Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Notes on Alastair Bonnett’s 『The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History』 (2004) (Part 5)

In the next chapter, “From Soulless to Slacker: Idea of West from Pan-Asianism to Asian Values: Asia and West,” Bonnett examines some more recent stereotypes of East-West, particularly the notions of the West as "scene of social anarchy and idleness" and the East as “the home of efficiency and selfless duty."

In Chapter Six, “Occidental Utopia: The Neo-liberal West,” Bonnett discusses how the concept of the West has been narrowed to a vision of economics and politics due to the influence of neo-liberalism, which he sees as a flawed ideology that is utopian in nature, and thus prone to failure. “I use the charge of utopianism,” Bonnett proclaims, “to criticise the mythic structure of neo-liberal ideology" (12). The concept of “the West” today, he argues, is more ideologically limited than "the West" of the past, which had a much greater variety of associations.

As I have pointed out, “the West” has served throughout history as a kind of undefined variable which can be defined in any number of ways. Benjamin Kidd, for example, defined the West in terms of its militant mission to civilize the world. Ramsay MacDonald defined it in terms of its superior legal and ethical traditions, which had unfortunately been "[of late] betrayed by the imperial powers." Trotsky saw the West as the "home of the socialist imagination." Though these definitions of the West are vastly different, what they do share is a faith in Western Europe as the center of world.

Yet "the West" of one hundred years ago was far more plural in concept than today's "neo-liberal West," which Bonnett sees as stubborn, inflexible, and unwilling to adapt to recent changes in the global power structure. Bonnett holds the ideology of neo-liberalism largely responsible for this narrowing of the West. Placing himself in the long line of alarmists such as Oswald Spengler and Pat Buchanan, Bonnett makes the prediction that the West— because of its devolution into “a Utopian political discourse”— is prone to collapse.

In the seventh and final chapter, “Western Dystopia: Radical Islamism and Anti-Westernism,” Bonnett sets out accomplish two things: “(1) to illustrate how anti-Westernism [of the old Left] has been recuperated by radical Islamism; and (2) to exemplify how radical Islamism constructs a dystopian model of West.” Bonnett examines how "dystopian images of the West developed within both radical Islamism and some of its putative forbears" (12).

First, he outlines the history of anti-Western utopias, dividing them into four types: Communist utopia, primitivist utopia (e.g., anarchist, pre-industrial, man in “natural state”), indigenist utopia (e.g., xenophobic nationalisms that oppose the Western powers), and transnational cultural utopia (e.g., Pan-Asianism and Pan-Arabism). Radical Islamist utopianism has absorbed these previous models, but has been “narrowed by religious radicalism,” much in the same way that the West has been narrowed by neo-liberalism (160). Focusing on two cultural critics— the leftist Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Islamist Maryam Jameelah— Bonnett shows how radical Islamism has become provincialized as it refuses to engage in a public economic policy dialogue with the West to address questions of alternative forms of modernity. Instead, it has put its head in the sand and retreated to private domestic matters and Sharia law— something that can lead only to further isolation, possibly allowing the West “to triumph”in the end after all.


TofuUnion said...

Hey it's too long. I got tired of it.

By the way, have you ever heard of piano pieces composed by Glenn Gould ? They sound like Schoenberg.

Ryan said...

Yeah, it's a bit long. It was for a presentation a couple days ago, and I was too lazy to edit it.

I think I saw a video once somewhere of Gould playing his own stuff along with Weber and Schoenberg. Kind of weirded me out, but I'll give it another try.