A General Logic of Crisis


From January, Adam Tooze reviews Wolfgang Streeck's How Will Capitalism End? in the LRB (with a response from Streeck):

In early 2014, as the likes of Habermas and the late Ulrich Beck called on their fellow Germans to make the elections to the Strasbourg Parliament the constitutive moment of a European demos, Streeck’s mind was on darker themes. In January 2014 at the British Academy, he gave the lecture ‘How Will Capitalism End?’, which lends its dramatic title to this collection. If, as events in Europe and the US seemed to demonstrate, capitalism had broken free from its constraints, then visions of an ‘ever closer union’, at least in the form of the EU, were out of touch with reality. We should be bracing ourselves for a prolonged and agonising decomposition of the entire social fabric. It has been said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: Streeck believes we may one day witness the proof of that. Capitalism will end not because it faces serious opposition but because over the course of the coming decades and centuries it can be relied on to consume and destroy its own foundations. We should expect ever intensifying stagnation, inequality, the plundering of the public domain, corruption and the escalating risk of major war, all of this accompanied by a pervasive erosion of social order, generalised social entropy. Indeed, according to Streeck we have at least since the 1970s been living in what he refers to as a ‘post-social society … a society lite’. We cope individually with conditions of increasing uncertainty, while at the macro level both society and economy become increasingly ungovernable. ‘Life in a society of this kind,’ he writes, ‘demands constant improvisation, forcing individuals to substitute strategy for structure, and offers rich opportunities to oligarchs and warlords while imposing uncertainty and insecurity on all others, in some ways like the long interregnum that began in the fifth century CE and is now called the Dark Age.’

Streeck isn’t merely making a diagnosis, but a call to arms. He encourages his fellow sociologists to break through the ‘disciplinary truce’ that in the 1950s divided the economy from the rest of the social world and hived it off as the exclusive domain of economics. But his hopes extend beyond the academic: ‘Sociologists and political scientists, in alliance with heterodox economists of different stripes, have begun working on a new sort of political economy, a socio-economics that would again make the economic subservient to the social rather than vice versa, first as a theoretical and then, hopefully, as a political project’. Streeck draws urgent practical conclusions: ‘Bringing capitalism back into the ambit of democratic government, and thereby saving the latter from extinction, means de-globalising capitalism.’ Capitalism must be cut back to the scale of the nation-state, because it is at the level of the nation-state that Europeans have over the last two centuries been able to establish ‘social cohesion and solidarity and governability’.

More here.