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Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World Paperback – 19 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1st edition (19 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745648762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745648767
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.5 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 432,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"A superb book which exhibits engaging though authoritative scholarship of a kind which is sadly too rare."
Sociological Imagination

"As one would expect from Callinicos, this book is forensic in its detail and is a useful tool in the armoury of anyone who wishes to see beyond the platitudes of the yellow press."
Morning Star

"A powerful critique; a serious engagement with a crucial contemporary debate."
Political Studies Review

"An important book for anybody wanting an introduction to how Marxist political economy can help to understand the times in which we live."
Marx and Philosophy

"The crisis of 2007–9 is an event of historic importance that has affected economy, society and politics. Callinicos analyses its causes within the broader development of capitalism in recent decades. Particularly relevant is his stress on financialisation as well as the implications he draws regarding the balance of imperial power across the world. Written with the author′s customary skill, this is a welcome contribution from the left to the public debate."
Costas Lapavitsas, SOAS, University of London

From the Back Cover

Something dramatic happened in the late summer and autumn of 2008. The post–Cold War world came to an abrupt end. This was the result of two conjoined crises. First, in its brief war with Georgia in August 2008, Russia asserted its military power to halt the expansion of NATO to its very borders. Secondly, on 15 September 2008, the Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed. This precipitated a severe financial crash and helped to push the world economy into the worst slump since the 1930s.

Both crises marked a severe setback for the global power of the United States, which had driven NATO expansion and forced through the liberalization of financial markets. More broadly they challenged the consensus that had reigned since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 that a US–orchestrated liberal capitalist order could offer the world peace and prosperity. Already badly damaged by the Iraq debacle, this consensus has now suffered potentially fatal blows.

In Bonfire of Illusions Alex Callinicos explores these twin crises. He traces the credit crunch that developed in 2007–8 to a much more protracted crisis of overaccumulation and profitability that has gripped global capitalism since the late 1960s. He also confronts the interaction between economic and geopolitical events, highlighting the new assertiveness of nation–states and analysing the tense, complex relationship of interdependence and conflict that binds together the US and China. Finally, in response to the revelation that the market is not the solution to the world′s problems, Callinicos reviews the prospects for alternatives to capitalism.

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Diziet on 20 Jun. 2010
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After the end of the Cold War, Alex Callinicos suggests, there was a short period where it appeared that we had reached 'The End of History' in the sense that:

'liberal capitalism was the only rationally acceptable socio-economic framework for a modern society and that a widening circle of liberal democracies could offer the world benign global governance.' (P2)

The general assumption is that the belief that 'history had ended' was shattered with the attacks of 9/11. Callinicos questions this assumption, pointing out that:

'[o]n the contrary, in its response to the attacks, the administration of George W Bush sought strenuously to reaffirm and reinforce US hegemony'. (P2)

Instead, Callinicos situates the break in 2008. The financial crash and its continuing aftermath clearly shows the falsity of a 'benign capitalism', and the war between Russia and Georgia, Callinicos suggests, also demonstrates the end of a 'widening circle of liberal democracies'.

The book is basically divided into two sections, with a conclusion at the end. The first, and longest, is titled 'Finance Humbled', the second 'Empire Confined'.

In 'Finance Humbled', Callinicos takes a long view of the current crisis, comparing it with the Great Depression, but also offering a fairly in-depth analysis in Marxist terms.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Germinal TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 April 2010
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`The Bonfire of Illusions' examines the causes and significance of two events in the summer of 2008; the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of global economic crisis and the war that Georgia started with Russia but lost.

Unusually, but perceptively, Callinicos links these two events within an understanding of the system of capitalist imperialism.

Callinicos explores various explanations as to why the global financial crisis occurred and how this leads to a wider economic crisis. He settles upon a Marxist understanding based on long term problems of over-accumulation and falls in the rate of profitability. Callinicos here provides a comparatively short and snappy overview of complex debates.

Callinicos then explores US imperialism since the end of the Cold War and how, in certain areas of the world, local powers are able to successfully challenge US hegemony. Due to US overstretch in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US was unable to aid it's protégé in Georgia which was, consequently, defeated. The fact that the US is also suffering an economic crisis means that other such reverses become possible. The US will still be the prime world power for the foreseeable future, Callinicos argues, but has had to shift tactics under Obama in an attempt to remain so. Thus the two events, financial crisis and the Georgian military defeat, are a product of the capitalist system.

Callinicos then proceeds to examine ways in which the capitalist system might get out of the current crisis and looks at the socialist alternative.

Recommended as a clear-sighted analysis of the world as it is.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rob Julian on 29 May 2011
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Perhaps like other readers, the dramatic failings of the established free market system in recent years has led me to make an excursion into this area of radical left wing or Marxist type writing, where previously I have not ventured. In reading this book I was glad that I did venture, although I am afraid I am far from totally converted. In summary I would conclude that in my opinion the critique of recent economic events put forward in this book is very good, (hence the four stars) but for me the extra linkages which attempt to tie these economic events together with the obscure Georgian conflict and the long term capitalist crises of profitability and accumulation of capital predicted by Marx don't quite hold together.

As mentioned above, one of the strongest Marxist punches the author attempts to land on the analysis of the lead up to the crisis, was that the reason why banks and the financial system in general piled into creating and profiting from the property bubble can be explained by a crisis in accumulation and profitability inevitable in capitalism. This maybe where my limited understanding of Marxist theory lets me down, but I cannot see exactly how these concepts directly contributed to the situation. Yes there was too much cheap money sloshing around chasing too few high interest opportunities (a lot of the cheap money originating from nominally Communist China), and yes at that time speculating in a property bubble was more profitable than doing proper bank stuff like lending to productive enterprises. But I don't see a crisis in profitability of the non property sector now or at that time, just that being involved with a bubble was MORE profitable and the actors involved were greedy reckless and stupid, while governments and regulators were naive, deluded ...
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