CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 0): New World Orders All is old and new indeed
When we speak of “order” where the international system is concerned (international relations, to be precise), the discussion gives the impression of value-neutrality, in the same vein as the scientific approach to a problem. However, the minute we enclose this word in the syntagma “new world order”, there is a distinct feeling of veering into vain gossip and idle chatter. Thus, there are conspiracies, occult and confined to tenebrous spaces, away from common decency, standing opposite the rigorous, refined academic thinking that inhabits the halls of universities. Such rhetorical pedantry cannot, however, rule out the raw fact that human society, beyond the intensiveness and extensiveness of the (hierarchical and/or anarchical) relations between humans, seeks order (including “novel” and “worldly” ones), and not just any kind of order, but that order in which we are creative, proactive architects instead of passive artefacts. To this end, we employ tangible or symbolic means, be they transparent or opaque, genuine or deceitful. And politicians, who enact this (dis)order as per their (ir)responsibility, are far from being accused of a lack of ambidexterity (as they are naturally born “on the one hand… and on the other hand…” cynical calculators).
The realm of international relations has witnessed the rise and fall of generations of (generators of) world orders, each new order being defined in reference to its predecessor. We may count about four such shifts in the last hundred years alone. The first at the end of the First World War, which met its demise along with the dysfunctional League of Nations, in a wave of revanchist political effervescence, economic depression, fascism, Nazism, and socialism/communism. The second emerged as a phoenix from the ashes of the Second World War, announcing itself with a liberal and ostentatiously multilateral self-census, based on the UN, IMF, WB, GATT/WTO, NATO, EEC/EU plethora of acronyms. The third followed the end of the Cold War by capitalizing on the global triumph on the Western-style liberal democracy, prophesied as inexorable robust and infinitely replicable in its spread, to the point where it engulfed in its tendrils even unconquerable China herself. Finally, the fourth awaits its birth from a colourful concoction of realities where remnants of the war on terror, hybridising technological disruptions and nuclear spasms of territorialism stir and shake.
Scholars of international relations speak of the order specific to their domains as involving some level of regularity, predictability and stability in the manner in which actors interact with one another, further enumerating typologies that help identify different kinds of orders that may be thin/fragile or thick/robust, based on positions (of power) or principles (of law), regional or global, mono- or polyvalent. As for the emergence of such orders, they may be produced by one or several actors, namely the privileged and powerful, or by a series of participants comparable in their status and power. In the same manner, they may arise from a formal project/design or as an (unintended) effect of spontaneously aggregated behaviours with no single actor decisively leaving its imprint on the final outcome. The by-the-book end result is a matrix with centralised, decentralised, negotiated, hegemonic configurations, unequally present in world history’s potpourri.
Be that as it may, what will the new order look like? Perhaps this may not be the best question as it may entrap us in the same scholarly abstractions, which, for all their glacial utility, still sound far removed from the intense heat of our days. Two or three generations later, our corner of the world (Central and Eastern Europe, the cradle of these written lines) smells once more of gunpowder (and cannon fodder), with its hybrid cybernetic, mass-media and economic variations. Definitely, “this” new world order will still be born old. It will likely be an order where the edifices of (global) governance, painted on the outside as virtuous, will be erected upon the same unstable, crumbling foundation of (national) vices, of the wedge between the (blue-blooded) governors and those (bloodshed-prone casualties) whom they govern. There will likely be an order where the demagoguery of democracies will be hardly distinguishable from that of dictatorships, the difference being that the former works far better by keeping people alive rather than killing them, as epochs have proven. And the new order will be one where, in all probability, regardless of what characters/fonts will be used to write the peace of the victors (whether Latin, Cyrillic or logographic), their ultimate value will depend on the characters/fancies of those who will read them.
CAPITOL LETTERS is a series of articles occasioned by the author’s presence in Washington, D.C. as Romanian Cultural Institute Fellow, studying industrial revolutions’ imprint on the cultural sector.
The opinions hereby expressed by the author remain his exclusive responsibility and do not engage, in any manner or measure, the organizations to which he is affiliated or with which he collaborates.