skidelsky192_Michael M. SantiagoGetty Images_economy Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Rich

As the world grapples with multiple, compounding economic and political crises, Western intellectuals provide little cause for optimism. Two new books paint a bleak picture of a disintegrating liberal international order and a future shaped by warring powers and digital serfdom.

LONDON – Reading this fall’s selection of new nonfiction books, one cannot help but recall W.B. Yeats’ prescient lines from The Second Coming: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” As the liberal international order is beset by domestic and global challenges, the values that have shaped the West’s socioeconomic landscape since the Enlightenment appear to be in decline. The somber tone of Western intellectuals suggests that we may need to turn to China to find the falconer capable of bringing stability back to our world.

Political philosopher John Gray’s new book, The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism, is a prime example. In the early 1990s, Gray emerged as one of the West’s foremost pessimistic thinkers, in stark contrast to the triumphalism of Francis Fukuyama.

In his 1998 book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, Gray argued that the fall of communism would not usher in the utopian “end of history” envisioned by globalist neoliberals like Fukuyama. The Soviet Union’s collapse, in Gray’s view, marked the failure of the Enlightenment project, of which communism had been a main pillar. Instead of a harmonious global order, Gray foresaw an escalating competition for scarce natural resources.