27 October 2005
Welcome to the Post-Modern World
I suppose that if I had to put a date to the end of the modern era it would be 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course, the demise of modernity had been announced already by the likes of Francis Fukuyama, who told us that we were living at The End of History. To be fair to Dr. Fukuyama, he did put a question mark after his title, which suggests that he wasn’t entirely convinced himself.
Fukuyama was thinking about history in the Hegelian sense; that human progress had a definitive end, and that this end was liberal, western capitalism. Countries would accept this model and history as the tale of competing systems would cease. It was a lovely theory that had only one slight flaw: it was total bollocks.
At first this was not apparent. There was much mutual backslapping as various types told each other that the future was going to be rosy and dollar signed. Naturally there were those who seemed to be dragging their feet, but a short bombing campaign soon brought them to their senses. Once Kosovo had been removed from the evil clutches of the recalcitrant Serbs, these types told each other, then everything would be jolly. Then reality kicked in because the Kosovo-Muslims did not want to live in a nice, multi-cultural, social democratic state: they wanted to stuff the Serbs. They had always wanted to stuff the Serbs, that is why their fathers had joined the SS Skanderburg division over 50 years earlier, that is why Kosovo’s autonomy had been stripped from her to protect the Serbian minority: the Kosovans just enjoyed killing Serbs. Of course, the Serbs also enjoyed killing Kosovans, which brings us full circle to 1999 and the American-led war against Yugoslavia, but the whole point about that war is that the West’s leaders convinced themselves that a little bombing would go a long way, and that milk and honey would flow once the wicked government in Belgrade had capitulated. They were just plain wrong.
As states collapse, their peoples are not suddenly becoming docile consumers of the latest Western pap: older loyalties are re-emerging, and beliefs and values that the West thought long dead and buried are emerging into the daylight once again. In a world that has gone mad an individual’s family will provide his basic support. Extend the family to cousins, uncles and the like and you have the makings of a clan. Extend it still further to take in the clans who live around yours, probably those clans who share the valley with you, perhaps those who are engaged in similar economic activities to you; then you have the beginnings of a tribe. As the state collapses these loyalties will become more and more apparent.
Why is the state collapsing? Largely because it has failed as a primary focus of its citizens’ loyalties. In the case of Africa the states have long struggled to even build a nascent loyalty, but it is not just Africa that is seeing the end of the modern states’ system. The United Kingdom was forced to concede autonomy to Scotland in a so-far successful attempt to head off a drive for full Scottish independence. However, one success story needs to be set against a whole tranche of failures of hold the modern state together. From the USSR and Yugoslavia to Afghanistan and Somalia; the state can not only collapse, it can implode. Even when a successor state manages to take over, it is often so weak that its coercive powers are limited. Groups within that state will then begin to operate autonomously as the power vacuum is filled. Sometimes those groups will be traditional, at other times they will be newcomers to the political scene. Either way they will challenge an already declining state for the peoples’ loyalty.
Mexico is a case in point. In the South the Zapatista rebels control much of the Mayan areas. In the North the drug barons have stepped in where the state has failed and are providing money for schools, hospitals and even sports stadia. Yes, they are killing each other as well as innocent civilians who get in the way, but they are also creating statelets within the main state that are immune, seemingly, to the latter.
The state is thus losing its monopoly over death and destruction. Wars are now being fought by a whole range of people, as the Mexican drug dealers have shown. There is nothing that is actually new about this; that is the way that wars were fought before the rise of the modern state. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to see these old forms of warfare return. Families used to fight wars, as did tribes, cities and religions. Now they have begun to do it again.
What is new is the way in which these conflicts are impacting on already weakened states by the effects of globalisation. Russia and Chechnya are a case in point. In the past those two could have gone at it until Hell had frozen over and it would not have effected the rest of us. However, what would happen if the Chechens decided to mount sustained attacks on the Gazprom network that supplies natural gas to Western Europe? One can imagine under such a scenario the Western powers pressuring Moscow to settle the conflict on terms favourable to the Chechens – give them anything, so long as the gas continues to reach its consumers.
So we are heading into a world that will be interesting to say the least. As the state loses its importance – or vanishes altogether – new forms of governance, conflict and personal relationships will have to emerge to provide security for the individual. Paying for all of this is going to be interesting in a world where people are no longer willing to accept a weakened state's fiat currency.
Interesting times. I might return to this theme at a later date, always assuming that indolence doesn't get me first.