Category Archives: World

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: second Italy.

2015-10-20-niles-b

Italians voted no to the proposition of institutional and constitutional reforms, which was agreed by the Italian Parliament for the first time after almost 70 years since the “Costituente”. The Italian Parliament was following the strong acceleration of a post-ideological modern Government, again the first of such governments in Italian recent history. But in a time of increased transparency, empowered individuals and bottom-up democratic tools (first of all the use of referendums) the confidence of some Western leaders to appeal to popular support in order to increase their legitimacy has turned to be a big mistake. From Cameron to Renzi, leaders European leaders believed that they could bring the people on the ship of their vision for the future. But they forgot about one thing: the deep culture and identity of their societies. Exceptionalism for British people and conservatism for Italians. Who will be next? We hope no Merkel even if we are not so sure (Hollande avoided such risk with his recent decision to not seek re-election).

Italians don’t like change, they live in open sky museums, adore their traditions and have a culture of self-governance and “make do” that survive better in government instability than in the opposite scenarios. Italians, even if they always criticize the politicians for being corrupted and not wanting to change, prefer weak corrupt governments that keep the things as they have always been (that’s why Berlusconi reigned for around a generation) than  strong stable governments that could really change the things, including asking the citizens to behave. Besides that, Italians have always been afraid of Communism, before with Fascism demonization and after with the one of Christian Democracy, making a left or liberal government, almost impossible to survive for long time in the country. That, together with the economic stagnation and the manipulation of information in a post-truth, post-fact society, fueled by opposite politicians with a hate narrative rarely seen before, made the result of referendum. But how Italian referendum result enters in the long run of Western liberal democratic crisis?

As said in the previous article on the US, the three “Ps” are very evident also in Italy: increased Poverty, with inequality and intellectual unemployment (involving in particular the middle class); extreme Polarization, in particular between nationalist and cosmopolitanists (not much between Leftist and Rightist that is not anymore the real division of the socio-political spectrum in Western democracies); and spread Populism, or anti-establishment feelings (in particular distrust for corrupted and distant elites). These phenomena are growing in the Italian society since almost a decade. Since more less the Euro consequences (in particular the raised prices) started to couple with the economic crisis, the migration crisis arrived, and the social media technology started to empower individuals and at the same time polarize them. The populist feelings in particular against the corrupted party system in Italy, the “casta”, started to be channelized in particular by the 5 Star Movement, a bottom up movement that is using Internet as E-democracy already since 2005 with the blog of a Comedian, Beppe Grillo, and the use of Meetups (using the American born Meetup idea) and arrived to be the first party voted in the Parliament (even if not the first represented because of the electoral law, another degeneration of the electoral system, like in the US)

Besides these “first layer” reasons the democratic crisis in Italy can be seen also as an identity crisis, as said in the article on US, because of increasing immigration, women empowerment and international integration. Italy, like the rest of Western rich countries, started to be afraid of having to share the wealth with poorer people, first of all economic migrants but also refugees, and risk its identity dilution with the creation of a melting pot society (and in the last 3 years the number of immigrants in Italy increased exponentially with the Middle Eastern refugee crisis). Italian men, ruling the country, its families and its society since the Latin times (similarly to the rest of Europe) started to be afraid of having to share the power with women (and this actually was the first government that among other things had 50% of women). And the Italian nation state in itself, existing since 4 century (since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648) started to be afraid of having to reduce its sovereignty with new supranational actors, first of all the EU (this was one of the most pro-EU governments, accepting the decisions from the EU even if using the rhetoric of anti-austerity) reducing therefore its ontological security.

Therefore in Italy as in the US we are on the right track towards the democratic natural crisis. We need to see how we use this crisis for the good and not for the bad, not only in Italy but in Europe. Even in the worst case scenario that the EU will fail and disintegrate in the next decades what is important is to know who will take the lead for future new alliances and integration processes. We will not have a pre-WWII scenario because of economic integration and because Russia will always be there to make European continent cohesive (hopefully with the constant support of NATO). But as a recent article on Foreign Affairs said: “Populism is gaining ground. Around the world, economic hardship and growing unease with globalization, immigration, and the established elite have propelled such movements into power, leading to a groundswell of public support for parties and leaders viewed as capable of holding the forces of cultural and social change at bay.”[1]

What we know is that strong leaders will not make a democratic renaissance against the establishment, as they promise, on the opposite they will deepen the democratic crisis, gradually eroding the liberal elements of our countries, as expert populists around the world from Chavez, to Erdogan to Putin, showed. This is the risk in our liberal Western democracies crisis too, at least until the citizens will not take back the lead of the future in their hands through their civil society, with new associations, movements, parties and organizations at grassroots level, and not lead from top-down. The political establishment has to be checked and controlled by these civil society associations to reduce corruption and increase vision, even if cannot disappear as representative democracies needs politicians. But these politicians can be more “representative” of the people, more “spokespersons” like the 5SM try to build. Otherwise we will have fake democracies with strong leaders, that will hide what they really are: autocracies, or as Plato said, new tyrannies.

[1] Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz. How Democracies Fall Apart. Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy. Foreign Affairs, December 2016.

 

Advertisements

Castro’s death and the end of the “Long Century”: revolutions of ideas more than armed revolutions for a better future

donald-trump-fidel-castro-via-youtube_893661

Eric Hobsbawm defined the 19th century as “The Long Nineteenth Century”, starting in 1789 and ending in 1914, and the 20th century as the “The Short Twentieth Century”, from 1914 to 1991. In reality also the 20th century could be considered a “long century”, at least in its conception and its heritage: we can say that it started in 1865, with the civil war and the end of slavery in America (the strongest democratic step since its independence for the most powerful country of 20th century) and ended definitely in 2016, when an American President visited Cuba, 88 years after the last one, and Fidel Castro died, almost 60 years after its Cuban Revolution. These events marked the final end of the ideological cold war, the planetary confrontation between capitalism and communism, which represented the history of the second part of 20th century.

All people under oppression appealed to a liberation ideology for a revolution against the status quo since the beginning of times. Revolutions bring dignity and self-determination to people, and they have been liberating people from oppression in every corner of the planet. But revolutions in their aftermath has difficulty to realize the dream of a idealistic society and they risk to even distort the original ideals (sometimes as a need to defend from external attacks) and build authoritarian regimes, as history shows from French revolution with Napoleon dictatorship to American Revolution with black slavery, from Iranian revolution to the Arab Spring. Fidel Castro, like all the revolutionaries, was a freedom fighter for his people, and actually he declared just after the revolution that he would have started finally a democracy in Cuba (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjpnfDwWd7Y) but then became another Prince, the enlightened tyrant who believes in the utopia that a society can be guided from top down for the good of the people. Actually while many Cuban policies had good effect, like high levels of public education and health, the development of the country for the end of people poverty failed, in particular after the end of the Soviet Union. So today the Cuban regime needs to find a new model, may be the Chinese one with state capitalism, if it wants to survive.

The revolutions are important for the self-determination of people in the short term but they are not enough for their democratic and economic flourishing in the long term. As we political scientists knows, it is the constant and progressive reforms towards an inclusive and empowering economic and political system that brings real human liberation in the history of humankind. Gorbacev attempted to reform Sovietic communism to make it more legitimate, efficient and sustainable as ideology and system, and even if he failed he opened the space on the right track. When Putin will die (as it seems that he will not leave the power before that) that path will have to be retaken if Russia wants to go towards real modernization and development. Same for Cuba after the end of the old guard, or Iran, after the end of Ayatollah regime, as well as the other countries that failed to democratize with the Arab Spring or are still monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

This doesn’t meant though that all countries have to follow exactly the Western style liberal democracies for a future of “End of history”, as Fukuyama believed. Actually culture matters and also the liberal representative democracies of the Western world will need reforms to survive and flourish anyway. Democracy and human liberation, equality and inclusion are never ending processes, as we can see from the Roman Republic two millennia and half ago to the election of Trump in a divided democratic American society. And, most important, democracy and human liberation has to be authoctonous, coming from an internal evolution of a country, with its traditional systems, cultural elements and historical approaches. There is no one solution fits it all, as the “one person one vote” of the universal suffrage is an historical evolution of European individual rights against the old tyranny of the nobility, but other geographies and histories have to develop their own way of social contract and political representation, that could be more communitarian than individualistic.

As Castro said once “ideas don’t need arms if they convince masses” and also “who doesn’t believe in the human being is not a revolutionary”. So we need to have faith in human beings to change the status quo for a better future and to do that today we don’t need arms if we have ideas: armed revolutions are a tool of the past, when people had less power of today, when we can use education and technology, as we saw with the Arab Spring and we can see in Cuba already with the arrival of internet. Today what we need are new unarmed revolutions, that is “revolutions of ideas”, both in democracies and in autocracies, to face the fast and complex globalization and the risk for the human societies to become more divided, unequal and chaotic. Inequality and exclusion are the cancer of democracies as well as autocracies and to overcome them we will have to make in Western democracies as in non-Western autocracies many political, economic and social reforms, to reach a higher civic education, a more inclusive development, and a more effective governance. We need new ideas and forms to reduce economic inequality, minorities’ exclusion and extreme polarization. We need to fight the risk of populism and make democracies more efficient and sustainable in the long run and autocracies more open societies in a globalized world. We need new leaders and new intellectuals, but also  empowered masses, for revolutions of ideas more than armed revolutions.

If Hobsbawn might have been wrong in the definition of “Short Century” he was right on the risks for the future. As he said: “If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis, we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is the alternative to a changed society, is darkness.” (The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991, 1994).

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: first of all the US.

6a0120a8cdef2c970b0133ed755857970b

Will the United States show again that is still one of the healthiest, besides one of the oldest, democracy in the world? Will be able to reform its too old institutions and reconcile its too polarized people, in a society that destroyed many moderate spaces of discussions in the public sphere, from education to media? The prospect of the new elected President doesn’t seem enlightened. Bill Clinton had to move his party to the center, to win two elections. Trump moved the party that hijacked to the extreme right, after the Tea Party and beyond the Alt-Right. Electing Trump the American democracy just chose to take a stop in leading the planetary future. After the first black president of its history, the US didn’t elect its first woman president and instead went towards the most macho chauvinist joker and ignorant president could find, because in the post-modern liberal democracies leaders don’t guide masses: they mirror them. The US went towards a cultural reaction that could reverse the country, and also the West, to a past of racism, nationalism, sexism, and many says Fascism. So apart all the issues on economy, anti-politics and fragmentation these elections have been also about culture, identity and post-modernity.

At a superficial level it seems that three main processes are happening today in the US but also in Europe and so in general in the Western liberal democracies: increased inequality, spread populism and extreme polarization. These trends are caused mainly by three factors: unregulated market and banking systems together with economic globalization as degeneration and contradictions of neoliberal extreme capitalism (see “Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Piketty); focus on technical and scientific education abandoning the liberal arts and humanities (see on this “Not for Profit”, by Martha Nussbaum); and the information technology transformation, including biased private news outlets and uncontrolled, instinctual, post-fact and post-truth social media information (see on this “The Filter Bubble” of Richard Sennet).

But at a deeper identity and cultural levels, and inside a longer historical view, four reactionary processes in reality are happening in the US and the West against the very fast progress that we lived in the last decades: sexism, nationalism, racism and religiophobia (mostly Islamophobia as Islam is the world religion with most impact on the daily life). These identity trends, present in particular among people living isolated and not used to socialize and so create trust, in rural areas more than urbanized centers, represents our ontological insecurity reaction to four changes: the starting of end of patriarcate, nation state, monoethnic and secular societies.  We are starting to live in the post-modern societies (not only “Post-modern States”, as Robert Cooper defines the West) with a more equal relationship between men and women, a more broad sense of belonging to an international community, a mixing of races with increased migrations and a return to religion as a political tool. The last one is happening first of all with Islamism but also, as a reaction, with the Christian right wing political stands (especially in the US) making us starting to live in post-secular societies (as defined by Habermas) that fight between religion in politics and religiophobia.

To use the words of Thomas Kuhn, we are living in a “paradigm shift”, not so much in the sciences (that evolve when society evolves) but in the society, in particular in the creation of a new planetary society. Our human nature is struggling on the tension between fear and mistrust on one side of its spectrum and love and trust on the other (see “Love and Hate” by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the founder of Human Ethology). It is natural and it is good we could say. We cannot only progress going forwards otherwise only chaos will be in our future. The arch of history is always bent towards justice, as Marti Luther King said, but it progresses going forwards two steps and going backwards one. Now we are in the backwards one. The risk is that if we don’t control it, it could be a step back so big that would represent a giant leap towards darkness. An epochal crisis of our civilization. We don’t want that, but human nature sometimes has been ruled by irrational behaviors, and cycles of history repeat themselves, making arise and decline of societies and civilizations. As Plato’s five regimes teaches us after Aristocracy, Timocracy and Oligarchy there is Democracy, but after Democracy we go back to Tyranny and the cycle starts again. So we need to ask us today: which culture we want to choose for our future generations, the one based on liberal values or the one based on authoritarian values? Do we want a Renaissance or do we want to open the doors to a new “Middle Age”, the age in the middle between the enlightened times.

“An ignorant people can never remain a free people” said Thomas Jefferson. “We will give you a Republic, if you can keep it” said Benjamin Franklin. But to keep the ability to manage a Res-publica, the “public thing”, we need to fight ignorance, as ignorance breed polarization, populism and finally authoritarianism. This is one of the deepest crises of American and Western democracies: the increasing ignorance of a fast consumerist but slow (and superficial) thinking society that produced a lack of real knowledge, culture and so wisdom. All the rest comes as a consequence. Therefore to chose the path of evolution we need to go back to read books and travel, instead of googling everything, we need to go back to talk to each other’s in the streets, instead of staying closed inside our houses and cars, and we need to recreate that social capital and human trust that is the foundation of any functional society, in particular a liberal democratic one.

Post-modernization and global/glocal-ization contributed to create this superficialization. It is a physical law: if you go horizontally you cannot go vertically, if you expand you become more superficial. There is a superficialization in many spheres: there is a reduction of general power (see “The end of power” by Moises Naim); there is a reduction of the “public sphere”, as Habermas called the space for social life (instead we created superficial, fragmented and polarized networks); there is a reduction of the importance of the mediation of elites (with anti-establishment sentiments against the casts of politicians, the oligarchies that became our democracies); there is a reduction of differences (from languages dying every day to ethnic mixing); and there is a reduction of active political life respect to economic and social automatism and conformism (see already “The Human Condition” by Hanna Arendt).

Also, post-modernity and globalization destroyed the organized and clear life we had in the past creating a life based on thousands of possibilities but also contradictions. We can, but more “we have”, to choose everything in our life, from the type of morning coffee to the health treatment for our lives, from deciding to marry or not (and at which age, with who, for having children or just for having a life in two and so on) to should I answer to this message or not. So our time is constantly interrupted, our space constantly disturbed, our identity constantly recreated in a process of choices, including political choices that resemble more and more a gigantic shopping mall instead of a reflected decision for our future, because we are living in a post ideological society. But this doesn’t make us happier, on the contrary worsen our satisfaction, as we cannot have the pleasure of surprise or calmness, the  “creative idleness” (otium) of the ancient Latins, and we rise expectations and alienations with more disappointments and frustrations (see the TED talk “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” by Barry Schwartz).

Our post-modernity is living in constant change, constant crises. Zygmunt Bauman calls our society the “liquid society.” Antonio Gramsci, last century, called the social crisis we were going to live the Interregno “Inter-kingdom.” He argued that the crisis of change consisted precisely in the fact that the old was dying but the new could not be born; in this phase a great variety of morbid symptoms and chaos appear. We know from where we escape but not where we are running. That is what is happening to the US and Western world right now: we know from where it escapes from but not where it is running. Nevertheless as again Latins said: dium vitam et sursum corda, long life and lift up your hearts! As the evolutionary trend of the human specie is what makes its survival. And the optimist trends of modernization and improvement of human life around the planet (from increasing literacy to reduction of extreme poverty, improvement of health and individual empowerment) are there to demonstrate it.

Not a Wall, but an American “Grand Tour” to Reduce Racism and Increase Integration

trump-mexico-2

“At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Mexican President Peña Nieto declared after their meeting. We don’t know if a wall will really be built between the US and Mexico any time soon, assuming the rare case that the elections in November will be won by the American tycoon. What we do know is that no walls will be able to block the integration of a continent such as America, whose populations are destined to meet and cohabit as Europeans did, even if after centuries of divisions and wars. How, then, can we accompany and facilitate this process? How can we work for mutual understanding among the nations of America?

At the end of the 17th century, young wealthy people, mostly men from England and other Protestant Northern European nations, started a tradition called the “Grand Tour.” The idea was to visit Continental Europe, especially France and Italy, in an educational trip aimed to learn from the past and the cultural roots of Western civilization. Many of those aristocrats not only visited the ancient sites of Greco-Roman civilization but also visited the cradle of the Renaissance, Tuscany, containing my wonderful city of Florence. These young aristocrats on their tour were immersed in the local cultures, learning from the people how they were living, including learning some language skills, in a type of rite of passage to understand and experience the “European life”.

Those travels, we could say, represented the embryonic beginning of the creation of a European identity. Through an exchange among people of different cultures, meeting for the first time not through trade, war, or politics, as in the past, but through journeys of pleasure and learning, contributing to the social construction, not merely the economic or political construction, of a continent “united in diversity” as goes the present day EU’s motto. It is ironic and sad to see how today instead the UK is distancing herself from Europe. Unfortunately though, the Grand Tour was only for the elites, as poor people certainly could not afford such a journey of exploration; that’s why Thomas Cook’s  founding of the first British travel agency in the middle of the 19th century enabled many more people to afford travel, and so began the era of mass tourism.

Today, almost four centuries after the Grand Tour tradition started, it is time to balance modern mass tourism with a new wave of cultural, historical, and ethical tourism. This should happen not only in Europe, but also in the Americas, helping the United States to do with Latin America the same that the UK did with Europe: facilitating the first social seeds of a unified American continent, that will be created in the centuries ahead, in one way or another.

This doesn’t mean that mass tourism should stop, as it is still useful for the economy and society in their entirety. However, it could be accompanied by a new form of travel: American travelers should start to go not only to hotels and tourist resorts that are often a false way of being exposed to a foreign country, but also to local communities, authentic villages, and family homes, in order to become (even if only for few days) part of the local life – learning from their different cultures, their indigenous civilizations –  and why not even the Spanish language, that will become, probably one day soon, the second language of the US.

This would have many side effects besides the start of grassroots integration of the continent. First of all, racism towards Latinos that is starting to accompany the racism towards African-Americans in this country would start to decline when people travel to Latin America and see how people live there, often in humble conditions.

Second, avoiding brand-name chain hotels would allow money to flow directly to local people, helping grassroots development as well as being cheaper for the tourists.

Finally, this type of travel could also, indirectly, help to reduce drug production, drug trade, and drug consumption between the US and Latin America, with beneficial consequences for the economies and security of Latin American countries. A new form of ethical and cultural tourism will not only help the peasants to have an alternative source of income that reduces the need for drug cultivation, but it could also play a role in the reduction of demand for these drugs in the US too. By visiting the countries that produce drugs (such as Mexico), staying with local people, experiencing what is an authentic community life, a warm approach to relationships or a good simple meal, this could reduce the alienation that can make many US citizens prone to drug abuse in order to resist the daily stresses of life today. Coming back to their country these people will not only be authentically refreshed and recharged, but will have a new appreciation of the small things in life, helping them to fight the solitude and the consequent need for intoxicants.

Obviously, security issues should be taken into consideration when planning such travel. In particular, there is the risk of international terrorism, and otherwise it can be difficult to travel to non-tourist places or remote areas due to safety reasons. However, a little bit of risk has always been part of real travel – not mass tourism but the real exploration of foreign places – and today this would be less dangerous than in the past, and could even be less dangerous relative to mass tourism which often provides targets in the form of crowded tourist spots. Thus, travelers should not pay too much attention to exaggerated media reports, and even take the travel warnings of the US government with a pinch of salt, as they often don’t mean that one should not go to a country, but just exercise caution.

It is unclear if the new US President that will be elected in few months will build bridges or a wall at the southern frontier. One thing is sure, however: a wall will not block the migration and the natural encounters among different people. New bridges will allow people on different sides of the border to meet on more equal and open terms, like “individual ambassadors” for cultural exchange and grassroots diplomacy. This is the real foreign policy that the US should pursue to increase soft power and pursue a new American century. It is time to “make America open again” if we want to really live together and learn from each other in this continent. As in the words of Senator Tim Kaine, the probable next Vice President of the United States: “Bienvenidos a todos en nuestro país, porque somos Americanos todos.”

The strength found from admitting to genocide

Armenians being deported

The Strength Found from Admitting to Genocide

Fukuyama, Huntington or neither one?

index

After the implosion of Soviet Union and the formal ending of the Cold War, Huntington (“The Clash of civilizations?”, Foreign Affairs, 1992) and Fukuyama (“The End of History and the Last Man”, Free Press, 1992) became the two most debated theorists for the future of world order. One arguing for a clash among cultures (more than ideologies or economies as in the past) and the other on the end not only of clashes but of history, with the advent of Western liberal democracies as the “final form of human government”: the ultimate stage of the human evolution, in a ‘progressive universal history’ view.
While Huntington could be considered a pessimist in the depiction of future world order, Fukuyama is an optimist that foresee the triumph of the Western liberal system because political evolution is no longer possible. Like Hegel and Marx he follows a linear view of historical evolution, not a cyclical one like realists. He believes that conflict and crisis will still occur, in particular in the Third World and between ‘historical’ (that follow the struggle and conflict) and ‘post-historical’ (that stay at peace) parts of the world (similarly to Cooper’s modern and post-modern world) but there is no ideological alternative to Western liberalism: this is the best model for political and economic organization. In the past there have been Feudalism, Theocracy, Dictatorships but finally the human desire of freedom won, with the French and American revolutions, through the social contract between people and government. Dictatorships like Communism and Fascism/Nazism were not legitimate as they were based on coercion and this finally represented their end.
We can argue that both these two narratives after 25 years have some validity but also limits. The first, even if may be useful in understanding the formation of regional blocks through cultural affinities, wrongly saw cultures as monoliths, and, even if for political narratives and interests this may be through, theory and history show that cultural identities are made of many layers and complexities. The “end of history” approach instead, even if able to see the evolutionary process between slavery and freedom in humankind history, failed to acknowledge that there are still many different types of governments and economies in the world today. Asian and in general Global South values are on the growth in the definition of world order, new non state actors are challenging sovereign nation states, and, most importantly, even western liberal mature democracies have to evolve today to new forms of power, rules and governance, if they want to survive and improve, answering the new modern challenges. The globalization, mutation of power and interdependence, which twenty years ago were not so evident, may change the perspectives on the end of history, postponing it a little more and making of liberal democracies something that will still survive (as some of the best systems we invented until now) but will have to be shaped too, towards more equality in the future and new evolved forms (given the crisis of democracy today both in fledgling and mature democracies).

As nothing is eternal in IR the risk for nation states and democracies could be fragmentation and polarization. Plato for example, in its ‘five regimes’, suggested that after democracy some form of autocracy or tyranny will arrive, as the longing for freedom create chaos and the power must be seized to maintain order (and with the advent of Internet for example, the Big Brother society seems a not so impossible perspective for the future). But I believe that empowerment of people will keep going, at the end of the day first civilizations were based on slavery and today even if poverty is not eradicated yet, social classes started to disappear in the most advanced societies. But this doesn’t mean that history ended as without evolution there is no such thing as survival for the experiment of humankind: humankind is bound to keep evolving and diversity and conflict are the biological and philosophical bases of evolution. The fact that we are still here as a species demonstrates that humankind has an inner drive for survival and evolution that cannot be stopped. Even Fukuyama, at the end, believes that “perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again”(Fukuyama, The National Interest, Summer 1989) and also Hegel knew that repetitions were part of history when he said: “What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it” (Lectures on the Philosophy of History, 1832, p. 22). So, luckily, I think that there is still time for history to unfold, as also Fukuyama said in a more recent (2012) article on Foreign Affairs about “The future of history”.

Global order and the Middle East

images

After the end of cold war and the bipolar system the world experienced 25 years of mutation toward a new world order, that cannot be defined yet. The American hegemony, called unipolar world at the beginning, has not been balanced by any other great power in this time (the famous balance of power, the main assumption of realism has not been realized yet). The international system has been moving towards something new that has been difficult to define. Sometimes scholars (like Ian Bremmer1) defined it “zero-polar” world, others (like Richard Haas2) “no-polar world”, others (like Fareed Zakaria3) multipolar world. We don’t know what will be the future world order but what we know is that in the new era of globalization will have to be more inclusive and less ethnocentric if it wants to reach stability and security for all. The interdependence, transnationalism and globalization that we are living today don’t seem to go toward the “clash of civilizations”, as per Huntington definition(4), even if neither toward the “convergence of civilizations” (5) as per Mahbubani definition(6). The ‘unrevealing’ of the post-Cold War order is nevertheless happening under our eyes, and the US influence is much reduced in this process, as Haas masterly explains in his recent article on Foreign Affairs (7). And the Middle East is the place where this disorder is stronger and the US is weaker today.

Is it possible to contemplate order for the region that is considered the less adapt to it, being an area where mistrust always developed among religious cleavages, unresolved interstate and intrastate conflicts and Western interventions? It could seem a dream but also in Europe we didn’t think that we would have enjoyed the longest time of peace of our history at the beginning of last century. The Middle East have not had the total wars that Europe experienced (and we hope that it will never have them) but in the long run common threats (like today ISIS) could maybe represent the cement for such now unthinkable regional order to happen? The Arab Spring has been compared to the start of a Middle Eastern “Thirty years’ war”(8), remembering the war that gave space to the start of the nation states in Europe with the Peace of Westphalia, or to the 1848 European revolutions with the so called “Spring of the Nations” (9) (from which the name Arab Spring) for more democracy and justice. Neither one of the comparison is very encouraging for the future of the Middle East, as the Thirty years’ war was the bloodiest war of Europe until then and the 1848 revolutions were repressed by reactionary forces, and new orders needed long time to take place. With the end of Cold War also the new architecture of the Middle East seems similar to that of Europe in the 19th century, with mid-sized powers trying to expand their spheres of influence (from Iran to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to Egypt). In the Middle East today the shifting alliances and the covert or overt struggle for sphere of influences are interrelated with the forces of new definition of borders and ethnic, religious or cultural identities. Therefore the process of transition to a new Middle East order, after the end of the post-Ottoman one, will not be short and without conflicts and chaos. And will be more important (and doable) to manage it than to solve it. No more regime change interventions but soft power and external leading role. The US has to start a new path.

1Ian Bremmer. Every Nation for Itself: What Happens When No One Leads the World. Portfolio Trade, 2013
2Richard Haas. The age of nonpolarity. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.
3Fareed Zakaria. The Post American world. W. W. Norton & Company, 2009
4Samuel Huntington. The clash among civilizations?, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, N. 3, Summer 1993.
5An interesting UN initiative called “UN Alliance of Civilizations” seems to aim to a similar direction.
6Kishore Mahbubani. The great convergence: Asia, the West and the logic of one world. PublicAffairs, 2013.
7Richard Haas. The Unraveling, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2014.
8Richard Haas. The New Thirty Years’ War, Project Syndicate July 21, 2014.
9Jonathan Steinberg. 1848 and 2011. Bringing down the old order is easy; Building a new one is tough. Foreign Affairs, September 28, 2011.