18 April 2009

Things to Come, the challenge of the second decade of a new century

Most history buffs agree that the 20th Century, the calendar notwithstanding, began in 1914 with the Great War and the collapse of post-Napoleonic Europe. Similarly, the 19th had taken shape after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Looking further back, it could be said that the 18th began with the death of Louis XIV of France in 1714.
I was reading an article written by Dr Nicholas Boyle, president of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His thesis was that this century will be shaped during the next ten years by the looming geo-econopolitical crisis and the way it will be managed by people whom many may see as still immature. For years the news magazines have forecast the leaders of the future with only occasional success. Those of 2015 and years following are not yet well known but the problems they will face are becoming clearer. They include global warming, a fuel crisis, rising food costs, fresh water shortage and an international power shift...Professor Boyle asked what the coming Big Event will be and the questions that it will pose.

He suggests that the supposed clash of cultures between modern civilisation and ancient traditions is the prelude to, but not the main problem of, the 21st Century.. That prelude is the result of our oil dependency and the manipulation of the market by both the suppliers and the refiners. Competition for food, energy sources and an ongoing Spenglerian decline of the West will determine the Big Questions to be faced.

There will be a new balance of economic, political and military power. The democracies of the world will learn the need for togetherness rather than sovereignty, for mutual responsibility and interdependence rather than the luxuries of unilateral action and independence. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand which already have similar legislative and judicial systems will have to establish a new solidarity in the way that executive power is wielded. Is an ongoing minority government democratic? Is a cabinet that is not immediately responsible to the elected representatives of the people democratic? And should the rising influence of India not be included in a future Common Law Commonwealth?

What might the coming Great Event of 2015 / 2020 be? The prediction of an 'endtimes' battle that has recurred through the centuries resurfaces with the fear of impending disasters and a final crisis in the Middle East. Some would recognise arcane reference to Armageddon or to the Rapture. Such conjectures are neither a credible warning nor the basis for intelligent planning for many thoughtful people.

It was the rise of Germany as a military-industrial nation a century ago that challenged British hegemony a hundred years ago. Since economic dominance is basic to military efficiency, it is becoming increasingly clear that the international balance is about to change once again. Things are building toward the next Great Event in history. Some say it will the end of an age or, apocalyptically, of the Age. Both possibilities suggest the advisability of broad dialogue rather than of secular versus fundamentalist arguments.

The article by Nicholas Boyle to which I alluded bore the title "The hour is getting late". In it he said that a huge shift is taking place in the distribution of wealth, power and influence. It is contemporary with the knowledge of our planet's inability to sustain the present pattern of production and consumption. That has implications for the internal structures and external relations of the nation states into which settlement, conquest and revolutions have divided us.

By 2015 / 2020 it should be clear whether or not the necessary adjustments will be made by international consultation and agreement or by the action of aggressive states and their death-dealing weapons. Will we, Samson-like, pull down upon ourselves the temples of our enemies or will they preemptively strike at our merchandise marts? Both are a lose-lose scenario.

Modern China, bereft of a democratic past, has an uncomfortable resemblance to Imperial Germany of a century ago. So has Iran - Persia by any other name - that ancient threat to the beginnings and development of freedom in ancient Greece. But, democracy aside, if Western politicians insist on Nationalism, Sovereignty, Independence and similar shibboleths, the Great Event of the 21st Century which is now fast approaching will eclipse all of its historical predecessors and leave behind few of us to cope with global warming and its consequences.

An H.G. Wells 1933 novel had the title The Shape of Things to Come. His earlier 1898 science fiction work The War of the Worlds gave us another warning of an unwelcome future. They both remind us that the status quo is never for long Professor Boyle ended his article with the words of Moses "I have set before you death and life. Choose life".


1 comment:

kevin said...

Suffice to say then, we are in a time when futurists -- both from within the Academy and without -- are furiously peddling predictions...some (quite frankly) loopy! Others? Worthy of close attention.

One of the most challenging (and potentially frightening) sets of predictions has come from the eminent historian Nicholas Boyle.

Based on an impeccable reading of history, Professsor Boyle's argument is that the turmoil in world economies is leading up to another Great Event.

And such Great Events have marked the middle of the second decade of each new century for the last five hundred years.

Critically, whether 'our' Great Event is marked by resolution or catastrophe will all depend on leaders accepting -- even embracing -- a changed world order.