Barricade on the rue Soufflot, an 1848 painting of revolution in Paris by Horace Vernet. Image Source: Wiki. (Thanks to -J. for correcting this reference.)
Will European and global economic problems, combined with the Tech Revolution, give rise to new ideologies, new alliances and trading zones, and new forms of imperialism? One of my friends who has been avidly following the Occupy movement recently asked me what I thought about its comparison to 1848, which comes straight from veteran Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. The 1848 revolutions constituted, in Wiki's words, "the first (and only) Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority." Hobsbawm makes this comparison because he sees the middle classes collapsing and throwing in their lot with the working classes, something that did briefly happen during the 1848 revolutions. The assumed parallel also rests on economic problems, among them, a crisis with a common European trade zone in 1848 and 2011. In both eras, trade zones provided problematic bases of political unification. In addition, technological advances, respectively mass print and the Internet, sparked broad protest and demands for increased representation and accountability.
Occupy Protesters. Image Source: Brighter Life.
There are different ways of reading these signs. Since I first encountered the Frankfurt Parliament as an undergraduate, I've always liked 1848, and at one point read a lot about the revolutions. But I was more interested in 1848 as a product of changes in culture. 1848 could be interpreted as the cultural-political embodiment of Romanticism, rather than being seen merely as Hobsbawm's united middle-working class revolutions. I responded to my friend by observing that 1848 was the last time liberalism, nationalism and socialism were all on the same page. All three strands of social revolution were briefly united to make a Romantic revolution (that argument is now being questioned); but what followed was the great fracturing of these three ideologies into separate movements. In addition, the forces of reaction absorbed the agendas of 1848 revolutionaries and subsequently co-opted them.
In 2011-2012, I think the opposite is happening; I think we are witnessing a great fracturing which will followed by a great union or great unions. But unions around what? If the eurozone splits, what new unities might replace it, or arise regardless?
Again, culture is one starting point for understanding what will happen socially, politically, technologically and economically. The possibility of new power alignments appearing in the wake of the Occupy Movement is consistent with the argument that growing political rifts between left and right superficially conceal the fact that older political ideologies no longer work under Millennial conditions.
Alternatives to these conglomerates may begin in Millennial culture. The UN and EU are 20th century mergers of disparate nation-states. As the EU, particularly, falters, the trend toward other, seemingly unlikely mergers will continue.
The Internet tends to encourage bizarre mash-ups with little regard for historical consistency, be they geo-political, economic, cultural, intellectual, or social. What would seem unthinkable in a world strongly anchored in the past suddenly becomes possible in a tech-driven world where our grasp of history is shallow and historical facts are digitally interchangeable. Two notable examples from the conservative right (below) point to this potential for changed power alignments. The Occupy movement may ironically inspire new ideologies and new political orders that the Occupiers might not like at all. If you feel odd looking at the images below, that's your attachment to the past as an immovable artifact nagging at you. These are only two examples; there are lots of other hair-raising options, from unholy alliances (see here, here, here, here), to movements that skate past differences and emphasize bridging beliefs (here, here, here, here). Perhaps the most interesting example of the latter push toward homogenization is the contention from M. B. Aalbers that mortgage markets diminish class differences: "The mortgage market can be characterized by a constant drive toward uniformity." Or at least, mortgages were supposed to accomplish socio-economic uniformity, until the housing bubble burst, the bottom dropped out of the economy, and a mass middle class collapsed under its own weight.
Image Source: Telegraph.
First, as with 1848, trouble in the Europe Union highlights Britain's unique, ambivalent and long-standing isolation from the Continent. Eurosceptic Brits have been looking away from Europe to greater friendship with the Commonwealth countries and the United States. On December 29, 2011, Conservative UK Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan blogged that it was "time to repatriate the revolution." He conjured up an Atlanticist fantasy inspired by George Bernard Shaw about a new, Anglospheric trading zone. Some enthusiasts have gone even further and talked about a political reunification of Anglosphere countries. Aspects of the Anglosphere idea were also just discussed in relation to the euro crisis in the Wall Street Journal. The last time the Anglosphere was a big talking point on the right was around 2001 to 2004, in the wake of the LOTR movies, which inspired the founding of conservative Websites like Shire Network News.
Another Anglosphere mash-up. Image Source: Charles Pooter via Little Man, What Now?
But hey, if bringing back the British Empire is not your thing - and it isn't for a lot of people - there's always religion. Since he took office, Pope Benedict XVI has been talking about stronger ties between the Catholics, Protestants and Jews. He is circling a reunification of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, under an unambiguously Catholic umbrella. In 2000, he referred to Protestant and other non-Catholic Christian churches as "ecclesial communities," not churches. But he also reaffirmed that certain non-Catholics were not beyond Catholic salvation. He has even reached out to Muslims in muted efforts at spiritual conciliation - and possible repatriation.
"From left, Canterbury Archbishop Rowan Douglas Williams, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Pope Benedict XVI and Rabbi David Rosen look on as a person holds a dove released during a peace meeting in front of the St. Francis Basilica in Assisi, central Italy, Oct. 27, 2011." Image Source: Voice of America.
This incredibly tricky interfaith dialogue actually tiptoes past the Protestant Reformation as though it had not happened, and works around other historical religious conflicts. Ecumenical chats between Protestants and Catholics have been wearing down the differences between Christian denominations. There are plenty of other interfaith debates out there, some of which are left-wing in political orientation, and which are slowly blurring the lines between religions at a time when those lines have never seemed more clearly drawn.
Interfaith sign. Image Source: Neighbours.
Interfaith logo. Image Source: Interfaith Fair.
These ideas indicate that the Millennial period is full of potential for anachronistic alliances, the reconfiguration of geo-political order, and the repurposing of outmoded ideas along radical new lines. Moreover, Millennial power brokers know that future imperial orders, however they will look, are up for grabs. They rush now to mix and match past institutions and establishments to future advantage. See other examples below.
Public-Private Partnerships. Image Source: New Brand Media.
The Biomarkers' Consortium: "BC partners represent government, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, patient advocacy groups, private organisations and the public." Image Source: Pharma Focus Asia.
Image Source: Manawa Masonic Center.
Organic Mecha. Image Source: COTO Report.
Quantum Physics meets Universal Consciousness. Image Source: Dillsnap Cogitations.
Virtual and real identities. Image Source: e-Learning Trends.