The Global Moment

Guardian columnist Martin Jacques on how the world's seismic changes are creating both great hope and danger.
The Global Moment
Photo: Meghan Kemshead

The western world has been riveted by the contest for the Democratic nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. After the long winter of the Bush presidency, it is as if the spring that no one dared entertain, and many believed might never come, has finally arrived. Above all, the idea that the United States could seriously consider electing a black president has thrilled many. Even if his candidacy should fail, his campaign has given hope around the world that America has another face, that it is not reducible to Bush's extremism, or Bill Clinton's cynicism, or the big-money vested interests that dominate American politics. It offers the alluring possibility that race, in the form of the immovable prejudice of white Americans, the legacy of slavery and the destruction of the Amerindians, does not constitute an eternal closure, and thereby suggests hope for the world more generally.

We should not, though, let the euphoria of Obama's string of primary victories go to our heads, intoxicating as it may be. He may yet fail to win the Democratic nomination: while victory in the presidential election is another matter altogether. It is as well to bear in mind that, notwithstanding the convulsive and inspiring movements of the time, Richard Nixon ended up being elected as American president in 1968 – and John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King, who between them defined the hopes of an era, were assassinated. Obama's popularity gives us hope, but America's dark days are not over. In this context, there is a broader intangible that we must contemplate – and which has barely surfaced in the primaries. The United States is descending into a serious recession; some recessions represent little more than punctuation or pauses but this one most certainly does not. It might be described as the first recession of a new era which is defined by American decline and the growing power of China.

The backdrop to Bush's victory in 2000 was provided by the defeat of the Soviet Union, the economic euphoria of Silicon Valley and the dot-com bubble, which led the neo-conservatives to believe that the new century would belong to the United States and that it could assert its power across the world in a quite new way.

In fact, the reverse was happening. The US was in decline and a new rival, China, was on the rise. The United States has not yet begun to think what this might mean. For certain, it will profoundly transform American politics, and the mood of its people, just as Europe has spent the last half-century trying to adjust to a world in which it is merely a secondary player. The vibrancy and optimism that characterise China and India in their rise is destined to be matched by introspection, heart-searching and a pervasive sense of gloom in the United States. The reality is that the US is utterly unprepared for the kind of material and existential crisis that it is likely to face over the next few decades, as it comes to terms with the fact that what it once could do, it no longer can, and what it once was, it no longer is. Great powers always find decline immensely painful and traumatic.

Is this a reason for pessimism? Not really. This, after all, is how history has always worked: no nation reigns forever. And the rise of China and India, between them representing almost 40 percent of the world's population, is a cause for celebration, not dismay: especially as for the last two centuries they have both suffered profoundly at the hands of the West. Their rise offers hope for the majority of the world's population as opposed to the small elite that is the West. New voices, cultures, ethnicities and traditions will belatedly achieve global representation. Such seismic changes, though, also carry with them great danger and uncertainty of the threat of new rivalries and tensions. We are moving into a new and very unpredictable world.

_Martin Jacques is a columnist for The Guardian and visiting research fellow at the Asia research centre at the London School of Economics.

50 comments on the article “The Global Moment”

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Let's not forget the environmental consequences of China and India's rise! The bulk of this 40% of the world's population driving cars, combined with their manufacturing industries, could ultimately spell the end for most of the worlds species, let alone it's human population!


Let us remember that America is the only superpower which is formed by immigrants who came from all over the world, regardless of anything, makes the essence of its power. It represents each and every people. People from different origin of nations died and got hurt on the day of 9/11. Thus, whoever is behind this actually attacked the whole world. With this token, it may be an exception to the rule of history. Because, if there's one nation who has a better chance in terms of how long it's gonna take for a nation to achieve to GROW OUT OF ITS mistaken past, that'd be America. Which in turn will bring change in terms of rising above and beyond self-importance, into enlightenment, which btw, the whole world will follow eventually. This is a plausabilty.
Don't get me wrong I am not American. But the good strengths of this entity should not be underestimated. And if no people awakens into this, the whole world will reset itself.
And last but not least, SEIZE THE MOMENT Carpe Diem. That's the answer! PEACE to the universe!
AJ, from Turkey and Canada


I think it is strange that Adbusters does not see that Obama is a just another well-marketed brand. I look to you to analyze and dismantle such things. What gives?


What about the curtailment of men's rights in all Western and soon-to-be-Western nations at the request of United Nations directives? Is that progress? Is that going to be addressed? For example VAWA/Domestic Violence Law arrest without warrant or evidence; No Fault Divorce take away property no questions asked; Alimony and Child Support subsidizing Socialist parenting.


the author has clearly been smoking something much stronger than anything I can get my hands on. If you are American, these are pessimistic times.

Jamie Rowland

I'm sure we would all be as optimistic as everyone at Adbusters and Martin Jacques if we had their cushy lives. But regardless I am still optimistic in the simple sense that life goes on!

Tim Mitchell

... the defeat of the Soviet Union, the economic euphoria of Silicon Valley and the dotcom bubble, which led the neoconservatives to believe that the new century would belong to the United States and that it could assert its power across the world in a quite new way. I don't think one should underestimate the neocons. Many people Andre Gunder Frank et al published reconsiderations of World History and concluded that the west was a late arrival at the global marketplace... and the neocons probably knew it was by no means guaranteed that the New Century would be American. It was one big gamble in the face of an inevitable decline. Hence, it's a really scary one.
A nightmare vision of Jimmy Cagney in White Heat screaming Top of the World Ma!


USA is a brand with lots of power. China and India are our economic friends in future but it can't share our political position.

Mike Smith

Whomever becomes the US President, if they're smart, their first official act is to see Dubya and his whole cast of characters tried for war crimes against the people of Iraq.


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