Saturday, August 07, 2004

A New Dark Age

Sticking with Foreign Policy Mag, Naill Ferguson has a fascinating article about the possible fate of the world should existing powers (the US and EU) collapse and the emerging powers (China, India) fail to emerge. The article is certainly open to criticism in a number of areas, but it offers some thought-provoking new perspectives.

I think Ferguson substantially short sells the impact of technology and trade to unify as much as (or, methinks, more than) disintegrate. These things are causing nation states to decline in power in certain regards, and from a certain standpoint they are shifting power "downward" as Ferguson states in that individuals and organizations are more empowered. But also, as Samuel Huntinton argued (as blogged on July 24th) it is creating more transnational perspectives and power structures. The world is getting smaller, and it seems overly pessimistic to only look at the down side of this. There is much to be gained from creating broad avenues for intellectual and economic exchange for individuals and groups around the globe.

Additionally Ferguson's realpolitik perspective in comparing his future scenario with the 9th century neglects the immense measure of human progress that has passed in the intervening time. Certainly the concepts considered in such an analysis are soft and fuzzy, but human knowledge and perspective has been utterly changed in the past millenium, and while certainly humans are no less savage than ever, I think it a stretch to overlook the tangible benefits of the modes of thinking, of political and economic systems, and moral perspectives developed over the centuries. The way things played out in societies of the 9th century are not necessarily the way they would play out now.

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