Work, Europe and Utopia – part four by Henri Brugmans

4. “The Keys of the Kingdom”

Thus, for the first time in history, the events having the greatest influence on people’s lives, have become universal. This was not yet the case during the 1930s. The 1914 – 1918 war was not yet a “world” war except in name, and the same was so with the Great Depression. It was still possible, from one continent to another, to ignore it. Nowadays, in contrast, all the facts are known everywhere, almost as soon as they have taken place – China alone has choosen to ignore the American landing on the moon. We have therefore become a community of problems and information, even if we have not yet become one of solutions. Globalisation, for the moment, manifests itself above all in common suffering: wars have become global as have economic recessions. To the conclusions of the preceding chapter, we can now add that competition within capitalism on a world scale has become threathening, and will become more so in the near future.

How should we react? The initial response of a threathened group is that of protectionism. The rival has first to be discredited in the mind of his potential clients. In the past, when Great Britain realised that she was no longer the sole workshop or arsenal of the world and that German industrial might was going to overtake her, she coined the phrase “Jerry built”, intended to have a pejorative (a contempt or disapproval) meaning. It did no good. A similar attitude later arose at the time that Japan was entering the world market, when again its products were referred to as “cheap and nasty”. On top of which is added a “social” argument, as one sheds crocodile tears for the lot of underpaid Japanese workers. But there again, nothing came of it: the so-called “new” countries offer too attractive markets for our exports for us to be able to restrict their imports into our countries. We need an overall plan: what can we produce better than other people? What can we specialise in?
If the best place to be is always at the forefront, how can we place ourselves there? Here, neither individual enterprises nor nations, each looking after its own interests, nor even the independent research teams can provide the answer. The first see no further than their own sector of production and distribution, the second their traditions in conflict with those of their neighbours, and the third produce nothing but intellectual answers. This is so much the case that no powerful authority – that is to say responsible for a community at least the size of a continent -can put into effect their suggestions. It isn’t plans we have lacked, in Europe and the world, but the power to put them into effect!

But it isn’t only a matter of this economic globalisation, within which each one of us must find his place, but also a question of knowing whether the world is inexhaustibly furnshed with the means and the resources to continue to support the kind of society which surrounds us.

And here the Club of Rome is to be praised for raising the problem. Its conclusions have been criticised and it has itself produced substantial corrections. But the first report, however arguable, would not have created such a stir (strong feeling of excite) had the public not sensed, vaguely but undeniably, that we might well find ourselves today at the end of a historical cycle and at the end of a society which lived by expansion and could not exist in its present form other than by expansion. As Paul Valery put it: “It is the beginning of the end of the world”. We now know in effect that the earth is not inexhaustible. Of course, we also know that human genius can invent all sorts of substitutes, but nothing comes from nothing and we have reached a point when even fresh air is no longer free, and there is a risk of water becoming scarce. In politics ecologists may perhaps have been inept (having to show no skills), but they have put their finger exactly on the problem. It is easy to make fun of them, but difficult to clarify and to resolve the problems which they set out.

If we aspire to a more temperate society, more circumspect (unwilling to take risk) in the use of raw materials – a society where undoubteldly the value of craftsmanship will be appreciated more than the multiplicity of unnecessary gadgets – we will need to consider carefully our expectations and capabilities. This appraisal will also have to be “multinational”, and capitalist societies in the present world and the political powers of the future will have to rely upon it in order to put into effect their plans.

In these plans, moreover, it will not be a matter only of economics and social aspirations. They will have to be based upon a certian idea of our very civilisation. Undoubtedly, the revolt of 1968remained blind, but what one saw there was nevertheless a cultural uprising. They were rejecting a certain type of society, “affluent” but spiritually impoverished, “one-dimensional”; a society where more and more people could buy more and more commodities, but which “produced” as well an increasing number of suicides, divorces, abortions, acts of violence and drug-taking. In the elaboration of the overlall plan which we are proposing, Churches and other religious or spiritual communities must make a contribution of the first order because, more and more, nations and individuals aspire towards forms of cultural life both peaceful and stimulating. The economy is not able to invent these, but it can at least create the conditions in which they may flower. It ought not to impete (deley or prevent by obscuring them) it.

In any case, public opinion senses instictively that “things can’t go on much longer like this.” This is all the more true because of the unprecedented situation that the resources of the planet will not always be available to us at ta price which we would call “reasonable”. Of course, we can to a certain extent play off one producing country against another, and the oil companies are to be praised for supplying us with oil form the Venezuelans, at the moment when the Arabs attempted to bring us to our knees and force us into anti-Zionism. This does not alter the fact that our state of dependance, scarcely disguised by the term “interdependence”, is from now on a permanent fact of life.

Lastly, it is not solely a matter of buying whatever we lack at home: it is still necessary to transport it – and that raises the question of the command of the seas. Europe no longer “rules the waves” as Britain once did. At present, the Soviety navy is foremost in the world. It can cut our supply lines whenever it wants. This is beyond the scope of this essay but it was necessary to mention it.

Be that as it may, the “keys of our (economic) kingdom” are no longer in our own hands, not least in the matter of security. Given his state of affairs, a protectionist Europe is a doomed itself out in futile bursts of activity, would have surrendered all authority in the face of a hostile world which it no longer ruled. To hold “the keys” we must deserve them and to deserve them we must first know what we have to offer.


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