Elites and the Limits of Western Power
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
University of Texas at Austin
Abstract: What can be said about the West’s foreseeable future? Will the political, economic, and social resilience that brought the West to world dominance historically be sustained? Or will the West’s politics, economics, and social orders become increasingly enfeebled and imperiled? This paper will argue that between now and mid-century elites in western countries must undertake and oversee a conscious holding operation. This will entail avoiding futile involvements in the internal problems of countries outside the West; cementing the West’s economic and political integration; regularizing treatment of the millions of unemployed, underemployed, and demoralized westerners for whose labor there is no longer a clear or pressing need; inventing forms of useful work for these westerners to the extent it is feasible; inhibiting large and desperate migrations of people from outside the West; protecting decision-making processes in public and private institutions from paralysis; and above all, coping in major ways with the threat of environmental disaster. If this holding operation succeeds, the West may restore its historical prestige and sustain its leading world position. And if that happens, challenges to the West may gradually subside and make progress toward meeting global problems likely during the century’s second half.