ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Letter to the 21st Century

How does one look at the 20th century? It is not a tragedy or a comedy. It is not an epic. No political manifesto captures it. Only a bureaucratic document can mimic its impersonality, its reality. The 20th century was the century of utopia, the utopia of plan, market and revolution. It was a century of nightmares.

This letter might surprise you. It is written by a social scientist listening to voices of victims across the world. As witnesses, they are the central characters of the 20th century. As victims, they are pilgrims of memory. The victim is not a passive object. He/she is an actor, an agent, a person, not merely a voice but a theorist as well. Refracted through my eyes and ears, the victim as witness has something to say to you. This letter is addressed to all experts and activists on poverty, population and development. We write to all of you who behave like projects and invite you to be persons. Projects are utopian, persons merely dream. Projects need the universalism of reason and empire, dreamers can only invite you to a conversation.

We feel that the 20th century is a strange century. It died literally 10 years before it could close officially. All its great dreams died out. The Bolshevik revolution is dead. Mao lies forgotten. Castro sounds stale. Che is a Madison Avenue gimmick. More systematically the 20th century marks the death of three utopias, each of which became a nightmare in its own special way. The three projects that died were socialism, science and development. Three obituaries for three worlds that began in liberation and ended in death camps. Lewis Mumford has a word for them. He called them Kakatopias, utopias that smell of death and genocide.

Dear reader,

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