Alex Callinicos Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World, Polity: Cambridge, 2010; xi + 179 pp.: 9780745648750 45 [pounds sterling] (hbk); 9780745648767 14.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
Bonfire of Illusions is the latest work from the prolific author Mex Callinicos. Callinicos is, of course, an established figure on the Marxist left. Previous works such as Against Postmodernism (Callinicos, 1989) and An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (Callinicos, 2003) demonstrated his ability to dissect comprehensively the inherently problematic nature of capitalism. Moreover, Callinicos has repeatedly shown an ability to engage with scholars from a wide range of disciplines, and has argued persuasively that a Marxist approach to contemporary political economy can yield benefits, even in the 21st century. Bonfire of Illusions focuses Callinicos's critical faculties on the financial crisis of 2008, and upon the war between Russia and Georgia of that year. In the light of these events, he argues that the liberal world is undergoing twin fundamental crises.
This book proceeds from the same basis as that of much of Callinicos's work. He rejects the idea that neoliberal capitalism is best placed to serve society, and places the origins of this idea's popularity in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Callinicos credits work by Francis Fukuyama, in particular The End of History and the Last Man (Fukuyama, 1993), as the intellectual foundation of this belief. Rejected also is the notion that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 signalled the end of the post-Cold War era. For Callinicos, there was much continuity in the period between 1989 and 2008. The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the USA to press ahead with the neoliberalisation of the global economy (trailed in the 1970s in countries such as Chile) under the aegis of 'there is no alternative'. He argues that the events of 2001 served merely to allow the USA to reassert the role of neoliberalism as an ideology and to promote its own hegemony.
Developed in Bonfire of Illusions is Callinicos's belief that neoliberal capitalism's spread has reached a crisis moment. Instead of the market's being allowed to allocate resources without interference, the collapse of Lehman's, the credit crunch that followed and the recession that still persists have all underscored the desirability of state intervention in economic affairs. Further to this undermining of neoliberal ideology, Callinicos identifies the war...