Kieran Healy describes Robert Merton’s wonderful and idiosyncratic book On the Shoulders of Giants as “horrendously erudite”. A nice phrase. Merton, a pioneering sociologist (and incidentally the father of Nobel prize winning economist Robert C Merton), died the other day, aged 92.
Tony Blair gave a significant speech yesterday on sustainable development. May analysts have pointed out that his fine words have not been adequately reinforced by the energy white paper that was also released yesterday. There’s truth in that criticism, but on the world stage I think there are few leaders that would stick their neck out as far as Blair on the environment.
“It is clear Kyoto is not radical enough. But it is at the moment the most that is politically achievable. And even the Kyoto targets have proved controversial with some countries, notably America. Many see it as a threat to the pursuit of economic growth. I believe this needn’t be the case. If we harness new technology the evidence is mounting that we can achieve a target of 60% — and at reasonable cost.”
And his conclusion? “Interdependence is the defining characteristic of the modern world. What we lack at present is the common agenda that is broad and just and global institutions to execute it. That is the real task of statesmanship today. And the time-scale is urgent.”
Alan Little reckons we are witnessing the last huzzah of the transatlantic partnership that shaped the last sixty years. “The transatlantic dialogue — a dialogue of mutual disdain and despair — is going to change our world. These are the dog days of the Atlantic partnership.”
The article contains a lot of interesting detail, but I’m sceptical about the conclusion. There have been bad times in the Atlantic relationship in the past and they have been weathered. It’s true that there is no longer a unifying threat as in the days of the cold war, but I think the dynamic that will restore the ties is that — for the foreseeable future — the US has no alternative.
At some point in this century, the Pacific relationship will probably become of greater importance to the US than the Atlantic one, as China develops into a true economic superpower. But even at China’s heady current growth rates, that point is many decades away. When a more internationalist president enters the White House, however pre-eminent the US military, I’m certain the transatlantic relationship will reassume its central role in geopolitics.