Tony Judt re-examines the cultural contradictions of capitalism, and the empty, unstable center of our new gilded age:
In the early years of the French Revolution the Marquis de Condorcet was dismayed at the prospect of commercial society that was opening before him (as it is opening before us): the idea that "liberty will be no more, in the eyes of an avid nation, than a necessary condition for the security of financial operations." We ought to share his revulsion.
The second source of anxiety is that the never-ending story may not last. Even economies have histories. The last time the capitalist world passed through a period of unprecedented expansion and great wealth creation, during the "globalization" avant le mot of the world economy in the imperial decades preceding World War I, there was a widespread assumption in Britainmuch as there is in the US and Western Europe todaythat this was the threshold of an unprecedented age of indefinite peace and prosperity. Anyone seeking an account of this confidenceand what became of it can do no better than read Keynes's Economic Consequences of the Peace: a summary of the illusions of a world on the edge of catastrophe, written in the aftermath of the war that was to put an end to all such irenic fancies for the next fifty years.