the popular image of that country. The Institute is emphatic that "A peaceful and undivided Europe must include both the United States and Russia if it is to be successful over time", and "A trilateral agenda targeted at building a stable and undivided Europe that includes Russia should not be pursued at the expense of the bilateral relationships".
This is followed by a couple of book reviews, concerned with issues closer to home. Aidan Rankin writes about David Wells's book Tony Blair: Making Labour Liberal, tracing the origins of "New Labour" to nineteenth century utilitarianism. The other is Charlotte Horsfield's review of Larry Siedentop's book Democracy in Europe. There is more than just a hint in this book that you cannot in the long run achieve what Walter Lippman called "the manufacture of consent".