|Interview of Immanuel Wallerstein with Paik Nak-chung for the quarterly,Creation and Criticism, December 5, 1998, at Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University.
ⓒ Changbi Publishers, Inc. 1999
Paik: It is a rare privilege for our journal to introduce your thoughts in the very first issue of 1999, at a time when both Korea and East Asia, as indeed the entire world, are in great turmoil, and many readers feel an urgent need for some larger view of what is happening and what kind of choices may be available to them. And this interview happily coincides with the imminent publication of the Korean edition of Utopistics, a book that engages in that kind of analysis and examines the 'historical choices of the twenty-first century', as its subtitle puts it. But the immediate occasion for this interview was provided by your kind invitation for me to participate in this very interesting conference on 'Transmodernity, Historical Capitalism, and Coloniality' held yesterday and today under the auspicies of Fernand Braudel Center of Binghamton University. Here let me intrapolate for the benefit of our Korean readers that 'transmodernity' is a key concept in the discourse of Enrique Dussel, 'historical capitalism' of course is the title of one of your books, and 'coloniality of power' a preoccupation of Anibal Quijano.
Now, these two topics - the book and the conference - alone should offer ample material for our conversation, although later on I would like to add a few questions specifically about Korea and East Asia. Well then, we may start with Utopistics . By now your name and some of your work are well-known to a good many Korean readers, but even so I think our readers would like to know how the intellectual journey that led you to writing this book and I heard you mention yesterday that the world revolution of 1968 was in the origin of the idea of historical capitalism and your notion of the modern world-system. Could you elaborate on that with some more biographical details?
Wallerstein: Yes. I began teaching at the university in 1958 when I was at Columbia University in the Department of Sociology and was writing a dissertation on an African topic. I was, in fact, writing about modern nationalism in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, a neighboring British and French colony. I suppose at that point in my life I was considered to be a political sociologist and Africanist. And indeed most of my writing for the next 10 years at least was on African topics and I wrote a number of books on Africa, numerous articles and so forth. I was in fact unhappy with some of the kinds of things I was writing about because it was so contemporary that I felt I was chasing after headlines following the changing situation in contemporary African countries. And they were changing with some rapidity after independence. The majority of countries in Africa except for southern Africa became independent by 1960. So that period when I was actually writing most of the stuff on the early postcolonial years, I began to think that I had to put this into deeper historical perspective and I had an idea. It was a mistaken idea, but it turned out to be very fruitful. The language we used about these countries was that they were new nations. I said to myself that if they are new nations, other nations have been new nations. Why don't we look at other new nations earlier. And I had the idea, which as I say turned out to be not the way to look at it, that I should look at west European nations when they were new nations, meaning I thought somewhere around the 16th-17th century when the modern state structures coalesced. So I began to do reading and I began to do teaching. Now this is the same time of course as a lot of political turmoil. Writing about Africa, I was of course involved with African nationalist movements and thinking of how they saw the world as a struggle against colonialism and against neo-colonialism which was also a phrase that came in at that time.
When 1968 burst out, the first place in the western world where there was a major event was at Columbia University. It started a month before the Paris uprising. And I was quickly in the middle of it because when the students occupied the buildings in opposition to the administration, there were two main issues. One was the Vietnam War and what they saw as Columbia University's involvement by the fact that they did research work for the defense department and such in the Vietnam War. And the second was Black/White relations, which was a major issue at the time, and Columbia was building a gymnasium in a public park and thereby taking land away that was being used by a Black community and so forth. Those were the two sparks of Columbia and set the students who occupied buildings against the administration. A group of faculty formed very quickly to try to mediate this for a whole week. And I was in fact the co-chair of this very large faculty group whose mediation was ultimately unsuccessful. The administration called in the police after a week. They evicted the students from the buildings, but that of course led to simply a further explosion and we had long process of trying to revise university structures and it actually went on for two years. So I was very involved in that. I wrote a book, several books at the time about this.
Paik: I wasn't aware you had written books about it, though I remember reading about your experience during the Columbia incidents.
Wallerstein: I wrote a book in 1968 calledUniversity in Turmoil: The Politics of Change, and in 1969 I edited a two-volume reader with Paul Starr:University Crisis Reader. I also published a number of articles on the subject between 1968 and 1970. Anyway, the Columbia uprising was part of what I think of as the world revolution of 1968. And the world revolution of 1968 seemed to me to be a world revolution, first of all, because it took place everywhere. That is, almost everywhere from the United States to western Europe to Japan to China (because I counted the cultural revolution as part of the world revolution) to eastern Europe (I counted the Czech uprising as part of the world revolution) to Africa to Latin America. It took different forms, but I argued in various essays at the time, and especially later, that the world revolution had two underlying themes which you could find reproduced everywhere. Theme number one was that the United States and the Soviet Union, who were supposedly the great antagonists, were really in collusion with each other. This is the Chinese talking about the two superpowers, but it was the New Left and the rest of the world saying a plague on both their houses and so forth. So that was one theme which I thought everybody was talking about in one way or another. The Czechs were in effect saying the same thing. The second theme, which I found common everywhere, and which took me a while to figure out, but then became very obvious, is that the main target of all the people who rebelled was not the right, but the left. Whether it was the Social Democrats in western Europe or the Communist parties in western and eastern Europe or in China the Communist party which was the object of the cultural revolution or the United States where it was New Deal democrats or India where it was the Congress Party. When you went to Tunisia it was the Neo-Destour Party. It was all these movements which had paraded themselves for 20, 40, 100 years as antisystemic movements. And what the revolutionaries of 1968 said is you haven't solved the problem, you're part of the problem. You failed in various ways.
I found these two themes as a very common theme, and then, I put it in language which I would now use. What it was was a challenge basically to the liberal geoculture that was dominating the world-system - the belief that everything could get better, and would get better if only you got the right people in power in each state. Once you got the right people in power in each state, they could reform the system in significant ways. And I decided that that really had been the line not only of the Social Democrats, but of the Communists as well, and certainly the national liberation movements. And I thought that what happened in 1968 was people saying "well you got into power, but you didn't change the world." That is to say, its quite remarkable if you look at the map of the world between let's say 1945 and 1968 in how many countries either the Communist party or a Social Democratic party or a national liberation movement came to power. There are very few countries of which this isn't true. It was a remarkable achievement and this is what I think they were complaining about. So now what this did, I think, within the universities of the world, but more largely, within the intellectual arenas of the world, is it broke the liberal consensus. It isn't that liberalism disappeared. It broke the automaticity of its acceptance.
What immediately happened, you can see now, is an emergence of the old right which had been suppressed basically, had really disappeared, with really right wing themes now coming up. I mean take something as obvious as Milton Friedman's economics. I can well remember before 1968, Milton Friedman was an American university joke. Nobody took him seriously. And all of a sudden in the 1970's they not only take him seriously, he gets awarded a Nobel Prize and the other people who get Noble Prizes largely get it because they share his point of view. So I mean the right resurged. In a way I think they weren't as powerful since 1848. Then I think there was space open for a left to reemerge, but much less coherently than the right. It's in this atmosphere that I think there's a receptivity to the kinds of things which some of us put forward, and which got to be called world-systems analysis. World-systems analysis said, look it's not only that the liberal consensus doesn't make sense politically, but there's a whole set of intellectual ideas underlying it, which in fact inform all of social science, and we've got to, in my phrase, unthink that social science.
Paik: Of course that's the title of one of your books, which is also available in Korean. I know the publishers and the translator had quite a time trying to find an appropriate Korean title. They had to settle on the best substitute, since 'unthinking' is an untranslatable coinage of your own.
Wallerstein: Yes. And in this, we said, we've got to raise questions first of all about the unit of analysis. The assumption has been that each state was the unit of analysis, that they were separate entities. And that of course fit in with a stages theory of development arguing that each state was sort of on an escalator. They were somewhere on the escalator. They were on step three, or step six, or step nine, or step twelve. And so of course what you did if you were lower on the escalator, is you looked at people higher and you said what did they do. And then you got there. And we came along and said, no it's all part of a single system. And if some people are low in the escalators, it's because they've been pushed down there by other people being pushed up elsewhere - the development of underdevelopment, etc.
My main point is the ideas were put forth but suddenly there was a receptivity to them. Of course, then we started to develop these ideas not only about core, periphery, and how the economics of the capitalist system works. That was just kind of an initial thrust. Then we said yes but there's a political structure to this world-system, the interstate system, and has things like hegemonies which rise and fall. And then we said look at all these households structures that got created within the system because they are in a way handling the whole allocation of labor and income so we began to study them. Then we said the antisystemic movements themselves should be an object of study. So we started to study them. And then we got really to the hardest question of all which is the epistemologies, the underlying structures of knowledge. So it's my Unthinking Social Science, and the Gulbenkian Report,Open the Social Sciences. It's a big project we still have going here at the Fernand Braudel Center.
And as all this work was being produced over the years, people, especially people who were politically active, would come along and say well that's all good and well, but therefore what should we do? And I realize that is a perfectly legitimate question and then there were all sorts of people saying yes, but for God's sake don't repeat what they did in the Soviet Union. Look how bad that was, or Mao or something else. So there were all these dangers like reefs that you were supposed to avoid. And I began to think yes you have to read that whole history intelligently and you have to draw some intelligent conclusions.
About seventeen years ago, almost by accident, I was at a conference and giving a talk before Ilya Prigogine gave a talk too. And when I heard him, I said my God that's things I've been thinking a long, long time but I never knew that physical scientists felt this way. So I began to read in what is called today complexity studies, which is what I call a knowledge movement within the natural sciences, within physics, within chemistry, within mathematics, within biology, and I thought these ideas were terribly, terribly important. I began to try to see how I could use these ideas within the context of my own work.
As I said today at the conference and I've said in writing many times, the minute you have a concept of a historical system, you're doing several things by that. I am rejecting the nomothetic/idiographic split because the system is the nomothetic, and the historical is the idiographic, and I'm saying you can't be one or the other, you have to be both at all times. And that you find out what the rules are that govern social behavior but only within the context of a particular historical system because the systems change. And that brought me to my distinction between the origin of the system, the ongoing life of the system, and the crisis of the system. I found Prigogine terribly useful about the crisis of the system. Because he says that at a certain point as systems move far from equilibrium, which is their technical language, they can no longer function well or rather the oscillations become so great you get a bifurcation which technically, for a physical scientist, simply means you get a point where two different sets of data will solve the equation. It isn't just one solution. There are at least two solutions. And so the whole idea that you split and you go one way or the other way but also that it's unpredictable. There's an infinite number of developments that go into it which are uncontrollable, so we don't know in advance which way we'll go. But a little push in one direction or the other will push it. I said yes that's the way to think about it.Utopisticsis the end of that process. Utopisticsis an attempt to assess the fact that there was this immense attack on the old left by the revolutionaries of 1968: let's assess what they did do, what they didn't do, why they did it, etc. And then say o.k., if we can assume that we've reached a crisis in the system, what does a crisis look like? And that's really chapter two. I try to say it looks terrible. It's what they call chaos, which in social terms, is not a pleasant thing to live in. It's an unpleasant thing to live in, and people are frightened. And they have every reason at a personal level to be frightened. There's more violence around. There are more sudden changes of all kinds so they really are frightened. I can't say you shouldn't be frightened. It's a frightening situation. But I try to analyze that and what people do when they are collectively frightened. And then I say o.k. so what's at stake? What's at stake is a big battle. The system isn't going to go on and I try to find structural reasons from within the system, why the system cannot survive. Then what's at stake and what are our choices? So that's the subtitle of course, 'historical choices for the twenty-first century'.
Paik: Before we go on to discuss some of the large themes you have been developing, I'd like to interject one personal question. Did your involvement in the Columbia University incident have any immediate impact on your professional career?
Wallerstein: Well, sure. I mean before 1968 I thought I would be at Columbia University all of my life. I had been a student there. I then became a professor there. I had been born in New York City. I loved New York City. I loved Columbia. I simply assumed always that I would stay there forever. Things became complicated at a personal level. Had I stayed there the complications probably would have gone away in two or three years. But like many people involved in the university uprisings, in one way or another, and on all sides of the political fence, one of the consequences was to change universities. Simply get a little bit of relief and so at that time, I did make the decision. It's a little complicated. It was 1968. From 1970 to 1971 I spent the year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto and I used that year to write theModern World-System, volume I. So which of course got me onto a new track. I was no longer an Africanist, now I was writing about the capitalist world-economy, the modern world-system. This is most of my writing since then. I had to make a decision of what I was to do and I decided to move to McGill University in Montreal, which of course had also been affected by 1968. It was in 1969 that there was a major thing in Montreal, but it hadn't escaped the atmosphere. This was also the time however when one of the expressions of the new movements was what was called the Front de Liberation du Quebec which had just engaged in certain kinds of violent acts and the government had cracked down on it.
The atmosphere was tense. And the issues of Quebec nationalism and secession were very heavy. McGill was of course an English-speaking university in the middle of Quebec. Well I got involved there too in Quebec issues and so forth even though I was an outsider in some sense and I had to limit the degree of my involvement. But the university ambiance reflected the tension, the atmosphere and after a number of years, it got extremely tense within the Department of Sociology at McGill.
At that point, I had various possibilities. One of them was to come to where I am now at Binghamton, where a colleague of mine from Columbia, Terence Hopkins, who had been sort of my closest associate at Columbia, was my age, had come here after 1971 to start the graduate program of Sociology. He wanted me to join him here. The administration was very anxious to have me and yes, become chair of the department, build it up, create a Center. It seemed an attractive idea. So I came. I did not think at the time I would stay this long, but here it is twenty-one years later, and I'm still here. The Center is still here, Hopkins died two years ago, and this has become, no doubt, the major Center worldwide of world-systems analysis. We have our students all over the place and we have a lot of activities and accomplishments under the belt in terms of research and books, and our journalReview and so forth. So, it's a knowledge institution. Now as you know the name of the institution is the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations. When I gave you the story of my itinerary, I left out Braudel. I'll tell you how Braudel came into the story. Somewhere around 1965 or 1966, reading an Africanist journal, there was an article by a Polish economic historian named Marian Malowist, who wrote an article on the gold trade in the Middle Ages between West Africa, North Africa, and Europe. Since he wrote on the Late Middle Ages and early modern times, that was not that unusual. It was a very interesting article. And the article quoted Braudel's Mediterranean at some length. I said I had better read this book. I read the book and I thought, yes this is very good stuff. So I discovered Braudel in the late 1960's. And when I went to the Center of Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, and I started writing the Modern World-System, and I wrote the first two chapters drafts, I said why don't I send these to Braudel whom I had met in the most superficial way a year or two before. But we didn't know each other. So I sent it to him. And I waited about a month or six weeks and I got a letter back, a very nice letter - not from him, but from his secretary saying that Braudel had read it and thought very well of this stuff or some such. A brief letter but it was very positive. And I thought, o.k. I'll send him some more and then he wrote back an even nicer letter that he had been sharing this stuff with his students.
Paik: This time from himself?
Wallerstein: Yes, he said the book was very rich and so forth. So then, when I was in Paris a year after that, I went to see him and he received me again very warmly and told me how much he thought of the book and how good it was and so forth and so forth. So when I got the book published, he immediately said he would like to have an edition in French, in a series that he had. At that point, which was between Montreal and here, I had a year's leave and I had arranged to spend it in Paris. I always had this thing about Paris and I had some links with Paris Africanists. Actually that was the original idea. But by the point, of course, I had written the Modern World-System and when I came to Paris, he received me right away. I had had links prior to that, important links, with his deputy, Clemens Heller, who knew me quite well. But not via Braudel. Quite separately. Braudel received me and said well he gives this seminar, would I give it with him. And we would do it, sort of on the Modern World-System. So I spent the year doing that. That started my links with Braudel and it was in the middle of that year, that I flew back here to Binghamton to discuss with the Administration here what we would do. I had a meeting of a small group who were going to be the people involved with the Center. But we really needed a name for this Center. And I had the idea of a Center of economies, historical systems, civilizations, but it's too long. And then it occurred to me, well why not call it the Fernand Braudel Center because that symbolizes large-scale, long-term social change. And they thought that was a nice idea and I went back to Braudel and I said will you let us use your name? And he said yes, and so we used his name and then the first big conference we had here was on "The Impact of the Annales on the Social Sciences." He came himself for that conference. So I established very strong links with the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris which was his institution. At the time his technical title was Administrator of this big research structure in Paris and eventually I set-up an arrangement with Binghamton that I spend half the year in Paris and half the year in Binghamton, which I still do. And of course we did a lot of things jointly. We built up a whole network of institutions which cooperate with the Center. So we've had links with institutions in France, Germany, Italy, Mozambique, Venezuela, India, Turkey, Hungary. We just created these kind of links with institutions which meant we co-sponsored conferences. That was one possibility. They sent us students. So we got a lot of graduate students who came here for training who were sent to us from these various countries by the people with whom we have links. We keep developing new links. We now have good links with Belgium, which we didn't have in the beginning, and so forth and so on. With Mexico, that's more recent. So that's how the Center has functioned. By now, I've now forgotten what question started this whole line.
Paik: Well let's get back to the book Utopistics. We don't want to spend too much time on it, though. Not only because our time is limited, but we don't want to give away too much of the content. We want the readers to get hold of the book and find out for themselves.
Wallerstein: But I will say for your readers, it's a short book.
Paik: And I may add that to me in reading it, I found it an excellent epitome of your extensive reflections on the past, present and future of the capitalist world-system and I think even to those who have read all or most of your work--I'm not that person, but speaking as a literary critic, I could say that even to those readers it's really a masterpiece of lucid and compact exposition. And I suspect it offers them some new material as well, certainly new emphases. So far you commented only on the second chapter, on the difficult transition, but what I would like is for us to go back to the first chapter and touch upon a very familiar theme in your work, but something still surprising to many people. I mean your interpretation of 1989. You see it as a beginning of the end of capitalism rather than the triumph: 1968 as a real turning point and 1989 a sort of the end of the 'dress rehearsal', as you once put it.
Wallerstein: Yes, I'm sure that we'll startle readers in Korea because it startles readers everywhere. It's one of the more outrageous things that I say. That 1989 represents a big defeat of world capitalism rather than its great triumph which almost everybody believes whether they are on the left, center, or right. Everybody seems to believe that. We wrote actually, we I say, Giovanni Arrighi, Terence Hopkins, and I have written a series of articles together over the years on anti-systemic movements. And the last one we wrote together was called "1989, Continuation of 1968." In fact that exists in Korean in the edition of Anti-Systemic Movements. And we tried to show in that article and I won't reproduce it now, but we tried to show very carefully how the events of 1968 led quite directly in Poland, in Italy, and so forth to what went on in 1989. But more generally, what I can say (and that's the heart of the analysis) is that I said one of the two themes of 1968 was the critique of the old left as having failed. Now 1968 is also, depending on exactly how you date it, the beginning of a Kondratieff B-phase. I usually say it started roughly 1967-73. And countries not in the center, which included most of what is called the Third World and also included east and central Europe, suffered economically. The one exception to that is east Asia. I will discuss that separately. From the 1970's on, they have been suffering economically. They've been doing less well by whatever measures you want to use in terms of gross national product or total real income, or distribution of income, or whatever. And of course people get unhappy when they do less well economically, especially if they can remember better times
They had to decide who to blame, and a lot of the blame was on the governments in power, and the government in power were the old left governments. So they begin to turn against them. They begin to turn against them first in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They threw them out, not that they got better governments to replace them. But nonetheless, they threw them out in many, many countries because they had begun to be disillusioned with the idea that if you got the right government in power it really would improve things. The next group that started to get thrown out were the Social-Democrats in the Western world. You got this whole turn against the state, and the idea of their not doing so well, so we better put in a more conservative governments, or whatever. And my argument is that basically the heart of 1989 was the same movement. In fact, in the 1950's and 1960's, Russia, east and central Europe all did quite well economically. In fact they had about the highest growth rates in the world in that period and there was a real expansion. So it isn't that the system 'failed'. It's that peripheral areas in a B-phase failed. But these peripheral areas did badly at a point in time in which these people in power had said, if you put us in power this won't happen. But it did.
I think that one of the major elements in 1989 is economic crisis. You see that extremely clearly in the case of Poland. The initial precipitate in 1980 of Solidarity was the fact that the Polish government, like many governments, had gotten deeply indebted in the 1970's in order to solve its problems of a weakening situation. And when they got deeply indebted they decided the way to handle this, the same way as the structural adjustment of the IMF, was to squeeze the workers, to get a little more money to pay off debts. The only country that got away with that and used to be praised no end by the IMF was Romania, which really squeezed the workers and really paid off its debt. Well Poland tried to squeeze the workers. The workers yelled and screamed. That's called Solidarity. This economic protest combined with the second theme, which (except for Russia) was the question of nationalism. The East Europeans had always felt oppressed by Russian nationalism. They were satellites.
You put together the two - nationalism and failure of the promises of the movement - and you get 1989. So what I see them doing is doing what everybody else is doing, throwing out the Old Left. Not because they don't want equality, but because they didn't get it that way. Now briefly they think they may get it through the market. O.K. That illusion went very fast. If you take all of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, there isn't a single country, not one, in which the Communist Party or ex-Communist Party (because of course by now it has changed its name) and so forth hasn't improved its electoral situation since its initial fall. Now that's not because they believe in this anymore. It's just that now they are just voting for something slightly better in some immediate sense, without any illusion.
Now what has this got to do with the triumph of capitalism? My argument is that one of the things that sustained the political equilibrium of the system for the last 50 years at least, if not longer, has been the fact that you had these Old Left movements in power. These Old Left movements in power preached a very reformist gradualist line. They said we're in power, don't throw us out, we'll do better next year, just wait, another Left government will come into power somewhere. It will improve, your children will eat better, and so forth. They were in fact the people who were saying don't rock the boat. They're all kicked out now. And they were believed, up to a point, about don't rock the boat because they had credentials. They were the 'left'. They were the workers' representatives, or the peoples' representatives or whatever and a certain number of people still believed that. Right? But they're out now. Nobody is there who is credible who is dampening down so I say what's really happened is you removed the major restraining forces on radical political activity around the world. And that's the last thing that people in power in the world-system really want.
I don't think it's accidental that the Western world reacted so cautiously to the overthrow of Communism. I mean they applaud it retrospectively, but if you look at their politics as it actually occurred, they weren't sure what line to take. It was certainly not a picture of them screaming and yelling "overthrow" "overthrow" "overthrow". I know that Reagan said I want the Berlin Wall to come down. But that was formal ideology. But when they really broke the wall down it was a little bit scary. And it's a little bit scary because the intelligent among them knew that these governments that actually were their supposed enemies were serving the larger interests by being a dampening force. I see the dampening force essentially removed. Now if that were all, it might not be enough. But I try to outline in the book and maybe I won't do it in detail because that'll give the story away, but I try to outline in the book three long-term structural processes which are squeezing profits worldwide, and therefore are impinging on the ability of capitalists to maintain a process of the endless accumulation of capital. Now the three are long term, they're structural, and I don't think they're reversible. They just get worse. And if you have those three processes, and at the same time, you remove what I think of as holding the lid on a bubbling cauldron which is the 1989 that removed that lid, the two together create the crisis situation which I try to describe in chapter two.
You know, and this is something that isn't in the book, so we can talk about it, today there's a so-called East Asian crisis. I said I would talk a little bit about why East Asia was the exception of doing badly in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. You will find that in any Kondratieff B-period, there is a process of delocalization of industry and somebody benefits from it. Everybody doesn't do badly in a B period. Most people do badly, but everybody doesn't. And usually one small area profits because that's the area, for whatever reason, into which these industries move. Now basically this time that area was East Asia. Therefore you have the incredible rise of Japan followed by the rise of South Korea and Taiwan and so forth and so on, the four dragons and then other countries. And then you have the so-called Asian crisis of the last two years, which again, I find totally unsurprising because now you have to think of East Asia as one of the three major loci of the capitalist world-system - western Europe, North America and East Asia. For thirty years they have been moving unemployment back and forth between them. They've been trying to force each other to bear the brunt of the downturn. And it keeps going. So this I think is just East Asia's turn. They did very well, forcing it on the United States and to western Europe, but now it's their turn.
One of the interesting things is that we have an East Asian crisis, and all of a sudden everybody gets agitated, excited. They start finding all sorts of reasons why East Asian capitalism is the wrong kind. It's crony capitalism. It's this, it's that. The same people five years earlier, two years earlier, were saying how this was a magical new system that the United States should copy and that they had really figured out how to do it right. Now they figured out how to do it wrong. And so what happens? Well the IMF (which has become incidentally powerful only recently - you never heard of the IMF in the 1950's and 1960's) enters the picture. (The IMF gets powerful only as of the 1980's; in part that's because the U.S. can't do things alone. It's a weakening of U.S. power and they have to operate via the IMF. But leave that aside.) IMF comes in and says o.k. Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, you've done things wrong. So we're going to lend you money, but you have to do x, y, z, etc. etc. etc. You know all that. The various governments react in different ways, but more or less they feel they have to go along largely. Some all the way, some only 90% of the way. But they go along with the IMF. Now this doesn't seem to solve the problem in some countries. It gets worse. In Indonesia, it got worse. They then had a political uprising. In Thailand it hasn't solved the problem. Now one of the interesting things that is suddenly occurring is you get right wing criticism of the IMF. Not left wing. But they sound like left wingers. If you read Henry Kissinger, the World Bank, George Schultz or Jeffrey Sachs and what they say about the IMF, you'd think it was the New Left Review. It's the most extraordinary because they say they are demanding unreasonable things of these countries. The IMF. They're not taking account of the social consequences. How you can't do that. You have to provide safety nets. You have to go more slowly. I mean this is language from the right wing. But if you read why they are saying this, it comes out very clearly, especially in Kissinger's comments. He says well look, you know what's going to happen now. He says, because of the IMF, we're going to have political turmoil that we can't control. And that's the thing we have to worry about most. So I say Henry Kissinger is really agreeing with my analysis of 1989. He is worried about political turmoil in all these countries, turmoil that the U.S. cannot control or the Western world cannot control, that it will get out of hand. Before they could make a deal with the Russians, and those people would control it. But now you can't make a deal. You have to have some credible person to control it. People aren't around. So Henry Kissinger draws the conclusion, well the only thing we can do maybe is give in to them a little bit. Maybe redistribute a little bit because the IMF is too strict. But he's clearly worried, and I take that as vindication. His worry is vindication of my point of view.
Paik: You have anticipated my question, but all the same I'm glad you brought up the Asian economic crisis because I was much impressed by your paper "The So-called Asian Crisis: Geopolitics in the Longue Duree", which I understand you gave in Minneapolis in March 1998. In that paper you were indeed doing something very different from 'chasing after the headlines'. You were trying to see the crisis in terms of three longer temporalities - two conjunctural, one structural: the conjunctural being the Kondratieff B-cycle the world-economy is still going through, and then the decline of U.S. hegemony you insist has been proceeding since the early 1970s; and then the structural crisis that, as you have been saying, the historical capitalism has already entered. So in that long term perspective, what has recently happened to East Asia, and whether or not Korea will be like Brazil in five years, is not really such a dramatic thing.
Wallerstein: That's right. I think that East Asia will in the next 10 years emerge, as what it has been in the 1980's, one of the relatively strong, if not the strongest, economic zone in the world. I certainly think that of Japan. But Japan can't do it alone. It needs East Asia as part of it. Now there are, I would say, two big question marks in what's going to happen in East Asia. One is called China and one is called Korea. I think the way to look at the Chinese problem is, that it is 'a lonely giant'. I don't think anybody likes China. Everybody respects China. And China thinks very well of itself. It's the Middle Kingdom. It's got 5000 years. And it certainly feels that it is not playing the role in the world today, in 1998 or the end of the twentieth century, that it merits. So I think that's the first element. The second element is a country which for 5000 years has had the rise and fall of world-empires. One after another. They're called dynasties. I mean basically a unit expands to more or less the area we call China and then it lasts a while and begins to crumble. Another one comes. And most recently of course the twentieth century or the first half of the twentieth century was one of the bad periods for China. It was a period during which the whole place fell apart. It was basically Civil War going on all that time. And basically what the Chinese Communist Party did was reunite China. That's what it sees as its great achievement. That hasn't changed whether we're talking of Mao or Deng or anybody else. And that they all agree on. That's the achievement. If the Chinese are so tight politically at the moment, if they really are repressing all kinds of dissidents, it's because they are desperately worried. This may not be the right way to handle it but I think it's the motivation, they're desperately worried that China could again fall apart. Particularly worried I think about the consequences of economic development. On the one hand they need to become much stronger economically in order to sustain a military, in order to sustain China's political position in the world, and its glory and so forth and so on. So they want it very very much. And on the other hand, they're quite aware of its geographical polarization within China inevitably. And in particular, for all sorts of reasons, Guangdong is way ahead of Northern China. That's an old battle of the North versus the South and Shanghai in the middle.
The north has of course got the government and the south has all these commercial links with the outside world. And I can see the Chinese sitting around and saying well, you know what, what would really happen if the southeast tried to secede de facto? I think that explains Taiwan. It's less getting Taiwan back than its symbolic value of really holding the state together. Of course it also has military reasons. And it has emotional reasons. So on the other hand, the main mechanism they're using for this is very contradictory. It's a combination of a political strong hand with an economic opening. It's very difficult to play that game. And along is coming Japan and saying "you know, be part of our sort of, I hate to say it, greater East Asia prosperity sphere. Be part of this new East Asian bloc. You can play an important role in it. We are sort of the leader of it. We'll invest, and you do this and that." And the Chinese say, yes but are those good terms? Yeah we want to do something, but we can bargain. After all, we're China. That's only Japan, etc. So it's hard bargaining with Japan. It's hard bargaining with each other. I think it would be a bold person who would predict exactly what it's going to look like 10 or 15 years from now. So two possibilities. It can hold together very well, they can make a very good deal with Japan which they'll be satisfied with at least for a while. Or it can begin to fall apart. If it begins to fall apart, it can have all kinds of repercussions for East Asia.
And the same thing is with Korea. It seems to me Korea is of course a tinder box. Everybody's worried that from one day to the next a war will break out, one it's hard to contain. The Japanese are worried, the Americans are worried, the Chinese are worried, the Russians are worried, and the Koreans are worried. Everybody's worried. I can understand that. I would worry too if I were in Korea. And you told us yourself all the problems about reuniting. It doesn't look like an easy task. And of course everybody would like a reunification on their terms. But a reunification on some third basis no one is quite sure about. I think the only people who would like a reunification on some third basis is the Chinese. Because I don't think they have any more real commitment to the North Korean regime. And I think they say we'll never get the United States militarily out of East Asia as long as Korea is not reunified. They're the one strong force for unification. I think the Japanese are unsure. The Americans are unsure, the South Koreans are unsure, the North Koreans are surely unsure, the Russians don't matter at the moment very much anyway. Maybe they will again, but for the moment they don't. So I don't know you see. If Korea is reunited on some third basis, neither like the south nor like the north, well it might be a very stabilizing force because it could hold a kind of balance between China and Japan. So I can see that as geopolitically positive and therefore increasing the likelihood that the three would work together coherently. Of course if they had a war who knows what would happen. It would be nuclear weapons and God knows what else. So it's also a question mark. On the one hand, I'm pretty clear that East Asia is going to emerge in the next A-phase as not only strong but probably the strongest center, but that on the assumption that China holds together one way or another and Korea gets reunified one way or another and those are two big question marks which is just too uncertain at least for me. As an analyst not a specialist at all in the area as I see it, those are very hard to predict uncertain developments.
Paik: About getting the third way. My own notion of a 'division system' encompassing the Korean peninsula proposes a new way of looking at things conducive to this kind of achievement. That is, instead of thinking chiefly about choosing between northern terms and southern terms, why not posulate a certain collusion as well as hostile competition between the vested interests on both sides and then conceptualize entirely different interest on the part of the ordinary people on both sides, however different they may be once you went into the particulars.
Wallerstein: You sort of see a two-state solution but with defusing the antagonism?
Paik: No. No. I mean a 'division system' as something to abolish and overcome. But instead of seeing the situation primarily in terms of the two states confronting each other, or of other relevant states whether China, the United States or Japan, I see a system or regime which comprizes both states, but then not a complete system either, but a sort of a sub-system of the world-system, and one opposed to the interest of most of the ordinary people, north and south, and serving to oppose the general interest of the ordinary people worldwide. And the so-called third way would depend on how much input we get from the ordinary people in the reunification process.
Wallerstein: But the two states have to permit the input. At the moment both states forbid de facto any link between the ordinary citizens of the two states. The north certainly forbids it and the south is not much less rigid.
Paik: But the input doesn't have to be a concerted movement from the start and also the input can take various forms. For instance, democratization on one side is certainly bad news for the whole system and for the vested interest on both sides, though not necessarily to the same degree.
Wallerstein: Well, I mean, we could discuss what ought to be done. Though I scarcely have enough political information to play much role in that. I'm more interested in predicting what is likely to be done. In other words if what ought to be done were done, what would we end up with? A confederal structure of loose kinds of political links between the two states with a lot of cultural and economic interchange and therefore political interchange because people would read each other area's magazines and newspapers and so forth? That sounds good. I certainly think it sounds good, and I think it would have a certain amount of support in South Korea. I'm not sure how much. At the moment I don't see the signs that it will have much support in North Korea but that may be because I can't see what's going on in North Korea. North Korea remains a very secretive state.
Paik: In your picture of East Asia becoming a very strong part of the world-economy say in five or ten years, were'nt you postulating some kind of reunified Korea?
Wallerstein: I'm postulating some kind of serious defusion of the military tension, which is unlikely if there isn't some kind of coming together. But it would be enough for the economics of it, if you defused the military tension, if you didn't have these enormous armies on each side of a frontier actually at alert all the time. Lots of countries in the world have frontiers but there aren't many frontiers that are as well armed and constantly guarded as the frontier between North and South Korea.
Paik: That's right. And I think there are shall we say certain structural reasons for this unusually severe form of confrontation and disconnection. It's the kind of system that cannot be sustained without resorting to such extreme measures. That is why once there begins to be a limited amount of defusion, the whole system would get rapidly destabilized.
Wallerstein: That might help. And that's happened before. In other words, you are giving me a scenario which I would call the Gorbachev scenario. Once something happens which loosens the tightness of the system, you can't control the pace anymore. Then it loosens very quickly.
Paik: Unravels so that it would either trigger a new war, which would be disastrous, or lead to something similar to what happened in Germany, which also would be disastrous for economic and other reasons. Or something quite different from either and much better. So a 'Gorbachev scenario' only in a certain sense.
Wallerstein: I gather South Korea's very worried that if Germany was thrown by it economically, South Korea would surely be thrown by economically. Especially since I think the case that you'd have to pour even more money into North Korea than the west Germans had to pour into the east Germans.
Paik: Exactly. We had to go to the IMF for rescue even without having taken on the burden of North Korea. If we had to 'absorb' North Korea, we'd probably have to go to the IMF every year, and for much larger sums.
Wallerstein: But somebody has to do something to help North Korea....
Paik: Yes, especially by immediately helping the North Korean population to survive the food crisis, and then in the reunification process, by ensuring a certain stability through an interim stage of confederation. So I don't think the so-called third way, something different from either the present condition of north or south, is such an unrealistic one. We are not advocating that merely because it's something that ought to be done.
Wallerstein: You are saying it's a plausible alternative and I'm not in a position to really comment on how really plausible it is. I hear you and if it happens that way that will certainly solve the larger problem of what is likely to happen in terms of the economic development of East Asia in general. Of course if you have my black scenario for the whole world over the next 30-40 years, with a kind of pervasive anti-statism all over the place, it's not of course totally impossible that Korea will not escape this black scenario in one form or another. The black scenario can in fact take the form of lots of local wars. You know North Korea perhaps has atomic weapons, or could have them from one day to the next, I'm certain of that. I suspect South Korea possibly has them as well. I suspect a lot of countries do. And I think nuclear proliferation is absolutely unstoppable. That we'll have 30 or 40 nuclear powers within 20 years. We will also have germ warfare and chemical warfare, which are truly unstoppable because it's so cheap and so easy to get weapons that are so powerful. So all you can have is moral pressure but that obviously isn't enough. I think the reality of people all over the world having very terrible weapons easily available is here. We're there already. And anything in the next 5, 10, 15 years will get worse, so there may be lots of little wars all over the place which will be nasty. That's one of the possibilities of this black period. If there were lots of little wars, so another one in Korea. I mean you know, why not?
Paik: But I think Korea, precisely because it's such a tinderbox, is more likely to prove an exception in this particular respect because another war in Korea will not be one of those 'little wars'.
Wallerstein: You're saying both sides have so much weaponry. At this point, the minute the war started they'd sort of wipe each other out.
Paik: Not only the two Koreas, but the United States itself is openly committed to even using nuclear weapons.
Wallerstein: That's right.
Paik: And some people in the United States would be very eager to use them.
Wallerstein: And first strike. And first strike.
Paik: So in that respect, Korea may be more likely to escape your scenario for the black period - in that particular respect. I mean we are of course liable to other misfortunes of this difficult transition. You could say we are already experiencing one of them in the form of the severe food shortage and apparently widespread malnutrition in North Korea, something that on your analysis would not have happened in the pre-1989 period, I mean not in a place like North Korea. But when I speak of a more hopeful alternative to the division system, I am trying to profit from every possible opening to create a site for an alternative scenario within this black period, not only for the sake of us Koreans, but because we absolutely need a nnumber of such sites if we are really to build a better historical system than what we have. And I feel that our looking at the situation in Korean peninsula in terms of the division system versus the people, rather than as a confrontation of the two states, or two ideologies, or what not, and looking at the division system in turn as a local operation of the world-system, helps to mobilize popular energies both locally and worldwide and to open up new possibilities for understanding and changing the world-system itself. I would imagine this is more germane to your intellectual interests.
Wallerstein: Absolutely, I mean here I can say good luck. I mean you know, you're trying to solve a local problem which, if you solve it or get anywhere near solving it, will help everybody else. I couldn't agree more. And you're outlining a political strategy that might work in Korea. I think the rest of the world won't sit by. The U.S. will certainly get its finger in the pie because the U.S. has too much invested in its links with South Korea and its military role there to accept a truly popular alternative to the southern terms.
There are some people in Japan who would be equally worried because Japan - I haven't talked about Japan. Japan faces a very elementary political problem, which is its defeat in the second World War, and the fact that it had a large militaristic group in power before that has been evicted from power, creates a very special political problem for it. It can't simply re-arm. Not yet. There would be too much objection within Japan from people worried about militarism and too much objection from Korea and China, not to speak of other countries in South and Southeast Asia. You know they would raise a firestorm internally and externally. On the other hand, it's an important country. It needs a military umbrella. So if it can't do it itself, it must have the U.S. The U.S. is its military umbrella, its only military guarantee. Not merely against some mythical enemy, but for some real possibilities. For example, the Chinese could get out of hand. Or at least the Japanese worry about that. So they want a military umbrella. So they don't want the U.S. out of East Asia. If the U.S. troops had to withdraw from Korea they might have to withdraw from Japan and Okinawa as well. I mean there's a certain logic of public opinion both in East Asia and in the U.S. that would call for that. So these people would be unhappy if tensions got defused.
It's quite interesting to compare Japan and Germany. Of course Germany had the same problem. Germany could solve its problem in a way that Japan could not. Germany solved its problem by becoming enthusiastic participants in the European Union. And the European Union will build up the army. I'm convinced in the next 15 years there will be a strong European army. In the case of Japan, the political configuration of East Asia is not such as to make this possible. There are too few countries as opposed to Europe which has a lot more. Germany could make a deal with France, its big enemy, and be submerged in a union of twelve countries or fifteen countries. It passed, it passed internally in Germany and it passed in the neighbors. But Japan hasn't got that option. That's one of the reasons why I'm convinced that Japan will stay close to the U.S. - its interest is having this military cover.
Paik: You have persuasively argued the point that a third way that presupposes the withdrawal of U.S. troops cannot be easy. Yet I don't think reunification on popular initiatives need to make it a top priority, because even North Korean authorities don't seem at heart eager for a total withdrawal, given the threat of Japan's growing military strength. But questions of political cooperation apart, it is your (nowadays rather unfashionable) contention that Japan will soon surpass the United States economically. Indeed, yesterday you even said that in ten years Japan would buy up the United States.
Wallerstein: I said that, yes. That's of course a bit metaphorical. But yes I think so and Arrighi said they already tried that and failed. All I think was they stepped too fast, too strong, met some counteraction by U.S. financial interest, but in this pingpong game the U.S. interest will see that they've stepped too far. They are trying now to force their way into Japanese banks. The Japanese are not going to let them in. They've said so in no uncertain terms and they're of course right from their point of view. It would put them back economically enormously to let the U.S. take over their banks in effect. And what Japan has and even Arrighi admitted that they have it, is they've got the capital, which the U.S. doesn't have. It's in U.S. Treasury Bonds. If Japan were really to pull out of U.S. Treasury Bonds, U.S. doesn't have the money. The U.S. is not strong enough, no longer strong enough, to do it on its own. The deal I see is very simple. They become the junior partner economically to Japan, and they become the senior partner militarily at least for the next 20-30 years. And they have a making of a very strong self-interested alliance which makes sense on both sides. The U.S. gets the best economic deal it could get under the circumstances and Japan doesn't have to worry about building up a major force, which is also economically good for it. It's also politically good for it of course in the long run. Thirty years from now they may see it differently. Who knows? But I'm talking about a medium run. A quarter of a century, they are not going to build up a major military force.
Paik: Well, in speculating the next candidate for hegemony in the world-system, the probable successor to the United States, you have always given special weight to Japan....
Wallerstein: It's Japan, no doubt, except....
Paik: Well, the precise phrase that you used in the paper "The so-called Asian Crisis"was "Japan or Japan/China or Japan/East Asia." Now, I think each of these terms really means something quite different.
Wallerstein: I appreciate that.
Paik: Of course you have also gone on record as saying that you don't expect a 'normal' succession of hegemons to take place, because the whole historical system has entered its terminal structural crisis.
Wallerstein: So I don't have to solve my problem. But it is a little hard to see exactly. It's a question of well, you know I come back to all those uncertainties: will China hold together, will Korea reunify, what kind of deal can China make with Japan which will condition the deal that Korea can get. Korea is less powerful, it happens to be a little stronger in its economic institutions right now than China, but it's a much smaller country. And so forth and so on. So, I don't know whether it's Japan so clearly by itself or de facto in tandem with China or with East Asia which means also Korea and maybe one or two others. I find that very difficult to spell out. In the past we have talked of a single hegemonic power. Could it be a duo or something, I don't know. But I don't believe it's going to occur, even if we're moving in that direction. I think all processes will be aborted because of the crisis of the world-system. I kind of don't worry about solving that particular problem.
Paik: Well, I don't worry about that too much either but, just to give my feeling rather than analysis, I find it difficult to imagine Japan by itself taking on this role.
Wallerstein: For what reason? Is it cultural? That it doesn't have that self-image, or is it for reasons of its size, or....
Paik: Cultural, yes. I think the cultural factors are important and there is also the question of political leadership, which basically may be the same thing. If Japan had political leadership commensurate with its economic prowess, it might be able to go it alone but then it would also be better able to link up with China in a mutually satisfactory way and thus the two together would make a much stronger candidate for hegemony. But if it is true that Japan by itself is insufficient - no, let me put it this way: If Japan can improve its cultural and political abilities enough to take on its hegemonic role, things would get even easier for the Japan/China partnership. But as a matter of fact I find it hard to envisage any real working relationship between Japan and China without the mediating role of Korea, but Korea itself would have to improve its ability to take on this mediating role - through reunification of some sort, as you yourself have justly observed. So in the end - always assuming this talk is rather academic - the most likely candidate would be 'Japan/East Asia', meaning Japan, China, plus Korea performing its indispensable role.
Wallerstein: Well, you may be right and I certainly wouldn't argue against that. That's why I put it in the paper. The paper reflects my uncertainty, or less my uncertainty as my feeling that the various alternatives have some arguments for them. And that it doesn't really from the point of the world-system as a whole matter too much which of the alternatives would prevail. Meaning if you sit in the United States or you sit in South Africa or Brazil, I don't think that it was Japan or Japan/China or Japan/East Asia makes a whole lot of difference.
Paik: So I think given the structural crisis the more interesting question to ask would be what role Japan or Japan/China or Japan/East Asia could or would play in this transition in the direction of a better world.
Wallerstein: Well, one of the problems of course about it, and it really does apply to China, Japan and Korea all three, is I have never had the feeling in any of the three countries shall I say that they have a world view. They have an East Asian view and they know the rest of the world exists. I think there is a sense in which they all share the idea, the middle empire and the rest of the world was sort of circling around them and if they are not so recognized, well that's bad but that's the way it ought to be. Obviously if you want to play the role of hegemon, one of the things you have to do is claim to have a universal message. To claim to have something which is good for everybody whether that something is called civilization or democracy or something. But you have to have a sort of evangelistic mission to impose good upon the world in some way. And I'm not sure that that has been a very strong cultural feature of the region.
Paik: That's precisely one of the reasons why I said that Japan is unlikely to assume hegemony on its own. Of course, your point applies to other East Asian countries as well and so to Japan/East Asia too, in their present condition, but I was not speaking in terms of these states but rather of the area 'Japan/East Asia' as a site or sites of antisystemic movements -
Paik: That may contribute to the creation of a more humane historical system.
Wallerstein: Sure, of course.
Paik: And that of course brings us back to 'utopistics'.
Wallerstein: O.K. Antisystemic movements are important. Are likely to emerge everywhere and the more different areas in which they arise and the more different forms they take, the more powerful collectively they'll be as far as I'm concerned. So yes, it becomes very important and in that sense, it gets us into an analysis of how strong such movements have been. If you look at Japan. Well they have been. If I were to do some comparative politics, yes there have been such movements in Japan. Are they stronger than the U.S., France, India? I'm not sure. My impression is less strong. Korea, well of course there were all these movements against dictatorship, but that's not enough. What you need is movements now. I don't know enough about Korea to say anything, but don't see them. And China, they surely haven't existed. I mean what you are getting now is the emergence of the dissidents. Dissidents are fine. They're noble. But they don't represent mass movements generally in most countries and it's very hard to know how much support they get if it were a less repressive atmosphere. But the point is it is a repressive atmosphere and movements. It's very hard to create movements underground. You can do it. Then you have to work underground. Then you have to have a kind of serious kind of Leninist movement. Very structured, very controlling. Work secretively. And yes, over the years you can create a fairly strong underground but if you do that then the group wants to take power and so forth. The kind of movements that are open, participatory, multiple, well it takes a kind of political education. It takes time. I mean China hasn't even begun that.
Paik: Well, I agree for the most part. But if liberal geoculture began to break only in 1968, and if we have really entered the transition period since say 1989, the alternative movements are bound to be at a very elementary stage.
Wallerstein: And movements can grow up very fast. I mean you take something like the women's movement. Twenty five years ago it started essentially in the U.S. and western Europe. And even western Europe was behind. Now suddenly you just sort of see it everywhere. I mean there is a real one in India, there is a real one in South Africa, there's a real one in all kinds of places. I don't know about Korea. But I mean really strong. And so these movements can begin to flourish and certainly in discussing what kinds of movements exist elsewhere, and what possibilities there are, we have to remember that, and discussing the issues is an important thing that can be done. And can stimulate the growth of some of these movements and movements need practice. For which you can use the Marxist term praxis, but it's the same thing really. What you mean is they have to learn by doing. There's a lot of learning involved in creating a serious social movement. So you have to start somewhere. Usually locally. Usually at small things that get bigger.
Paik: Would you care to comment on the three points that I brought out this morning at the conference? Actually you did comment on one of them, but I cited three points where a south Korean project of overcoming the division system and overcoming modernity might have some global significance and perahps something to contribute to world-systems analysis.
Wallerstein: Would you restate those three for me?
Paik: Sure. One was the importance of having a national project that would be open to both the global and local perspectives. True, you should start from the small things, but sometimes the local projects are too small and fragmented to have much global impact, whereas the global projects tend to be too vague and far-fetched. So it is important to have a national project whenever and wherever you can, as an intermediate term to connect the local with the global. Of course my notion is that precisely in divided Korea and particularly in South Korea today that kind of national project is possible as we move to overcome the division system through maximum popular input. And while it's important to get over the idea that right people in power will solve the whole problem, we shouldn't neglect either the continuing importance of state power. Even more vital, I think, is the effort to create new and innovative state structures, and experiments in Korea's reunification process for a new compound state to suit the needs of the people of this peninsula should count as one example.
That was one point. The other two were more theoretical ones but also with practical implications. The second one concerned the notion of dao or the Way, as a possibility of combining the pursuit of the true and the good in a more intimate way than what you speculate when in criticizing the modern separation of the two you say they should be "persued in tandem." Now as I was trying to explain, dao in the East Asian tradition is sort of equivalent to the Truth with a capital T: not propositional truth but more like when for instance Jesus says -
Wallerstein: "I am the way..."
Paik: Yes, "I am the way, the truth and life," and so on. So it means truth but also necessarily involves praxis, automatically involves praxis and the practice of cultivating and pursuing the good and rightful way. So by somehow combining such a notion of Truth with the modern European notion of rational truth or rather subsuming the latter in a new conception of dao....
Wallerstein: As an intellectual project that sounds very interesting. I will merely say that this question of dao should be discussed not only among yourselves, it might be worth discussing with non-East Asian intellectuals.
Wallerstein: Yes, I would certainly welcome it. I mean that sounds very useful.
Paik: Now my third point, the suggestion that we might need a certain hierarchy of wisdom in order to implement the very project of a more egalitarian world is actually a corollary of this notion of dao because if you postulate this kind of Way then you must also admit real differences in the degree of one's approach to or progress on that Way. How far you have traveled along that path. And unless these differences are freely recognized by individuals and those less advanced on that road voluntarily submit to those farther ahead, then either there would be a complete chaos and dao would not be realized, or you would continue to need undemocratic control and coercion. That is the context in which I brought up this problem, and you were good enough to comment on it this morning, although you expressed certain skepticism....
Wallerstein: About dao?
Paik: About the hierarchy of wisdom.
Wallerstein: Oh well, the hierarchy of wisdom. I think it's a very interesting idea. I want to be cautious about it because I'm not quite sure what it involves since you insist that it does not involve other kinds of hierarchies and how it would differ from the arguments of scientists which is quite regularly that they have wisdom to which others must defer in all sorts of ways. An argument of which I'm skeptical. But I said it points to a question which I think is very important. It isn't enough to say that you don't like the present system because it isn't egalitarian and it isn't democratic and that you want a system that's more so. Because we have to think of not only what kind of structures might make for a more democratic, more egalitarian system, but what that has to say about the fact that everybody is not alike so that we have to say the non likenesses don't mean that one group should eat more than others or x more than others. But it might mean a certain deference to others, which you call a hierarchy of wisdom. I'm wondering whether that's a good phrase. Because what you really mean is that if we're dealing with physicists, people who have no competence might defer to the wisdom of physicists. Of course the physicists might defer to the competence of musicians. And musicians might defer to the competence of mechanics. And now if you were saying that, you'd be saying that everybody has some skills and we all ought to recognize that everybody in this corner shall do the things which he or she is most competent. Collectively we of course do that all the time. Don't we? You go to physicians and you don't try to intrude your views of what medicine is. You defer to their wisdom. But you also have to pick a physician among multiple people who offer themselves and you don't have very good criteria to judge their relative competence and so forth, so you can get nervous about it. So I think the idea of the hierarchy of wisdom is interesting and ought to be a subject of collective discussion.
Paik: Yes. I think you already have made two very good points. One is that 'hierarchy of wisdom' may not be the right expression in English. 'Hierarchy' almost automatically evokes traditional orders of inequality, and with 'wisdom' what I was actually doing was directly translating a term which has an entirely different resonance in Korean or Chinese.
Paik: Because in the western intellectual tradition as far as I know, wisdom is something that ranks below the knowledge of the truth. Since Aristotle and even Plato.
Wallerstein: Not that it ranks below, but I think it's an alternative kind of term. People who are scientific do not really believe there is such a thing as wisdom. Wisdom has the sense in English of sound judgment.
Paik: Right. It's a good thing to have but not something on the order of the highest intellectual obligation like knowing the truth.
Wallerstein: It's subjective, it's qualitative, it's not objective and quantitative. It's wisdom of the sages. It's the wisdom of the religious figures. You don't say that a scientist is wise. You say that a scientist is highly competent. You say a scientist is top notch. A scientist is an extremely good scientist because he has all the insides to analyze. And so forth and so on. But you don't say he's a wise person.
Paik: Whereas what I meant by wisdom was being further along on the Way...
Wallerstein: Of the dao. Of course. I understand that completely. It has no problem for me. But that is a very East Asian idea that we are all moving along this path. Some of us are further along. It goes along with reincarnation and with the whole idea of constant attempts to come closer to Nirvana or to perfect truth or to dao which means path, doesn't it. Humanity is a process. You proceed in the direction of the true and the good which are then fused because they are the same thing of course.
Paik: Now the other observation you have made is that in a sense we already have this kind of hierarchy of wisdom, or whatever we choose to call it, and we recognize all the time in going to the doctor and so on. That's quite true and I think it's important to remember that fact because one of the comments you made this morning was you rather doubted what kind of operational meaning this 'hierarchy of wisdom' could have. Of course in order to put that into a really meaningful practice we would have to devise all kinds of programs for training and implementation. But it is also important to recognize that in certain things we already have that. I mean it is already in operation as part of our common sense in terms of doctors and mechanics and so on. Especially in any process of real education. You cannot really have a genuine education unless the pupil defers voluntarily, not to the professor but to someone who...
Wallerstein: To the wise man.
Paik: Well, to the wiser person. What I mean is we already have something to start on, that the phrase does have an operational meaning ready for further elucidation and elaboration. It's not just an idea out of the blue.
Wallerstein: I see that.
Paik: Now I am afraid you may be too tired, but may I impose on you just a bit longer. We haven't really discussed the term that constitute the title of your book, but before we do that, I would like to bring up a matter related an earlier work of yours since we have been talking about ways of overcoming the modern structures of knowledge and practice. In the essay called 'The end of what modernity?' that forms a chapter of After Liberalism, you distinguish the 'modernity of technology' and the 'modernity of liberation', affirming the latter over the former. Since the publication of the book's Korean version, this essay has drawn much interest and occasioned a good deal of discussion - but not always profitable discussion, because the lucid sorting out of the 'two modernities' was also bound to appeal to minds addicted to facile classification. But then perhaps the essay itself, with its emphasis on revealing how liberal ideology has worked to establish a simple (and false) identification of the modernity of technology with that of social liberation, doesn't fully allow for the complexities that make the two not quite separable either. For instance, isn't liberation on global scale dependent in important ways on technological progress - maybe even continuing technological progress, though certainly not unlimited production? Another problem I would raise is that it isn't clear in that particular essay - though your other works assert it often enough - that what you call the modernity of liberation cannot be fulfilled within modernity itself.
Wallerstein: I'm not against technology. In fact, I am an avid user of all the latest technology, and wish such conveniences on everyone. But I am for substantive rationality (in Weber's usage: meaning the rationality of ends, or values, and not of means.) A rational society involves choices, and social choices should be collectively and rationally arrived at. What I have been calling the modernity of technology is a system in which technology becomes an unquestioned value, whose benefits are determined by how much it contributes to capital accumulation, and this is not only substantively irrational but extremely pernicious.
And yes, I agree that the modernity of liberation is blocked within our existing world-system and can only go so far. To achieve it fully, the system must break down first, and then be replaced by a system which gives it priority.
Paik: I think we have come very naturally to 'utopistics', another coinage of yours and the subject of your latest book.
Wallerstein: That was a very deliberate attempt to distinguish. Utopia is both a dubious idea and has gotten a bad name. Utopia is a dream of the future which is a dream. And some people have tried to realize their utopias. They dreamt up the perfect world. I don't know if you've read Sir Thomas More's Utopia. Actually when you read it I find it rather horrifying. It's the most undesirable society you could possibly want to be in but he thought it was Utopia. Doesn't matter. In any case that's not very fruitful. What I have tried to say is if you're in a historical system that's in crisis, then in fact you can have input, serious input on what will replace it and there's a range of real historical alternatives. You have to think about, talk about, and decide between and then try to move realistically in that direction all the time, really discussing what our possible historical alternatives. And so I say Utopistics. I invented that word because '-istics' as a suffix in English has the idea of a knowledge activity. It's a knowledge activity about possible ways of seriously improving. Not in minor ways. It's not reformist tinkering, but seriously reconstructing the social order. But it's the seriousness, it's the recognition that you can't just do anything that you're not the philosopher-king manipulating the world. That isn't how it works. You have to talk within the framework of what is plausible and possible even if you want to stretch those possibilities to the limit and move unpredictably in new directions. So I call that utopistics instead of utopia.
Paik: I couldn't agree more. Well, we began by looking back on your intellectual career. Perhaps we could close with one last word about your current and future projects.
Wallerstein: Well I'm engaged in a big project now which is a follow-up to the Gulbenkian Commission Report, in which we're trying to see the historical origin of the concept of the two cultures structuring the world of knowledge. We're trying to look at resistance or opposition to this notion in the last 20-30 years and its multiple forms and try to assess the degree to which it's possible to overcome the two cultures. So that's one activity, it's a collective activity. I am trying to write volume 4 of The Modern World-System which will be on the nineteenth century and which I will certainly build around the idea of the creation of a liberal geoculture as the major achievement of the 19th century world-system That book will also have to deal with what I would call the incorporation of East Asia, the last major area outside. That will certainly be part of the fourth volume. Those are at the moment my two main intellectual projects. And that's enough for the moment.
Paik: Thank you very much for being so generous with your time.
Wallerstein: Thank you.