Saturday , May 25 2024

The World According to Dumas

The 14th Anniversary edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.

The current state of the world has been – and is continuing to be – described, dissected, and analyzed by a never-ending throng of pundits, consultants, and self-styled ‘thinkers.’ The crisis of leadership among liberal democracies, paired with the rise of totalitarian regimes in Russia and China, have left the cognoscenti in the west intellectually paralyzed. In the face of belligerence and threats, the responses have been largely made up of milquetoast missives and moral hectoring. And they have not worked.

The New York Times bestseller list and the Times Literary Review have a surfeit of tomes that purport to diagnose our collective ennui and point to solutions. Unfortunately, they are largely efforts to provide some form of succor and reassurance to those whose poor choices and derelictions led to the state of affairs we are now in. It is though the daily affirmations of the cognoscenti in front of the bathroom mirror transmogrified into 300 pages of script with footnotes, emblazoned with the glowing praise of others within this exclusive self-help group.

If one were seeking advice on building a bridge, you would not likely consult an engineer whose last design collapsed in a heap of concrete and metal at the bottom of a gorge, nor would you seek the representation of a lawyer whose last five clients are all serving life sentences. You certainly would not seek advice from the cabal that wiped out $5 trillion of debt in 2008, then received performance bonuses under the pretense that you needed to retain “talent.” 

And yet, that is what is on offer.

Funny enough, there is someone who essentially predicted what is happening in the world today, and an appreciation of what they wrote would be of far more value than 80 percent of the peer-reviewed articles in circulation.

Want to understand the decline of the liberal democratic order, the rise of China and the belligerence of Russia? Read Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo”.

The story of Edmond Dantes – from betrayal and years of imprisonment, to escape and elaborate scheme to wreak revenge from those who wronged him – parallels much of the geopolitical journey that began in 1989.

If you appreciate that no villain sees themselves as such, then consider the situation of Russia and China. Communism has crumbled in the former and is under pressure in the latter. Those whose lives – and livelihoods have been leveraged by Marxist systems – watch as an iron curtain is breached at Berlin, in the West, and pro-democracy forces gather at Tiananmen Square, in the East. Their world, and all of its inherent assumptions, is crumbling at the feet of their ideological enemy. In 1989, Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer in Dresden, in East Germany, with a front row seat to the disintegration of the Soviet Empire. At the same time, Xi Jingping was a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) boss in Fujian who, from a distance, saw the Beijing protests that erupted on the death of CCP reformer Hu Yaobang.

Consider the last three decades, where access to global markets and vague promises of reform, have been used in order to retool the economic systems of both nations. Consider the buildup of military assets, the geopolitical assertiveness, and the skillful ways in which both regimes made it lucrative for some in the west to do business.

The ‘unipolar moment’, where the United States enjoyed the status of primus inter pares, was analogous to Dantes incarceration in Chateau d’If, although Dumas’ protagonist spent 14 years there, while it only took China 11 years to move from Tiananmen to WTO ascension. 

The great lessons in life come from losing. Winning teaches you nothing. 

Winning can be attributed to mistakes by your opponent, or skill on your part. It can be dumb luck as well. It can be due to your own likeability, or the fact that the other person is hated. In short, you could have been the author of your success, or simply have been in the right place at the right time. Losing, on the other hand, teaches you what you did wrong – what you failed to account for. It tells you what you did not contemplate, and where things went off the rails. It teaches you what not to repeat.

But winning and losing do something else, and this is seldom considered. Winning feeds the ego. It engenders a sense of inevitability. We want to believe that we are justified in our success, so our minds construct narratives that portray victory as some preordained outcome where good prevails over evil, where the villain in the black hat is stopped, while the hero in the white hat gets the gal and the triumphal ride into the sunset.

Losing, by contrast, leaves you bitter. You replay the events like an accident investigator reconstructing a collision. It is a toxic concoction made up of volatile compounds – jealousy, revenge, spite – with the active ingredient being the motivation to rewrite history. While we celebrated Francis Fukuyama’s declaration of the ‘end of history’, we were too intoxicated with our own success to notice that those on the losing end of the proposition were making plans of their own.

As with Dumas’ characters in his classic tale, we have all played our role in this retreatment. 

Like Fernand, Danglars, and Villefort, we in the liberal democratic world have arrogantly assumed the inevitability of our success against former rivals and have spared no amount of egotism in stating our case. Like Dantes, those who saw their worlds upended by the collapse of Communism, have had both an axe to grind, and ample time to sharpen it. And, like the eponymous Count, the scheme has been furthered by the arrogance and greed of those it seeks to undermine.

In the novel, Dumas ends his tale with Dantes, having largely taken his revenge on those who he held responsible for his suffering, showing some degree of mercy and leaving his grievances behind. In our current situation, no such resolution or settled ending has been written – or can be assured.

Unless better, more principled – and less egotistical – minds write the next chapter.

About Brent Cameron

A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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One comment

  1. Massive investment in the right idea at the right time can cause cultural shift. See Paul Johnson’s chapter on Victor Gollanz, in “Intellectuals”.

    Two things must be done: 1) find the right idea; 2) acquire the needed wealth, either by production or gift.

    Here’s a recent contribution of mine to “1)”; I’m working on my part of “2)”.