Populism Has Ushered in an Age of Deglobalization

A supporter of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders covers her mouth with a bandana in the colors of the American flag while standing along the perimeter fence of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

The world is undergoing radical changes—more profound, perhaps, than at any time in its history.

Some time ago I was invited to a conference in China titled “The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All: Values and Order in a Changing World.” This theme presents a serious challenge to those studies of world politics and its philosophical interpretations, that, despite all the vicissitudes of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, have not completely lost the historical optimism that so strongly characterized the nineteenth century.

My own understanding of harmony is closely related to the immortal words of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclites, who said: “What is in opposition is in agreement, and the most beautiful harmony comes out of things in conflict—and all is born from strife.”

If we look at the modern world, we see that the condition of “all born from strife” is clearly ascendant, and that “the various hues” Heraclites mentions are now very much at odds and far from achieving any form of “beautiful harmony.”

It so happens that the word “harmony” appears with increasing frequency in the works of political analysts and the agendas of prestigious international forums. At the recent Valdai Club meeting in Sochi, which Russian president Vladimir Putin attended, this pleasing and agreeable word turned out to be one of the key terms used. In Beijing the deeper significance of this term—“harmony”—was explored.

Victor Hugo once said, “One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas.” It seems that the time has now come for the invasion of ideas enshrined in the word “harmony.”

Why is that true?

Perhaps because the chaos resulting from the breakdown of the so-called “bipolar world” at the end of the last century is becoming increasingly dangerous, and therefore it is more intolerable for those who consider an orderly world to be the benchmark of harmonious relations. This chaos finds expression in numerous areas and at many levels.

Events of the second half of the twentieth century clearly demonstrated the futility of a global order based on a one-dimensional ideological confrontation sustained by a standoff between equally powerful nuclear forces. That “bipolar” world began disintegrating from the moment of its formation. It is sufficient in this regard to recall the conflict between Stalin and Tito and Yugoslavia’s withdrawal from the other socialist states. This was followed by the still more intense Soviet-Chinese controversy. As for those in the “opposite camp,” French leader Gen. Charles de Gaulle withdrew himself and his country from NATO’s military structure.

The intermediate stage between this illusory bipolar harmony and the very real chaos of the present was the so-called “strategic triangle” configuration formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s after Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to Beijing.

Before long, however, other centers of power and influence came into play. The world, according to many analysts, was becoming multipolar.

Many observers were optimistic about the process, seeing the emergence and growing influence of these other “poles of power” on the international arena as providing a more stable and long-lasting foundation for world order. However, it has become increasingly obvious during this opening stage of the twenty-first century that there is little basis for such optimism.

Advances in technology, new forms of warfare, the risk of nuclear proliferation, and the blurring of the line between war and peace—through the actions of governments as well as non-state players—are transforming the multipolar order into a more disorganized and chaotic world before our eyes.

The world seems to exist on two separate planes. On the surface, we have created a highly complex and rational world order. It includes such leading international political structures as the United Nations, the World Bank and others. Each has its basic legal statutory documents. There are also firmly established regional and subregional structures. Institutions focused on various aspects of human activity work unceasingly towards their objectives. It gives the impression that the world is, if anything, overly organized on that level. And I understand observers who are inclined to regard these multitudinous organizations of the world bureaucracy as nearly autonomous structures that simply spin their wheels without solving the real problems humanity faces.

As a result, not only do the world’s most pressing problems remain unresolved but, as the chaos deepens, they fall victim to unscrupulous and meaningless compromises. Amidst this chaos and Brownian motion, the winners are far from always the strongest—in the traditional sense of that word. We now confront the most recent and vivid example of how a rather second-rate blackmailer can achieve a brilliant victory and imposes his will on a number of the traditionally most influential states of the world—as each quietly tries to defer the problem to the others and avoid handling this increasingly “hot potato.”

The long-term effect of this failure is obvious—a deepening chaos that has given rise to more than one dangerously willful and reckless modern-day Herostratus.

The growing entropy of the world order is closely connected with important changes in the post-industrial and, as some believe, post-technological world.

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