The Drama of Modern Western Identity

Ask scholars and intellectuals, and they will tell you that Americans and citizens of other countries normally thought of as part of the West live in an era of posts. post-cold war, postmodem, postindustrial, post-Christian, post-ideological, postmaterialist, post-Eurocentric. Almost no one among the academic elite of the North Atlantic nations is prepared to define these last years of the second millennium as being pre-anything. It is as though everything has already happened; all the political, ideological, religious, strategic, and emotional options of human life have been discovered and tried; hence the denizens of the post-era can look forward only to endless rounds of trying on one familiar suit of clothes after the other: rationalist, romantic, revolutionary, reactionary, multiculturalist, American, pagan, Christian, liberal, conservative.

Ask economists who instruct developing and former communist nations how to achieve capitalist growth, however, and they will tell you that far from being over, the best of the modem era, whose hallmarks are progress and universality, is yet to be. In their optimistic vision, which differs so radically from the post mentality of our universities, talk shows, and magazines, the Western inventions of capitalism, science, and liberal democracy have not only been astonishingly successful in their culture of origin, but are on the verge of embracing the vast majority of the worlds people, not least the most numerous and by many measures most competent of all, the Chinese. The twenty-first century, the optimists say, may be the first truly democratic and capitalist century thanks to the long-overdue return of China to the center of the global stage. As the great bulk of humanity enters irrevocably on the path of democratic and capitalist development, the prospects for peace, prosperity, and stability will become better than ever before. Postmodernism? Hah! Not only is the modem age not over, it has not even properly begun.

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