Divide and Conquer

Aronowitz and Willis

Divide and Conquer

Aronowitz and Willis

Divide and Conquer
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 6 1999 5:03 PM

Aronowitz and Willis

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You don't need conspiracy theory to observe that Europe and the United States have had a historical Balkans policy since, at the least, the Treaty of Versailles when the allies broke up the Austro-Hungarian empire. The cry of "self-determination" did not conceal the effect of this breakup: With the notable exception of Czechoslovakia, none of the resultant states was in a position to enter the industrializing era without significant foreign investment. The Czechs had the knowledge infrastructure and a certain amount of development inherited from their key role in the old empire and did fairly well. But Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, among others, were chiefly agricultural countries with some urban industrial base in a few large centers. The aftermath of World War II changed things, a bit. With the Soviets as their protectors/exploiters, these countries were breadbaskets for the new alliance, and were deindustrialized and then reindustrialized within terms set by Moscow. The Yugoslavs rebelled and succeeded because they had made their own revolution and were not under the heel of the Red Army.

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Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West is floundering but, I suggest, drifting back to the Metternichean strategy of divide and conquer. "Free rein to the nationalists." Exactly. Is this not a reversion to Woodrow Wilson's "self-determination" approach to the peace after World War I? And look what it has wrought! I am not sure that the economic value of the region is the reason for intervention, but there is no doubt that the conflation of free market ideology, freedom, and democracy--the new mantra of neo-liberalism--has been invoked in recent years to determine IMF and World Bank moves. Whatever happens, Milosovic is likely to go to international financial agencies controlled by the United States and ask for funds to rebuild Yugoslavia. The terms and conditions of such aid will likely bring him into camp.

As for taking Ayn Rand seriously, I refer you to the rehabilitation of Frederick von Hayek, a virulent free market economist who had been consigned to the shadows during the long period of economic regulation whose theorist was John Maynard Keynes. Rand is the cultural analogue to Von Hayek in an era of ascendant free market religion and its individualist prayers. Her memorable character of The Fountainhead, the obstinate architect, is a model, not only for anti-collectivist heroism but also for the idea that selfishness is a moral act.

Ellen Willis directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program in the department of journalism at New York University. Her latest book, Don't Think--Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial, will be published this fall. Stanley Aronowitz is author of From the Ashes of the Old: American Labor and America's Future (click here to buy the book), and he teaches social and cultural theory at the City University of New York Graduate School. His forthcoming book is Knowledge Factories.