Many see the global economic crisis as proof that we live in one world. But as countries stumble to right the wrongs of the corporate masters of the universe, they are driving us right back to a future that looks like nothing more than a new Middle Ages, that centuries-long period of amorphous conflict from the fifth to the 15th century when city-states mattered as much as countries.
and thurther on:
There are positive sides to a world where every man can be a nation unto himself. Postmodern Medicis such as Bill Gates, Anil Ambani, George Soros, and Richard Branson take it upon themselves to cure pandemics, run corporate cities, undermine authoritarian regimes, and sponsor climate-saving research. But the Middle Ages were fundamentally a time of fear, uncertainty, plagues, and violence. So, too, their successor. AIDS and SARS, terrorism and piracy, cyclones and rising sea levels—it is no longer clear how to invest in the future, or what future to invest in. Figuring out how to respond to this new world will take decades at least. The next Renaissance is still a long way off.
Great article by Parag Khanna. I just finished the same author’s book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. Loved it and would recommend it to anyone.
You bring up an interesting point – civilization and society appear to be moving backwards.
Ruhh – I’ll give that book a look – thanks.
With cities full of many more people all needing to be fed. I find it a bit difficult to immagine that they might become again the centres of anything. Does his book shed more light? Surely a devolution of control to the food producers is more likely. Maybe from corporations (government) through cities to rural. Guess I need to read the book.
Larry – are we chasing our own tails? or is it cyclical as many think? Or are we returning to our own stable state through some rather painfull unstable ones?
His book is well worth the read but he doesn’t talk all that much about reduction in societal complexity. I felt that his main objective was to show that the world is headed towards a multi-polar superpower system where America will ultimately loose it’s top position and China taking over as top dog and other BRIC countries are gaining ground and influence. Specifically he ponders the influence that second world countries have on how and who they do business and align with.
He talks a lot about how China has been going about making friends with anybody and everybody around the world. There has been a lot of talk in these forums about what China will do with it’s foreign reserves and the headlines have revealed that they’ve been buying up real assets and commodities and taking advantage of the deflated prices.
The way that I’ve seen it is that The Great Game is always on the agenda and that while the west (NATO) has been busy pushing their agenda (securing energy not only for themselves but trying their best to keep others from getting it) through military might, China and others (through BRIC and SCO alliances) have been squirreling away saving up to just buy up everything and everyone they can. Through the SCO they’ve also been building military alliances as well. (Larry; I really tied all of this to your post a few days back which I really enjoyed)
I don’t think either of you would be disappointed in this work. I very much enjoyed his writing style and how he adds a human element by describing some of the characters and settings he used to collect much of his materials.
Okay, I read the article twice–the first time, I was looking for substantiation of the "neomedieval" label, and the second I tried to read the article on its own merits. Both times I came to the same conclusion–while I don’t disagree with the author on any particular, I also didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, and the label was a total misnomer. His characterization of the middle ages was caricature if I’m being kind, or simply wrong if I’m not. In fact, it’s mostly just funny, seeing as the time of the Hanseatic League’s greatness and the heyday of the Italian city-states (and the Medicis to whom he specifically refers) was the Renaissance, not the medieval period.
Mind, I think we may, in fact, see a return to some of the realities and political institutions of the middle ages. It’s certainly possible. But that would mean greatly decreased power (and population) in the cities, for the most part. In the middle ages, and possibly in the future, most people lived agrarian lives and had only the foggiest ideas about or interest in the people who ostensibly ruled them. If the article drew any accurate parallels, it was the theme of decentralization, which I hope will be inevitable in a lower-energy future.
I agree Amy, the lines drawn were tenuous at best and some of the timelines were off a tad. Apparently, historical anthropology is not the author’s forte as much as socio-politic commentary. I do feel that decentralization is the name of the game going forward. I think that it is actually a natural control mechanism… as group dissolution is evidenced in almost every species once the population gets too large for it’s current location and resources. Now, this dissolution can be through division, reproductive delay/deficiency, or by mass extinction. I think for humans, we’re going to see all three types eventually.
Also, when you think that the human species has lived thousands of years in small tribes & city-states, and only a couple of hundred in cities and countries… one could argue that densely populated cities, and the lifestyle that often accompanies them, are unnatural for humans. So maybe this will be the final event that makes that lesson sink in (since all the revolutionary wars and the Great Depression weren’t enough to tip us off). So many people seem to think that returning to a "feudalist" society is a "step back". In the governmental form, perhaps it is (boo on overlords!), but societally it would seem to be the form that is most beneficial and best suited for us and the rest of the species who are trying to co-exist on the planet with us.
"Help I’m being oppressed!"
Whether we like it or not, depending on how far down the rabbit hole the system falls will dictate to a large degree the political front. Fall far enough and feudalism is the likely outcome. So I gotta agree with Plickety on this (or she’ll get me while I sleep ).
Nor is it necessarily a bad thing, and we have mirrors of this even in todays "more enlightened" forms of government. Evolutionary feudalism is just a step away from a tribal leader anyway, so whether the leader is beneficent or malevolent will dictate how the population living in that society are treated. While we all want to feel that community is hugs and singing Kumbayah, if the serious SHTF then do you want a leader who will sit with everyone preaching peace, love and understanding while your preyed upon by others who don’t buy into your community plan, or someone who is more "Praise the Lord, and pass the Ammunition"? I actually think both are important, on is to provide a sense of security and protection, while the other is to foster connection within the community. As George Orwell said "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." this will not change. Aaron uses the terms, Wolves, Sheep, and Sheep-dogs, Wolves prey on the Sheep, the Sheep flock for protection, and the Sheep-dogs live with the sheep, ready for defence against the Wolves.
From decentralization, and I keep coming back to this, a Republic is likely the best form of national government, like the US is meant to be. It’s decentralized to local government with a more centralized general direction. Local government can deal with the local problems, because they’re closer to the unique issues that are local, the central government should be dealing with things of national importance only, since these are more abstract anyway such as diplomacy with other countries, specific interstate issues etc.etc.