The End of Civilization or the Clash of History?
Member of the Bureau «History of World
Culture» Scientific Council of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of
The title of this piece is a contamination of two concepts popular in the 1990s – ‘The End of History’ and ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ – intentionally and forcibly incorporated into one linguistic chimera by the author. Such a title makes it natural to discuss such immense themes as the modern condition of civilization or, say, the path of history.
However, if we assume that civilization is now experiencing a systemic crisis and is passing into a new condition, we quickly experience a pressing need for concepts and new categories adequate to this unordinary situation: We need a new updated lexicon for a changed social text, for a new image of social life. We lack the words, and therefore define the currently forming status of mankind through palliative constructs and more-or less-habitual concepts, such as a postindustrial or information society, the end of history, the new barbarianism, the clash of civilizations, globalization, etc.
Other important issues to be discussed and developed within the aforementioned theme are changes in the world’s political and legal order, and the transformation of global mechanisms of governance. We currently are in a transit situation, in which the elements of a new, postmodern world are presented at the stage of history together with the realities of the Modern epoch.
The system of international relations and international legal institutions is changing literally before our eyes. Numerous changes are occurring in the models of social, economic, and political activity, in projections of authority; the cultural landscape of Modernity is changing together with its sense-making structures. Human practice and its accompanying mechanisms are shifting into some new systemic quality.
One more component of changes is mutation of the systems, forms and methods of governance, the genesis of new and competing organizational structures for which we lack adequate and settled definitions and are therefore forced to use ‘dimensionless’ concepts such as, say, ‘new organizations’. Or to outline the situation using a multitude of particles such as ‘post’, ‘neo’, ‘anti’, para’ ‘quasi’, and ‘hyper’, i.e., to allocate a novelty that says nothing about its internal substance, about its essence. Or to resort to exotic neologisms like ‘geoeconomic universe’, ‘ambitious corporation’, or ‘asteroid groups’.
Finally, it would be desirable to touch on the problem of the transformation of social mentality and the rise of new social populations and elite groups, because all global changes are ultimately determined by a new organization of individual and public consciousness. Its modifications produce a new typology of social activity, political and economic practice, and so on. But first of all, such modifications result in genesis of a new culture and its active proponents.
The New Earth and The New Sky
is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
– Rudyard Kipling
The polyphony of debates on the topic of ‘civilization’ could be divided into two approaches:
1. Civilization understood as a diachronic process, as ‘civilizationization’ through some norm (city culture, Roman law, the Christian worldview, codes of Modernity, or the material culture of industrialism), or as a civilization process of acquisition of a special level of socialization (civility) by society;
2. Civilization understood as local (regional) cultural areas that possess a distinct specificity in their treatment of life goals and existence. Civilization changes are, accordingly, changes in these cultural constants and the formation of new ties and axioms of life.
The characteristic of the present-day civilization situation encompasses three qualitatively different stances.
The first stance was sounded soon after the events of September, 11, 2001, by Francis Fukuyama in his article “Has History Started Again?”. This point of view could be summed up as follows: global processes are nothing but the acceleration of the modernization process. In the article, Fukuyama wrote: ‘… despite the events since September 11: modernity, as represented by the United States and other developed democracies, will remain the dominant force in world politics, and the institutions embodying the West’s underlying principles of freedom and equality will continue to spread around the world. The September 11 attacks represent a desperate backlash against the modern world, which appears to be a speeding freight train to those unwilling to get onboard’. In other words, an obvious boost of the conflicts that we have seen recently is linked to the process of the acceleration of modernization, rather than its delay or termination. This stance conforms to the political practice of some influential states; so the actions of, say, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush could be interpreted as an attempt to establish a certain civilization standard – a standard of Modernity – worldwide.
But this stance does not satisfy the majority of researchers. They view the actions of Bush administration not as a successful attempt to accomplish the project of a thousand-year liberal empire, but as an agony of a Modernity passing into historical nonexistence with all its institutions, both political (representative democracy, public policy, civil society) and economic (industrial economy, the liberal market).
I would say that today the locomotive of Modernity – if we use this image –reminds me of an armored train. Was there a period in history when the process of modernization really acted as a speedy locomotive? It seems to me that there was such period of history, and that the locomotive of Modernity – this ‘Western express train’ of civilization – really did make a triumphal voyage around the planet – but that this took place more than a century ago.
The 1860-1870s were the time when the United States of America went through the burdens of civil war, rejected the institution of slavery, and entered the epoch of rapid industrial development. If we turn to Europe we shall see, for example, the transformation of feudal Germany – not, in fact, Germany, but a kaleidoscope of small kingdoms – into a mighty industrial state that corresponded much better to the demands of the Modern epoch. At the same time, we can see the acceleration of modernization processes in Russia: The abandonment of serfdom and the subsequent dynamic modernization of the country, the growth of its urban population, and social revolution (‘revolution of the masses’). Finally, we finish a planetary circle and reach Japan, with its simultaneous Meiji revolution. And this was the beginning of the era of modern industrial development.
By the end of the 19th century, modernization of the planet – the process of global social construction within a distinct culture – reaches its logical limit. It seems to me that the peak of this process took place approximately during the period from the Berlin conference to the First World War, when the world was controlled in practical and legal terms, and divided into global zones within the framework of the principle of ‘efficient control’, and democratic institutes of governance penetrated into quasi-feudal imperial bodies. The worldwide ‘Barbaristan’ was somehow incorporated into modern civilization. In effect, an article or a book titled “The End of History” could have appeared at that time.
So, a certain logical limit was achieved. The development of the planet in terms of area globalization – it was globalization, although its forms were different from those we are habitual to – had been completed. If we look at the economic indicators of the leading countries of that time we can see that the ratios of foreign trade to GDP at the beginning of the 19th century have been exceeded only quite recently. Throughout the 20th century, the curve of development was a sine wave. In other words, civilization reached a certain global status, but failed to preserve it.
Why did this situation blow up? There were many reasons, linked to the phenomenal success of Modern culture, with its breakthroughs in science, technology and economy, and with its failures in the political and social spheres.
The borderline between the 19th and the 20th centuries demonstrated an extraordinary burst of innovations. The numerous realities that resulted are so habitual and typical for us that we do not notice their unique quality, atypical for all human history. The structures of daily life changed, new items included electricity, and especially electric light and various electrical devices, and the internal combustion engine with its numerous derivatives, from automobiles and aircraft to tractors and tanks. A wide family of completely new technical devices – complicated mechanisms, ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ technologies – appeared and created new fields of activity, like oil refining and the manufacture of synthetic products. Finally, dynamical and enormously efficient (in terms of civilization) infrastructures of communications and entertainments – radio, the telephone, sound recording, and cinema – became widely available in daily life.
We somehow tend to forget or take for granted that this whole amazing stream of innovations emerged in a fairly short period of time, and created such an abundance of objects and products that social and political institutions turned out to be absolutely unprepared for the power of industrial civilization. The first problem to arise was the trivial problem of selling, and it arose very soon and in a very pressing form. In particular, modern civilization felt the narrowness of area globalization, felt the taste of free trade, and could not further exist as a ‘fragmented integrity’ of imperial zones. This caused world wars and a number of other dramatic events.
But social dynamics is not limited to the economic aspect of the approaching global revolution. Arnold Toynbee studied it in terms of civilization dynamics: He tried to define the causes and parameters of epochal changes, together with the chronological frontier when the world of Modernity began to change into a new quality known today as the social Postmodern. First, Toynbee outlined this border in a traditional way, dating the historic breakthrough of the First World War, but later he moved it to the 1870s for two reasons, given in his texts.
In proof of his point of view, Toynbee wrote that by the beginning of the 20th century the industrial system began to increase its activity and became global, while the system of nationalism began to penetrate deep into the minds of national minorities, pushing them to create their own sovereign national states, despite their frequent inability to form even small economically, politically and culturally independent countries. In other words, industrial power exploded the structure of national states, building transnational compositions and creating new economic, social and political bodies. The ‘old’ world held together by the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 – the world of sovereign national states – trembled and began to blur.
The second reason is amazing in its visionary strength. The world envisioned by Toynbee reminded him of the Middle Ages – but not in terms of the alarmist codes of the ‘New Middle Ages’ and the approaching ‘New Barbarianism’. The new reality makes people feel like they did in the days of historical Middle Ages, i.e., as a part of ‘a wider universe’. What Toynbee meant to outline was a universal nature of the society of people living in the Universum Christianum – in a unified universal world, or as we would put it today in a transnational, global world.
Toynbee precisely defines the place of other, local bodies in the structure of society: Kingdoms, episcopacies, and municipal cities occupied peripheral positions in the universal organization of the unified Christian world. They did not influence the world order of that time. Toynbee saw worldwide processes as an origin of the New World that would revive the universal spirit of former times by turning the page of history linked to the sovereign national states generated by Modernity.
Therefore the second conceptual idea of modern studies in destinies of civilization is linked with the concept of social Postmodernism. According to it, the world passes through serious and primarily qualitative changes, the process of modernization – in its initial sense – has reached deadlock, and an essentially different process – social Postmodernism – is now gaining strength and showing itself through cultural and civilization polyphony, the rise of sociocultural eclecticisms, cultural dechristianization and reorientalization, and even through demodernization and neoarchaization of the world.
The elements of this approach are best seen in Samuel Huntington’s well-known book “The Clash of Civilizations”. Huntingdon’s syncretic worldview includes developing conflict between various systems of values, a planetary, ‘horizontal’ clash of existing cultural and historical types of society and civilization. The Christian civilization, including Modernity, is only one element in this global mosaic.
Returning to a chronological review of the events of the beginning of the 20th century, we see amazing things soon after the First World War. During the 1920s the burst of innovations supplemented by the production-line system of manufacture generated the material culture of ‘the world of cheap things’, of potential material abundance that later became the basis for ‘consumer society’. However a sharp fall in manufacturing costs made workers lose their importance. The subsequent crisis is dramatically described in both professional literature and fiction. (Incidentally, the 1990s in Russia are sometimes compared with this crisis. But these phenomena are of a different nature: In fact, the crisis of the end of the 1920s was a crisis of abundance, of overproduction. There were so many cheap things that something had to be done about it.)
Two answers were given to the question about further paths for the development of civilization.
First, the world order based on the area globalization (i.e., on the concert of world empires that were similar in terms of culture) underwent a very strong attack of strengthening protectionism, the ‘fencing off’ of national and imperial markets that became especially important for the new system of manufacturing. The concurrent process was the rise of the idea of free trade, which later served to design the World Trade Organization. Therefore globalization – as the forming of a universal commodity market – became one of the answers to the phenomenon of excessive abundance. It was, so to speak, an extensive mechanism to solve the problem, while generally preserving the former social environment.
The second answer was more complicated. Before looking at it, we need to understand one simple truth: The economic stability of the social mechanism of the time was determined not by the quantity of consumers demanding certain goods, but by the quantity of solvent consumers, and this distinction is important. In other words, the goal was to increase the number of solvent consumers (leading to the development and realization of effective social programs that raised the standard of living in industrial countries), and to force these solvent consumers to consume superfluous amounts of goods.
Besides, there was also a serious ideological crisis as the North Atlantic world was raised on Protestant ethics, and superfluous consumption, the introduction of mechanisms of forced consumption, artificial consumption, prestigious consumption, and fashion – in other words, the moral obsolescence of goods without their physical obsolescence – demanded serious changes in social mentality and prevailing ideology. In other words, the project of consumer society demanded a revolution in consciousness.
In turn, changes in the prevailing Modern worldview led to the gradual liquidation of political institutions such as civil society, public policy, and representative democracy. Therefore, the revolution marking the global transformation of society was not only economic and ideological, but also political.
The cumulative effect of these two projects (the globalization and the postmodernization of the world) allowed the problem of overproduction and a number of other problems to be solved. But at a high price.
The world of Modernity encompassed an ongoing process of cultural and social homogenization. The processes we treat as negative – for example, colonization – were in fact quite ambiguous. Modern (Christian) civilization conducted processes of developing the world, of its evangelization, and implementation of culture with a degree of certain social responsibility. In the 20th century processes of postmodernization broke the old, ‘horizontal’, Kipling-Stalin ‘West-East’ axis and replaced it with a new global, ‘vertical’ social construct: ‘North-South’. This formula proclaimed the era of heterogeneous hierarchy and brought the image of a world not homogenous, but riven and elitist. United Nations statistics confirm this forecast: Global social inequality is increasing, not decreasing. Certainly, there is some development in some countries of the South, but in general these two social galaxies are moving in opposite directions.
Finally, the third point of view on the civilization situation of today is that the sociocultural phenomenology and system of values now arising cannot be reduced to any single historically known civilization, cultural and historical type, or ideological system. Recent dramatic events reveal a contour of some different and integral – although none too clear – cultural and social semantics. Therefore it is possible that we are witnessing the genesis of a fundamental civilization alternative, with its own laws and logic of social institutes.
But in that case there is today a ‘vertical’, diachronic clash of civilizations, as Modernity ‘clashes’ not with those well-known cultures, but with its own shadow, with a phantom of civilization threatening from the future. In other words, the civilization of Modernity, which still dominates the planet, is faced not with the threat of the Islamic, Confucian, or, say, Indian civilizations, but the growth of a new, postmodernist culture. The exhaustion of time, the ‘termination of history’, and the revival of the topos – the spirit of endless open spaces – awakens the resettlement energies of peoples.
This historical barrier for humankind is a surrealistic puzzle for economists, political scientists, anthropologists, in fact for anyone who try to understand it in habitual terms. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, played perhaps one useful role: They made politicians think about the problem of anonymous but influential forces – the new actors of Postmodernity – and changed the topology of social space.
We Build the Future
Future is Now
An important aspect of today’s changes is the transformation of the structure of international relations. I shall list some significant processes of the ongoing mutation of the global context:
· The redistribution of imperial powers from the national to the transnational level;
· The rise of new subjects of authority, such as global superpowers, international regulatory bodies, and informal centers of influence with an extremely broad area of competence;
· A crisis in the cultural, ideological, and practical bases of national statehood (the main political tool of Modernity), and the crisis of national statehood as an active form of social organization in a number of the countries of the South;
· The phenomenon of ‘countries as systems’;
· The de-formalization of authority, a reduced role for public policy and representative bodies, a tendency to expand the zone of competence for informal decision-making procedures, and conclusion of oral, consensus ‘agreements’ instead of normal contracts;
· Outlined limits of judicial power;
· The transnationalization of elites and the rise of a new social structure – the global North – together with concurrent globalization of the alternative space of the global South;
· Integration of political and economic functions to form a system of strategic interactions and a basis of global governance;
· Spatial localization of various kinds of economic activity; the creation of a new form of global division of labor, redistribution of global income and collection of ‘global rent’, and the creation of a geoeconomic universe;
· The development of transnational (corporate) networks and network culture.
These numerous changes allow us to claim that there is a dynamic, and at the same time hierarchical, system of international relations currently forming, and that the former – 10 years old – understanding of international relations no longer exists. How has all this happened? After a quick glance at the ‘tight knots’ of economic history of the 20th century, I shall try to address the uneasy situations of its political destiny.
So, the world order built during area globalization turned to be vulnerable. A new global social organism took shape on the planet. Previously suggested versions of it contain the invariable idea of creating a unified construct, an alternative to the polyphonic system of nation states.
The first version was the project of Communism. The documents of that time, like the Manifesto of the Third International, are often amazing in their similarity to modern texts on globalization, transnationalization and other similar processes.
Vigorous attempts to build a version of the new world order were undertaken also by Italy and Germany (and together with them by half a dozen other European states). The project, however, exceeded the initial plans of a corporate model of statehood and assumed a certain version of a global Ordnung.
A more successful project is linked with the name of U.S. President and visionary Woodrow Wilson, who soon after the end of the First World War called the 20th century a century that rejects standards of national egoism and demands that they gave way to the new order. Wilson actually initiated the process of creating the mechanism of the first international regulatory body to become a central actor in the history of international relations in the 20th century: The League of Nations.
The next step of this process was creation of the United Nations and a network of international organizations. The United Nations included a very interesting component with an overwhelmingly political significance: The Security Council, a directive and elite body. The Security Council had completely new functions in terms of international law, such as the opportunity to interfere in other states’ affairs, including the lawful use of force.
What is important here? The ideology of the international relations of Modernity was based on formal egalitarianism. Certainly, there is no real equality in international relations, but the premises of identical juridical personality were a way to overcome the imperial codes of the world order. It was based on a quite serious ideological platform, linked to the categorical basis of Modernity. The phenomenon of a global regulatory body revived an imperial, archaic world order.
The next stage in the transformation of international relations happened in 1975, when an influential international body, the G8 (G6 at the time), was born. This group’s decisions were made neither in public, nor through formalized procedures, but usually by consensus reached during secret negotiations. It was a new form of construction of international relations. This reminds me of three principles of the new world order outlined by Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The first is regulation of key global processes through a certain club of the world’s leading states. The second pillar of the future world order, according to Brzezinski, was a global taxation and emissive system. Finally, the third principle was the inevitable and dramatic elitism of the New World, with the ‘gradual formation of a more and more controllable and governed society ruled by the elite’.
The 20th-century mutation of the sovereign national state seems to have three directions. We have just examined the first vector, which is connected with the phenomenon of international regulating bodies. Another line is linked to the concept of ‘countries as systems, and the third to the processes of subsidiarity.
We often meet a concept of ‘countries as systems’ or ‘regional states’. The most vivid example of this phenomenon is certainly the United States of America. The U.S. does not fit into the framework of the national state, as understood in the political language of Modern culture. The actual borders – instead of the formal administrative state borders – of the United States protected by all its armed forces are the ‘zones of national interest’ that cover nearly the entire planet.
Thus, we have a new global regulatory body: A global actor, an empire country. It closely interacts with international institutions, but complicates their activity and takes some of their functions.
There are other formats of the ‘country as system’ (or ‘regional state’) apart from the ‘New America’. For example, the Shengen Treaty is an even more typical representative of this family, as it does not seek to take on the role of a global regulatory body.
Another example of ‘country as system’ is China, or, rather, ‘Greater China’, bundling the People’s Republic together with Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. When trying to estimate the power of China, we are compelled to use different social metrics: With or without Hong Kong or numerous Chinese around the world, etc. The cultural and civilization area of this ‘country as system’ includes states such as Singapore (where 90 percent of the population are Chinese), the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, and Chinatowns around the world. The Chinese world is an innovative social formation, a new type of ‘country as system’ that goes beyond the frameworks of the national state and the frameworks of former understandings of statehood.
The third vector of the transformation of the national state is the phenomenon of subsidiarity, i.e., voluntary or compelled delegation of state powers to the local level. This has somehow increased the status of autonomies: Ulster or Scotland in the Great Britain, the Pays Basque or Catalonia in Spain, etc.
A tougher display of this tendency was a number of young ‘parastates’ that are not states in the terms usually used in Modernity. The post-Soviet territory includes quite a few of them, including Pridnestrovie, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Adzharia, Karabakh, etc. Certainly, this phenomenon is not an exclusive feature of the post-Soviet space, as it includes formations such as the Republic of Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, etc. It is possible to identify a cluster of parastate territories that have existed on the planet for a long time: the ‘tribal zone’ in Pakistan, a number of similar African territories, such as southern Sudan, quasi-state formations in the area of the ‘golden triangle’ of the Indochina peninsula, etc.
The postindustrial barrier predetermined updated forms of social organization and a new generation of parapolitical bodies. Here it is possible to identify two considerably different branches of development. One is linked to the process of economic transnationalization that sharply increased at the end of the 19th century, when state industrial power broke out of the limits of national territory, leading to the formation of transnational corporations, banks, other similar bodies, and finally to the outlining of the geoeconomic world order. The other is linked to the formation of dynamic and paraeconomic cultures of ‘ambitious corporations’, which are now efficient agents of change, benefiting their own historical goals.
The concept of geoeconomy was introduced approximately in the middle of the last century, but became actively used only in the 1990s. The term is used in various ways, but basically it is actively used to point to the ongoing merger politics and economics into a complicated whole. Geoeconomic bodies are not only economic structures; therefore the introduction of the concept of ‘geoeconomy’ fills the lexical deficiency I mentioned above. In other words, in the Modern world the economy largely carries administrative and imperious functions, and the authorities are involved in solving economic problems. Besides, both politics and economics are quite often conducted outside of national territories. In other words, the outlining geoeconomic design of the world is transnational and global, although is tied to certain geographical areas.
The result is a planet-wide metaeconomy: A compound system of geoeconomic spaces interconnected by the strings of resource flows and geoeconomic rent payments. Another consequence of globalization was the structural (by virtue of its structural nature) and territorial (in terms of geographical or transgeographical metaregions) division of economic activities. I identify six such areas; their interrelation has a hierarchical design.
There is a handmade object known as a Chinese ball; a sphere that contains five other spheres decreasing in size and located one inside another. This design is a good model of the geoeconomic design of the world. The surface sphere is the geoeconomic New North: A ‘headquarters economy’ that covers all other worlds. It is genetically connected to North Atlantic region, but possesses its own transnational and transgeographic goals. The economy of this cosmopolite module is linked to the possession of symbolical capital, with the opportunity for global projection of imperial decisions, financial and legal regulation of all economic operations, and with the sphere of high qualified services and digital economy. I call this home of the modern ‘etherocracy’ a ‘New Laputa’ by association with the air-borne islands from Gulliver’s travels. It leaves all kinds of material production to other geoeconomic regions.
Dominating the next geoeconomic or geographical space (the first internal sphere) is hi-tech manufacturing located in the North Atlantic region. This locus should probably be called the ‘West’, to follow the ‘first floor’ of the ‘New North’. The North Atlantic region has the function of a ‘hi-tech Versace’ engaged in production of templates and specimens, not only in clothes and footwear, but in high technologies that are later (with certain restrictions for military technologies) duplicated in other regions of the planet.
The primary ‘duplicating’ region is the Pacific region, the area of the Pacific Ring. In geoeconomic terms the Pacific region of today is not only North and Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania; it also includes the non-conventional axis of Latin America-Hindustan. Then comes the New East, which is linked to mass industrial production including hi-tech goods. One more geographically motivated metaregion is the South, located mainly in the tropical and subtropical zone. The basis of its geoeconomic orientation is production of various kinds of raw materials.
Finally, the last geographically motivated zone of the modern world is perhaps least geoeconomically articulated. It is the ‘land ocean’ of Eurasia, or to be more precise the space of Northern Eurasia, politically linked with the historical destiny of Russia. (Incidentally, this is the only ‘ocean’ – a transit territory – that consists of national territory. If this was a formal model, the structural basis of this ‘big space’ – a sort of geoeconomic Hyper-North – should be the production and manufacturing of intellectual raw material and a broad spectrum of innovations, both technological and social. In this case the spatial economic organization of the world would determine the structural and functional relations of the ‘global industrial megamachine’, of a unified industrial and production complex of the world economy. However, this has not happened yet.)
The list of the main elements of spatial economic design is finished by the global geoeconomic underground, ‘smeared’ by the wrong side of the geoeconomic universe, uniting the speculative quasi-north with extortionate, ‘trophy’, criminal economy of the Deep South. This is the successor of former criminal activity, which is gradually acquiring qualitatively new characteristics and a stable position within the framework of the global geoeconomy of the new transnational world, operating with hundreds billions of dollars. So far it involves not only drug trafficking, although this makes up probably the most considerable and well-known part of this paraeconomy, but also numerous segments of shadow activity closely connected to the legal economy. An unequivocal definition of paraeconomy, of this dynamical and transboundary space, risks narrowing that field of it connected by thousand of strings to other parts of the global economic universe.
These ‘circles’ of the geoeconomic megamachine are connected by a system of interrelations: The production of raw materials and goods, creation of intellectual ‘raw material’ and manufacture of hi-tech products, and all industrial activity and postindustrial ‘economy of service’, including financial, legal, and administrative services. How was this global megamachine built? Taking a quick glance at the history of the 20th century from the point of view of the political construction of international relations, we can see the break of the Westphalia system and the building of a new, post-Westphalia system of global communications. How was the geoeconomic universe created? What stages of development were passed through for the ‘headquarters economy’ to occupy its present-day leading position?
The geoeconomic integrity I’m talking about encompasses quite specific mechanisms that somehow resemble the codes of governance of the Soviet Union, i.e., which are closely linked with administrative and nomenclature control systems, have a certain social realm, and serve the modern world as means of governance for global resource flows and redistribution of global income. The following examples are intended to show the scale and quality of the administrative substance of global geoeconomic technologies.
First, this refers to the technology of a global reserve currency, modified in 1971-1973 with the phenomenon of new money. That year, the United States of America – the issuer of the actual global reserve currency – abandoned the policy of a gold standard for the dollar. The money became ‘alchemical’ in its nature, as its value was determined by the symbolic capital of the United States of America and its capability for global governance, and not by any material resources.
The next stage was the creation of global debt. This began in 1973 with the oil crisis, when a lot of Eurodollars (not just dollars in Europe, but dollars outside the physical United States) entered the realms of global finance and economics. The dollars flowed from oil-producing countries to the Western banks, breaking up old credit systems and reducing interest rates.
This process coincided with the political process of decolonization, and strong flows of free financial resources rushed into the less developed countries that were clearing their liabilities with new credits. As a result, the 1970s were a time of intensive development, but in the 1980s this dynamic system faced a threat of global collapse – the collapse of global banking system. The challenge was met by structural adjustment and financial stabilization. The essence of this was a permanent increase in the production and export of natural resources, with further redistribution of financial assets from domestic consumption to paying a country’s external debt (although in fact such external debt can never be paid in this way).
Other geoeconomic techniques of the ‘headquarters economy’ include risk management, chaos management, controlled destruction, mechanisms of global risk sharing, new systems of insurance, including insurance of national and regional risks, etc.
So the planet has a developing new economy that suspiciously gravitates toward administrative codes of governance, to values of global balance, which historically oppose the history of the development processes of modern civilization. They oppose not only development, but the permanent transcendence of living conditions with their forced innovative process and creation of new codes and fields of activity.
Present-day social reality encompasses a certain influential factor connected to the idea of development. The fact is that, alongside the notorious process of globalization, there is another process that however receives less attention. This is the process of individualization: The establishment of a vigorous, polyphonic person or groups of people that benefit from broad access to the financial, organizational, technical, and technological means of industrial and postindustrial life.
The acting ‘molecules’ of this social substance form ‘networks of similarities and sympathies’, and create flexible organizational bodies. Here again, the language of social sciences ‘becomes dumb’ because of a deficiency of corresponding lexicon and the absence of developed semantics for this process. I define such formations as new organization, and call them ‘ambitious corporations’. There is also the concept of ‘asteroid groups’.
The history of this concept is as follows. We can imagine a national state as a planet, but the modern world is witnessing the break-up of some national states and national elite corporations. The elite groups of the modern states ‘floating’ in the transnational environment include groups guided by quite different interests and sometimes completely different goals. These goals and interests – which are often antagonistic within national borders – at the same time often coincide with the goals and interests of elite groupings living in other national areas. Such groups – pieces of former ‘national corporations’ – merge into cosmopolite molecules of new transnational bodies.
These asteroids of the social universe include various ambitious corporations, global diasporas, international nongovernmental organizations, various clubs, criminal consortia, etc.; all of them make up a new flexible Oecumen, without any ‘formalized’ sociological cartography as yet. Even the rather simple geoeconomic design that I mentioned earlier far falls outside the limits of the traditional administrative and political map of the world. Besides, it has an additional, ‘third’ dimension, represented by global and ‘wrong side’ transborder areas. The issue of new organizational bodies is even more complicated, as their key genetic features include permanent dynamism and uncertainty.
The concepts of nonlinearity, uncertainty, and turbulence are quite popular and widespread categories of the modern political lexicon. This theme was touched on by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who named the problem of uncertainty as one of the priority tasks for strategic research. And Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has abandoned habitual forms of forecasting and often claims that the future of global financial system is largely uncertain.
The issue in focus is that the condition of uncertainty is not simply a postindustrial barrier, not a transit situation that would have passed in several years or even several decades, i.e., it is not a situation which would somehow be overcome. No, it is probably the key feature of the New World, in which humankind will henceforth find itself, transforming its consciousness and adapting social codes of activity. And those new formulas of governance that arise in Modern society are connected to this new quality of the world, with its flexible structures, turbulent process management, and management of dynamic chaos.
Here I would like to recall the historical lesson of one the central episodes of the history of 20th century that was in due time missed by the Soviet Union. However, even today this phase transition is often read in terms that do not fit its social power and role in history. The time limits of this social explosion are quite exact: From 1968 to 1973, or a bit wider from 1966 to 1975. This period is too narrow for such historical changes. Within several years, the mechanism of global transformation quickly changed the world. The first thing to change was the civilization-dominant central position of Protestant subculture, of the whole Christian world, of all Modern civilization, of the whole world of Modernity. The developed forms of economy, policy, and culture also mutated quickly during these years.
That time recalls revolution in Paris, the ‘hippy revolution’ and the anti-war movement in the United States; it was then that the prototype for the Internet – Arpanet – and the microchip were born. Discussions of global problems, the destiny of the Third World, of processes of convergence and alternative scenarios for the future of civilization were launched. The boom of the postindustrial economy, the financial and legal economy, the economy of knowledge, the digital economy and the ‘new economy’ was even more impressive.
But the main event was the rise of a ‘new class’ closely linked with the new order and postindustrial way of life. These were the people who were comfortable with the realities of the postindustrial world and had direct and indirect access to mass and elite media, to financial and legal activity, to ideology and showbusiness, to political resources and to new resources in general.
This ‘fourth class’ began to develop through a sharp confrontation and historical compromise with the ‘old classes’, and occupied commanding positions in society. This generation created modern financial and digital culture, etc. A new social generation also produced a new policy – a new geometry of the social universe – from the atmosphere of social struggle and historical compromises, and built its own version of the New World which differs considerably from the aforementioned mechanics of the geoeconomic continuum.
Despite the dramatic agony of the culture of Modernity (the crisis in the digital economy and U.S. hyperimperialism), the global revolution is still developing. The opposition of the ‘old class’ and the ‘new class’ will largely determine the outcome of the battle for the future. There are no manuals for this struggle, and no simple way to translate the social text. Nevertheless, the new dynamic actors of historical processes are gradually outlining the unstable and unclear map of the postmodern world; the map of the New Earth and the New Sky after the Big Social Bang. Will it be the end of civilization, or just one more zigzag of history?
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