An Age of Anxiety

New Year's Wishes

The year 2002 had the funny taste of an interval between wars, the war that was wrapped up in Afghanistan in January and the one announced for the sands of Iraq. In the inner space of France, the year kept that strange odor of April 21, [when the candidate of the extreme right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won second place in the first round of presidential elections], which has not been completely dissipated by the strong wind that swept the French people together as a nation with shared values [in the second round, Le Pen was soundly defeated].

The year had a strangely anxious look, with the world economic crisis that arose from the bursting of the bubble on the stock exchanges, which at first seemed to resolve itself before rearing back to weigh heavily on growth as the year drew to a close. The year had a strangely inhuman color, with science, particularly biology, marching forward more quickly than our ability to understand it. The year wore the color of mourning from the oil spill that stains the shores of Galicia. Our planet, after believing so fervently in the future after the fall of the Berlin Wall, last year seemed to fall back once again into confusion and poverty. New hope seems dashed, as the threats appear to be larger than the promises.

What greater wishes could we express for the year 2003 as it opens, than to break this peculiar fatalism that settled in last year, in the face of misfortunes, disappointments, and despair? What better hope than to see the rebirth of hope itself? For all and for each and every one. Whether it is in diplomacy, economics, or technology, the future is not gloomy; it hangs on the initiatives of peace, the forces of dynamism, and the discourse of reason. May 2003 be the year of the fight against this fatalism and its corollary, which is a retreat into narrow identities, whether religious, nationalistic, or of any other sort.

Yes, the United States is a "hyper-power," capable of dictating to the planet unilaterally. But no! No nation's destiny should depend on that one power. It is the international community, the United Nations, which must be promoted. It is up to Europe, for its part, to endow itself with the means to make its voice heard in the Middle East, more than ever in this bloody impasse, in Iraq and in the Arab and Muslin world, in Africa and on every front, where Europe must bravely carry its humanist, democratic, and universalist message. Yes, Europe must be broadened to the countries of the East, wounded under the yoke of Soviet dictatorship. No, this does not mean watering down the European Union to turn it into a vast trading zone without any further political will. The convention that is to conclude this year should serve to reassure us.

Yes, the new capitalism carries within it growing inequalities, and it is stirring up, without knowing how to cope with them, financial storms that are harmful and unjust, like those that Latin America is now experiencing. No, a retreat into protectionism is not the solution. Quite to the contrary, dialogue and a spirit of openness, instead of ideologies, must guide the policies of international organizations like the International Monetary Fund. There is no ready-made policy that fits all cases, even if there are certain common constraints. The degree of autonomy of governments to act remains broader than what people say, particularly in the area of social policy. Yes, science is frightening when it asserts itself without control and with no soul, in an atmosphere of demiurges, where there is room for the irrational. But no! A retreat into obscurantism is not warranted, because the progress of knowledge has done so much to nourish the hopes of humanity.

Yes, the terrorist threat is a common scourge, but it cannot be fought except through solidarity among nations.