The Crumbling of a World Order

The New Age of Tragedy – New Statesman

Good article, with contributions from Robert Kaplan, Helen Thompson and John Gray.

Helen Thompson

Faith that creative human agency can triumph over nature’s limits has been a central feature of most modern political projects, not least liberalism. Missing the fact that technology cannot create energy, this conviction has long proved overly sanguine. Those who assume that the political world can be reconstructed by the efforts of human will have never before had to bet so much on technology over energy as the driver of our material advancement.

We are now a long way removed from the revolutionary hopes of the 19th and 20th centuries that the transformation of collective life would mean the complete development of all natural resources and an end to scarcity

Robert D Kaplan

To keep from destroying ourselves in this Malthusian world, we will have to husband fear without being immobilised by it. We cannot assume that technology will come to the rescue of every dilemma. The Ancient Greeks argued that no man is lucky until he is dead, since catastrophe can befall any of us at any moment. To carry that over into humanity at large, we should not assume that catastrophe cannot befall us at any moment or in any historical period. That is, we will need to think tragically in order to avoid tragedy. And precisely because our civilisation is rubbing up against limits of resources and space, such tragic thinking is more vital than ever before. (Robert D Kaplan)

Yet, it is less in evidence. Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in Britain are technocrats in spirit and background, and technocrats assume there is a solution to every problem, which leads to a certain arrogance. Meanwhile, the American political elite is more ideological than ever before, and this leads to another form of arrogance; the world’s problems will not go away if only all of humanity became democratic – as the American elite seems to believe.

I fear that the elites in both Britain and the US will have to learn about tragedy the hard way, by actually living it, due to their failures in seeing it ahead of time.

From the editorial:

Mr Kaplan’s recent book The Tragic Mind is an attempt to grapple with his past support for the Iraq War, which led him to suffer clinical depression for years afterwards. Having visited Fallujah in 2004 and found anarchy far worse than Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, he concluded: “I had failed my test as a realist… I helped promote a war in Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

It’s bleak out there.