Later this week, a new book will enter the bookshelves across the world. At a time intellectual enemies and intellectual defenders of capitalism are locked in battle like never before, any book from a Prof Thomas Piketty is bound to raise the temperature for some while lowering it for others. Those up against capitalism are bound to be happy while those benefitting from the system are sure to be sad. The last time he wrote, the text sold over a million copies, regarded as one of the highest if not the highest selling stuff. That was Capitalism in the 21st century. Capitalism and Ideology: is the new book he is coming out with. By his own announcement earlier via his twitter handle, the new book is to be released September 12th, 2019. It is to be followed by the English edition in 2020.
But what is the battle cry in the coming book that will give anybody joy or act as kill joy? “In the same way that Capital in the Twenty-First Century transformed the way economists look at inequality, Piketty’s new book Capital and Ideology will transform the way political scientists look at their own field, wrote Branko Milanovic in a blog run by the University of Chicago. The Harvard University Press publishing the book is no less categorical in calling the impending book “the epic successor to one of the most important books of the century”, crediting Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century with having galvanized global debate about inequality and the sequel with challenging the world “to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history”
These snippets suggest that Piketty who is referred to in the deroragatory term of “inequality messiah” must have come battle tested to take on the system. There are inferences that his victims are both subsisting ideological spectrums and his advocacy is for the construction of a more equitable world. That is something beyond anything existing now as far as formula for redistribution is concerned.
The coming book is a tome, standing at over 1000 pages and, therefore, twice in size when compared to the prequel. If the University of Chicago and Harvard University reviewers are right in deconstructing the book as essentially advocating for fairer or more equitable world, then the book will have many friends and few enemies. Compelling capitalism to redistribute is akin to unmaking it because redistribution is what it doesn’t want, particularly hypercapitalism – Piketty’s name for the contemporary stage of the dreaded system.
It seems social theorists and activists will get a shocker from the book because he is asserting that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of struggle for equality. Language use can be very problematic. Might he be echoing Marx or contesting the thesis of class struggle?
But it is not only followers of orthodox Marxism that might be reading the book with a fine comb to pick out any anti-orthodoxy bits. Faithfuls and followers of Samuel Huntington are also in for a shocker as Piketty is calling identity politics a dead end. Any book that can launch an attack on the two most successful social theories – Marxism and the ‘clash of civilisation’ – at the same time must have a hair-raising replacement. Can an attack on inequality and an advocacy for a fairer world be that hair-raising replacement?
Perhaps, the English translation has to be awaited before there can be any judgment. For, one would have thought that advocacy for an equitable world has already climaxed. This is particularly so if one had been listening to the stuff emanating from the Fight Against Inequality group, the more vocal of the platforms that might make Piketty’s book its rulebook. Ideologues of this rhetorically fascinating group organizing would say that the fight against inequality has been won; that the Pope, the IMF/World Bank, the global security establishment, the dominant global media platforms and the UN have all accepted that inequality is too much, unacceptable but rising globally. Few are getting more prosperous for doing nothing while majority are barely living.
“Extreme inequality is out of control”, they say. The answer is not any new programme launched with fanfare but victims organizing. Believing in another of their cardinal slogans that “the power of the people is greater than the people in power”, they put so much emphasis on the everyday struggles of slum dwellers against landlessness, unwanted taxation, police arbitrariness, gender violence, women organizing, trade unionism, progressive environmentalists, faith groups and youth platforms in protest against one manifestation of inequality or the other.
Not for them any annual pilgrimage to Davos, any lobbying or struggle for concessions from the system, any new constitution making, new programmes promising to deliver on equality and neither do they expect automatic triumph. What they are set on is a multi-faceted conversation that emphasises fighting inequality by fingering what causes inequality. The explanation for this strategy, at least at the 2018 session in Nairobi is that when the struggle for inequality speaks to specific manifestations of it such as police excesses, denial of land, lack of electricity, the people understand it better.
Whatever the case, it seems there will be a good marriage between Piketty and groups of this orientation, what with Picketty saying that there has not been enough protestation of inequality which he believes to have been escalated by reversal of state welfarism. Interestingly, the message and the messenger are coming at a time capitalism is in crisis everywhere – from the management of rising versus status quo great power relationship to Brexit in Britain to counter-hegemonic assertions in Latin America to unraveling in Africa and a common problem of quality of leadership crisis in much of the world. Isn’t a historic compromise between capitalism and its Others in the horizon?