The age of uncertainty. Liminal time

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Álvaro García Linera

Apr, 2024
MUSIC:
“Nearly all the economic forces that powered progress and prosperity over the last three decades are fading.”

World Bank, March 2023


Symptoms of a Torn Time

For 35 years, from 1980 to 2005, the moral and labour order of much of the world was governed by a set of basic principles. These principles encouraged an imagined and inevitable destiny for the course of societies. They underpinned the personal and family efforts with which individuals justified their daily activities, their sacrifices and their everyday strategies.

The free market was perceived as a “natural” mechanism for allocating resources, offering individuals a “niche of opportunity” for entrepreneurial ventures. Globalisation was seen as the path to a universalised humanity, where the prosperity and welfare of the world’s affluent would eventually percolate down to everyone, commensurate with their efforts. The minimalist state would liberate social energy and reduce taxation. The goal of zero fiscal deficit would shape the nation into a homestead austere in collective rights but auspicious in rewarding the competitive and successful. These guiding emblems served as perceived imperative destinies. Most governments, businesses, journalists, opinion “leaders”, social leaders, renowned academics, and families aligned their expectations of a bright future and their feasible possibilities for development and modernity with these principles.

Photo_ mhiguera_ CC BY 2.0

It was the prevailing spirit of a world with a sense of direction. Societies anticipated an inevitable future. Families, a certainty of epochal proportions. Individuals saw an outlook, a predictive horizon under which they would shape their daily strategies. The distance to these goals did not matter, nor was it demoralising to face numerous failures or disruptions along the way or to consider the uneven odds of success. These were powerful ideas, part of a shared imagination, equipped with the tacit certainty of common sense, which made it possible to organise the fragmented patchwork of daily life towards a destiny of success and greatness.

“That’s just the way the world is, and that’s how one must be in the world”, nearly everyone said. The arrow of time was hurtling towards this optimistic future, and no one, unless utterly out of step with the times or the world, could claim otherwise.

The old order is corroding, cracking, and collapsing in slow motion, losing economic strength and ideological leadership (…), Giving rise to a period of disenchantment, collective scepticism, and short bursts of fellowship and enthusiasm.
The first early signs of the decay of this global order emerged from the peripheries of the capitalist world at the start of the 21st century. Latin America began experimenting with alternatives to the prevailing economic and political systems, implementing hybrid policies that combined sovereignty, expanded rights and free trade, followed by the global financial crisis of 2008. Then, there was a shift towards a semi-protectionist form of neoliberalism, exemplified by Donald Trump in the United States and Brexit in the United Kingdom. This shift led to the “geoeconomic fragmentation” of the global order into regional blocs that traded based on political alliances and geographical closeness. [1][1] International Monetary Fund (IFM) (2023), Geoeconomic fragmentation and the future of multilateralism. Available here: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Staff-Discussion-Notes/Issues/2023/01/11/Geo-Economic-Fragmentation-and-the-Future-of-Multilateralism-527266 Overall, we are witnessing the slow and melancholic disintegration of the old free market order and the nascent rise of various alternative models, none of which has secured a definitive foothold yet. This scenario gives rise to a chaotic world, characterised by fleeting trajectories, still unable to discern a new order that, if established, could endure for another 40 to 50 years.


Cycles of Economic Accumulation and Political Domination

Upon closely examining the last 150 years, it becomes clear that societies worldwide have undergone various economic and political phases. Despite their internal variations, these phases exhibit similar patterns and are commonly identified as cycles of economic and political dynamics. What we are witnessing throughout the world today is the downturn of such an economic cycle, accompanied by the systemic chaos inherent to such historical declines. Within the next decade, a new model of accumulation and legitimation will emerge, stabilising society on a global scale. Accumulation-domination cycles typically span 40 to 60 years, starting from their inception, peaking, declining and eventually being replaced by another model. These cycles partially overlap with the “long waves” identified by Kondratiev, which analyse trends in prices, output, consumption and value. [2][2] Kondratiev, N.D. (2008). The Long Cycles of Economic Activity. Mexico: UNAM-IIE.

We witnessed the liberal cycle from 1870 until the outbreak of the First World War in the 20th century, which marked the beginning of its decline. This was followed by the “Welfare State” or “State Capitalism” cycle starting in the mid-1930s, which began its descent in the late 1960s. The neoliberal cycle then commenced in the 1980s, showing signs of ageing with the “Great Recession” of 2010 and the “Great Encirclement” of 2020. [3][3] Tooze, A., (2021). The Blackout. Barcelona: Planeta. Beyond analysing the potential characteristics of the emerging cycle, what now captures our interest in this cyclical understanding of history are the transitional periods between cycles. These are the times when the old order begins to corrode, crack and lose economic potency and ideological leadership, collapsing in slow motion. However, the genuinely disheartening aspect of it all is the lack of a solid and enduring alternative to replace it. This situation gives rise to a period of disenchantment, marked by collective scepticism and short bursts of fellowship and enthusiasm, followed by fresh disappointments, unrest and uncertainty, potentially lasting decades. It is a liminal time, a portal to the unknown. And it is in this very Gramscian “interregnum” [4][4] Gramsci, A. (2023). Prison Notebooks, Volume 1. Madrid: Akal. that we find ourselves today.

We are witnessing a surprising withdrawal of European banking leadership in the global financial system. Insofar as it provided the backbone of globalisation from 1990 to 2010, this retreat caused a significant de-globalisation shock

In recent years, the world’s leading economies, with the notable exception of China, have witnessed the crumbling of the once-structuring principles of their economic order. Thus, they also have been forced to contravene the “natural laws of the market” they had held on to for decades. The following are some developments revealing the closure of a global economic cycle:

·Low gross domestic product (GDP) growth. From 1970 to 1982, the global economic wealth growth rate decreased from an annual 5% to just 2.7%, signalling the end of the welfare state and developmentalism and paving the way for the rise of neoliberalism. This novel approach initially increased growth to 3.1% over the next 28 years. However, from 2010 to 2022, growth rates regressed to an average of just 2.7% per year. [5][5] Annual GDP growth 1961-2022, World Bank. Available here: https://datos.bancomundial.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG Projections by the World Bank suggest that the situation will deteriorate further between 2023 and 2030, with growth expected to slow to about 2.2% annually. We have entered what may be referret to as a new “lost decade”. [6][6] World Bank (WB) (2024). Falling Long-Term Growth Prospects. Trends, Expectations, and Policies. Available here: https://www.worldbank.org/en/research/publication/long-term-growth-prospects
·Global value chains are in decline. In a recent study, the World Trade Organisation expressed concerns about the retreat of global value chains. These chains, which leveraged comparative advantages from different regions to produce single products, saw significant expansion beginning in 1990 but started to contract systematically in 2009. [7][7] World Trade Organization (WTO) (2021). Global value chain development report beyond production. Available here: https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/gvcdevreport_bprod_e.htm We are witnessing an inexorable shift from global offshoring to localist nearshoring. The “geometry of global trade”, defined by geopolitical and geographical distances, is undergoing a structural transformation. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the geopolitical distance involved in trade for the United States decreased by 10% between 2017 and 2023, while for Germany, the reduction was 6%, and for the UK, 4%. [8][8] McKinsey Global Institute (2024). Geopolitics and the global geometry of global trade. Available here: https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/our-research/geopolitics-and-the-geometry-of-global-trade
·According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), world trade growth, once a pillar of neoliberal globalism, experienced a remarkable expansion from 12% to 19% of global GDP between 1980 and 2009 but stagnated in 2009 and has since declined to 15%. [9][9] Bank for International Settlements (BIS), (2023). Global value chain under the shadow of Covid. Available here: https://www.bis.org/speeches/sp230216.htm
·The Economic Openness Index, which gauges the extent of global free trade, increased from 37% to 60% between 1981 and 2009. In contrast, from 2009 to 2021, it fell from 60% to 56%. [10][10] Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), (2022). Globalisation is in retreat for the first time since the Second World War. Available here: https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/globalization-retreat-first-time-second-world-war
·Gradual financial deglobalisation. Cross-border bank lending, which facilitated the free flow of capital and created the illusion of a borderless single market, expanded significantly from 1997 to 2007, increasing from 20% to 60% of global GDP. However, this period of expansion has since concluded. From 2008 to 2022, these figures declined dramatically, from 60% to 35%. [11][11] BIS.2023 Additionally, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), foreign direct investment (FDI), as a share of world GDP, peaked at 4% in 2000 and rose slightly to 4.5% in 2005. Since 2008, however, it plummeted, reaching just 1.6% in 2021. [12][12] FMI (2023a). World economic outlook. Available here: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2023/04/11/world-economic-outlook-april-2023 All this happens amid a surprising retreat of European banking leadership in the global financial system. Insofar as it provided the backbone of globalisation from 1990 to 2010, this retreat has triggered a significant deglobalisation shock. European banks, which accounted for 62% of global asset volumes in 2008, saw their share decrease to 35% by 2020. Asian banks increased their share from 17% in 2008 to 44% in 2020. [13][13] Pape. F., Petry, J. (2024). “East Asia and the politics of global finance: a developmental challenge to the neoliberal consensus?” Review of International Political Economy, Vol.31, No 1. This Asian leadership displaced previously predominant liberal norms (efficiency and profit maximisation) with concerns for local development and the articulation of the state and market.
·Fall in FDI as a share of world GDP. As mentioned in the previous point, according to the IMF, FDI accounted for 4% of global GDP in 2000 and rose to 4.5% in 2005. However, since 2008, FDI has significantly declined, plummeting to just 1.6% by 2021. [14][14] IMF. (2023a). While foreign investment continues to flow globally, its momentum has decreased and is now predominantly focused in geopolitically “friendly” zones. This shift starkly departs from the previous ambition of a borderless world characterised by efficiencies and opportunities.
·The era of triumphant globalism, characterised by the free flow of goods and technology across borders, has been replaced by one of great-power patriotism, marked by escalating trade wars between major economies between the US, China and Europe. The European Union (EU) imposed tariff restrictions on Chinese goods and prohibited the expansion of Huawei’s economically competitive and technologically advanced 5G networks within its borders. [15][15] Terán Haughey, M. (2023). “EU announces total restriction of Chinese technologies from Huawei or ZTE for 5G”. El Economista. Available here: https://www.eleconomista.es/tecnologia/noticias/12331877/06/23/la-ue-anuncia-la-restriccion-total-de-tecnologias-chinas-de-huawei-o-zte-para-el-5g-.html Similarly, the United States introduced a range of tariffs on all trade with China, varying from 5% to 25% [16][16] PIIE. (2023). US-China trade war tariff: an-up-to-date chart. Available here: https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/2019/us-china-trade-war-tariffs-date-chart and banned technology sales to China in critical sectors, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing and superconductors. [17][17] Vidal Liy, M. (2023). “Biden restricts US investment in China’s strategic technology sectors”. El País. Available here: https://elpais.com/internacional/2023-08-09/biden-restringe-las-inversiones-de-ee-uu-en-sectores-tecnologicos-estrategicos-de-china.html It also prohibited the sale of agricultural land to Chinese nationals. [18][18] Guarino, L. (2023). “Chinese citizens in the US fight for their right to buy homes”. Bloomberg Línea. Available here: https://www.bloomberglinea.com/2023/06/02/ciudadanos-chinos-en-eeuu-luchan-por-su-derecho-a-comprar-viviendas/ This all shows the extent to which geopolitical priorities have replaced market efficiency.
·Economic Nationalism. Parallel to escalating tariffs and subsidies, major global economic powers now position the state as the main producer and as protector of national markets. In 2022, the United States enacted major legislation to bolster this shift. The CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) were passed with the dual objectives of promoting domestic production and combating inflation. Together, these laws allocated approximately $400 billion to support, protect and subsidise US microprocessor manufacturing and green energy industries. As President Biden emphasised, the aim is to ensure that bridges, microchips and all other goods sold in the US are produced using American materials, technology and labour. “America First”. [19][19] Alden, E. (2022). “Biden’s ‘America First’ Policies Threaten Rift With Europe”. Foreign Policy. Available here: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/12/05/biden-ira-chips-act-america-first-europe-eu-cars-ev-economic-policy/ The European Union initiated its own microprocessor legislation in response to this move. While not mobilising as substantial a fund as the US, the EU committed $11 billion to subsidise the local production of microprocessors under the leadership of European industrialists and introduced a variety of subsidies to encourage the purchase of European-made electric vehicles. [20][20] Cordero, D. (2023). “Electric car subsidies run aground in bureaucracy: barely a third of the funds have reached applicants”. El País. Available here: : https://elpais.com/economia/2023-08-10/las-ayudas-a-la-compra-del-coche-electrico-encallan-en-la-burocracia-apenas-un-tercio-de-los-fondos-han-llegado-a-los-solicitantes.html Japan, however, adopted an unashamed form of state capitalism to enhance its competitiveness in the semiconductor sector. South Korea, meanwhile, prefers to use incentives, subsidies and public credits to support its private sector’s advancements in high-end chip manufacturing. [21][21] Ammi Technologies (2023). “South Korea doubles down on semiconductor investment”. Available here: https://ammitechnologies.com/corea-del-sur-apuesta-por-una-fuerte-inversion-en-semiconductores/ China continues to expand its “Made in China” policy, aiming to produce 70% of its industrial product components locally by 2025. [22][22] Institute for Security & Development Policy (2018). Made in China 2025. Available here: https://isdp.eu/content/uploads/2018/06/Made-in-China-Backgrounder.pdf Amidst this surge in industrial protectionism, Harvard economist Dany Rodrik noted a remarkable increase in the implementation of industrial policies worldwide. According to his findings, such actions escalated from 34 in 2010 to 1,568 in 2022. [23][23] Rodrik, D., Juhasz, R., Lane, N. (2023). The new economics of industrial policy. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Available here: https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w31538/w31538.pdf
·As the former head of the World Bank recently lamented, we have ushered into an era of “subsidy wars”. According to the IMF, restrictions on free trade, once only anomalies of marginal countries, have escalated dramatically. These restrictions grew from approximately 200 incidents per year to over 2,500 by 2022, predominantly instigated by the world’s most economically powerful nations. [24][24] IMF. (2023a). By 2023, these interventions against free trade are estimated to have further increased to 3,000 instances. [25][25] Global Trade Alert. (2024). G.20 Trade Policy Factbook. Available here: https://www.globaltradealert.org/reports/119
·Russian gas has been de-globalised, and Europe, which previously purchased gas at approximately 6 dollars per million British Thermal Units (BTU), has seen prices surge to 45 dollars. In response, European energy subsidies from 2022 until July 2023 totalled 651 billion euros. [26][26] Sgaravatti, G., S. Tagliapietra, C. Trasi and G. Zachmann (2021). National policies to shield consumers from rising energy prices. Bruegel Datasets, primera publicación 4 de noviembre de 2021. Available here: https://www.bruegel.org/dataset/national-policies-shield-consumers-rising-energy-prices Additionally, the once-stigmatised industrial subsidy now swaggers its way into government budgets. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), between 2021 and 2023, the European Union allocated 3.4% of its GDP to support subsidies to the industrial sector. [27][27] Criscuolo, C., G. Lalanne y L. Díaz (2022), Quantifying industrial strategies (QuIS): Measuring industrial policy expenditures. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers, No. 2022/05. OECD Publishing, Paris. Available here: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/ae351abf-en.pdf?expires=1707854544&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=9D897A26B40FCBE44363931FEB301E3A
·“Fiscal discipline”, once the mantra of every neoliberal government, is now being relegated to the list of outdated concepts. According to the US Federal Reserve, global public debt, which did not exceed 50% of GDP in 2008, surged to 80% by 2022. In the United States, this figure reached an even more striking level of 110%. [28][28] Réka Juhász, Nathan J. Lane & Dani Rodrik (2023). Living with high public debt. The New Economics of Industrial Policy NBER Working Paper No. 31538. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Available here: https://www.kansascityfed.org/Jackson%20Hole/documents/9749/Living_With_High_Public_SA_Sep_2_2023.pdf This substantial increase is closely tied to escalated public spending. From 1990 to 2007, public expenditure was rigidly capped at 24% of GDP. However, in the period from 2020 to 2023, this expanded to 32%. [29][29] Yearbook of Government Finance Statistics & data files, World Bank and OECD GDP estimates. Available here: https://datos.bancomundial.org/indicator/GC.XPN.TOTL.GD.ZS
·As President Biden said a few months ago: “Free trade? To hell with that!”. [30][30] Jiménez, M. (2023). “To hell with it! Biden rejects European criticism of his economic protectionism”. El País. Available here: https://elpais.com/economia/2023-01-27/al-infierno-con-eso-biden-rechaza-las-criticas-europeas-a-su-proteccionismo-economico.html

The once-stigmatised industrial subsidy now swaggers its way into government budgets.

It is hardly surprising that, in response to these seismic shifts in global economic policies, the IMF lamented the emerging geoeconomic fragmentation in its March 2023 report. According to The Economist, we are at a “fateful” juncture where the drums of “national security”, “economic nationalism”, and “protectionism” are being beaten with increasing intensity. [31][31] The Economist (2023). Governments across the world are discovering “homeland economics”. Homeland Economics Special Report, 2 October 2023. Available here: https://www.economist.com/special-report/2023-10-07

We are witnessing the decline of the global accumulation model that has dominated for the past 40 years. The world will not revert to its former state, where globalism was the shared and enthusiastic language across societies. However, this shift does not mean the disappearance of neoliberalism, nor does it indicate that a new model is ready to take its place. Instead, we observe a landscape of global confusion characterised by contradictory economic directions. While globalism is still advocated in certain areas, fervent protectionism prevails in others.

Neither governments, business conglomerates, international institutions, nor paid ideologues seem capable of convincingly forecasting the medium-term future of societies. The working classes are equally perplexed.

It is as though the meaning of history has dissipated, overtaken by the immediacy of a world that appears devoid of destiny or promise. We have been left with only the burden of an endless and aimless present.

It is a peculiar foyer of historical times where everyone knows their origins, yet no one has the slightest collective vision of the future. We are in a liminal epoch, a threshold separating an exhausted neoliberal era—with no active people’s consensus, persisting solely by inertia, kind of like a zombie—from an anticipated historical period that paradoxically fails to materialise and remains unannounced, undefined and unexpected. This enigmatic historical moment seems non-existent, plunging the world into the solitude of an unfathomable abyss without name or boundary.


Liminal Time

Liminal time signifies an abrupt disruption in the continuity of social experience, leaving societies without a conceivable alternative or any plausible foresight. (…) It marks the end of one era and the onset of another, not through a gradual shift or a gentle, “amphibious” blend but as a profound emptiness.
A liminal event represents both a subjective and collective experience of social time during the transitional phases of accumulation-domination cycles. It marks the end of one era and the onset of another, not through a gradual shift or a gentle, “amphibious” blend but as a profound emptiness—a desperate, intimate absence. Liminal time signifies an abrupt disruption in the continuity of social experience, leaving societies without a conceivable alternative or any plausible foresight for several years, perhaps even decades. It is during such times, amid social upheavals, that a new historical epoch gradually begins to emerge, offering a renewed sense of hope to communities. However, until this new dawn materialises, the liminal epoch exists as a profound interim—a void filled with anguish, a palpable emptiness, a suspension of time itself.

At least three interdependent processes characterise these social moments:

1. The Paralysis of the Predictive Horizon. Societies traditionally orient their notion of the future—whether real or imagined—around a predictive horizon. As the neoliberal predictive horizon dissipates, the concept of a future itself vanishes; there is no destination to anchor mobilising hopes sustainably. Emerging expectations, if not globally consolidated, prove ephemeral, quickly foundering back into uncertainty and disaffection.

With no envisioned tomorrow that improves upon the present, there also ceases to be a path—whether straight, winding, fragmented or uninterrupted—by which to navigate the present dilemmas about imagined well-being. Social time evaporates. It is inherently a flow—turbulent and discontinuous but aimed towards a horizon, a goal, a destination. Faced with a future rendered empty, society finds itself mired in the tangible experience of a suspended historical time, devoid of progression towards any ends, adrift in a meaningless present extended to infinity, as if time itself had lost its way.

Aristotle defined time as the measure of movement [32][32] Aristotle. (1995). Physics. Madrid: Gredos., the continuous comparison between a ‘from-where’ and a ‘to-where’. With the disintegration of societies’ predictive horizon, social time loses its direction and its shared social intentionality.

Hence, the arrow of historical time is no longer present, and it seems as if time has halted, leaving only an oppressive present devoid of a redeeming future.

The suspension of time does not eliminate the experience of “lack of time,” which is characteristic of modernity and involves not having enough physical time to fulfil routines, duties and daily inertial commitments. Frozen time pertains to the envisioned progression of collective history; it is the time measured in relation to a desired future, and now, that time is interrupted. This situation is distinct from the religious concept of “end times”, which, despite being catastrophic, represents a defined destiny. The possibility of a catastrophic drift due to the suspension of time could explain the resurgence of religious and mystical affiliations in certain social segments.

With the future extinguished and the present unhinged, the very trajectory of social life seems to have been derailed.

According to thinkers like Hartmut Rosa [33][33] Rosa, H. (2019). Resonance. Madrid: Katz. or Mark Fisher [34][34] Fisher, M. (2018). Capitalist Realism: No Alternative? Buenos Aires: Caja Negra., the acceleration of events is no longer an actual acceleration of time, as the arrow of historical time has gone astray. Events accumulate without a metric to “measure” them, with nothing to compare them against. They occur without a hopeful future, merely as avalanches of events with no societal direction or destination. Physical time is compressed within a whirlwind of events and demands, yet historical time remains stagnant, lacking a horizon to provide it with vitality and movement. Ultimately, the existence and recognition of historical time are both symptomatic and indicative of the major political hegemonies and their declines.

We are not merely confronting a fragmented and discontinuous time, as Byung-Chul Han suggests. [35][35] Han, B. (2014). The Scent of Time. Barcelona: Herder Since its emergence 40 years ago, the structure of neoliberal time has been characterised by both atomisation and acceleration. This condition is mirrored in the new labour environment, which has fragmented workplaces into myriad small, outsourced factories. Similarly, the life trajectories of wage earners have become fragmented, with individuals submerged in perpetual labour nomadism. The fractured logic and discontinuous narrative found in today’s music video clips visually and aesthetically express this widespread fragmentation of personal world experiences. However, over these four decades, this fragmented experience of social elements unfolded within an imagined historical trajectory, centred around the gratification of individual effort, the global market, competitiveness and economic accumulation. Despite the chaos and discontinuity in personal events, there was a shared belief in a satisfying destination—an epochal certainty that provided a sense of purpose and coherence, helping to piece together the polychrome fragments of life. However, today, that sense of destination, which once gave meaning to life’s trajectories, has vanished.

The shared predictive horizon that once lent coherence to the everyday fragments of life is now vacant. The future now appears inscrutable, leaving personal life experiences disjointed, like folds lacking any cohesion. With the future extinguished and the present unhinged, the very trajectory of social life seems to have been derailed.

2. The Divergence of Elites. As the once-shared social horizon fades into the void, the grand globalist consensuses that previously bound political elites begin to disintegrate.

Today’s progressive movements are adept at diagnosing the present and proposing remedies, yet they struggle to articulate a vision for the future. (…) If they fail or exacerbate the crises that elevated them to power, they pave the way for more conservative moods or governments.

Historically, right, left & centre differences were largely customised variants of the same project (spanning from state capitalism in the 1930s to the 1960s, to neoliberalism from the 1980s to 2010). As these hopeful projects have waned, nothing remains to unite the elites apart from strategic distrust. Traditional elites now fragment into schismatic factions while new elites arise, each carrying divergent proposals. Amidst this hegemonic decline, the centre-right shifts towards the extreme right, and the centre-left fractures, with factions pushing further left, distancing themselves from traditional leftist positions. This era has also seen the rise of so-called “populisms”, a term often used more as an expression of bewilderment in the face of the unfamiliar rather than a precise definition. Each political faction now stands radically apart from the others, with no common ground upon which to converge. From the multi- or two-party centre-right systems prevalent from 1985 to 2015, political landscapes have moved towards a polarised structure since 2015.

In this climate of disarray, progressivism often emerges as one of the first political forces. Under conditions of stability, when there is a consensus on the forms of governance and control, there tends to be little ground for radical or left-wing progressive movements to gain widespread support. However, these movements typically gain traction during times of crisis—moments when the established order fails to address or exacerbates economic and moral grievances among the lower classes. These progressive movements aim to address and resolve these crises. If these progressive movements succeed, they consolidate social support and achieve longevity. If they fail or exacerbate the crises that elevated them to power, they pave the way for more conservative moods or governments. This has led to the emergence of various national-popular movements in Latin America and new leftist groups in Europe, such as Podemos, Sumar, Nupes and Syriza, along with socialist factions within the Democrats in the USA and Labour in the UK. These groups strive to depart from the “progressive neoliberalism” [36][36] Fraser, N., Jaeggi, R. (2019). Capitalism. A conversation from Critical Theory. Madrid: Morata. that has characterised global social democracy. While these movements universally advocate for justice and equality, their proposed paths and visions for the future remain distinct and unaligned. They are adept at diagnosing the present and proposing remedies, yet they struggle to articulate a vision for the future. They gain visibility and occasionally secure electoral victories; however, these successes are often transient unless they expand their influence across continental and global boundaries.

Some progressive movements, particularly those driven by popular mobilisation in streets and neighbourhoods, manage to implement significant reforms in the economy, state and society, which often lead to greater equality and improved living conditions for the underprivileged. Such movements tend to endure longer and are better positioned to await the global spread of progressive waves, especially into more developed economies, with aspirations of stabilising for decades. However, some progressive movements encounter severe internal difficulties, fail to surmount economic hardships and inadvertently exacerbate social unrest. These movements also risk being overtaken by collective outrage, and worse, they may inadvertently fuel the rise of authoritarian right-wing alternatives.

Parallel to the rise of progressivism, authoritarian right-wing movements emerge as an inevitable counterforce, defending the crumbling old order. As traditional political consensuses dissolve, the right seeks to reimpose an old social discipline—not through persuasion but through sanctions, punishment and revenge against those they blame for the economic and moral disorder. Targeted groups include “ambitious” trade unions, migrants accused of “stealing” jobs, women who “exaggerate” their rights, “empowered” Indigenous populations and “conspiratorial” communists, among others. In misinterpreting the root causes of the decline of the neoliberal project as simply the result of its inherent limitations, these right-wing movements advocate for a harsh disciplining of deviant behaviours as the solution to restore society to traditional moral values. These increasingly anti-democratic and racist authoritarian right-wingers, now clearly exhibiting fascist tendencies, aim to channel societal fear—stemming from the uncertainty of the future—into revenge and punishment. They prefer imposition over persuasion, which is characteristic of their decadent ideologies.

The authoritarian right, in its many shapes, aims to take revenge against those they blame for the economic and moral disorder. Targeted groups include “ambitious” trade unions, migrants accused of “stealing” jobs, women who “exaggerate” their rights, etc.

They long for the stability of the old market and despise rights and freedoms institutionalised by the state. Outraged by the advancements toward equality, they view these changes as destructive to the sacred hierarchies of business, family and individual subservience. They are nostalgic for an imagined, idyllic mercantile past where the successful rightfully prospered and the unsuccessful received the scorn they deserved for their marginality. Right-wing adherents previously believed in the market’s authority as a result of genuine conviction and its historical superiority over state interventions. Now, however, they advocate for its imposition by force if necessary. They perceive democracy as overly generous to an incompetent and ignorant majority, arguing that for the sake of public welfare, this majority must be coerced into accepting the virtues of individualism, market dynamics and survival of the fittest. To them, democracy represents an excess, rights are seen as abuses, and equality is viewed as an affront. This mindset drives them to extreme actions, such as storming parliaments, as seen in incidents in the US and Brazil. When they deem it necessary, they do not shy away from endorsing massacres and coups, as witnessed in Bolivia, or even rallying “prayer chains” around military barracks, urging the military to prioritise private wealth over democratic votes. For these new rightists, democracy is not a cherished value but an obstacle to the “natural” social order they yearn to reinstate. They are not democrats out of conviction but out of tactical necessity; in times of crisis, their natural inclination is to shift further right, driven by a desperate desire to restore the decaying order they see crumbling at their feet.

Yielding to their demands does not temper the far-right; instead, it only fuels their longing for a return to a world where their privileges are unchallenged. When the left progresses with equality reforms, it provokes the moderate right to shift further right, as these advances threaten the privileges and status of the wealthy middle classes and the affluent. These rightists perceive democracy as a violation of the “natural” and moral order—a world they envision as dominated by marginalised workers, Indigenous peoples, villagers and women. However, there is a strategic response available: public policies that effectively isolate these reactionary sectors can be implemented. The greatest danger arises when progressivism fails to fulfil its promises of justice and welfare, inadvertently exacerbating social poverty. Such failures not only result in short-lived progressivism but also fuel a vehement, authoritarian countermovement, serving as a severe punishment designed to suppress any resurgence.

This reaction against the advancement of equality, evoking the old liberal spectres of past decades, appears particularly anachronistic at a time when neoliberalism is being reconsidered. Nonetheless, it retains the potential to inflict significant social harm, as evidenced by figures such as Bolsonaro, Trump and Milei. Given the protectionist currents emerging worldwide, this return to the free trade practices of the 1990s would be like a Jurassic island of fossilised neoliberal recipes. It would be like a stale time warp, unlikely to endure but potent enough to potentially undo a century’s progress in rights and public welfare.

To them, democracy represents an excess, rights are seen as abuses, and equality is viewed as an affront.

Collectively, these varied left and right-wing policy proposals contribute to the global systemic chaos. They represent attempts at solutions but have not yet succeeded in forming a comprehensive and enduring political-cultural project. They achieve isolated victories only to face setbacks elsewhere or to be overturned in subsequent elections. This is emblematic of a liminal time—a period marked by a series of ephemeral triumphs and defeats as different initiatives struggle to gain a foothold. For now, extended hegemonies are absent, and for a time, they will remain so.

3. Cognitive Openness. No society can function indefinitely under such strategic uncertainty. Stability is essential for social cohesion, for legitimising any form of governance and for mitigating severe economic impacts. The IMF estimates that uncertainty in the future of trade policies could reduce global GDP growth by about one percentage point. [37][37] IMF. (2022). Global Economic Outlook. Humans are ultimately creatures of shared beliefs; this is their defining social characteristic. It is this collective belief system that underpins the life and institutions of society. Sooner or later, people must gravitate towards some organising principles for the imagined future—whatever they might be—as long as these principles restore a sense of certainty to a destiny they can wholeheartedly embrace. Doing so is crucial to reinstating meaning to collective, familial and personal histories.

The IMF estimates that uncertainty about the future of trade policies could cause global GDP growth to fall by about one per cent.

In the coming decade, social stupor and unease must swiftly give way to a period of cognitive readiness—an imperative shift to discard old beliefs and embrace new ones where solutions to prevailing anxieties and needs are viable. This will mark the moment for the crystallisation of a new belief system, one that will restore direction to historical time and rejuvenate the passage of social time with clear objectives. A century ago, Durkheim discussed such periods as “moments of creative effervescence”—times when new ideals emerge to guide humanity. [38][38] Durkheim, E. (1999). Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Mexico: Colofón. This transition basically involves the formation of a new model of legitimisation and domination. This model must either be based on or adapted to a new paradigm of economic accumulation.

The cognitive opening of society follows no predetermined path and has no set timeline. It is not merely a rhetorical flourish or a simple result of top-down negotiations. Instead, it represents a volatile moment in which new modes of future sociality are forged. This opening can veer in conservative directions, such as post-fascist variants, or it may take reformist or revolutionary paths. The political struggle inherent to this moment—determined by how political forces respond to society’s cognitive openness—will define the nature of the new cycle of legitimation and accumulation.

In fact, we are witnessing the early symptoms of this impending battle across various parts of the world, albeit in local, peripheral, partial and ephemeral forms. Economically, this is seen in the experimentation with hybrid models that blend free trade and protectionism, especially in critical areas such as energy transition, telecommunications, microprocessors and modern industrialism. We also see the regional contraction of strategic product value chains through friend-shoring, aimed at reducing dependency on countries like China, or a revival of archaic neoliberal practices, now draped in authoritarianism.

Despite time-related limitations and their current inability to establish enduring and influential hegemonies, these initiatives serve as laboratories for exploring potential future actions. Alongside other emerging options that may overcome these initial constraints, these possible lines of action will contend on a global scale for the monopoly of new, powerful ideas. They aim to foster a new global common sense, one that captivates societal hopes and imaginations for the decades ahead, thereby initiating a new cycle of global accumulation and domination.

Photo_ Chase Lindberg_ CC BY 2.0

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