David Korten: Capitalism, Socialism… Or A New Story?

by Jerry Alatalo

aaa-33Alphabet David Korten is 77 years-old. His most recent book “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth” (February 2015) is available for purchase on amazon.com:


After referring to David Korten’s 1994 book “When Corporations Rule the World” in comments on articles about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for the book’s and Mr. Korten’s prophetic nature, it seemed possibly beneficial to find any recent talks by him. Fortunately a 1-hour, 20-minute talk on Earth Day April 22, 2015 at Seattle University was found on Todd Boyle’s YouTube channel, and that is the topic of this post.

Mr. Korten is one of the founders of Yes! Magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org


A partial transcript/description of David Korten’s talk at Seattle University on the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2015, followed by the video…

“…turning to a living economy, for living human beings, on a living Earth. (On the) 45th anniversary of Earth Day, we live under corporate rule in a suicide economy bent on destroying itself.” Mr. Korten finds the current problematic global condition the result of choices made with respect to the religious saying “(one) cannot serve both God and money”. He points out that a transformation has become necessary from a system which exploits life to make money for a handful of rich people to one which encourages life and community.

He points to recent comments by Pope Francis about “idolatry of money, truly lacking in purpose” and noted that it’s not money by itself that is “evil” but “worship, love of money (that) is the root of all evil”. According to David Korten, “it comes down to simple principles, principles that live in the human heart”. The difficulty is that fundamental truths are “opposite to what we’re taught”, that it’s necessary to awaken a new reverence for life, and that the challenge is coming up with a new “sacred story” drawing from indigenous wisdom, traditional religious/spiritual traditions’ teachings, and scientific discoveries.

“Defining aspect of human nature is that we can choose our nature. (It’s) impossible to live together unless we have an authentic, common story.” Without authenticity, humanity has come to corporate rulership, serving money at the expense of life in situations around the world. Mr. Korten shares a statement he heard from a friend “Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics”, and then illustrates two options in that regard: 1. God created in our image, an elder male who demands a hierarchical system of domination over women, children, and even including the rich and powerful, OR 2. A God of connection, inter-relation, true community, spirit.

He talked about a March 2012 meeting of indigenous leaders he attended where he heard opposition to privatization, commoditization, selling the Mother Earth, and the belief that “we must protect and maintain her (Mother Earth)” He contrasts the phrase “time is life” with “time is money”, and suggested through questioning whether time is for living or for “organizing our lives around accumulating accounting chips, destroying life to make money”.  Mr. Korten then told the audience that “we still have to prove humans are an intelligent species”.

At this point in the talk, David Korten lists the corporate “truths” taught in schools and universities:

time is money

money is wealth

making money creates wealth

making money is the defining purpose of people, business, and the economy

the rich are society’s wealth creators

affluent lifestyles are their fair and just reward

material consumption drives prosperity and the path to happiness

the Earth belongs to us

it is our human nature to be individualistic, competitive, and acquisitive

driven by the free market, creativity drives technologies to eliminate humanity’s dependence on nature

the community interest is simply an aggregation of individual private interests of its individual members

corporations are groups of persons, engines of wealth creation, and entitled to the same rights as any person

we all do our best when focused on maximizing our own individual private interest

Mr. Korten then asked the audience: “Did you notice anything in these statements that was true? Every element of that story is either false or grossly misleading”.

“Maximizing returns to money absolutely guarantees an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and an ever-growing gap between those who control great wealth and those who don’t, increasingly excluded as those on the top monopolize, control access to means of living. Control access to means of living and you control society”.

“So, why do we accept this obviously false story?” According to David Korten it comes to out-dated cosmologies (cosmology: the theory or metaphysics of the universe as an ordered integration or whole). He then lists three types of cosmology (story) current:

distant patriarchy story

grand machine story of science

story of mystical unity

Distant patriarch story All agency resides with patriarch (God) who lives apart (heaven). If things aren’t going well here on Earth, the obvious solution is to pray to God to fix it. Get on God’s side to get a good place in the afterlife. Relieves us of responsibility

Grand machine story The universe is like a giant machine or clockwork, and maybe there was a God or clock maker who set it up, set it in motion. Basically, (the universe) is just a mechanism winding down to death as its spring unwinds. Literally, there is no agency, and absolutely no meaning. Here, David Korten added, “that is depressing, I think I’ll go shopping…”

Mystical unity story The only true reality is mystical unity – spirit, that what we perceive as reality is simply an illusion created by the ego, and “that is the cause of our depression and separation”. Meditation becomes practiced with the goal of getting rid of the ego, merging into oneness, and escaping from “all this pain”. Korten sees no particular meaning to existence in that story.

The three stories, each partial, none of which offers a true guide to addressing the realities of the failures of society according to Mr. Korten, when we begin to put them together,  offer a “very interesting synthesis”.

There is intelligence and consciousness essential for the unfolding of the universe. Science, mechanism and chance are part of material existence, giving us an insight/lens into the deepest structure of reality and creation. Mystical unity/spirit is the ground of all creation; that all creation is a manifestation of spirit. “So, put these all together for an emerging new story”.

David Korten views the beginning is spirit – the spirit that has in a sense driven humans to understand/know the meaning and purpose of our lives. He suggests that perhaps spirit longed for that same knowledge, and asks “how does it know itself, when there is nothing else? By becoming, by expressing, by exploring its possibilities…” “It burst forth” in this cloud of energy particles as science describes it. Of the billions and billions of galaxies, on one planet – Earth, organisms organized as community and transformed conditions “on Earth unlike anywhere in the universe”.

“You also see in the total pattern of this unfolding of creation a consistent arrow, always (moving) toward increasing complexity, greater beauty, greater awareness, and greater possibility. And every being, every organism, whether simple-cell or complex humans, whether a grain of sand or great mountains, or great galaxies; each is contributing to the continuing unfoldment of the whole. Each has its place in creation”.

What is our human place in creation?

The New Framing Story: The Sacred Life and Living Earth story replaces the Sacred Money and Market story:

time is life

real wealth is living wealth

money is just a number, useful as a medium of exchange and well-regulated markets

we humans are living beings, born of and nurtured by living Earth, itself born out of a living universe, and that changes everything

life exists only in community

we are part of nature, not apart from nature

Earth does not belong to us, we belong to Earth

our health and prosperity depends on Earth’s health and prosperity

our human nature calls us to care and share for the benefit of all, brain science has discovered this is wired into our brains

serving the living community that sustains us is essential to community health, and that service is our source of greatest happiness

Here Mr. Korten interjects: “Now this one is really interesting”.

individualistic greed, ruthless competition, and violence against life are indicators of serious psychological and societal dysfunction

“They are the characteristics of the psychopath, the sociopath, and yet we set it up as the ideal for economic behavior. Wow”.

poverty in reality is the consequence of a lack of opportunity

the proper purpose of any human institution, whether business, government, or civil society is to support people as productive, contributing, sharing members of a vibrant and prosperous living Earth community

corporations that seek to monopolize resources and decision-making power in the pursuit of purely financial ends have no place in a healthy society

“We have the foundation for creating a living economy that organizes as life organizes to maintain and enhance the conditions for life. Environmentalism isn’t about some do-gooder cause – it’s about survival. It’s about discovering our true nature and our true purpose. All around the world, in communities almost everywhere, increasing numbers of people are organizing to bring forth the living economy. They are rebuilding their local economies, their communities; they are engaging in organic agriculture, young people going back to the soil; creating farms to feed themselves and their neighbors”.

David Korten sees no institutional structure on Earth devoted to the study of our fundamental human story.

Q+A segment:

What advice can you share with young people?  What can they do?

“Work on creating, bringing forward, the new. Be open and explicit that what you are doing is part of a new, essential vision”. Mr. Korten spoke of education’s failure in the sense of training young men and women to work for “social predators”, and through student debt, a lifetime of work to repay as corporations and the wealthiest could pay their share of taxes and make life easier for university students. Speaking to the students in the audience, he admits “your generation (is) faced with ‘one hell of a mess’ left by my generation”.

David Korten asks the audience if anyone has moments where they feel depressed or hopeless, and shared that he has low moments like those as well.  He sometimes gets asked, “do you think there’s any possibility that we can really change?”

“Well, if I look at it as an objective academic observer, we haven’t got a chance in hell of getting out of this – it’s already too late; we’re in too deep. Then I remind myself that if we take that as our assumption, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes absolutely certain – that outcome. And that is an intolerable outcome; it’s an unacceptable outcome. So I have to do everything I can, based on the assumption that it’s not too late, based on the assumption that it is possible to change – to create a new reality”.

“Now, another piece of that is it’s a whole lot more fun getting together with friends, creating the new reality, than it is sitting around becoming cynical (and) depressed. Also, at 77 years-old, I’ve lived through a bit of history, and I’ve seen some incredibly dramatic changes take place – very quickly. You know, racism, racial segregation, racial domination goes way, way, way back, again to the beginning of empire. The suppression of women goes back to the beginning of empire”.

“If you’re going to have a hierarchy, a dominator system, you’ve got to have most people at the bottom, so who are you going to put at the bottom? Skin color, gender, and so on, they’re all on the bottom, and that makes it a whole lot easier for us white guys at the top. Oh my, the changes that have happened in my lifetime in terms of gender relations and race relations… Huge”.

“We saw the Soviet Union collapse in the blink of an eye. We saw the end of apartheid in South Africa. Going back to just after World War II, India, totally dominated by the British, inspired by Gandhi the Indians freed themselves from the most powerful empire in the world. It all happened very quickly. As the forces for change build, it’s like tectonic plates, and then there’s a sudden shift. It all has to do with a moment of readiness”.

“Did the WTO (World Trade Organization) demonstration, did it have any impact? It had an enormous, enormous impact. First of all, it developed awareness all around the world of the insidious nature of these trade agreements and what ‘free trade’ is really about. But also, following the Seattle WTO demonstrations – which literally shut-down the negotiations, shut-down the meeting – prevented any progress toward further consolidation of corporate rights. That inspired people around the world. For the next two years every place the elites met to conspire, to roll back democracy and human rights in favor of corporate rule, hundreds of thousands, in some instances millions of people, came out to stop that”.

“Now, what happened?”

“Well, it actually all got disrupted by 9/11. Our government came forward and said any act of dissent is terrorism – siding with the terrorists. There were all sorts of crackdowns around the world, and it scattered the movement. The movement was also built around a focus on those economic issues and specifically corporate rule, but our government at that time, they were talking about a ‘Pax Americana’; about American empire imposing democracy by military force, if you can imagine anything more contradictory”.

 “That had the impact of essentially shutting down the movements. We also realized that another part of that is we had created a story around which people could organize. They knew who the enemy was, they knew what to attack, what to respond to, in terms of the corporate rule and this process of globalizing corporate power. Partly what happened was a deflecting of energy. A great many of us turned away from street protests and turned into these initiatives of rebuilding from the local; creating the new rather than resisting the old”.

“We’ve got to come back and do both at the same time. That is possible and, certainly from my perspective, being very much part of the movement that led up to the WTO protests and beyond, WTO protests had a huge impact, even though it was not sufficient”.

“Everything must change. We have many initiatives. We need to continue with those, both the initiatives and the pro-action, but we also have to bring it together into a larger framing story so that we each see how our individual contributions connect to the contributions of others”.

“Coming back to the issue of the story, the thing I’ve learned is that timing is everything. There is a moment around each of our issues where there is a readiness in society for deep change and for a new conversation. And, I’m getting all sorts of signals that this is the time for a discussion about the deeper story. And it may sound like it’s kind of a diversion, it’s a little ‘woo-woo’, we’ve got to get (the story) out on the street”.

“But the power of the story… We got a group of some forty people redefine that story (trade deals are great, etc.), took it out into the world, people mobilized on a massive scale, because there was a readiness at that point in time for a new story and action. People everywhere are realizing that the current system doesn’t work; the old stories make absolutely no sense. If you lay out the Sacred Money and Market stories as I did tonight everybody ‘gets it’ instantly. Well, there’s a few people that don’t, but…”

“The readiness for this deeper examination – what is the purpose of our lives, why are we here, what is the nature of our reality? , how do we pull together all those findings of the leading edge of science to make sense of it in a larger way? If there was ever a moment in human history for that, it is right now”.

Americans enjoy watching a stupid game more than having a meaningful conversation about our lives… What happened to Occupy?

“Occupy is a very interesting example. It put inequality on the map. It brought that into the conversation when it was never there before, and it’s still there, because inequality’s getting even worse. But… we need to keep this deeper perspective in mind. If you understand the history of 5,000 years of empire, it took us literally 5,000 years as a species to get into the mess we’re in. It’s not going to end with a single demonstration. And it gets back to the story”.

“Essentially, the Sacred Money and Market story is the guise of economic science. A lot of my insights about the deeper story actually came from the experience of living in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia (In the past, David Korten has lived on various continents for several years), and the immersion into the Asian culture and that deep sense of connection to the Earth, and to family, and to community. Particularly in my earliest trips to Asia around 1961, and seeing in those rice-based cultures the melding of humans into nature, this connection with the seasons, people working in community in the fields as their ancestors had for thousands of years”.

“Not affluent, not rich, but basically very healthy, strong, deep communities, and that’s part of my own awakening of my consciousness to our own real nature and possibilities. And the question is can we marry modern technology with those deeper beliefs so that we’re not being ruled by technology, or driven by profit, but using the most beneficial aspects of it to create a wholly new civilization that works with nature, helps Earth heal these systems, but ultimately actually increases the regenerative capacities of Earth in support of life – in support of all life”.

“And that is a part of our human contribution. Again, I share your despair and nobody can get more cynical than I can. But, we have to touch the center of possibility in our core. And the more we recognize the true nature, the true nature of the unfolding of creation and where we fit into that, the more I have a sense of possibility”.

“And I just think that the vast majority of humans are ready to hear that message. But of course, in the place you’re talking about nobody’s even talking about that message. That’s what we need to encourage”. 


(Thank you to Todd Boyle at YouTube) 

Monarchy, Billionaire Class Block Democracy, Peace In Middle East, World.

by Jerry Alatalo

aaa-30Alphabet The original focus of this post was the war and violence in Yemen, in particular the start of the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s air-bombing campaign on that country just as political parties there were close to reaching a negotiated agreement. The fact that an effort consisting of dialogue, compromise, and accommodation was nearing success – aided by recently resigned United Nations special adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar, whose statement critical of Saudi Arabia’s military attacks has caused a great deal of backlash against the monarchy – then stopped by the Saudi decison to bomb Yemen, makes clear certain wealthy, powerful persons on Earth are at war against democracy.

Many analysts and political officials have seen a parallel between Saudi militarist actions against the Yemeni people and the horrific bombing campaign conducted against Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu during its self-named “Operation Protective Edge”, and both the Saudi and Israeli actions can only be described as crimes against humanity. In both of the horrible killing sprees, what is common is that efforts for dialogue-based, negotiated, peaceful resolution of (Palestinian, then Yemeni) respective political-social differences/problems were coming close to fruition.

Whether last summer’s Israeli and current Saudi war crimes were/are fueled by power, wealth, and control or any combination those self-serving human qualities, the important shared fact of both aggression that have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children and made life truly miserable for hundreds of thousands is that successful peaceful resolution of differences efforts were imminent. It is near – correction, literally – impossible to look at the recent Israeli and (ongoing) Saudi actions and not conclude that those at the highest level of power in both governments are willing to kill people on a large-scale to prevent freedom and democracy from emerging in their nations and the historically war-torn Middle East.

After his resignation/departure after four years, Yemen UN special adviser Benomar said the “…political process should be Yemeni-led, the Yemenis should determine their own future”. During an interview on Worlds Apart on RT with Oksana Boyko around April 19, he described how he had participated in two months of negotiations between twelve political groups of Yemenis, discussing the issues and coming close to an agreement, including establishing significant presence of women in government (Saudi women are prohibited from driving a car), then Saudis began air strikes – effectively stopping the talks dead in their tracks.

This short video shows the results:

(Thank you to RuptlyTV at YouTube)

This video is a short discussion on the situation in Yemen:

(Thank you to Press TV News Videos at YouTube)

A monarch is a “hereditary sovereign”, monarchy is a form of governing by monarchs, and the antithesis/”direct opposite” of democracy – “government in which the people hold supreme power”. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy controlled by “hereditary sovereigns”, while Israel is an oligarchy (government by small group – billionaire capitalists – technically not, but in effect monarchical, due to hereditary wealth), and, evidenced by each of their recent commissions of major war crimes of aggression, guilty leaders of both must become held accountable then justly punished at the one legal entity on Earth with jurisdiction – the International Criminal Court.

The international community, illustrated by these two very serious situations in the Middle East region, has yet to travel the full distance on the road to true justice. To prevent future catastrophic war crimes like those described – possibly even more horrendous in their consequences, if imaginable – global movement forward on the road toward real justice should commence as soon as humanly possible.

Saudi Arabia/Israel impunity in the face of international law against state-sponsored wars of aggression is clear and extremely disturbing, while the urgent need to end impunity through prosecution for such horrible crimes is equally obvious for any rational human being. The crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Saudi monarchy and Israeli oligarchy, as high on the scale of Earthly importance those uncivilized, barbaric actions entail, represent the sad outcomes of a global condition which humanity must come to wrestle with and transform.


To help describe the global condition, and moving from the context of the Middle East situation to the international perspective, an article written by Professor William Robinson has been cross-posted from Global Research http://www.globalresearch.org/ below. In Professor Robinson’s article, he does an effective job of precisely describing current global conditions, the negative consequences experienced by billions of people originating from presently dominant modes of societal organization, and sharing his ideas for practically diminishing those unfortunate and widespread results.

Following Professor Robinson’s article, a link to his recent interview on Progressive Radio Network is available for those interested in further exploration of his perspective.

Thank you to Global Research and Progressive Radio Network for their admirable efforts to increase awareness through their websites. Of the thousands of excellent internet websites created by and for men and women around the world to visit and learn from, these are two which are highly recommended for their high level of focus on increasing knowledge and disseminating truthful accounts of important events and situations affecting people around the Earth.

For those who pass this way and are reading these words, if you are looking to “cut to the chase” and find truth-focused, reliable, relevant sources of information on the world-wide-web, Global Research and Progressive Radio Network are two sites which offer exactly what you are seeking. One can spend hours and hours going through their archives and come out on the other side highly informed about the world we all live in. That describes the great, ongoing power of the internet being used by men and women in every nation and region on the planet, where information sharing at increasingly higher levels offers real reason for believing humanity is genuinely moving toward more truthful, just, democratic and peaceful ways of living.


Global Capitalism and the Global Police State: Crisis of Humanity and the Specter of 21st Century Fascism

Welcome to the Asylum: Capitalism, a Ceaseless and Futile Quest for Money and Goods

The world capitalist system is arguably experiencing the worst crisis in its 500 year history. World capitalism has experienced a profound restructuring through globalisation over the past few decades and has been transformed in ways that make it fundamentally distinct from its earlier incarnations. Similarly, the current crisis exhibits features that set it apart from earlier crises of the system and raise the stakes for humanity.

If we are to avert disastrous outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. Analysis of capitalist globalisation provides a template for probing a wide range of social, political, cultural and ideological processes in this 21st century. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism to understand crisis. And following the global capitalism perspective, we want to see how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades.

The system-wide crisis we face is not a repeat of earlier such episodes such as that of the the 1930s or the 1970s precisely because capital- ism is fundamentally different in the 21st century. Globalisation constitutes a qualitatively new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, marked by a number of qualitative shifts in the capitalist system and by novel articulations of social power. I highlight four aspects unique to this epoch.1

First is the rise of truly transnational capital and a new global production and financial system into which all nations and much of humanity has been integrated, either directly or indirectly. We have gone from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated international market, to a global economy, in which nations are linked to each more organically through the transnationalisation of the production process, of finance, and of the circuits of capital accumulation.

No single nation-state can remain insulated from the global economy or prevent the penetration of the social, political, and cultural superstructure of global capitalism. Second is the rise of a Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), a class group that has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC is the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale. Third is the rise of Transnational State (TNS) apparatuses. The TNS is constituted as a loose network made up of trans-, and supranational organisations together with national states. It functions to organise the conditions for transnational accumulation.

The TCC attempts to organise and institutionally exercise its class power through TNS apparatuses. Fourth are novel relations of inequality, domination and exploitation in global society, including an increasing importance of transnational social and class inequalities relative to North-South inequalities.

Cyclical, Structural, and Systemic Crises

Most commentators on the contemporary crisis refer to the “Great Recession” of 2008 and its aftermath. Yet the causal origins of global crisis are to be found in over-accumulation and also in contradictions of state power, or in what Marxists call the internal contradictions of the capitalist system. Moreover, because the system is now global, crisis in any one place tends to represent crisis for the system as a whole. The system cannot expand because the marginalisation of a significant portion of humanity from direct productive participation, the downward pressure on wages and popular consumption worldwide, and the polarisation of income, has reduced the ability of the world market to absorb world output. At the same time, given the particular configuration of social and class forces and the correlation of these forces worldwide, national states are hard-pressed to regulate trans- national circuits of accumulation and offset the explosive contradictions built into the system.

Is this crisis cyclical, structural, or systemic? Cyclical crises are recurrent to capitalism about once every 10 years and involve recessions that act as self-correcting mechanisms without any major restructuring of the system. The recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and of 2001 were cyclical crises. In contrast, the 2008 crisis signaled the slide into a structural crisis. Structural crises reflect deeper contra- dictions that can only be resolved by a major restructuring of the system. The structural crisis of the 1970s was resolved through capitalist globalisation.

Prior to that, the structural crisis of the 1930s was resolved through the creation of a new model of redistributive capitalism, and prior to that the structural crisis of the 1870s resulted in the development of corporate capitalism. A systemic crisis involves the replacement of a system by an entirely new system or by an outright collapse. A structural crisis opens up the possibility for a systemic crisis. But if it actually snowballs into a systemic crisis – in this case, if it gives way either to capitalism being superseded or to a breakdown of global civilisation – is not predetermined and depends entirely on the response of social and political forces to the crisis and on historical contingencies that are not easy to forecast. This is an historic moment of extreme uncertainty, in which collective responses from distinct social and class forces to the crisis are in great flux.

Hence my concept of global crisis is broader than financial. There are multiple and mutually constitutive dimensions – economic, social, political, cultural, ideological and ecological, not to mention the existential crisis of our consciousness, values and very being. There is a crisis of social polarisation, that is, of social reproduction. The system cannot meet the needs or assure the survival of millions of people, perhaps a majority of humanity. There are crises of state legitimacy and political authority, or of hegemony and domination. National states face spiraling crises of legitimacy as they fail to meet the social grievances of local working and popular classes experiencing downward mobility, un- employment, heightened insecurity and greater hardships.

The legitimacy of the system has increasingly been called into question by millions, perhaps even billions, of people around the world, and is facing expanded counter-hegemonic challenges. Global elites have been unable to counter this erosion of the system’s authority in the face of world- wide pressures for a global moral economy. And a canopy that envelops all these dimensions is a crisis of sustain- ability rooted in an ecological holocaust that has already begun, expressed in climate change and the impending collapse of centralised agricultural systems in several regions of the world, among other indicators. By a crisis of humanity I mean a crisis that is approaching systemic proportions, threatening the ability of billions of people to survive, and raising the specter of a collapse of world civilisation and degeneration into a new “Dark Ages.”2

This crisis of humanity shares a number of aspects with earlier structural crises but there are also several features unique to the present:

1. The system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction. Global capitalism now couples human and natural history in such a way as to threaten to bring about what would be the sixth mass extinction in the known history of life on earth.3

This mass extinction would be caused not by a natural catastrophe such as a meteor impact or by evolutionary changes such as the end of an ice age but by purposive human activity. According to leading environmental scientists there are nine “planetary boundaries” crucial to maintaining an earth system environment in which humans can exist, four of which are experiencing at this time the onset of irreversible environmental degradation and three of which (climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss) are at “tipping points,” meaning that these processes have already crossed their planetary boundaries.

2. The magnitude of the means of violence and social control is unprecedented, as is the concentration of the means of global communication and symbolic production and circulation in the hands of a very few powerful groups. Computerised wars, drones, bunker-buster bombs, star wars, and so forth, have changed the face of warfare. Warfare has become normalised and sanitised for those not directly at the receiving end of armed aggression. At the same time we have arrived at the panoptical surveillance society and the age of thought control by those who control global flows of communication, images and symbolic production. The world of Edward Snowden is the world of George Orwell; 1984 has arrived;

3. Capitalism is reaching apparent limits to its extensive expansion. There are no longer any new territories of significance that can be integrated into world capitalism, de-ruralisation is now well advanced, and the commodification of the countryside and of pre- and non-capitalist spaces has intensified, that is, converted in hot-house fashion into spaces of capital, so that intensive expansion is reaching depths never before seen. Capitalism must continually expand or collapse. How or where will it now expand?

4. There is the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a “planet of slums,”4 alienated from the productive economy, thrown into the margins, and subject to sophisticated systems of social control and to destruction – to a mortal cycle of dispossession-exploitation-exclusion. This includes prison- industrial and immigrant-detention complexes, omnipresent policing, militarised gentrification, and so on;

5. There is a disjuncture between a globalising economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. Transnational state apparatuses are incipient and have not been able to play the role of what social scientists refer to as a “hegemon,” or a leading nation-state that has enough power and authority to organise and stabilise the system. The spread of weapons of mass destruction and the unprecedented militarisation of social life and conflict across the globe makes it hard to imagine that the system can come under any stable political authority that assures its reproduction.

Global Police State

How have social and political forces worldwide responded to crisis? The crisis has resulted in a rapid political polarisation in global society. Both right and left-wing forces are ascendant. Three responses seem to be in dispute.

One is what we could call “reformism from above.” This elite reformism is aimed at stabilising the system, at saving the system from itself and from more radical responses from below. Nonetheless, in the years following the 2008 collapse of the global financial system it seems these reformers are unable (or unwilling) to prevail over the power of transnational financial capital. A second response is popular, grassroots and leftist resistance from below. As social and political conflict escalates around the world there appears to be a mounting global revolt. While such resistance appears insurgent in the wake of 2008 it is spread very unevenly across countries and regions and facing many problems and challenges.

Yet another response is that I term 21st century fascism.5

The ultra-right is an insurgent force in many countries. In broad strokes, this project seeks to fuse reactionary political power with transnational capital and to organise a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class – such as white workers in the North and middle layers in the South – that are now experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility. It involves militarism, extreme masculinisation, homophobia, racism and racist mobilisations, including the search for scapegoats, such as immigrant workers and, in the West, Muslims. Twenty-first century fascism evokes mystifying ideologies, often involving race/culture supremacy and xenophobia, embracing an idealised and mythical past. Neo-fascist culture normalises and glamorises warfare and social violence, indeed, generates a fascination with domination that is portrayed even as heroic.

The need for dominant groups around the world to secure widespread, organised mass social control of the world’s surplus population and rebellious forces from below gives a powerful impulse to projects of 21st century fascism. Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy cannot easily be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. We have been witnessing transitions from social welfare to social control states around the world. We have entered a period of great upheavals, momentous changes and uncertainties. The only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward towards the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a 21st century democratic socialism, in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature.

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies, at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Among his many books are Promoting Polyarchy (1996), Transnational Conflicts (2003), A Theory of Global Capitalism (2004), Latin America and Global Capitalism (2008), and Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (2014).


1.William I. Robinson (2004), A Theory of Global Capitalism:

Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; William I. Robinson, Latin America and Global Capitalism (2008), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, see esp. chapter 1.

2. Sing C. Chew (2007), The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation, Landham, MD: AltaMira Press.

3. Elizabeth Kolbert (2014), The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New York: Henry Holt.

4. The phrase is from Mike Davis’ study, Planet of Slums (2007), London: Verso.

5. See in particular, William I. Robinson (2014, in press), Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


The following link goes to a 60-minute edition of Project Censored on the Progressive Radio Network, where William Robinson is interviewed during the first half-hour and Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence) in the second half-hour: