The anxious triumph of capitalism lingers on, but for how long?
10 9 2022
The anxious triumph of capitalism lingers on, but for how long?

Donald Sassoon's take on the "first globalisation"

Donald Sassoon plays it cool. Sporting an electric-blue blazer, he vapes compulsively during questions and then responds with delightful ease, his vaping device stowed in his bag, never wavering from perfect Italian. Yet he joins political journalist Davide Maria de Luca to present his book The Anxious Triumph. The anxiety in question is the by-product of capitalism, which Sassoon explores in an hour-plus of generous reflections on the past and reluctant insights on the present.

He is a historian, after all, and “history teaches the past, the future is open to possibilities”. Historians might not inspire much sympathy, he suggests, because their job is to take exception at any sentence that starts with “This is the first time that…”. In The Anxious Triumph, Sassoon takes exception at the claim that our times, or the world circa post-1973, are the first to have seen the globalisation of capital and ideas. Providing a global history of the period 1850-1914, his new book is an accessible, if a bit long - “I cannot write short books” - guide to an era of relative military stability, in which fast industrialisation coincided with the enlargement of state capacity.

This unlikely marriage of market and state lies at the crux of Sassoon’s argument. His book is not the first to trace the now well-known story of the “first globalisation” which took place during the late 19th century. But Sassoon provides new insights on how states legitimised the new equilibrium, the rising living standards coupled with tremendous inequality, that came with industrial prowess and global markets. Pioneering social policies like pensions or compulsory health insurance were states' response to sprawling poverty in the new urban hubs of capitalism, a response Sassoon clarifies “meant to change everything so that everything could stay the same”, referencing the ever-relevant savviness of Lampedusa's The Leopard.

But it is an unstable equilibrium. Spurred not only by exogenous events such as invasions or pandemics, in the new capitalist order anxiety comes from within, in the form of recurrent crises that the historian sees as “necessity for capitalism to get rid of its losers”. Jumping to the 21st century, as he does at the end of The Anxious Triumph, Sassoon expresses fears that the next and final loser of capitalism might be the planet itself, now steeped in a climate crisis. “I am not a doom and gloom prophet!”, he insists, just a historian.

Il sito è stato realizzato nell’ambito del progetto Open Festival con il contributo di
INNOVACULTURA - Regione Lombardia, Camere di Commercio Lombarde e Fondazione Cariplo