Chapter 5

 

THE WORLD AT LARGE

 

 

The discussion here should be of vital interest to peoples outside the advanced economies.  Much of the time my discussion will be from the perspective of someone in an advanced economy, but in fact the subject is much broader than that.  Peoples everywhere are in the path of the onrushing changes in the world economy that offer such unbelievable promise at the same time they are profoundly threatening. 

          A realistic given should be that it simply won't be possible for the industrialized nations to give more than token support to the world’s burgeoning billions.  The global population is too vast and deep an ocean for that.  Nor would those billions' self-respect as individuals and in the context of their own cultures welcome near-total support even if it were possible.  (I realize that a certain mental revolution is needed if one is to grasp the truth of this. It flies in the face of the morally satisfying but deeply unrealistic feel-good frame of mind of so many well-intending Americans today who believe that the world’s peoples can be more than nominally helped by Westerners’ dabbling in a wide variety of Third World projects.  This is a mentality that has roots that go back centuries; it includes the “Social Gospel” and its many religious and ideological predecessors.) 

          The various countries of the world will find that since "the market" will simultaneously offer both utopia and displacement – with the latter removing the possibility of total reliance on the market as we have known it --, political action will be essential. The market has no way to address the issue of distribution-in-the-absence-of-work.  Political action will be vital if the benefits of the coming technology are to be realized by entire peoples, if vast suffering and anti-civilizational revolutionary chaos are to be prevented, and if (for its own sake and in support of both these purposes) there is to be assurance that everybody in a given society will share in the means of life. 

          And what will this action call for?  In the advanced economies where innovation and continuing production can be predicated on what already exists, a "shared market economy" will be a fitting solution.  But in a country like Pakistan, whose economy is almost entirely agricultural, the very real question arises about how it is to have any economy at all in a world where indoor farm-factories and mechanical planting and harvesting come to undercut outdoor farmers everywhere.  In much of the world, if a given society’s economy cannot maintain an industrial system sufficient to supply the people with the products of industry, the recourse may have to be for the government to perform the industrial function itself.  This will involve its operating on the old socialist prescription "production for use, not for profit."  In such case, where government or non-profit institutions use the technology directly to produce and to distribute, that will be socialism per se. 

          Far from being desirable in itself, this will pose the dangers that have loomed so large in the thinking of all opponents of socialism: that, as Lord Acton admonished, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  It will be for everyone (including hopefully socialists themselves) to ask how the central power can be restrained.  The cultures of the world are so diverse that the answers to that question will likely take many forms. History tells us that a hopeful solution, avoiding tyranny, is often not attained.

          In terms of their own self interest (in addition to their fellow-feeling for other human beings) the peoples of the advanced economies will have reason to be concerned about the well-being of the other peoples of the world.  The needed concern for those peoples will be far removed from the impractical sentimentality to which I have referred.  Hundreds of millions – in fact, billions – of displaced people will become bitter and desperate adversaries if displacement becomes their fundamental reality and if their societies are unable to cope with it.  In an age of terrorism and of potential nuclear, chemical and biological warfare, it will be a disaster for everybody if hatred looms so large.  Still further, by physical migration those billions will "swamp out" the richer nations, such as is portrayed in Jean Raspail's haunting novel The Camp of the Saints.   (This is a swamping that societies centered on a broad distribution of income, such as in a “shared market economy,” can ill-afford and will be disinclined to allow if they value their own continued existence.  This is because resources for distribution at any given time will be finite, although subject to expansion as productivity grows; and the influx of “additional mouths to feed” will dilute the distribution.)

          The belief that American society, or any free society, can only be safe if it remakes the world in the image of a liberal democracy sounds good, but is unspeakably presumptuous culturally and extremely dangerous. Any people that attempts such a remaking of the world is committing itself to endless conflict. (Here again, our “intellectual odyssey” requires rethinking something that is widely believed today.  Neoconservative and liberal internationalism are each centered on a messianic mission vis a vis the world.  It is likely that it will take much more bitter experience before such a notion is fully discredited.)

          In contrast to the messianism, the cultural historian Samuel Huntington came out strongly for a “live and let live” policy.  “Avoidance of a global war of civilizations depends on world leaders accepting and cooperating to maintain the multicivilizational character of global politics.”  He was critical of “western universalism,” which assumes that Western ways of doing things are obviously best for all; and points out the differences in perspective: “The non-Wests see as Western what the West sees as universal.”  The insistence that all nations become Westernized is immoral, he argued, because this can only be achieved through power.  The issue is so important that “Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict….”[1]

          Rather than to continue on such a mission, what we can do is to share something the advanced societies can in fact afford to share: technology and knowledge, and perhaps some capital. While the advanced economies can't directly support the other peoples other than in the superficial ways evident in the great many token efforts underway today, they will nevertheless be able to help those peoples gain the means to support themselves. 

          So far as capital assistance is concerned, there will be a limit on how much aid the advanced economies will be able to provide (or want to, in light of their own peoples’ needs for a broad distribution). This is particularly true unless the recipient cultures and their peoples are receptive to the proper maintenance and use of capital.  Such receptivity is seriously lacking in much of the world, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a general lethargy toward keeping property and infrastructure in good order.  At bottom, each of the world’s peoples will be “on its own” in avoiding desperation, and will have to deal with its own cultural conundrums.    

          The Internet has given rise to a movement in favor of “open source information.”  That should be taken seriously in light of the need that all peoples will have for advanced scientific and technical knowledge.  The world should perhaps move away from the patent system, which rewards innovation by granting a temporary monopoly over new products and inventions, to an alternative system of incentives.  If it does, the incentives will need to be ample enough to keep the dynamism alive.  There is even an “open source” movement for the free availability of literary work, music and university lectures.

 

It is likely that the tendency toward a worldwide mixing of cultures and diminution of national identities will continue.  The ever-growing ease of communication, transportation and travel will push in that direction. At the same time, the world has seen a significant counter-tendency as ethnicities have embraced themselves and sought autonomy.  The need for political solutions (by whatever institutions are viable) points in that direction.  In today's world the primary institutions are the nation-states.  Despite much hopeful thinking to the contrary, a "world government" would necessarily be run at much too high a level to allow genuine “democracy” and would be a dangerous center of power, given both the civilizational differences among cultures and the present level of civilization per se in a world where experience has shown that its evolution has taken it only to the twilight between civilization and barbarism (a theme of my book Understanding the Modern Predicament).

         

If the nation-state is to be the main center for addressing the needs of peoples under the coming circumstances, and if affluence is achievable, a by-product will be that it should become possible for peoples to retain their respective cultures, cultivating the local texture of life that adds so much to the richness of human experience (as well as so much that the outsiders to a given culture may find repugnant), if they desire to do so.  There is no need to allow the hurricane-like winds of a global market to dictate otherwise. The global market will no longer be “the tail that wags the dog,” since the phenomenon of economic displacement will have forced other things to the fore.  Retaining identity will be especially meaningful for the Islamic countries and for the West, but it will also be important for any society – Orthodox, Sinic, Hindu, Japanese, or others – with a culture its people value.  With both non-Western cultures and the West, their future existence is now threatened, given the trends of the past. 

          Not only will national entities be called upon to see to it that their peoples benefit from (as the alternative to suffering calamity from) the coming age's technology, they will also be able to create the framework for modes of life that the people may choose, even though the relentless cost-cutting of the market would not itself allow them.  Factory farms, for example, may turn out the foodstuffs needed, but millions may choose to live a rural existence based on something we might call "hobbyist" farming.  When scarcity is no longer the central economic fact and there is a mechanism for assuring everyone's participation in the output of the economy, there can be a blossoming of freely-chosen ways of living.

 

No doubt there will be differences of opinion about whether it is desirable for any given culture to survive – and, if so, that will be a flash-point of conflict.  (This may seem strange, since the right of any people to retain their culture may seem a given; it is, however, something that is very much at issue in recent decades for Europe and the United States.  I have been on panel discussions with "minority activists" who take great offense at the barest suggestion of perpetuating Euro-American culture.) 

          The erosion of European and American identity has to a large extent come, however, from policies that have reflected the attitudes of an intellectual subculture that has been alienated from the main bourgeois culture for almost two centuries.  That subculture, in combination with the global elite, presently has controlling voice in the media and major institutions, dictates what is "politically correct," and champions minorities of every kind as against the mainstream population.  It is possible, of course, that in a radically transformed world this alienation, which lies at the heart of the Left, will cease to exist or may moderate considerably.  If that were to happen, the search for unassimilated and disaffected allies may disappear and the whole internal "attack upon the West" may evaporate.

          It is to be remembered that the West has been the milieu from which science, technology and the market economy have sprung.  As such, it may play an indispensable role as the economic and technical underpinning of the world's immense population that now exists and that is coming into being. Billions of people have come into life only because of that underpinning, and could well perish without it.  That itself is ample reason to care for the continuity of the West.  Science, technology and an advanced economy don't just come into being by themselves, but have civilizational prerequisites.

          The threat to the West deserves emphasis because a major fact of our time is that a convergence of demographic, intellectual and moral forces is leading to the radical transformation of European and American civilization from anything like the form we have known it. 

          Consider the statement made by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, to the heads of government of twelve African nations in 1997 warning of “the North’s” intention to “recolonize the South” by globalization.  He advised that “we should migrate North in the millions, legally or illegally, if we are going to be global citizens.  Masses of Asians and Africans should inundate Europe and America.”[2]  Dr. Mahathir's statement merely sets forth starkly the reality of what is actually happening.  In fact, the migration he calls for will increasingly occur whether he wills it or not.  Demographic predictions are that Americans of European extraction will be a minority within the United States shortly after the middle of the twenty-first century, if not before.  A migration similar to the one the United States is experiencing is also changing the face of Europe.         

          The West has so long been under attack from outside, but most significantly from within its own ranks, that it no longer feels itself able to make a meaningful intellectual or moral defense against the demographic swamping-out.

 

         

 

ENDNOTES



[1]. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996), pp. 21, 66, 312.

[2].   Mahathir Mohamad’s comments were reported in The Australian, May 7, 1997.