Jaques Attali; A brief history of the future ? a brave and controversial look at the twenty-first century



To trace the history of humans and predict the future ? this is always important at any time.  “Wise men learn from history, fools learn from experience”, “Historia Majistra Vitae”…. East or west, same kind of sayings are inherited.  They are the “wisdom of human kind”. Here in this site also, I have sent out messages of the like for a number of times. (For references in Japanese, please see 1, 2, 3, 4)

In my last posting I introduced a book by Fareed Zakaria, but “a brief history of the future ? a brave and controversial look at the twenty-first century”  written by Jaques Attali, one of the greatest intellectuals of France today, is equally very powerful and provocative.  This book predicts the world in the 21st century by sorting out “keywords to analyze the past and predict how our world will look like in the 21st century” from the long history of human beings. “Laws of history, rules for success are also applicable for future.  Understanding them will enable us to predict how the future will be…”.

For the Japanese edition, a short chapter titled “21st century ? will Japan survive?” is added as well as a chapter titled “Will France survive in the history of the 21st century?” in the end.  Anyway, the Japanese edition looks much more voluminous compared to English edition although I cannot read French original to compare.

Many of you might have seen the 2 hours’ interview with Jack Atari regarding this book on NHK.

The book’s content is structured by 6 chapters:
1. A Very Long History
2. A Brief History of Capitalism
3. The End of the American Empire
4. First Wave of the Future: Planetary Empire
5. Second Wave of the Future: Planetary War
6. Third Wave of the Future: Planetary Democracy

It was first published in 2006, but in “The Beginning of the End” of 2nd chapter it says: “Proliferating, excessive, limitless, and out of control, the American financial system requires profitability rates that industry cannot deliver, to the point where industrial corporations now lend their money in the financial sector rather than invest it in their own activities…” and “”Salary-earners are also increasingly indebted, especially in regard to two public corporations (Fannie Mae, second-ranking American corporation, and the fifth-ranked Freddie Mac), which hold or stand behind five trillion dollars’ worth of mortgage loans, a debt multiplied by four in ten years….” (p.98,99)  Here, we may say that Attalie predicted the subprime mortgage crisis as the financial panic started in the summer of 2007.

Attalie also introduces concept of “Core cities” and writes that “It constantly reinvents itself in a unique shape, around a single center, a single core, which attracts an innovative class (shipbuilders manufacturers, traders, technicians, and financiers) marked by its taste for the new and its passion for discovery.  Until a crisis, or a war, leads to replacement of one core by another. (p.35)

Many “lessons for the future” are given, but here I will list just a few:                  “transmission is a condition of progress" (p.5)
"a new communications technology, seen as a centralizing influence, turns out to be the implacable enemy of the powers that be." (p.50, footnote *1)
"the authoritarian state creates the market, which in its turn creates democracy." (p.69)
"the link between technology and sexuality underpins the whole dynamic of the mercantile order." (p.81)
"many major innovations result from the work of researchers paid out of public funds to look into something utterly different." (p.90)

Sub-titles illustrate brilliantly of the 21st century phenomenon that appears.  For example;
“Nomadic Ubiquity” (Arrival of Nomadic Ubiquity that Changes History)
“Irretrievable Scarcities” (Environment of Earth in the Future)
“Time: The Only True Scarcity” (Time: The Only True Scarcity Left)
And so on…
(In the parenthesis are sub-titles from Japanese edition for your reference.)

Then, the 4th Chapter begins.  First, second, and third waves of the future are described.

How can I describe the content?  Stimulating, horrifying, provocative… I have a feeling that most of them will actually realize.  There are many signs even now.

After reading, I thought of Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

I recommend these books in addition to “The Post-American World”.  Please keep them in your mind and read whenever you have opportunities.

Footnote 1:  I also have been pointing out the weakness of “Vertical Society” in a “Flat World” by quoting Latin words “Incunabulum, Incunabula” in number of lectures.  For instance, please see my columns 1, 2, or 3.