fri 25/05/2018

Bruno Maçães: The Dawn of Eurasia review - middle of nowhere | reviews, news & interviews

Bruno Maçães: The Dawn of Eurasia review - middle of nowhere

Bruno Maçães: The Dawn of Eurasia review - middle of nowhere

Tediously written tract from the centre right makes some mildly interesting points

Bruno Maçães© Allen Lane

Part travelogue and part broad analysis of the current and future challenges facing the EU, the premise of Bruno Maçães’s new book The Dawn of Eurasia is to “use travel to provide an injection of reality of political, economic and historical analyses.”

The central plank of Maçães’s argument is that China and Russia will in the near future be recognised as playing pivotal roles in the way “people, goods, energy, money and knowledge” flow. These flows cross a space he terms “Eurasia” characterised less as a geographic entity than a conceptual space governed by political, economic, and to a far lesser extent, cultural concerns — the abstract site of another great game. Relations between actors (states, unions of countries, economic pacts) within this space are distinguished by “incessant competition between different ideas of how worldwide networks should be organised” and “interdependency”, meaning that “this system is open to change, [and] its rules may be influenced or determined by the choices and actions of the different participants and, as a result, tilted more in favour of some rather than others.” Hack through the blank words, and he seems to be describing globalised capitalism.

Prolixity aside, Asian states are already quite clearly making their economic and political presence felt. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a case in point — it’s not so much that a wholly new system is emerging (as Maçães posits) so much as a fundamental change in the status quo is taking place. Maçães calculates the global economy’s centre of gravity (“the average location of economic activity measured on a globe”) as having shifted from the mid-Atlantic in the 50s, 60s and 70s, to the eastern edge of the EU by the millennium and predicts it will be somewhere between China and India by 2050. Of course many things contributed to this shift historically, and this doesn’t so much devalue his contentions concerning the current and possible future state of the global economy as draw attention to his ardent determinism, devotion to jargon, and over-reliance on some pretty dubious presumptions: “In Europe, where history and progress have been marching ahead for half a millennium, the lines between present and past are, if anything, too neat and precise. In Asia, which until recently lived outside all historical movement, the idea of the past is so new that, paradoxically, it is only now starting to be built and belongs mostly to the future,”or “for the first time in modern history, [Asian countries] are on the same level of historical development while showing no sign of converging with European values.” It’s the fact that Asian states’ priorities and actions are diffuse and do not mimic European ones that Maçães appears to find the greatest challenge.

Bruno MaçãesFor all his claims to be looking to the future, Maçães’s conception of the role Europe will be able to play remains by and large characterised by its current position. The inflexibility leads to some odd arguments. According to Maçães, if Europe is to retain sway in the future’s geopolitics, it needs to take on a more forceful political stance. To this end the March 2016 EU-Turkey Refugee Deal becomes his keystone example of successfully muscular negotiations. He freely admits it as “a betrayal of European values,” but also paints it as a turning point in Europe’s relationship to “the larger unruly world on its doorstep.” He omits to mention how the deal leaves the EU hostage to Turkey, refrains from touching on why so many people are fleeing their home countries, and ducks the question of what is being defended if European values have been hollowed out. For all his acknowledgment of the squalor and tragedy of the situation, to him these people remain trapped in the economic paradigm — they are only numbers.

At another point he complains that Chinese companies are, to all intents, the Chinese state as they respond to state funding which is driven by government policy. “It is not enough for the European Union to uphold its rules and way of life,” he lectures officials from the German Foreign Ministry, “It needs to create a wider environment where they can work effectively.” His subtext is almost a lament that the EU is not set up to exert similarly stringent pressure on its own native businesses. Likewise, his main disappointment in Ukraine not signing the association agreement at Vilnius appears to be that the EU lost the opportunity of having a backyard. Fair enough, but it’s a pretty unsubtle argument which once again ignores the policy implications of life-as-lived.

The Dawn of Eurasia is unashamedly centre right — and that’s all well and good — but its flabby writing could be condensed down to a few dense policy pages. Maçães is well read but he’s also a pedant. And if after a long stay in Baku it is still possible to write: “Lost between so many warring empires, Azerbaijanis have long ago learned not to aspire to a linear, progressive history,” it’s worth asking what kind of reality he considers his travels injected into his analyses.

 

Comments

Not sure you geopolitical context. Think the book is pretty beyond any mundane left-right paradigms. He is talking about the European tendency to view the world system as an extension of it's own political system. It's about describing a historical moment in European history that in someway mirrors the moment that European modernism triumphed over Eastern empires several centuries ago - not sure he is exactly holding up the refugee deal as a symbolic triumph, he is arguing that this is an example of the harsh realities of an external world, and the fact that Europe cannot avoid uncomfortable compromise.

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