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"The Age of Transformation"

How the West Lost the Peace: The Great Transformation Since the Cold War
Forfatter: Phillip Ther
Forlag: Polity (USA)
POWER / Is it possible to explain why the resurgence of free market ideas has resulted in persistent unemployment, rising inequality and financial crises? According to Philip Ther, the corona pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have led to the end of an era – the world as imagined after 1989.


The German-Austrian historiana Phillip Ther is professor of Central European history at the University of Vienna. He is also head of the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET), an institute for advanced research that starts in 1989 to analyze ongoing social, economic and cultural changes.

In his latest book How the West Lost the Peace: The Great Transformation Since the Cold War he analyzes the social divisions that preceded the political one polarizationone we see today, as well as the artificial link between capitalism and democracy. The book is broad and deep and addresses a number of highly topical topics combined with accessible, detailed analyses.

The book is published in paperback by Polity Press in 2023 and has been translated into English by Jessica Spengler. It includes both a longer foreword, "The big transformation after 1989", which briefly says a bit about Ther's thoughts on the book and how it should be read, as well as a substantial and good bibliography. The book has 277 pages and is divided into seven chapters. Major parts of the book were already published in German as The other end of the story. About the great transformation by Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin in 2019. What is new is, among other things, chapter seven, which deals with the situation below Covid-19- the pandemic, as well as the afterword.

"Might makes right"

In the book, Ther constantly refers to the famous Austro-Hungarian economist and politician Karl Polanyi (1886–1964), best known for his book The Great Transformation (1944), after which Ther has partly named his own book.

In many ways, the book can be seen as a tribute to Polanyi's book, which is a key work in political economy. Polanyi's book has influenced a number of researchers and sociologists, who, among other things, have argued that Polanyi's analysis can help explain why the resurgence of frimarkedsides have resulted in persistent unemployment, increasing inequality and financial crises.

The period between 1989 and 2020 marks an interregnum rather than a radical break with the past.

Like Polanyi, Ther reflects on the changes in his time. According to Ther, the West – and above all the United States, which had been the stronghold of capitalism – looked like history's only victors after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This was expressed, among other things, in Francis Fukuyamas well-known essay "The End of History" from 1989 and subsequent book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which sparked a great debate.

The new global order was described as one in which ideological conflict and great power rivalry were a thing of the past. Fukuyama argued that the development of human history, as a struggle between ideologies, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, was largely over – and that the worldwide spread of liberal democracy and market economy on the Western model marked the end of humanity's socio-cultural development.

Ther shows through the title of his book to another end of the story. He believes that the West's reaction to the corona pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to the end of an era, and the world as it was imagined after 1989. This is partly because both Russia and China have a stated goal of creating a new world order with less Western dominance.

According to Ther, the new order after the end of the Cold War was "based on the premise that states and societies could develop freely within their recognized boundaries". He claims that "the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, however, adheres to a different doctrine: Might makes right".

But, as he adds, “that said, it would be wrong for the apparently united West to simply point fingers at Russia. The Covid-19 pandemic was a major rupture that weakened the political dogmas of the post-1989 world even before the war in Ukraine.”


Interventionism suddenly made a comeback, replacing the old concept of a 'lean' state, which largely withdrew from the economy and many other public tasks. Western governments locked down their economies and societies for months to slow the virus and prevent mass deaths.

Ther argues that the priorities of economic liberalization along with the triumphalism of NATO and the EU has led to several missed opportunities to integrate Russia, along with Eastern Europe, into a broader set of pan-European alliances in the 1990s.

The last years of the twentieth century, concludes Ther, were a missed opportunity to secure long-term peace east of the Oder River in the former communist states: "It is worth asking why the West was unable to integrate Russia more closely into its alliances and security systems after the country gained independence," he writes.

“This book examines the question of how the West could emerge victorious from the Cold War, but then lose its global hegemony and above all their inner peace in an accelerating cascade of crises", writes Ther, who claims that the period between 1989 and 2020 marks an interregnum rather than a radical break with the past.

He means the West's reaction to pandemic and the biggest war in Europe since 1945 has ended an era for which historians have yet to find a name. As he sees it, a post-Cold War would be an odd construct given the current talk in Europe and Asia of a new cold war which is now underway. "I therefore propose the age of transformation," writes Ther.

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