Geertz on the what became of the revolutionary promise of the third world

Cliffor Geertz tries to decipher the trajcetory of that began with national liberation more than half a century ago.

“Between 1945 and 1965, about fifty-four, depending on how you count, new, independent states, with borders, capitals, armies, leaders, policies, and names appeared in the world. Between 1965 and the end of the century, depending again a bit on how, and whom, you count, fifty-seven more appeared. . . The world resegmented, refounded, and reformatted in the space of a few decades. It was, clearly, some sort of revolution. But what sort-what it was that was turned around, and in which directions-was, and still is, imperfectly understood.

Indeed, its thrust and import, what it signifies for our common future, seems less clear today than it did at its outset, when the infinite grandeur of beginnings that attends all mold-breaking political transformations in the modern age clothed it in a dense symbology of selfhood, progress, solidarity, and liberation. In the Bandung Days of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the charismatic hero-leaders . . . projected a heady vision of radical nationalism, cold war neutrality, collective opposition to Western imperialism, and great-leap-forward material progress: a vision that was bound to come apart as the diversity of the interests, the variousness of the histories, and the incoherence of the worldviews it was designed to contain became apparent. Within ten or fifteen years, a generation of parochial and hard-fisted leaders appeared . . . replacing popular mobilization and national cheerleading with the pressures and calculations of disciplinary rule. That approach, too, in good part a product of the great-power alliance-balancing and aid-brokering that the spread of the cold war beyond Europe and its regional intrusions and intensifications made possible, didn’t last. A few relics or throwbacks, like Mugabe or Niyazov, or isolate outliers like Than Shwe or Ben Ali, aside most of the present-day leaders of the now not-so-new states . . . are suited and circumspect managerial politicians, not mini-leviathans or world-stage superstars.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that things have come full circle.”