Article originally published on Látószög, on March 18, 2021.
Instead of the “end of history” a period of sharp geopolitical struggles and a new Cold War is coming.
The historical dynamics of globalization
We can only consider a true global order from the 16th century in Carl Schmitt’s notion of the “Nomos of the Earth”; but we can discover smaller “globalization” processes and a kind of preglobal world order in the distant past. Thus, as early as the 2nd millennium BC, a community emerged in the Middle East, in which the age’s English was the Babylonian, real the lingua franca of that time, and where the legal-worldview of international relations was based on the “translatability of gods” (Jan Assman). With the decline of the Babylonian and the Egyptian civilization in this era, various uniting empires (Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Macedonians, Romans) alternated in this region. The Babylonians were eventually supplanted by the Greeks and then centuries later by the Arabs; however, the region maintained its unity during the Greco-Roman civilization of antiquity and then during the confrontation between Islam and Christianity and remained a point of conflict and meeting between different civilizations.
Another feature of the preglobal world order is the dominant role of the Eurasian region – Halford Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory”. The infinite plains at the heart of the Old World were both a dividing and connecting medium (Silk Road) for a line of settled civilizations flourishing and declining on its fringes; meanwhile, the renewing waves of nomads from the depths of the region were arguably one of the engines of historical events. This preglobal Old World order was land-based in nature; navigation was largely confined to river and inland seas. Certain areas, detached from the aforementioned Middle Eastern “hub”, formed separate worlds.
Radical changes were brought by the voyages of Western sailors at the turn of the 15th-16th centuries. These not only brought America into the Eurasian and African territorial power struggles – creating a Euro-Atlantic focal point instead of Eurasian – but also “made the world spherical”. Francis Drake’s journey shed light on the possibility of global warfare. At the same time, the Muscovite state took control of the heartland, thus ending the historical series of nomadic waves.
This period marked the beginning of “jus publicum Europaeum” (another Schmitt notion), the Europe-centered international order, in which the whole became a function of one of the leading European powers. The keystone of this was the Congo or Berlin Conference in 1884 where Western leaders, driven by a mission of civilization and of course, interested in cheap raw materials and labor, divided virtually the entire African continent. In the 19th century, England as the world’s maritime superpower, controlled almost every major shipping hub (Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Ceylon, etc.) and by encircling the entire planet, become a global empire. Between 1890 and 1910, the decline of their Europe-centric order could be observed as the United States increasingly displaced Europeans from the American continent on the basis of the Monroe principle; Japan meanwhile dealt a blow to the Russian in the Far East. This of course did not mean an end to the process of globalization, in fact: the decline of jus publicum Europaeum culminated in a world war that mobilized nearly every country on Earth.
Global hegemony instead of global divisions
The commonplace goal of World War I was to redistribute the world; however, it ultimately led to the rise of two powers that were looking to achieve global hegemony. One of these was the United States which sought to shape the world according to its own image based on the Wilson principles. Eventually however, thanks to a turn in domestic politics, they distanced themselves even from the Wilson-initiated League of Nations and pursued an isolationist policy for nearly two decades. (Which of course was not entirely the case and did not entirely affect their hegemony on the American continent.) The other state pursuing globalist aims was the newly formed Soviet Union built on the ruins of Russia, which abandoned the goal of the communist world revolution and instead embarked on a program of “Socialism in one Country”, settling diplomatic relations with its neighbors and following a de facto isolationist policy until the mid 1930s.
The two countries messianistic programs slipped into the background as anacronistically, the European continental hegemony and colonial rule became the focus again.
However, the traditional Westphalian system of international relations, which was based on bilateral relations and occasional alliances of (European) nation-states which in practice, aimed for inhibiting European continental hegemony proved to be inoperable – not least due to the power vacuum left in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The intergovernmental system based on many actors and balance was swept away by the Großraum ideas. For a moment it seemed the world was split into four “big regions”: the German (and Italian) led New Europe, the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Monroe-principle-based, US dominated America (with the remnants of the British Empire) and the Soviet Union.
However, the German’s attack on the Soviet Union and Japan’s attack on the United States overturned the possibility of this, so to speak, global Westphalian system. The fall of the Tripartite Pact states marked – at least for a time – the end of these big territory ideas. Two powers remained on the stand striving for world hegemony, which, after the circumstances of World War II, managed to create a new global division of power. The open confrontation for worldwide hegemony was absent during this time, however the stakes in the Cold War were ultimately the final conclusion of power struggles in the ever-globalizing world.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc provided a deceptive promise of the latter. The most common example of this promise is Francis Fukuyama’s theory of “The End of History” which declared liberal democracies’ triumph. In the 1990s of course, we were really talking about the hegemony of the US and their model for liberal democracy. Most countries in the former socialist bloc have tried to adapt to this but China, already embarked on the road to reform, became increasingly integrated into the American-dominated system of the world economy. Only a few “Rogue states” (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela) stood in the way of complete triumph, but their liquidation already began in the early 2000s.
At this point however, an error occurred in the system. The “democratization” of Afghanistan and Iraq was far from successful (not to mention the later “Arab Spring”). Also, Russia and a number of post-socialist states began to make adjustments to the Western type of democracy to form a more locally minded system. Most significantly though, China became increasingly competitive with outsourced manufacturing; the Belt and Road Initiative openly introduced a rival model to the American one. Moreover, this model fundamentally attacks the centuries-old Western dominance, as it promises to reorganize the Euro-Atlantic world order into Eurasian. And the 2020 crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic – health, economic, political, and intellectual related – has exacerbated not only geopolitical conflicts but also contradictions within the Western world.
According to Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West: Outlines of a Morphology of world history, the basic idea of the last era of the Western (“Faustian”) history was socialism – but he did not use the concept in the traditional sense, that is, in relation to socio-economic theory. Spengler said the goal of modern Western socialism is imperialist, based on the unlimited will to power, and the essence is: “What we believe, what we desire, is meant to be binding on all. And since life has come to mean for us external, political, social, and economic life, all must submit to our political, social, and economic ideal, or perish.” (Prussianism and Socialism, 1919)
The two varieties of this so-called ethical socialism clashed during the two world wars, determining the West’s further path (this was of course, only one element of a series of great power clashes during World War II). And, according to Spengler’s ideas, the Anglo-Saxon capitalism emerged victorious from the struggle with “Prussian socialism” distorted to German National Socialism. Then according to the logic of “revolutionary” processes, there was a gradual break in the ranks of the victors; this break became especially sharp after the end of the Cold War.
By the end of the 2010s, the contrast between the more conservative populist and the progressive “party” among the Western elites became apparent (the word party is, of course more or less figuratively, understood more in the premodern sense of the word; it was more a loosely organized, informal network of certain interests and values, rather than an organized and disciplined party.) The former seeks to preserve the West, thus ensuring its global leadership, while the latter seeks to blur the differences between the West and the rest of the world, melting humanity in a multicultural, open society of a single universal civilization (in fact, the difference between the two positions can be identified in the debate between Huntington and Fukuyama).
The crises caused by the coronavirus epidemic have given the Progressive Party an opportunity to tie up loose ends and strike back against the Populist Party which emerged among Western states in the second half of the 2010s. A key element of this was the overthrow of US President Donald Trump. In this case, Silicon Valley, which has become intertwined with the American deep state and the dominating engine of the Progressive Party since recent decades, intervened quite openly in the (at least apparently) democratic electoral processes. The confidence of tech giants has been fueled by a sharp rise in demand for digital devices and online solutions over the past year, which has increased the wealth of the already richest oligarchs of the world by tens of billions of dollars – per person.
The Progressive Party is merely a global oligarchy of representatives for international capital, international bureaucracy, and intertwined intelligence services; The process of digitalization serves to ensure their power.
Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing campaign provided insight into the practice of high-tech surveillance nearly ten years ago; the possibilities for such total control have only increased thanks to the monopoly of large companies and the growing embeddedness in the digital sphere. However, they do not reject traditional methods of control, whose ideology can be called identity socialism based on the above Spenglerian definition and the basis of this in various “identity groups”; but we could also use the Orwellian “Ingsoc” term as it is ultimately a collective oligarchy providing “party discipline” and dominance over the majority.
From the #metoo and BLM campaigns, to the LGBTQ movement, to the bills encouraging children to spy on their parents, and the newest quota plans all show that society is kept in check by difficultly defined legal categories. A lack of precise definitions and rules is not an insurmountable shortcoming, but a tool of power to ensure that in fact, everyone commits some kind of “hate crime” to be cited before the public – or in more serious cases, before the courts – and their moral reputation be destroyed – for now, but who knows how far it will go.
Facing a decisive battle
The Progressive Party is feeling strong now and in the next few years will try to expand its monopoly of power throughout the Western world. Of course, the success of this is far from clear, evidenced not only by the high number of votes cast for Trump, but also by the fact that there are more and more European elites seeking a greater distance from the US-focus. The aforementioned logic of “revolutions” may apply here as well, and another rift may emerge within the victorious camp, especially as the “detachment” of Europe from the United States has reemerged in recent years.
However, according to the current status, two blocks can be seen: The Washington-led “Oceania” bloc with the EU, Britain and Australia, in opposition with China and its allies, including Russia – or in Orwell’s terms, “Eurasia”. The leading role of China is no longer a question, nor is the fact that, after Trump, Biden will be forced to take-off the gloves facing China’s growing influence. Despite appearances, the political and economic arrangements of the two opposing centers are very close.
An alliance of state technocrats – including leaders of terrorist organizations – and (high-tech) oligarchs can be seen in both Beijing and Washington (the two oligarchies are closely intertwined). The only difference is that in China the government party dominates while in the United Sates, the oligarchy. We cannot regard neither China nor the USA as traditional, free, competitive capitalist systems; Especially considering the key sectors dominated by a few monopolies and companies closely intertwined with the state. The surveillance system set up in Beijing is also progressively set up in the US.
Although both centers have set global goals, the difference becomes truly palpable here. While the Chinese vision of a “united community of humanity” promotes the acceptance of cultural diversity and enhances global prosperity, the American green-progressive ideas (Great Reset, 2020) want precisely to cut back the “over-consumer” welfare society and of course, to eliminate differences between nations.
To paraphrase the famous words inspired by the Bourbon Restoration after the Napoleonic Wars, it can be said: China has learned everything and forgotten nothing. They avoid on the one hand, the mistakes of Western colonizers and American ideologues who’ve forced their own values through economic and political means thereby triggering natural resistance. On the other, China does not commit the absurdities of the Germans and Japanese in the first half of the 20th century who, sensing their growing power, provoked an open clash with the leading powers of their age. China’s strategic goal in competing with the United Sates is to postpone (delay, avoid – see Sun Ce) a potential open clash until an occasion when it is favorable for the Chinese, or entirely avoidable. Characteristic in this regard is an interview with Chinese political scientist Yan Xuetong: He states that the decline of the US will not surprise anyone, as eventually all empires will decline and the United States is likely to face the fate of the British Empire.
The eventual fall of America, whatever the circumstances, would by no means mean full world domination for China (it is doubtful that such a thing is possible at all). Just as the “victory” of the United States, after the possible success of China in the new Cold War, the rise of new powers can be expected. Given the current “Islamization” of the western half of Europe, the new rival could even be some kind of Islamic empire – a neo-Ottoman or Michel Houllebecq-inspired scenario (Submission, 2015) can be imagined. As the aforementioned “revolutionary” logic describes, Sino-Russian success can be followed by Sino-Russian rivalry.
All of this, however, is still in the distant future, as the new Cold War may emerge in the not-so-distant future. It would be premature to predict the end of the United States, just as we cannot be sure that this Cold War will not culminate in an open clash due to a careless move. However, it is almost certain that, as in the “old” Cold War, both sides will prepare for this decisive battle, whether it occurs or not.
Head researcher, The Institute of the XXI. Century
Translated from Hungarian by the Visegrád Post.