Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age

Upper Case asked author D. Paul Schafer, to tell us how his career has led him to the ideas he put forth in his 2008 book Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age. Here is what he told us:

I was originally trained as an economist specializing in international development and the history of economic thought. After studying and teaching economics for a number of years in the late nineteen fifties and early nineteen sixties, I became convinced that we have been living in an economic age ever since the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776. This age is predicated on the belief that economics and economies in general - and the production, distribution, and consumption of material and monetary wealth in particular - should be made the centrepiece of society and principal preoccupation of municipal, regional, national and international development because this is the most effective way of dealing with people’s economic and non-economic needs.

In 1965, I decided to leave economics because I was forced to the conclusion that the economic age is not capable of coming to grips with the two most fundamental and urgent problems confronting humanity, namely the huge disparities that exist in income and wealth throughout the world and the steady deterioration of the natural environment. This is because the economic age is far more concerned with the production and consumption of wealth than the distribution of wealth, and tends to treat the natural environment as ‘a given’ rather than the most essential and valuable resource of all.

Not knowing where to turn after I left economics, I decided to search for a job in the cultural field because I had grown up in a very cultural environment and my parents had a great appreciation for the arts and humanities. I was eventually hired by the Ontario Arts Council, and stayed there until 1970 when I was asked to go to York University to direct what is arguably the first comprehensive program for training arts administrators in the world. This was followed by a long period of self-employment as a cultural advisor, during which time I participated in many studies, wrote numerous reports, and undertook several missions for UNESCO to different parts of the world.

In 1983, I was hired by the University of Toronto to teach two courses in arts administration and policy, as well as to coordinate two new co-operative programs in arts administration and international development that were being developed at the university at that time. While I was there, I undertook an intensive study of culture as a concept and reality, largely to broaden and deepen my knowledge and understanding of culture, cultures, and cultural development. This led to the establishment of the World Culture Project in 1989 to research and write about culture and cultures in general and Canadian culture in particular (see the World Culture Project website at: www3.sympatico.ca/dpaulschafer).

I discovered through my various studies that there is a vast theoretical and practical literature on culture that is being virtually ignored throughout the world as a result of the preoccupation with economics and economies. Much of this literature has been written by anthropologists, sociologists, ecologists, and biologists, and contains valuable insights and ideas about the nature of the world and prospects for the future.

In an attempt to summarize my findings on the subject of culture, I wrote Culture-Beacon of the Future which was published in 1998 by Adamantine Press in England and Praeger/Greenwood in the United States in their 21st. Century Studies series. This publication ends with the conviction that we must pass out of the present economic age and into a future cultural age if environmental sustainability, global harmony, economic viability, and human well-being are to be achieved. This line of argument was picked up in earnest in Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age. It was written between 1999 and 2003, and published first in Chinese by the Social Sciences Academic Press in Beijing in 2006. This was followed by the English version that was published by the University of Ottawa Press in its Governance Series in 2008.

Check Upper Case again soon for more from D. Paul Schafer.

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