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have argued that the past few years mark a systemic crisis in American hegemony; nor is there much of a recognition that the post-Second World War American-centric liberal international order is in terminal crisis. For example, in his book entitled Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order John Ikenberry argues “the crisis of the old order transcends controversies generated by recent American foreign policy or even the ongoing economic crisis. It is a crisis of authority within the old hegemonic organization of liberal order, not a crisis in the deep principles of the order itself. It is a crisis of governance.” This implies that while there may be a crisis of American hegemony the “deep-principles of the order itself” remain transcendent. For Ikenberry, a relative decline of American power or authority does not call into question international liberalism – i.e. the proliferation of democratization, human rights regimes, continued importance of international legal regimes, and especially the continuation of capitalism through the percolation of open markets, etc. However, I think the interesting question is precisely whether there is a crisis in the so-called deep principles of this American centric liberal order. That there is a fundamental crisis in American hegemony is, I think, plausible. But it is one, to be sure, that has been ongoing much longer than is commonly perceived. On the one hand, historical sociologists such as Giovanni Arrighi, Immanuel Wallerstein and others have pointed to the 1970s as a key moment marking the signal crisis of a specific form of American capital accumulation. For Arrighi at least, 2003 and the invasion of Iraq marks the terminal crisis of this specific regime of accumulation. On the other hand, we can certainly witness an internal crisis within the
as Reinhardt Koselleck shows in his conceptual history. We have a political crisis engineered to. In fact. an epochal disjunction that would be resolved in a cataclysmic event. A constitutional crisis: The obvious example. “decision”. the failure of the education system and the dismantling of trade union power. going back to Greek antiquity. The Wire shows us the decay of city governance. A perfect example of this is recounted in the brilliant ethnography of David Simon’s TV show The Wire set in Baltimore during the early to mid-2000s. playing before our eyes. dismantle the remnants of the American welfare state. appearing on the PBS Bill Moyers show Simon aptly remarks “This is how an empire is eaten from within. debt limits and the role of government services. But what if we are seeing a much deeper crisis in the deep principles of our liberal order that transcends the trajectory of American power and how can we makes sense of this crisis? First. a forced “choice” at a crucial moment when the political order was placed in question. it came to mean. let us say.” So I think we can certainly make the case of a systemic and long-term American hegemonic crisis that reflects or is imbricated with a set of internal crises.United States. crisis took on a theological and medical definition. on the one hand. and on the other. the 2 . all through the lens of the continued inner-city violence of the War on Drugs. We have a crisis of economic inequality and the political inability to address it. what do we mean by crisis? What is a crisis? Crisis in its in original sense. An even deeper crisis lurks within the US: what may be called a crisis of American democratic and institutional governance at the state or municipal level that transcends the vicissitudes of Washington politics. Later. meant a moment of “judgment”. is the political crisis and brinkmanship between a certain cohort of Republicans in Congress and the Presidency over matters of budget appropriations.
for example? To think of crisis beyond the confines of human agency or the capacity of decision-making is. By the mid 20th century. What is interesting about this conceptual history recounted by Koselleck – though he does not address it – is this evolution from an understanding of crisis as soliciting a specifically human judgment or decision to a systemic notion that lies beyond the realm or capacity of human agency. and conflicting degrees of power and effectivity. To be sure. “Alongside and inside singular human agents there exists a heterogeneous series of actants with partial. I think. Marx and Engle’s later combine these eschatological and etiological notions of crisis to arrive at one that is “both system-immanent and system-exploding”. First. would such a neo-materialist theory of crisis help us grasp as the crisis of out times? I think this is perhaps important for understanding the evolution of three processes that may or may not systemically affect the liberal order of things. population and/or 3 . I will be very schematic here. As Jane Bennett argues in her recent work Vibrant Matter. crisis takes on especially epochal proportions: for Husserl it is the crisis of European civilization or sciences or for Heidegger the crisis of the West.progress and course of a disease. Political discourse over the course of the 18th and 19th century adapted these meanings in various ways: it was common to refer to the period of the French Revolutionary wars as the “Age of Crises”. overlapping. I am not saying that we need to reappropriate such epochal notions of crisis that one finds in Husserl or Heidegger.” In other words. However. we can rethink crisis theory as an assemblage of objects and actions that holistically constitutes catalytic events beyond the realm of human agency. an interesting way of thinking about the long-term global crisis of international liberalism. What does it mean to make a decision when the West is crisis. If planetary climactic transformations become irreversible and lead to environmental. the obvious crisis of ecology.
of its relative power and of our current global economic 4 . hospitality. So we arrive at a situation where the vast majority of humans are perceived as superfluous towards to reproduction of economic totality. Rather than outsourcing production. 2010. for example. when the DJI fell 9% in the space of minutes and recovered just as quickly. We have seen. recognizing how climactic patterns of drought have precipitated certain political crises that transcend the confines of artificially construed borders? Second. we witness the rise of high-frequency trading on major financial markets. flash crashes in individual equities or the market more generally. from economics. of Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel Player Piano which imagines a dystopian world of total mechanization). as a result. To conclude: I think that while questions concerning the longevity of American hegemony. That is. the management of the commons that liberalism does not adequately address? Or. for example. What then does a post-human theory of finance capital entail for the emergence of systemic financial crises that risk collapsing the entire global economy? What do we mean then by systemic risk in such a situation? Third. how does this call into question this contemporary liberal order? Does it force us to rethink notions of sovereignty. as on May 6. what some refer to as the roboticization of the means of production. from finance. computerized trading has largely taken over from human decision-making from order execution to proprietary trading because human have become much too slow in processing information. what if we arrive at a point in the future when human labor becomes increasingly superfluous and only a few are able to benefit? This is the subject. Advances in artificial intelligence may signify dramatic shifts in the relationship between gainful employment and economic production and services. Advances in robotics are making production a less human-centric occupation.resource shifts.
And to get a sense of the potential events. 5 .tribulations. catalysts or fissures that may undermine this order perhaps necessitates expanding how we think about the relationship between the human and an assemblage of material objects that reconstitute post-human forms of subjectivity or agency. we need to expand our focus on events and processes that may result in a systemic crisis of this contemporary global liberal order. are obviously significant.
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