But let us quit the past, which in truth serves for Karabell mainly as a pregame warmup for the real event, which is his treatment of the present and future. Karabell's analysis here begins with the observation that the last dominant vision, Government, is dead. To paraphrase former President Bill Clinton's only famous statement of political thought: The vision of Government is now over. Governmental activity does not cease, but the idea of government has lost its luster and no longer fuels the imagination. Whereas the most intelligent college students of the early 1960s wanted to be part of the New Frontier rather than managers for General Motors, who today would not prefer to be a high flier in the Silicon Valley than a policy expert in the Department of Housing and Urban Development?
The vision of government was replaced some time in the last decade by the vision of the Market. Although the harbinger for this vision came with some of the conservative critics of Big Government, its real champions are the spokespersons for the "New Economy." It is they who have offered a compelling vision of the Market in the form of a "technological utopianism" that foresees a "City on a Hill all over again, except that this time, the hill is virtual and so is the city." Because the reign of the Market seems to be only in its infancy--most cycles having lasted for more than half a century--it is interesting that Karabell should already be speaking of its demise and of the emergence of the next vision. Either, then, this era is going to pass more quickly than the others or the sources of disillusionment it is generating are especially easy to spot. Karabell argues both points. History, he suggests, is speeding up. More important, the Market cannot deliver all that is promised on its behalf. It is not so much that this system will not be able to enrich people--although a proletarian army of disillusioned dot-comers, deprived of their Lexuses, is not inconceivable--but that the Market will not be able to answer "spiritual fulfillment, intimate relations, and community."
From these contradictions, Karabell can sketch the shape of the next vision, which he calls Connectedness. The visionaries here--they exist already--will stress the nonmaterial side of life and will try to speak to the deeper needs of the soul. If intellectuals and teachers can just hold on, the hour will be theirs. Entrepreneurs will be scorned; the social worker will be praised. The notion that history is on the side of Connectedness, which is but another name for left-wing communitarianism, is, of course, the position favored today by a large part of America's academic intelligentsia. Although Karabell lends his weight to this position, he breaks with communitarianism's adherents in regarding their vision as qualitatively no different from the others. Remaining true to his schema, he counts Connectedness as just one more utopian idea. Far out on the distant horizon, some two cycles into the future, Karabell is already glimpsing the demise of Connectedness and its replacement with yet another vision.
It seems, then, that we are fated to accept a never-ending repetition of this cycle. Or are we? Unwilling to leave us suspended in this state of eternal recurrence, Karabell at the last moment offers a potential way out. If we can become aware of what moves history, we may be in a position to control our fate and break free from the cycle. Fantastic as this idea may seem, it is not nearly so surprising as the particular alternative that Karabell proposes to replace the articulation of a vision. He does not offer a coherent and intelligent vision but instead the forsaking of any single vision in favor of "embracing multiple stages simultaneously" and the combining of some or all of our past visions. If we have multiculturalism, there is no reason why we should not have multi-visionism. Although Karabell worries whether so flaccid a notion might rob historical actors of their energy, he presses forward, offering no analysis of what might make a vision coherent. If each is partial and utopian, then all of them together must be sober and realistic. While Karabell's impulse toward moderation is admirable, he has denied himself the theoretical tools to pursue his objective with any rigor. In the end it is the author who offers not only the most utopian, but surely the emptiest, vision of all.