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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We are in a recession, not because of emerging markets, not because of emerging political forces, but because of a multi-trillion-dollar-a-year military spread across every continent, in hundreds of countries with thousands of military bases and millions of personnel spread across this globe. For me, China and India's long awaited industrialization is frightening for environmental reasons, not economic ones. And as far as these developments bringing about some kind of quality of life improvement for the ordinary Chinese or Indian, guess again. Poverty is pervasive in these countries and continues to be with most efforts focused on urban and industrial expansion. The question seems to me not whether we can deal with these new circusmstances, because I do believe that the U.S. has the potential for rapid adjustment if we are so inclined. The question is, can we apply sufficient pressure to change to those who would rather wait until they are on their deathbed to quit smoking.

someone else

would love to see the americans lose their we're superior swagger in this lifetime. new giants are emerging to beat on the old.


I would first like to point out that I am not from the USA but I realise that most of the people readers probably are. To be honest I would be glad to see the collapse of the USA Your country has committed an impressive list of atrocities, as well as cultivated an incredibly destructive culture around the world this century. I pose a question to you, the average American citizen. Have you done enough to try and stop it?
From outside the USA looks like you are hardly even lifting finger. Face it your demise has been of your own creation. And we are ALL going to be paying for it one way or another.


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.


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