Forty years ago, a book entitled The Greening of America caused a sensation. On the cover were these words: "There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual." I was a correspondent in the United States at the time and recall the overnight elevation to guru status of the author, a young Yale academic, Charles Reich. His message was that political action had failed and only "culture" and introspection could change the world. This merged with an insidious corporate public relations campaign aimed at reclaiming western capitalism from the sense of freedom inspired by the civil rights and anti-war movements. The new propaganda's euphemisms were postmodernism, consumerism and "me-ism".
The self was now the zeitgeist. Driven by the forces of profit and the media, the search for individual consciousness all but overwhelmed the spirit of social justice and internationalism. A new deity was proclaimed; the personal was the political.
In 1995, Reich published Opposing the System, in which he recanted almost everything in The Greening of America. "There will be no relief from either economic insecurity or human breakdown," he now wrote, "until we recognise that uncontrolled economic forces create conflict, not well-being . . ." There were no queues in the bookstores this time. In the age of economic neoliberalism, Reich was out of step with the rampant individualism of the west's new political and cultural elite.
The revival of militarism in the west and the search for a new "threat" following the end of the cold war depended on the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a vehement opposition. On 11 September 2001, they were silenced finally, and many were co-opted into the "war on terror". The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was supported by leading feminists, especially in the US, where Hillary Clinton and other false tribunes of feminism made the Taliban's treatment of Afghan women the rationale for attacking a stricken country and causing the deaths of at least 20,000 people while giving the Taliban new life. That the warlords backed by America were as medievalist as the Taliban was not allowed to interrupt such a right-on cause. The zeitgeist, the years of "personal" depoliticising and distracting true radicalism, had worked. Nine years later, the disaster that is Afghanistan is the consequence.....read more