Problems and Perspectives in Contemporary World Order

(I edited some comments I made on a thread in the Polymathica group into a note, content relating to a master thesis I wrote years ago at the university. Ahhh … apart from that not much is happening inside me at the moment, before my inner eye, looking inside my mind, the current vision is a yellow-coloured space and there are three black dots in it forming some triangle, these days I keep looking at them, watching them in silence and inertia, not producing, or feeling the urge to produce, overly relevant thoughts. Incipit Zarathustra.)


In 2005 I wrote a pretentious Master thesis at the university titled „Problems and Perspectives in Contemporary World Order“ in which I tried to discuss all the current major world problems as well as current and prospective developments in the world regions on 50 pages. In the introduction I ruminated that a heuristic framework in which the New (post Cold War) World Order may be conceptualised is established by a coordinate system made out of the „Fukuyama Narrative“ on the one hand and of the „Huntington Narrative“ on the other.

The „Fukuyama Narrative“, established in „The End of History“, in general, argues that after the end of the Cold War respectively the system competition between capitalism and communism, with capitalism respectively free markets (and liberal democracy) having „won“, there are no principled conflicts (Grundsatzkonflikte) in the world anymore and the world is headed for (cultural, political, social and economic) „unification“. Look at science fiction movies where foreign planets with advanced civilisations are usually governed by a planetary government – the road ahead seems intuitively clear (which does not, however, mean: straight). In a globalised world respectively a world dominated by reason and by looking after the common good multilateralism or global governance and a unified spirit seem imperative (at least in the child´s eye and children are always right). The „Fukuyama Narrative“ is Hegelian and stands in the tradition of enlighenment, given at least the more blunt implications of a reading/reception of the „Fukuyama Narrative“ however it is a (probably, likely) dangerous and undialectical, naive form of enlightenment ideology. And at the time when I wrote the thesis the Bush II administration seemed to be guided by such a spirit in their (originally much more far-reaching neoconservative/PNAC) endeavours to bomb in democracy into the Middle East. (Many motives have come into play for marching into Iraq, with George W.´s inferiority complex as the family idiot trying to „get the job done where daddy didn´t“ being one of them, but more general toppling governments hostile to the USA and replacing them with friendly ones as a neoconservative agenda mixed with a genuine hope to promote democracy and progress in the world and, most important, getting a foot in the region: according to an article I read only once (in Harper´s magazine) Cheney´s idea was that with Turkey, Saudi-Arabia and Iraq being allies to the USA US global hegemony would have been secured for the next 50 years, as being the core motive for the Iraq war.) Before that the Western world was guided by such a „Fukuyman“ spirit when it promoted hardcore neoliberalism for the ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet empire, with mixed results, at best. The „Fukuyama Narrative“ has become somehow prevalent or the underlying narrative among globalisation enthusiasts, another prominent label for it is e.g. the maxime about „the world is flat“ established by Thomas Friedman.

Huntington´s book „The Clash of Civilisations“ was written as a critical reaction to Fukuyama. In general, the „Huntington Narrative“ is based on the concept that principled conflicts are still in place and likely to remain indefinitely (with, however, the nature of principled conflicts shifting), where Huntington argues that the dividing lines of the nearer future lie across cultural dividing lines. Although Huntington´s thesis and argumentation was in the utmost majority of cases disapproved or modified (for instance that the actual dividing lines for conlicts will not lie along the grand cultural divides since actually different cultures like Orient and Occident are more likely to be indifferent to each other, but rather in the (seeming) „narcissism of the small differences“ e.g. between Sunna and Shia, etc.) it was a major work of reference, and, as I argued, in the light of the general implication: namely that principled conflicts are not a thing of the past, not a thing which can be, in the spirit of enlightenment, resolved within „rational discourse“ but are likely to remain. On an abstract level the „Fukuyama Narrative“ is about a world headed for community based on mutually shared values and mentality, the „Huntington Narrative“ is about idiosyncracies and (core) differences between people and peoples likely to remain indefinitely. Yet this does not mean that cooperation and becoming closer to each other and unusual, unexpected marriages are impossible or rare (among people as well as among peoples). „Huntington“ is a nemesis to „Fukuyama“ – but also it is the other way round. That may be the, somehow more complicated and diffuse, dialectics of contemporary world order.

So, made up by that coordinates, the question of new world order seems to be: is the world headed for unification and peace or for conflict and divide? And the answer is that within that practical framework complexities are likely to arise which go over the head of politicians and people. This seems to have been confirmed by the developments in the last 10 years. Note also that a defining question for world politics will be what power blocks will stand against each other and in what relationship to each other in the future, and current attempts obviously are about forging such power blocks which, by nature, does include both inclusion and exclusion (or exclusive inclusion as the West seems to try with Russia, which the West tries to weaken in order to subjugate Russia; also consider the ongoing politics to reshape the Middle East, etc.). The relationships within and between the power blocks are likely to be more flexible and fluid, yet maybe also more fragile, unstable and unpredictable, triggering additional policy errors. Concerning the prospects of a world government it was, somehow ironically, Fukuyama himself who, a decade after the publication of „The End of History“ (in 2002) called such an idea, prominent in the West, naive, also in the respect that the larger and more comphrehensive the political entities are the less are the chances that they are democratic and that the multitude can identify with them. What can be said however is that governance in the new world order will/should involve many layers and that people of very high intelligence who are usually excluded from institutions of any sort but who are able to oversee those layers should be included the respective institutions.

The question for democracy in the world is also settled within that coordinate system. It has been argued that in most world regions democracy is „not wanted“ as a perceived cultural artefact of the West, alien and inappropriate for, for instance, Russia, China, Saudi-Arabia or African countries – and not only by Russian etc. leaders but by the populace themselves. Yet democracy was alien in the Western world as well up to recently and the hostility of the insecure European elites and significant parts of the general population like the petty bourgeoisie against the democratic regimes installed after WW1 led to the dictatorships which led to WW2 (however it has to be noted that without the devastations caused by the Great Depression history would likely have gone in another direction). For the most part of history man has been reluctant or hostile to change and progress and feared it. That people are (relatively) open to progress is a new phenomenon and clusters in the industrialised world. Note that for the most time in history man struggled against nature on a day to day basis and established routines were literally held sacred as providing security, and deviations were seen as great dangers to survival, not in a few cases, because of the usual trial and error method with which innovations come into being, for justified reasons. A friend of mine once worked at a developmental project in Ethiopia. Well, it was largely about transfering money from one pocket to the other, apart from that he made the observation that the major obstacle to change and to do something against the hunger in the land was the ordinary farmer´s resistance to try out new agricultural methods, because they feared that it might lead to bad harvest. From that perspective the brutal policy in communist countries, notably under Stalin and Mao, to modernise agriculture with the intention to end the recurrent famines become apparent and, despite their horrendous execution, not the work of psychopaths (which neither Stalin nor Mao were, though they have nevetheless been highly unpleasant characters), and at least Mao was praised by Henry Kissinger as a moderniser of China, which, as should be remembered, was unable to emerge from its backwardness against the West for 300 years.

This needs to be taken into account adressing the initial question of the threat whether democracy is applicable for the Middle East or more general in many parts of the world. In order for democracy, innovation and modernisation to succeed it needs to lead to positive results in the first place. The hostility in Europe soon faded (apart from the most memorable consequence of Nazism/Fascism and WW2) when European countries became (economically) successful, however the conditions of the golden age of postwar prosperity in the Western world were in parts contingent, local and unrepeatable, we were lucky, but there are also other opportunities to be lucky, for instance being a late moderniser who initially just has to copy everything and profit from the lessons learned by predecessors in order to progress relatively smoothly and at fast pace like China. Yes, people in Russia, China or Saudi-Arabia may be unfavorable to liberal democracy, maybe also out of an inferiority complex-triggered cultural narcissism against the Occident, but this does not mean they´re right with their assessment. Time and circumstances may overcome that. Of course it has to be noted that social structures and mentalities influence a lot whether liberal democracy can be an option. Western countries were not composed of multiethnical tribal societies with clientilist structures and they were not overly corrupt. Yet China is an example for a highly corrupt and authoritarian country which is (at least at the moment) (economically) successful. In general in should be avoided to look at single factors as supposedly major determinants of how societies respectively complex systems may develop. It is the interplay of many factors which make up for it. Yeah, we are relatively helpless and incompetent foreseeing the future, but the best approach is to know all the single theoretical models and to keep your models open.