TEHRAN – Nicholas Onuf, a theorist, is of the view that for structural reasons capitalism has been losing its generative power over the last several decades.
In an interview with the Tehran Times, Onuf, the professor of international relations at Florida International University, says “I have already suggested the possibility of a ‘Marxist’ future, in which capitalism comes to a catastrophic end.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What was the most important international event in 2013 and why?
A: What I have to say may surprise you: It’s not Crimea, or the ongoing civil war in Syria and its relation to continued instability in the region, or the thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations. It was an ‘event’ that did not happen, namely, Greece did not go bankrupt, thereby setting off a series of sovereign bankruptcies bringing down the European Union, in turn bringing chaos and years of depression to a fragile world capitalist economy and triggering civil disorder throughout the world. Of course, Greek bankruptcy might not have brought on these other ‘events,’ but it is just as well we didn’t find out the hard way. I should also say that, for structural reasons, capitalism has been losing its generative power over the last several decades and, in my view, some such catastrophe will bring down the world economy — it’s only a matter of time.
So, as a theorist, I am reluctant to attach as much importance to ‘events’ as your question implies you do. Indeed, it is actually difficult to identify the exact event that I am attributing so much importance to: a moment when the Greek government got serious in its interminable discussions of budget savings, a moment when EU finance ministers relented, etc.
Q: Is the world moving toward a "Lockean" or "Hobbesian" or "Kantian" future?
A: As a theorist, I am also reluctant to grant you the premises implied in your question. First, it implies there are only three paths to the future. I have already suggested the possibility of a “Marxist” future, in which capitalism comes to a catastrophic end. There is also what I might call a “Weberian” future, in which a super-abundance of regulatory organizations from the local level to the global level effectively eliminate democratic choice and stifles any kind of initiative; a “Durkheimian” future in which functional differentiation displaces territorial sovereignty (and these may be converging futures), “Abrahamic” future in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers play out ancient animosities; and a “Confucian” future, in which regional hegemons (Russia, the EU, Brazil, Iran) are obliged, like sons, to defer to the U.S. and China as squabbling parents/partners in a global hegemony, even as the regional hegemons, like brothers, compete among themselves but expect their neighbors to defer to them.
Second, there is no reason to believe that any one of these futures will prevail over the others. They are likely to persist in various combinations and permutations for long periods. Events in any given year will tell you very little about these long-term tendencies.
Nicholas Onuf is one of the primary figures among constructivists in international relations. His best known contribution to constructivism is set out in World of Our Making (University of South Carolina Press, 1989).